I’ve had the divine pleasure of being represented by the amazing Michelle Wolfson for over three years now.
I spent a year before that represented by another agent, plus a stretch of time managing my own writing career without an agent (go here if you want the whole sordid story).
While that history doesn’t necessarily make me an expert on agents, a lack of expertise seldom deters me from getting on my soapbox. I’ve heard a few assertions about agent/client relationships lately that don’t match my experience, so I’m in the mood to argue. Feel free to disagree or feel free to squeal “ohmygod you’re so right!” (something I routinely pay strangers to do).
Here are my top three agent myths.
Agent myth #1: Bigger is better
Agencies can range from small one-person operations to groups with enough agents to round out a complete (and mildly terrifying) hockey team. There are advantages to each, and it’s important to remember that a high number of clients or major deals on an agent’s tally sheet isn’t a mark of quality any more than the number of notches on a guy’s bedpost is a reliable indicator of his ability to make your toes curl.
In December 2006, I was lucky to have four excellent agents offer to represent me. I mulled my decision long and hard (pausing only a few times to snicker over “long and hard”) and ultimately went with the one with the largest agency and the longest track record of sales in my genre. Seemed like a reasonably wise decision at the time, but I soon realized it wasn’t the right decision for me. While there are surely oodles of happy clients on that agent’s roster, there’s a disadvantage to being an oodle. At times, I felt like a number (and as a new author, not a very high one). Communication was infrequent and not particularly personal. While this might suit other authors’ preferences, it didn’t suit mine.
When I signed with Michelle Wolfson, things were much different. It was unusual to have a week pass without some form of communication. I was in the loop on everything, from where my projects were being sent to how editors were responding. When editors didn’t instantly throw open the doors, she looked for windows to smash. While plenty of agents might consider dropping an author who didn’t quickly earn her keep, Michelle never lost her passion for my writing or for finding me the right home.
Is that all because she’s a smaller, one-woman boutique agency? Not entirely – a lot of it is just Michelle’s general fabulousness. But I have come to believe that a single agent with an overwhelming enthusiasm for your work is the most powerful force on the planet. Size doesn’t matter.
Well, in this context, anyway.
Agent myth #2: The agent works for me
I’ve heard this philosophy tossed about most frequently by unagented authors. In their minds, the agent is there to serve as an author’s private doorman to publishing houses. Sure, the agent has the connections, but the author should decide where the work should be sent and how it should be edited. This is so laughably inaccurate that I had to stop twice to choke on my Chianti while typing that line.
The agent client relationship is a partnership – period. Each person brings an integral set of skills, connections, and knowledge to the table. The author isn’t the agent’s boss any more than the agent is the author’s boss (though I’ll admit it – I kinda like it when Michelle tells me what to do).
Agent myth #3: You should fall at the feet of any agent who offers to rep you
I recently spoke as part of a panel of authors addressing an RWA group about what we learned in our first year after the sale. Of those of us with agents, every single one of us had been through more than one relationship. Finding the right fit is crucial both for the client and the agent. If an agent is considering offering representation, you can be damn sure he/she is checking you out and weighing whether you’d be a pleasure to work with or the equivalent of a wolverine on LSD.
Do your homework, too. Ask questions of existing and former clients and check out what’s being said around the Absolute Write Water Cooler. I’ve heard it said over and over, and it bears repeating – having an agent who isn’t the right fit is worse than having no agent at all. You owe it to yourself to be choosy.
Those are my top three agent myths. Do you have any to add? Care to disagree on any of those points? I won’t even insist we take it out back to the bicycle racks. Discuss freely!