The literary kind, not the people with badges and guns and stuff. What do they do, exactly? And how do they do it?

These may sound like weird questions, but I just don’t know. I did ask someone that a while ago, explaining that I don’t know. The reply was “If I were in a cynical mood, I might suggest that not knowing how to do the job of agent seems to be a prerequisite for the role!”, and I’m sure I’ll be forgiven for not naming my quotee.

Most authors rave about their agents, and I’ve taken them to be these wonderful mother figures, or bossy older sister types. They read your book and if it’s any good, they magically organise for a publisher to like it too. But how do they do that?

And how can you know that the agent who’s agreed to be your agent isn’t like the one in the quote? 

The other thing I wondered about some time ago, is when you need a new agent. What do you do? It’s like adopting a new mother, isn’t it? It’s not just hard to go to someone and ask “Will you be my Mummy?” (sorry, agent), but how to assess who would make a good agent for you.

8 responses to “Agents

  1. This is what you need – Nicola Morgan’s blog!

    She answers all those difficult questions.

  2. Wonderful. Thank you, Mary.

  3. I write physican bluegrass fiction. My agent can pick the banjo, write, smoke cigars, drink moonshine, and is a New York art dealer, so we get along fine.

  4. But which aspect of your agent’s talents sells your writing to publishers, Dr Tom? The banjo or the moonshine?

  5. Having an agent is like having a husband. A good one’s price is above rubies and a bad one…you’d be better off without her/him.
    Main things an agent can do is KNOW EVERYONE FOR YOU and know how to get to them, show them your work etc. She also has to know the market very well …If a publisher has just bought a book about witches, say, they’re not going to be up for another however good it is. She manages the MONEY and can and does ask for more where an author daren’t. She chases publicity departments who aren’t pulling their weight. She has contacts with all kinds of foreign publishers and deals with them directly. My agent keeps all foreign rights herself and sells them. She is, if you’re lucky, a wonderful reader and can advise you on how to improve your ms before she sends it out. And (THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN A WAY, even though it’s not commercial!) she is your number one fan and can sound convincing therefore when she tells publishers how marvellous your latest book is. She HAS to love your work and be in your corner against all comers.
    And yes, Nicola Morgan’s site is brilliant.
    Hope that helps, Bookwitch.

  6. I second everything Adele says. I’m going to see my agent tonight. She is going to get a BIG hug.

  7. I had one who was no good – for me. What(s)he does (or are supposed to do) is getting you good book deals, so you can concentrate on writing. Mine didn’t. I ended up having to negotiate myself.

  8. Sorry – I wrote are instead of is. Not a usual mistake!

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