10 Things to Expect from an Agent
(The Real Deal This Time)
1. Expect them to have a strong track record of selling books to legitimate publishers and/or experience in the publishing industry.
→ Check Publisher’s Marketplace
→ Ask around, ask other authors, ask others in the biz. Find out what books they’ve represented and check the acknowledgements page of those books.
→ If they haven’t been an agent for long, make sure they’ve been in publishing for awhile. Check references. Google them.
2. Expect they have access to the right publishers and editors.
→ The “right ones” are the ones you need for your book.
→ The agent should know which publishers are likely to be interested in your proposal.
→ Agents have relationships with editors and publishers, something that most unagented writers don’t have, which is one reason to have an agent.
3. Expect them to understand books, literature, and the power of words.
→ You may not want someone who is strictly a business & contracts person (or you might, it’s up to you).
→ Many agents edit, revise, critique and otherwise help shape and polish proposals, chapters and even complete manuscripts before submitting to publishers, thereby giving your work the best chance of selling.
→ You want them to understand what you do, and recognize good projects.
4. Expect them to be ethical and abide by the ethics guidelines of the AAR (Association of Authors Representatives) whether or not they are members.
→ No secret profits.
→ Can’t profit from reading or evaluating client’s work.
→ Don’t charge for “consultations.”
5. Expect them to handle the business aspects of your career.
→ This frees you to concentrate on your writing.
→ The agent is your business representative and protects your best interests, secures advances, settles contract disputes, collects money, reviews royalty statements, ensures that publishers meet their contractual obligations, and host of other activities.
→ Agents negotiate all the points in your contract and help you understand it.
6. Expect them to be an ongoing source of support and to intervene with your publisher when necessary.
→ A good literary agent is in your corner at all times.
→ An agent is a go-between for you and your editor on all business matters, which could potentially put a crimp in your relationship with your editor.
→ Late contracts? Late checks? Faulty accounting? Bad cover copy? Atrocious cover art? Unreasonable deadlines? Your agent will step in on your behalf, so you can go back to doing what you do best: writing.
7. Expect them to be responsive and communicative.
→ They should return calls or emails within a reasonable amount of time.
→ They should keep clients informed of the status of submissions.
8. Expect them to offer guidance, tell you the truth, and give an informed opinion when you need it.
→ A literary agent gets paid for her opinion, because it is necessarily well-informed, pertinent, influenced by her in-depth knowledge of the industry, and it’s one of the reasons you have an agent.
→ You’re going to have to deal with rejection, so get used to it. Your agent will usually be the one conveying the news.
9. Expect them to be interested in your career and future, helping you grow as a writer.
→ They can serve as career coach, helping you to strategize your long-term plan for success.
10. Expect them to be your biggest fan and closest ally.
→ They should treat clients as the reason why they exist in the first place.
→ They should be your closest ally throughout the publishing process. You are not walking this path alone.
WHAT NOT TO EXPECT
1. Don’t expect them to be on the phone with you everyday. Communicate when you need to, but avoid overkill.
2. Don’t expect them to play hardball on every contract or bargain until they drop. They have to maintain good relationships with publishers, which serves everyone’s best interest in the long run.
3. Don’t expect them to shop a single project forever if it’s not selling. Expect them to encourage you to move on to another project.
4. Don’t expect them to publicize or market your books. They can help steer you toward ideas and options, but most agents are not book publicists.
Rachelle Gardner, Christian literary agent, WordServe Literary Group, Colorado.