“Do I Need An Agent, and How Will I Know If I Do?”

I posted the following link on November 14:

“Do I Need an Agent and How Will I Know If I Do?”: a chat with Sharene Martin, co-founder of the Wylie-Merrick Literary Agency from the Institute of Children’s Literature. See also Wylie-Merrick Literary Agency.

But I’m featuring it again because it has been updated with some Q&As that previously were lost to cybergremlins. Scroll toward end to read (see header in hot pink).

A few random thoughts of my own from reading the chatlog:

Sharene indicates that queries have to wait because “clients come first.” I’ve spoken with a number of writers who fret agent turnaround time, and certainly, it should be within a professionally acceptable window. But it is important to remember that an agent without a solid client base (unless they say, just moved over from editing) is somewhat suspect. An agent without producing writers who are keeping him/her busy may not be one you want to work with either. And if you are someday a client who’s invested a career with that agent, you’ll have every reasonable expectation of coming first over hopefuls. On the other hand, if you have a connection or introduction or the stars are aligned, you absolutely might hear back quickly. But for the most part, keep the bigger picture in mind.

It was mentioned that some writers think an agent translates to an automatic sale and/or a quick sale. I have a top-tier agent, and I’m published by HarperCollins, Dutton, and Candlewick, but certainly, I’ve had manuscripts rejected since signing. Of my upcoming books, Santa Knows (Dutton, 2006) was rejected once (though it did go to committee), Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) was rejected twice, and the pb mss I’m revising for Dutton now was rejected twice (possibly, for me, the third time’s the charm!).

It’s true that agents are much more concerned–exclusively concerned?–with the writing than anything you can say in a cover letter. The main mistake made with cover letters–too long. Best to let the writing speak for you. Besides, it shows confidence.

Sharene mentioned that she’s not an editorial agent, meaning that she doesn’t work with her clients on manuscripts once they’re submitted to her. They must be ready to go to an editor. Agents actually vary on this question. My agent is likewise what I call a thumbs-up, thumbs-down agent. But one of my favorite agents often has her clients revise a couple of times before sending to an editor. It’s a personal preference issue.

Another point made was that authors must promote our books. It seems like everyone I know is either an avid promoter or does nothing. One of the biggest concerns, especially for women, is that they feel as though they’re bragging or inappropriately drawing attention to themselves. Here’s what I say to them: It’s not about you. It’s about your book(s). It’s also arguably about your role, some might say responsibility, as an ambassador for youth literature and literacy. And if that’s not persuasive, consider this: your future publishing contracts will be determined in part on your past sales. Besides, did you write that book in hopes that no one would read it?

I had one point of personal potential disagreement with Sharene, though overall I found her comments outstanding, and that was with the issue of editor/agent relationships. Unless I misunderstood, she didn’t seem to think that editors cared who the agent was, but rather only about the quality and fit of the manuscript. This is only my gut feeling, but… It seems to me that if I were an editor, and a manuscript was submitted by an agent who was a particular pain, that manuscript would have to be not only good enough, but also good enough to make up for the hassle. Just a theory!

A few other reasons to work with an agent: (1) publishing is changing daily, becoming a bigger and more competitive business; (2) the ongoing evolution of rights–such as electronic–and increased publisher aggressiveness at holding onto as much as they can; (3) your agent has more bargaining experience and power; (4) putting an agent in that role can preserve the “creative purity” of your relationship with the house; (5) agents more enthusiastically shop subrights and take a significantly smaller percentage than publishers; (6) agents are there to help fix things when something goes wrong between the author and the house; (7) packaging, submitting, and keeping track of submissions is zero fun and eats writing time.

Cynsational News & Links

Association of Artists’ Representatives: “a not-for-profit organization of independent literary and dramatic agents.” See Frequently Asked Author Questions.

“Guidelines: Seven Steps on the Path to Getting Published” by Tatiana Claudy, in the Writing Schedule section of Writer’s Support from the Institute of Children’s Literature. See also “A Writer’s Ultimate Goal” by Rose Ross Zediker, in the Writing Schedule
section of Writer’s Support from ICL.