the agent’s job

In comments on another agent’s blog a few days back I saw someone say something along the lines of “the agent’s job is to accept or reject work” (paraphrased because I didn’t go back and find the reference in the pile of comments).

And my first thought was…. well, no, not exactly. Or, well, not just (which is how that person made it sound).

The agent’s job is to take their current clients’ projects and get them into the hands of publishers in an effort to garner offers (hopefully multiple) and secure a contract for publication. And thereafter to continue by following up on payments, royalty statements, and subsidiary rights. And that succinct summation doesn’t even begin to cover the amount of details involved. Or special cases such as what happens when a contract gets canceled, or a project gets orphaned (publishing speak for losing your editor due to a move or “right-sizing”).

And, if that agent feels they can support additional clients, part of their job would include looking for those.

I also personally see the advantage of being an advocate for the writing community in general. Hence, blogging for the last several years, attending conferences to deliver workshops, etc…. Participation in the conversation of writing and the craft, not just the business side of things. For me, there’s more to it than just closing the deal. I find it’s healthy for me to connect back into that gestalt and not just let it turn into pushing paper (virtual or otherwise).

Back to the original comment that spawned this — where does reading non-client submissions fall into the scheme of things? It’s R&D. A good company realizes that it will need to grow and evolve even if it has sure-fire products that currently satisfy the market. An agent needs to do the same thing. But R&D is a projection into the future. It’s often challenging to express it in terms of tangibility, at least at first. It’s based on experience that it pans out and faith in choosing the direction that will do so. So, queries are inherently speculative. Luckily, we don’t have to justify the time and resources spent on them to stockholders….

But it’s still time and resources. And a balance has to be struck. Which is why it seems some agents don’t see reading queries and new submissions as their primary work. This doesn’t mean they don’t think it’s valuable. It doesn’t mean they don’t want to keep looking.

There’s nothing quite like a break-through discovery. There’s a hunger that happens for something new and shiny. But there’s also the drive to build and develop something lasting and good. I have clients who are brand new; I have clients that I’ve represented for more than a dozen books, from their debut to the first book to hit a bestseller list several years later, and being involved in that is also an amazing experience. Adding to this can enrich the entire spectrum. Which is something to keep in mind. But it is hardly the only thing.

8 responses to “the agent’s job

  1. The agent is quite busy! Reading this got me all excited about that process and what all goes into representing authors.

  2. I’m amazed that you have time for anything really. What I’m looking forward to when I find my future agent is having a partner who believes in me. Sure my family and friends support me, but professional support is priceless, and agents give that too.
    And no, I’m not trying to sound like a kiss-ass, just had a really good day.

  3. I guess a lot of aspiring writers are so focused on the process of getting an agent that they assume the agent is solely focused on getting writers. But that’s like thinking a chef’s job is just to get people into the restaurant, rather than actually cooking.

  4. On your website you list 44 of your clients’ websites. Is that all of your clients? How much time does your average client take? I suppose it’s all a matter of how many books each client writes, and that some times must be more busy than others if several of them finish something at the same time.
    So I suppose I’m really asking, if you know: How many clients do you think will be enough for you?

  5. Ooh, that’s awesome. First time I hear about queries being R&D for agents, but it makes a heck of a lot of sense.

  6. I think an agent’s client list is like a garden – if you want to keep it healthy and thriving, you need to work at it, weeding here and adding to it there. Eventually, if you only do maintenance on what you already have. there will be nothing left.
    The people you pick out from the queries today are – hopefully – the ones who will pay your bills in ten years’ time. And I think calling conference attendance and blogging ‘R&D’ is spot on – because all agents and editors benefit from having a community of writers who understand what they need to do in order to develop saleable books.

  7. Hi,
    I was wondering, if a query was sent first week of July, would there be a response, yet? I remember reading that you were very busy coming back from vacation….
    Thanks.

  8. Thank you for a really informative article. It’s great to be reminded that the focus is always on current clients, rather than new ones. It must be intensely difficult to balance the search for the next special thing, and the people you already have.

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