Agent Soup

The platform class has launched blogs, syndicated them with FaceBook and Twitter and written their first posts. Now we move on to the agent-shopping process. I know–your bones chill at the mention. You know you must write a perfect query letter but no one has ever done it. You’ve heard that agents are like trolls waiting under the bridge for unsuspecting writers to come trip-trapping across. How much is true and how much is myth?
Writing Tip for Today: An agent is an emissary. The idea is that a literary agent will know precisely which editors are most likely to fall in love with your project. For placing your work, they receive a small percentage. Some wonder if, with the technology boom in e-books, agents will become obsolete. From all I’ve read, the answer is no. Here are some things a good agent should do:

  • For the general market, be a member of the Association of Author Representatives (AAR). Agents must have a solid track record and be sponsored in order to join.
  • If not living in one of the publishing hubs (like New York City) agent should have personal relationship with the major publishers you’re aiming for. With the Internet it isn’t 100% necessary to live in NYC anymore. BUT, notice how many agents do live in places where editors are (NYC, Nashville, Colorado Springs). This should tell you that these agents are far more likely to actually know people.
  • State the terms of your agreement simply. Some agencies offer contracts, others work on a verbal agreement. You should know if the agency takes the standard 15% on domestic sales, and what if any, other charges may be incurred, such as copy fees. YOUR AGENT SHOULD NEVER CHARGE A READING FEE.
  • Discuss with you the vision for the book and give suggestions for revisions if they are necessary.
  • Submit to editors in a timely manner and keep you informed on which houses are in the consideration queue.
  • Give you a detailed list of rejections, with possible reasons or feedback if appropriate, in a timely manner. This will probably be weeks to months, but if several months have elapsed without an answer, politely ask your agent for an update.

Some Things Agents Do Not Do:

  • Hold your hand twenty-four hours a day. Email or call your agent with legitimate concerns but don’t be a pest.
  • Rewrite your story. Agents will often help shape a novel or focus a book, but the agent’s primary role is not as editor. If an agent offers to edit your work for a fee, run. Agents should make money selling books, not from editing.
  • Make a company buy your work. Good agents are experts at matching projects to editors, but in publishing there are no guarantees.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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