Back when I did my “It Takes a Village” post on all the people who go into book publishing, I mentioned that defining any one of those jobs would take a blog unto itself. Well, I don’t know enough to dedicate a post to each and every one of those positions, but I certainly know enough about agenting, so I’m pleased to present to you “What Agents Are and Aren’t.” (I know, but all the catchy titles were taken.)
Your business managers and career planners. Just as you would call your lawyer for legal aid and your accountant for financial planning, you would lean on your agent for business guidance and career advice. Not just advice, of course, but action. We should be available to discuss strategies and options and to initiate courses of action that are decided upon. We’re also here to play bad cop. If you have a problem with your publisher, you don’t blog, tweet or tell your friends about it, you call your agent. We can handle things in a diplomatic way that gets the issue solved while still preserving your editorial relationships.
Your rolodex. What’s that? Am I really acquainting an agent’s job with an outdated piece of paraphernalia? Well, yes and no. What I mean here is that it’s an agent’s job to maintain contacts, just like a rolodex. We keep up-to-date on who’s buying what from whom, who’s out on vacation or maternity leave, what various editors like or dislike, where they are and how to reach them. I suppose in that sense, we’re possibly more like private investigators. Wait, I like that idea much more. Totally justifies my fedora.
Your negotiators. Agents negotiate overall terms of a deal, then go over the contracts when they arrive with a fine-tooth comb, haggling out language and any issues that arise.
Your subsidiary rights managers. Any rights that we’ve retained on your behalf (i.e. not granted to the publisher), like translation rights, film and television, merchandising, audio, etc., we work either directly or through subagents in other countries/fields with whom we have a relationship to submit work and negotiate agreements.
Your sounding boards/editors. Not all agents work editorially with their authors, so it’s something you’ll want to find out about a representative (asking works really well) before signing on. However, from my perspective, there’s too much competition out there not to take advantage of a professional’s expertise to hone ideas, synopses and partials before they’re ever seen by the publishing houses.
Your Yes-men. If you want someone to tell you what you want to hear and reconfirm all of your thoughts and ideas, get a parrot or an apprentice, a la The Donald. If you want someone to tell it like it is, hopefully in terms that make it easy to swallow, you get an agent. They won’t always tell you what you want to hear, but they will tell it to you straight, or should anyway.
Your Publicists. We may have a publicity/promotions specialist at the company, as we do at The Knight Agency, but that specialist works with all of the authors at the agency and so won’t have the time to work on individual marketing plans or to set up signings for each author. What the specialist may do is advise on plans that are in place, promote the authors collectively through the agency website, newsletter, Twitter account and other media, occasionally highlighting specific titles or authors. However, you’ll be assigned a publicist at your house who will help to set up signings and arrange other types of promotion. Again, they’ll be assigned a lot of other authors as well, so if you want personalized attention, you may want to consider hiring your own brand specialist, publicity/promotions person or virtual assistant.
Wow, I feel like there should be a whole host of other things that agents aren’t, but really, we do it all. Oh, okay, we’re not runway models, therapists, skydivers, structural engineers or any number of other things…except when we are.