Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Working with an Agent (I Think)

I get a lot of questions from readers who have been working back and forth with an agent on revisions to a book or proposal, but have never been told whether or not they are actually working together. In other words, did this agent offer representation somewhere along the way and the author forgot?

While I’ve never been on the other side of an offer of representation, I think I can safely say that it’s not something you would forget. So what’s going on? If you’ve gone three rounds of revisions, or one or two, with an agent, at what point are you working exclusively and at what point should you still be querying other agents? This is an interesting conundrum for authors, but the answer is really simple. You need to ask. You simply need to say that you appreciate all of the work the agent is doing for you, but wonder the status of the relationship. You might even be so bold as to ask at what point representation might be offered. Take the bull by the horns and, honestly, put the agent on the spot a little. Remember, you’re the one hiring the agent and this is a great interview opportunity for you. When I work with an author on revisions I sincerely hope that the author will be giving me first shot at being her agent. But I know all too well from experience that that’s not always going to happen. It’s a risk I take, I know, but usually it’s a risk worth taking (although if you’ve been a longtime blog reader you’ll also know I have been burned by this in the past).

If the agent is vague about representation and the tweaking is almost done you need to consider what’s best for you and your career. If you feel that you need to keep submitting queries to other agents, do so. My feeling on the entire process is that if I offer revisions and the author comes incredibly close, but the proposal might still need some tweaks, it’s time to offer representation. Why would I want to lose such a gem? I know she can do the work so anything else that can be done we can do together. Other agents might feel the work is absolutely perfect before they’ll offer. You need to find out what kind of agent you’re working with.

I would say, though, that if you’re submitting around and get another offer, you want to make sure that the agent who is working with you knows that you’re planning to keep querying or are still getting requests from other agents, and you might want to consider the work she’s put into it when choosing your final agent.

Another reason to have the conversation about official representation sooner rather than later is what if this agent thinks you’re working together and you don’t? What if she starts submitting without your knowledge?Don’t get yourself locked into something you’ll be unhappy about. Communication is KEY to a good author-agent relationship. Start that communication as soon as you can.

I’ve also been asked at what point you should talk to said agent about other works you’re writing. My answer . . . at any point, but especially if you’ve stopped querying and are working with this agent exclusively. If she offers and you are no longer querying, will she be ready to represent everything you’re doing? You need to know that before you lock yourself into what you hope will be a permanent relationship.

Hiring an agent means trusting your gut and trusting your agent. If you don’t feel comfortable having frank discussions with a potential agent now, how is that going to change when the contract is signed?