Wednesday, July 08, 2009

How Do you Know?

I think one of the biggest fears of authors reading agent blogs, those who do their research and diligently learn about the business and about agents, is the fear of picking the wrong agent anyway. Sure you can conduct your interviews, ask around and talk to an agent before signing on the dotted line, but still, how do you know this agent will work her best for you? We’ve all heard the horror stories and we have all felt the pain of those who feel they were wronged by an agent. Because of that I think the number-one question I’m asked is, When it comes right down to it, how do you really know?

We’ve often compared the author-agent relationship to a marriage and I don’t think this example is any different. When agreeing to form a partnership both author and agent are taking a leap of faith. You’ve done your research, asked your questions and the only thing left to do is jump in with the faith that the agent you’re jumping in with will follow through on the many promises she’s making. She’ll work hard to sell your book and stick by you through sales or no sales. She’ll be honest and encouraging and she’ll communicate when needed. Most important, she’ll respond to the emails and phone calls you’re making and give feedback on material you’ve sent in a timely manner.

The agent on the other hand has faith that you’ll work hard to revise and perfect the work she originally saw and work twice as hard to write, revise and perfect your next book and the next one after that. She has faith that you’ll meet any and all deadlines and if not, that you’ll have a really strong reason (death, dismemberment, near death, etc.) if you don’t. She also has faith that you’ll communicate with her, that you’ll let her know if you’ve decided to go in a completely different direction with your writing or if you aren’t happy with something she’s done or said.

Like many marriages, an author-agent relationship will have its disagreements and its ups and downs. There will certainly be rocky roads as well as wonderfully joyous moments and, sadly, not all partners will hold up their end of the bargain. But once the research is done, the books are read, and we’ve all talked and asked all the questions we could, the only thing to do next is have faith.



Kristan said...

I think you make really good points about the author-agent relationship, but I hope like hell that people aren't getting married after 1 query letter and a couple emails/phone calls back and forth! :P

Jennifer McKenzie said...

I've been paying close attention and I think this is spot on.
I watched two of my author friends with agents and, like standing on the outside of marriages, I wondered if they were okay.
They complained, they were scared, things were rocky.
But then, they worked it out and everything was great.
I also realized it's tough to tell what an agent will be like when you watch them with others because every relationship is unique.

Rick Daley said...

The marriage analogy is very common in business, and they way you describe it for the agent / writer relationship makes as much sense as any other industry.

In my day job I sell software solutions to businesses, and we strive for a long-term relationship, not a once-and-done sale. The sales cycle is often described in terms like "we're dancing, but not in bed together." Or if we are trying to leverage out an incumbent, it's like trying to break up a marriage.

I think your points about communication are spot-on. You will agree on plans, and at times they will change. The important thing is to make your partner aware of those changes in a timely manner, and make sure you include a valid reason.

Silver James said...

I listen when agented authors talk about their relationships with their agents. So much depends on the personalities and style of both people. It might not be a marriage, but it's definitely a partnership which should be based on faith, shared goals, honesty, and open lines of communication.

"Leap of faith" is an excellent way to describe it, especially when signing a NEW client/agent. Thank you for giving us your insights. A lot of us are making notes and will hopefully make the right choice when we take the plunge.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I'm not afraid of that at all.

I'm afraid of getting an agent. Period.

Thankfully, there are many options. The only time an agent is required is if the Big New York publishers are the only choice. They're not. There's also small press and ePublishing.

So, I'll explore all my options. If I find an agent I want to work with, great. If I find an ePublisher editor I'd rather work woth, well, that works too.

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

As with any important relationship, communication is key. As a writer, I have to trust my instincts and hold up my end of the bargain.

This post reminds me of when I did interior design for a living. So many of our clients couldn't make up their minds on which couch to buy. I'd be thinking, "pick the one you like, enjoy it, and move on!!!" Some people have a hard time making choices and feel they must see every possible option before they take the plunge. Um, no you don't. Have confidence, trust yourself, and buy the damn couch!

Hillsy said...

Does that mean I can buy an smaller and more obediant agent from Thialand?

Word verification - Aerin: Latin for Cupboard

Christina said...

Andrew: Hahaha!

Is that the pocket agent by Apple? I've heard great things. =D

Anonymous said...

I love this idea of "choosing" an agent. Unless I'm weirder than I thought, most writers seeking publication are hoping like hell a decent agent will choose them. There's an agent I really want to work with, but if she doesn't pick me, it's just going to be an unrequited love. I may find the perfect match later, or I may jump at the first gal that asks, and pay for it.


Bill Greer said...

If the agent/author relationship is like a marriage, then a query is akin to a proposal.

That would explain why it's necessary to get the agent's name right in the query.

Jeannie said...

I've been watching agent blogs for a while now and think it's a great way to get to know them. This way we get to know their "voice" too.
I can only hope for the day when I get to choose an agent!

Chris Stovell said...

That's a really helpful post, thank you.

Vivi Anna said...

Anon: it is the writer who makes the decision to work with the agent, an agent makes an offer of representation then it is up to the writer to accept it or not.

And a writer should never accept it until he/she has done their homework on the agent, and has at least had one good phone conversation with them with a list of questions he/she wants answered

Eileen said...

There is one thing for writers to keep in mind when using the marriage analogy. While this may be the only agent for you, your agent will be (gasp) seeing other writers at the same time. There will be times when your agent has to focus on their other clients. As much as it can be hard to believe, we are not always the center of the universe. I have no idea how they manage all our egos and hang ups.

I adore my agent. She's been an amazing business partner and the longer we've worked together the more we've gotten to know each other. Choose wisely.

Rick Daley said...

"Is that the pocket agent by Apple?"

It's called the iRep, should be in stores in time for the holidays.

Anonymous said...

Vivi Anna;

Of course I understand that. But everything hinges on that offer of representation, doesn't it? My point is the idea of "choosing" is wonderful, but if my proposal doesn't strike the agent's fancy when the "choice" part is flipped back over in her court, then we're never going to get to the Accepting of the Proposal.

I'm not disagreeing with today's post--I think it's relevant and helpful--I was just making a pragmatic-by-experience observation on the subject of choosing your agent.


Becke Davis said...

I think, for a lot of us, reaching the stage Jessica describes in this post is a distant dream. It's hard to worry about the nitty-gritty of an author/agent relationship when you are trying to find that magic ingredient that will get your query to sing. When you're going over the umpteenth revision of your story, trying to get it right. (Or maybe it's just me with the umpteenth revisions.) When you're trying to keep up with the day job, while making time to write, to learn your craft, to build a marketing platform, to do all those things newbie writers do.

I imagine part of the problem is that, when a writer finally gets a message from an agent that isn't a rejection, they are so shocked and overwhelmed at this sign they have finally done something RIGHT, that minor details like contracts get lost in the shuffle.

It's like getting married, as Rick mentioned: it's easy to focus on the wedding day, forgetting that the hard work of marriage begins after the confetti has been swept up.

Mira said...

Yes, I like this post, it's a good reminder to slow down.

I can imagine if I ever get an an offer, I'll be like, really?? You're kidding. Okay, I've my lunch hour is wide open. Let's head to Vegas and have Elvis hitch us up, pronto, before you change your mind.

But it guess it could be a good idea to go on a date or two before tying the knot.

Anonymous said...

Good post, thank you!

I hope to have the problem some day.

Anonymous said...


I want an agent. Any agent. Not picky.

Anonymous said...

These are good points. Biggest problem I see is: I have a list of maybe a couple dozen agents that I've read enough about, met in person, heard via word-of-mouth, etc., that I can be remotely sure that I would be able to work with. If I kept my querying to these 'sureties' I would severely reduce my chances of finding an agent. The current market makes this even more apparent. The fact is, you query pretty much everyone who has an interest in your genre (that part at least is researchable), and then if it gets to that point of representation, you discuss things with the possible agent and see if any red flags go up. Aspiring authors can only afford to be so choosy.

Juliana Stone said...

that is called the courtship. :-)

And it's tough, but you do choose, when you make a decision to query a certain agent. If she accepts your query, wants more, then the game begins. But it is about choice and choosing an agent is one of the most difficult decisions you'll make. good luck in any future courtships you seek out!

And like vivi say, do your homework, talk to the other clients, ask a lot of questions...

Anonymous said...

Oooh, courtship. That sounds so...courtly--Crap, I just crossed another name off my dance card.

Oh well, I have unlimited opportunities to re-impress her, right? Guys?


Anonymous said...

Although I would not want to date, marry or even sit next to my agent at a dinner party, she is excellent and I feel quite fortunate to have her representing me. We correspond exclusively via e-mail because we simply cannot converse on the phone to either of our satisfaction (she is quite bubbly and talks so much I don't feel I can ever ask my questions, let alone get them answered).

Ours might be described as a relationship that works for one purpose and one purpose only--selling my books. Thankfully, for that one isolated purposes, it is a success.