The word on the street about editor-agent relationships is muddled at best and negative at worst. But I don’t give that much thought when I am in the trenches with an agent reviewing a proposal and negotiating an author’s contract. I decide how my relationships with agents are going to be—and I like working with agents. Why make a relationship that can be mutually beneficial unnecessarily competitive or difficult?
It makes no sense, that if I don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, to not have a great report with agents. They help me accomplish my goal for bringing great titles to my core audience, while I help them give voice to new writers and a quality publishing partnership to veteran authors (not to mention help them put a little money in their pocket). And even when it comes down to negotiating the contract, I respect their position of getting the best deal for their client. I would absolutely want that kind of care if I were a writer.
A good agent can be a writer’s best advocate. Every author does not have to have an agent (ask me about that later), but having one is a huge benefit for new writers, authors who don’t have access to editors or knowledge of the book industry, or those who are very busy in their fields and don’t have time to wade through all the publishing rigmarole.
Agents are experts at find nice homes for their authors’ projects. So when I happen to be part of the house hunting, here’s what I like best about working with agents:
1. They understand the industry.
Have you ever compared what it’s like to be in a room full of strangers with having coffee with a close friend or family member? Big difference, right? You don’t have to go through a lot to make yourself known or to express who you are when you’re with friends and family. They just know. I am not friends or family with all the agents I interact with, obviously. But I find rest and peace in that fact that I don’t have to do a lot of explaining about if an author is ready to be published or not. They know. As a matter of fact, they usually don’t introduce me to authors who aren’t ready. Ahhh… Let's just take a moment and bask in that.
They know what it takes to get a publisher interested in an author. They know what readers want. They know what book buyers and distributors want. And they know how to explain this to authors and get them ready for success.
2. They are able to keep personal and emotional distance through the vetting process.
This takes a lot of strain off of me when I need to quickly process the many proposals that come across my desk. I can say, “Yes, send me more” or “No, this is not something I am looking for at this time,” and the agent says, “OK. Thank you for taking the time to review it. Could you give me an idea of some of the things you are acquiring right now?” Best. Question. Ever. This shows tremendous integrity and desire to make the best connection between writer and publisher. It also shows that they respect my time and their own. Time is money!
Even if I reject something they’ve submitted to me. I know that I don’t need to go into a long explanation for why it didn’t work. Agents, again, understand the fluctuations of the industry. It’s fickle. Last year, I was only acquiring historical women’s fiction. Now I am acquiring women’s contemporary as well. An agent understands that my rejection is not personal and may have little to do with the book itself.
3. They work hard to give me the resources I need to sell their author to my team.
- Sales team needs a hook and unique selling proposition? Done. The agent provided that in the proposal
- Marketing needs to know the author’s media connections, past speaking experience, and social media presence? Done. The agent has provided that in the proposal.
- Editorial needs to know details about the content, how it relates to the author’s personal story, and how well the author writes? Done. The agent provided that in the proposal.
Good agents intuitively and experientially know their way around a publishing house. Many of them have worked for publishers in some capacity and are able to anticipate the questions and concerns that may arise from the different perspectives represented at a committee/acquisitions meeting.
4. They are sensitive to what projects I am specifically interested in buying.
As I mentioned above, the good agents are not about wasting my time or their own. They are specific and aim to deliver to me projects that fit what my house published. If they miss the mark, they may ask a few follow-up questions to make sure they can get on target for next time. If find that my editorial team is able to work with the same agents, buying their projects over and over again, because they know what we like and are great at match making.
5. They are flexible and work with my proposal process.
Publishers are weird. You can’t deny that. So instead of having one industry-wide query and proposal process, each of us have our own. But what agents are good at is being flexible and giving us the information we need the way that best allows for our teams to fall in love with their author. The bigger picture is serving the author; the details are what close the deal.
I am sure other editors could say the same thing about why they like working with certain agents, which means that these agents know well how to represent authors of various genres. These special agents have a solid understanding of who publishes what and what author would fit best with what publisher. That’s golden! Find these agents and you will have a publishing deal that is a blessing and benefit to you. You won’t suffer from the pancake principle: The first one always sucks. You will break the mold with one of these men or women representing you. You’re first publishing experience can be a success.
What are some things you’ve experiences that make a good agent great?