Daily Archives: May 5, 2010

The Truth About Agents

Before submitting a manuscript, I do a lot of research on an agency in general and an agent in particular.  This method either makes me extremely picky or a master procrastinator.  The end product is that I’m a submission snail.  Slow and plodding.

Along the way, I read articles, interviews and blog posts about my potential victims agents.  Iread information on the industry and try to keep up with publishing news.  I do not submit randomly just because an agent has a pulse.

In the past few weeks, what I’ve uncovered is a truth about agents that reminds me of my days as a childcare provider.  Agents are woefully underappreciated by the majority of writer wanna-bes.  Their careers are not what we picture them to be.  They do  not sit on the couch watching Oprah and eating BonBons while kids run free and beat each other over the head with shovels. 

Oops, I got ahead of myself there.

But the point is the same: agents work hard to find talent they feel passionate about.  As writers, we would do better to understand where they come from.

A Few Truths About Agents

  • They do not get paid to read our slush.  There is no all encompassing salary from the publishing gods that pays them to read through submissions.  None.  Therefore, the precious sentence or two they spend on our writing is done for FREE.  How many of us would punch out and then put in five more hours of work?
  • They do not get paid until we get paid.  An agent’s income is a fraction of our advance and royalties.  When they read our query letter (for free) and request a full (for free) and consider our manuscripts (for free) and pimp us to publishers (for free) and haggle over contracts (uh huh, for free) THEY DO NOT GET PAID.  Again, how many of us would accept a job where the boss says, “Dude, I want you to work for me, but I’m not gonna pay you yet.  If you can keep my kid from getting one bruise in the next six months, I’ll write you a check.”? 
  • “Agents” are not a whole.  Some agents are professional, others are not.  Some like to edit, others do not.  Some rep a career, while others rep a book.  Some like email.  Others dig snail mail.  Some put ketchup on their eggs.  Others are vegan.  My point is, agents are individuals.  They have individual preferences, personalities and business practices.  Respect their individuality.  I hated being lumped in with other daycare providers because I NEVER watch tv and think BonBons are nasty.  Did you know that writers are mentally ill and will likely attempt suicide?  Hurts to be lumped, doesn’t it?
  • There is no law that says agents have to respond to queries with a personal touch.  The agenting gods did not decree this.  It is not our given right as writers to get glowing rejections, a full manuscript critique or a reference list of other agents to query.  This is a matter of personality and time.  If you receive a form rejection, consider yourself lucky to have a response.  If it has any kind of personalization to it, consider yourself blessed. 
  • Agents have feelings.  It’s true.  I have yet to read an agent who doesn’t get hurt by nasty comments thrown their way by writers who don’t have a clue or the manners to go along with their ignorance.  Be respectful.  Listen to Thumper.  “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nuthin at all.”
  • Agents are elephants.  They have long memories.  Do not waste their time submitting the same story with a new title.  They will remember.  Do not slander them when you get your rejection.  They will happily burn the bridge.  One of the biggest reasons childcare providers quit providing care is parent problems.  We do not forget.  In reality, who does?

I guess what I’m saying is this: respect the time an agent took to even consider your manuscript.  Respect that they have limitations and personal preferences.  Know that they work long, hard hours and get paid wee, little chunks. 

In addition, don’t blanket email your manuscript to fifty agents.  Know who each agent is and what they’re like.

I love kids.  Love, love, love them.  As a licensed provider, I did my job well.  Yet even then, I knew that my home was not the place for every child who had working parents.  Some kids have different needs.  Some providers have different skills.  I knew that being passionate about kids wasn’t enough.  I had to be passionate about each kid as an individual. 

As a writer, I would like my agent to be passionate about my story.  Anything less and we both get the short end of the contract. 

What do you look for in an agent?  How have you tracked them down prior to submission?  Do you believe having an agent is more important than having the right agent?  What’s the difference?