Why I Need a [Good] Agent…and So Do You

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 The boneyard of unpublished writers is populated by potentially successful authors who simply wouldn’t listen to the wise words of a good agent).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. 🙂

8 replies
  1. Judith Robl says:

    Thank you for this post on behalf of good agents who are under-appreciated. Some jobs are more difficult to describe than others. This is one of them because there are so many facets to it.

  2. linda glaz says:

    You might have been describing Terry Burns, my agent, and what he taught me from the get go when I was his assistant, Nick. It was from Terry that I learned to be hands on with my clients. (Including a client loop that folks can interact on daily if they choose. Helps them all to come together in a really positive way: ask questions, offer helps, pray for each other. And to not take a project unless I’m completely behind it, even if I know it will sell and sell well. If I don’t feel that connection to it, how can shout its praises to an editor. And shouldn’t we all be shouting hurrah for the people we represent, sometimes with productive criticism, and other times, just because they need a boost to keep at it when all seems lost. This was a great post, Nick, and I feel like you’re spot on. We all want someone to be completely in our corner when we start navigating the waters of publishing. Thank you for sharing this!

  3. Deborah Dee Harper says:

    Nick, I agree with Linda that our agent, Terry Burns, is precisely that kind of agent. He’s also kind, caring, and funny. Those attributes, along with those you named, make him a wonderful fit for me, and I’m blessed to be one of his very lucky clients.

    Thanks for a great post!


  4. Jenny McLeod Carlisle says:

    This is turning into the Terry Burns show. I am grateful to him and to Hartline for assuming the burden of keeping up with the ever changing world of Christian publishing. The level of communication we have has moved us from nameless clients to fellow travelers and even family members on this journey. We have moved from tourists to feeling like locals. We belong here, and with the sense of security we have, we intend to be around awhile.

  5. Barbara Warren says:

    Terry Burns is my agent too, and I agree that he meets all these requirements. He cares about his clients and will do he can to help us succeed. I am grateful for all he does for his clients.

  6. Wendy L Macdonald says:

    “Advocate” and “cheerleader” are the reasons why I’m hoping for an agent. Thank you, Nick, for reminding me why I’m sending out query letters. I dream of capturing the eye of someone who gets my writing and the reasons behind it.

    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀

  7. Tattou says:

    that publicity has aaprpeed in the local papers and on local radio. There is information in the library, in coffee shops, pubs etc. around town and the venues holding events and through Bedfringe and We Are Bedford. We have also achieved a listing and publicity through the British Council of Arts. This years event’ has been put together in the space of a few weeks, initially the plan was to launch the festival properly next year but there has been enough interest from venues/participants to organise some events this year. The venues where events have been held so far have all been full so publicity has been sufficient in that respect. The events are also all listed on the What’s on section of Love Bedford.

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