Tag Archives: literary agents

The Role of an Agent

At a recent conference, an author and an agent presented a case study about how they met at a writer’s conference, signed an agreement and the agent then shepherded the writer through the publication process. At one point, the writer made an offhand comment advising authors not to expect much in terms of marketing support from their publisher.

The comment set off an audience member, who began questioning the agent. He wanted to know why she didn’t help with marketing. Wasn’t that her job? The questioner became increasingly belligerent as the agent tried calmly to explain that marketing is not the agent’s job. I felt bad for the agent, though she handled the questions in a professional manner without getting ruffled.

The exchange reflected false perceptions some unpublished writers may harbor about the role of an agent. The agent explained her role was to advocate for the author. She championed the author’s work by contacting publishers and pitching the author’s manuscript. She negotiated the contract with the publisher and pushed for the most favorable terms for the author.

In this case, the author’s editor left the publishing house in the middle of the project and it stalled. The agent used her knowledge to locate the person at the publishing house who had the authority to assign a new editor and got the project back on track.

So what is the role of an agent? Here’s a simplified version:

  • Represent the writer.
  • Shop the writer’s manuscript to editors at publishing houses.
  • Secure and negotiate a contract with a publisher on behalf of the writer
  • Track the publication process with the writer
  • Troubleshoot any problems that arise
  • Negotiate subsidiary rights to the writer’s work.

Many agents will offer strategic advice to the writer. Some will sit down with the writer at the outset of the relationship and discuss the author’s long-term goals and then work to help the author achieve these goals.

For a more detailed description of what agents do, read this blog post by former agent and author Nathan Bransford.

Another great resource is literary agent Rachelle Gardner’s blog. Rachelle blogs daily about agenting, writing, and publishing, and never fails to give mature, sensible advice.

In this super-competitive field, where publishing contracts are hard to come by, a lot of frustrated writers vent their fury at agents. I don’t doubt there are rude agents, just as there are bad apples in every profession. I have to say I have had nothing but positive experiences with agents, and this is coming from a writer who has been rejected every time. Agents know good writing. They know writing that sells. They appreciate writers who take the time to read their submission guidelines, submit appropriate work and take the time to write a decent query letter.

I’ve had one-on-one interviews with agents. One resulted in a submission. Though it was rejected, the agent gave me some advice on the opening chapter that resulted in revisions that saved the manuscript. I thanked her when I saw her the next year at the same conference.

It’s easy to blame an agent for a writer’s lack of success. They’re the gatekeepers. Do they make mistakes? Do they reject bestsellers? Sure they do, but we all make mistakes. I’ve got a couple of manuscripts somewhere that I hope never see the light of day.

Some critics say agents are tied too closely to the publishing industry and are quick to defend everything publishers do. That’s valid, but it’s a little like saying lawyers are tied too closely to the court system. That’s their bread-and-butter.

At the same writer’s conference, I had the good fortune at lunch to sit next to a New York-based agent. I had nothing to pitch, so I was relaxed and we had a nice chat about writing, publishing and the changes in the industry.

Let’s remember agents have a job to do and play an important role in the publishing process.

What are your experiences with agents?

 

 

 

 

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Get More Out of Writer’s Conferences

I am excited about the upcoming annual CAPA-U Writer’s Conference this Saturday in Harford, CT, sponsored by the Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association (CAPA), a fantastic organization composed of a group of dedicated independent authors and publishers. This is my third CAPA conference and I’ve met agents and talented writers and editors, while expanding my knowledge of the craft and marketing.

Advance planning will help writers get the most out of these conferences. Writers should ask themselves some key questions:

  • Who is the sponsoring organization? Is it a reputable organization? Is the agenda/schedule available? Are the workshop topics appropriate for a writer of your level?
  • What do I want to get out of a writers’ conference? What are my goals?
  • How can I meet other writers and establish connections?
  • Do a have a novel (finished manuscript) to shop? If so what agents do a want to meet? What will I say when I meet them?
  • What workshops should I attend.

So many questions…where to turn for answers?

Here are a few tips for writers to get the most out of conferences:

  • Study the agenda carefully. Choose workshops based on where you are as a writer. If you’ve just published a first novel, workshops on marketing and maximizing social media may be for you.
  • Dress appropriately. Business casual is the norm. Wear comfortable shoes, not sneakers. Don’t walk in wearing a pair of jeans and a rock and roll concert tee-shirt.
  • Get there early, collect your materials, and network. You don’t want to walk into a crowded general session late and slink into a seat in the back of the room.
  • Bring business cards or a marketing piece. Make sure it has your contact information, website or blog address.
  • Select the right agent, if there are opportunities to meet with agents. Review the agent bios and go on their websites. Pay attention to what types of authors and genres they represent.
  • Some conferences allow authors to sell their hard-copy books. Take advantage of this.
  • Select a mix of craft and business workshops. Take a notebook with you and take notes.
  • Network at every opportunity. I found my book editor because she happened to sit down next to me at lunch during a writers’ conference and we got to talking.
  • Be as positive as you can be when you meet with an agent. These meetings can seem like cattle calls. You only have ten minutes or so to make a good impression. Be friendly, tell the agent about yourself and your work and engage the agent in a dialogue. Be interesting and engaging. Smiling helps.
  • Never vent about frustrations you have experienced in getting your work published or represented by an agent.
  • Volunteer to “cover” a session for the sponsoring organization’s newsletter. Volunteer newsletter editors have a thankless job and are always looking for articles. You will make two new friends–the editor and the presenter you write about.
  • Make sure you are familiar with the work of authors you came to see. Check out their websites.
  • Be nice to everybody. Treat the volunteer who gives you your name badge and conference packet with the same respect you show to the author you came to see. A minute of boorish behavior can undo a lifetime of good will.
  • Prepare an elevator speech. Don’t make it long–30 second to a minute on who you are and what your work is about.
  • Take an interest in other people’s work. Actively listen to the other writers you meet. Get their contact information and drop them a line telling them it was nice to meet.
  • Don’t let a lack of interest by an agent ruin your day. Agents must be selective. Your work might not be appropriate for them.
  • Don’t walk around with hurt feelings and a scowl on your face because an agent doesn’t take an interest in your manuscript. It will happen more often than not.
  • Finally, if there is a reception where drinks are served, watch your alcohol intake.

For a low-cost resource with a lot more on attending writer;s conferences check out this book by authors Bob Mayer and Jen Talty.

Writer’s conferences will advance your knowledge of the craft, expand your network of contacts and possibly help you to land an agent. I recommend writers attend at least one writer’s conference a year and more if resources allow.

How do you get the most out of writer’s conferences?

 

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