In a word; no. I work with a lot of agents, and I investigate every one of them. I know what you’re thinking; why would I bother doing that if I’m after a good manuscript? The answer is that working with a bad agent is almost the same as working with a temperamental author. Both make me want to slit my throat.
As I’ve said before, I lurve agents. They streamline my job because they vetted the author and deemed their work publishable. I place a lot of faith in agents, and that’s why I will only work with those who have solid experience. These are the agents who know how to write a bang-up proposal. Their query letter tickles my fancy and makes me want more. Now.
These agents are prepared. If I ask for their client’s promo plan, they send it immediately. They understand the meaning of “plot” and avoid the all-description filler that drives us editors to an early grave, or a pitcher of margaritas – whichever comes first. They exude confidence and excitement for their client’s work.
They know my damn name. Yah, you’d think they would, right? But I have received queries from agents addressed to “Dear Editor.” In those cases, I repay the oversight by addressing them as “Dear Agent.” It’s rude. I don’t like it when I see it from an author, and I’m far less patient when it comes from an agent because it tells me they didn’t even bother to look at our submission guidelines – where my freaking name is ON THE PAGE. How hard can it be?
If I get a hint that an agent is fast and loose with their treatment of their authors, then what are they going to be like with me? When I sign an author, I also, by the merits of the golden umbilical cord, sign the agent. We work together throughout the pre- and post-production process, so if I don’t feel confident the agent is going to be an asset to the author, that means they won’t be an asset to me.
How do they hinder authors?
- They aren’t helpful in working on the author’s promotion plan. Promotion is a group effort, and the more brains working toward one goal increases the chances of success.
- They don’t understand how to read a royalty statement. I know this sounds silly, but our royalty statements are scary-easy to read, and having to walk an agent through the statement doesn’t promote confidence.
- They don’t keep in touch with the editor – just so see how things are going. There are times when an agent’s call his a lovely light bulb in a dark closet because they are bringing their experience to the party. Their ideas and opinions come from a slightly different perspective than mine, and I really appreciate that.
- Disinterest. The agent who makes the deal and walks away does their author a grave disservice. The job doesn’t end when the ink dries on the contract. They usually check in with me to see how editing or promotion plans are going. They get a copy of the edited manuscript, offer edits, or make suggestions.
Our philosophy is to only work with the best because it creates a domino effect that enhances our reputation. A good reputation equates to sales because the genre buyers see a pattern of high quality work from publishers whose authors are well-repped. This goes a long way to promoting the work as well. It’s a lot of little things that help boost a book into the limelight, and one of those rungs on the ladder is a darn good agent.
How do I know who’s good?
Lauren, in the comment section asked: how does a writer determine if an agent is an asset to potential editors? Lauren gets a free margarita for asking such a great question.
To this I would answer, ASK AROUND. Research is your very best friend. Get on writer’s boards like AW, where they have running commentaries on who rules and who drools. Sign up with Publisher’s Marketplace. This is an excellent resource to see who is selling what. They list book sales by genre, so you can easily see a list of agents who rep your genre, and you can see to whom they’re selling.
Choosing the right agent
I talked to a woman at the writer’s conference last weekend and she mentioned that she was repped by Grand Poobah Lit Agency. I’m talking about an agency who represents authors who breathe rarefied air. She complained that her agent hadn’t done anything for her in the year he’d repped her. My response was that he probably wouldn’t, either. Not at this late date.
See, he’s busy selling Mr./Ms. Poobah Author for millions, and he really doesn’t have the time or interest in paying attention to you, Mr./Ms. Debut Author. Chances are he pushed your manuscript around to all the likely suspects in hopes that he had a debut author with cash cow possibilities. When no one bit, he shoved you aside.
This is not the type of agent who will query the likes of smaller publishers because he’s not going to make nearly as much money. So, while it may be very cool to say, “I’m repped by Agent Poobah, dahling,” that and a dollar will buy you a Twinkie.
A lesser agent, and I’m talking about agents who make sales to all types of publishers for all kinds of advances, may be the better choice. They’ll take time to work with you and spend time pitching you to all sizes of publishers – all in the attempt to get your work sold for the very best deal they can get. Face it – not every book sells for millions, and Ms. Realistic Agent – who breathes the same air we do – understands this.
Is this better, Lauren?
Lastly, let’s be honest; we all want to associate with the best because publishing is a game of reputation and quality. We’re in this game to win and to propel our authors into the limelight because they wrote fabulous books. The agent with a great reputation enhances. The skank agent hinders. Be sure that your agent is among your biggest assets.