Thursday, July 24, 2008

Putting Your Agent To Work

Question of the day: What is your relationship with your agent? What role do agents play in a writers career? Do they help with book promotion or with connections as to such? If I don't feel like my agent is a good match for me or lacks enthusiasm about my work at this point how do you divorce an agent?

I'll answer your last question - how to leave your agent - on the next blog post, but for now, there's a lot of stuff here to cover.

Let me first say that every agent, and thus, every relationship with an agent, is different. I happen to have a very reciprocal, fluid relationship with my agent - we are in constant touch, she helps me shape ideas for plots and characters, I keep her up to date on my press stuff, she keeps me up to date on administrative stuff, etc. When I was searching for an agent, however, I was acutely aware of my personal operating style: I NEED to be kept in the loop because I am anal about taking care of every last detail. So I needed to be matched with an agent who didn't mind having a free flow of information between us. Not all agents are willing to do this (Miss Snark made it clear that she wasn't, for example) and not all authors need this. Many authors are content to hear news on a need-to-know basis, but I'm not one of them, and if I were saddled with an agent who kept things close to her vest, I'd be miserably unhappy. BUT, this isn't to say that agents who aren't as communicative are just as good agents - they very well might be, they just wouldn't be well-suited to my style.

As far as what role an agent plays in your career, well, ideally, your agent is the one who navigates your career for you. Your agent wears a lot of hats: cheerleader, editor, go-between, but in my mind, none is more important than how they pilot your career. Ideally, you and your agent should be in this for the long run, so (in a perfect world), you'll have a longer-term strategy for the trajectory of your career. Is this a lot to ask from an agent? Maybe. But we're speaking in idealized terms here, and so I think this is an important point. For example, as I've mentioned here in the past, I wrote a book between The Department and Time of My Life that got some so-so offers but weren't what I really hoped for. My agent and I conferred, and thanks to her insights, we decided to pass on those offers and have me take a crack at another book, which turned out to be Time of My Life. My agent fully believed that I had a BIG BOOK in me, and that it was this BIG BOOK that would ultimately help me break out as an author. (Time will tell, of course!) Had I accepted one of these other offers, my career would be on an entirely different trajectory, and not in a good way. But she had the foresight to help steer me where I needed to go, and I think a good agent can and should be able to do this for you.

Finally, as far as agents helping you with promotion, absolutely...though only to a point. My agent set up meetings with my publicity team and has stayed in touch with them (as have I), as we gear up for the launch. She's also helped brainstorm ideas with me as to where we can generate press, looked through contacts of hers whom she's sent the book to, and helped me land a blurb from one of my all-time favorite authors. All of this really speaks to how proactive she is, in every aspect of my career.

Will every agent do this for you? Absolutely not. And that's okay. As I said before, everyone has different expectations of what an agent will bring to the table, but these were the expectations that I had of mine, and she's easily met them. In turn, I know that she has certain expectations of me as an author, and I feel confident that I've met them too. I trust her, and she trust me, and that's the underlying critical element here. If you don't trust your agent to do right by you or to truly go to bat for you, then....well...we'll get to leaving your agent (something I've also done!) in the next post. :)

Readers out there who have agent representation, what do you expect of your agent? Does he/she help steer your career and/or help with your book promotion?

1 comment:

Caryn Caldwell said...

This is good to know, especially since I will soon be looking for an agent.