Most writers I meet at conferences or who send me proposals or queries are unagented. Right now, so am I. I’ve had two very good ones in the past and I’m sure I’ll find another one in the future (hopefully soon).
I’m sure some writers wonder why I need an agent. After all, doesn’t an agent just find the right publisher for your project and then simply help negotiate the contract? Why would an editor who already knows the publishing houses and their editors, and understands the basics of a contract need an agent?
That question reveals a lack of understanding about what a good agent does. Yes, he or she helps find the right publisher for your proposal and also negotiates a favorable contract. But there’s more involved than just those two basic tasks. I’d like to dwell on three of the often overlooked talents of a good agent.
1. The first talent is that an agent–a good agent–is interested in more than just the present proposal you’ve submitted. A good agent has taken the time to understand who you are as a writer, what are your strengths and weaknesses—and perhaps most importantly: Is that good agent in sympathy with what you want to accomplish as a writer? Has he or she taken a personal interest in your projects? If so, they’ll be eager to place your projects, not just for their commission check, but also because they share your excitement and passion for your projects. In short, they’re not just an agent, but also an advocate.
2. The second talent a good agent has is the ability to judge between what you want to accomplish as a writer and where you are presently as a writer. This agent can look objectively at your proposal or manuscript and tell you that the protagonist has a great personality, but the plot isn’t holding up. Or that your proposal about God’s love is fine doctrinally, but it doesn’t connect emotionally with readers.
3. At some time or other, every writer needs a cheerleader. That cheerleader (apart from your spouse, mother, or critique partner) should be your agent. The good agent can encourage you when you receive another rejection. He or she can convince you that you CAN make that weak plot stronger. Or that perhaps it’s time to give up on the speculative fiction genre and try something else. (And when that good agent has a recommendation, listen hard. The boneyard of unpublished writers is populated by potentially successful authors who simply wouldn’t listen to the wise words of a good agent).
To be able to handle the business end of agenting, plus carry out the above roles, takes a special kind of person. If you have such an agent, send that person an email immediately, thanking him or her for being such a crucial partner in your writing career. Then send me that email address. 🙂