A Question of Style
You May REALLY Want an Agent!
Interview with Joseph Corsentino
You May REALLY Want an Agent!Wombat Droppings
by Ursula Vernon
So I'm a children's book author, as some of you know, and to make all that work smoothly without me having to do math, I have an agent who sells my work.
Let me say now, if you wanna be a published author with a big New York house -- get an agent. I've had people say to me "I don't like the idea of somebody getting 15% of my money! What a scam!" and generally my mouth hangs open for a bit and then, depending on how much caffeine I've had recently, I either explain as gently as I can how fantastically awesome an agent is, or I discover a sudden pressing need to go examine a potted plant on the other side of the county.
Agents are da bomb. Agents do all those bits that the rest of us hate and don't understand, like selling the damn book. My agent is awesome. She knows the editors. She can call them and say "This is the best book I have read all month. I will send it to you. You should buy it," and then, frequently, they do. She has a contract lawyer on staff. She could stare down a cobra and make it give a higher e-book royalty rate. She negotiates the contracts, and takes my babbling about what my schedule might possibly allow and turns it into money. She calls the editor up and says "Where is the money? Do you want our author to get a job at Wal-Mart? Cough up, you stingy bastards!" when I would hem and haw and feel rude and never do it.
I would pay her a lot more than 15% and consider myself to be getting a bargain. I would pay her blood. I would pay her in spinal fluid if that was the only currency she took. You want an agent. You really, really, really want an agent. (My agent is not taking new submissions at this time, so alas, you cannot have my agent. But there are lots more out there.)
Anyway. Ahem. That said, the agent sells work that she gets excited about. It is her job to be your book's cheerleader and biggest fan. And as authors, we write a lot of stuff, and sometimes she goes "Yay!" and runs off and says "I have this awesome book that you MUST BUY!" and sometimes she goes "….huh."
I have written a couple of "Huh" books. Well, actually, I've started a couple of "Huh" books. It is a glory of agent-ness that I can now just write the first couple of chapters, and she goes and gets somebody to pay me to write the rest. My agent has occasionally sold books based on a couple of pages and some drawings on a cocktail napkin. This woman has mojo. But I digress -- "huh" books.
See, this is one of the things nobody told me about agents, and I pass it along -- they can't or won't sell ALL your work.
There have been one or two where she says "I like this, it makes me laugh, the writing is good, but I have no idea how to sell it or who to sell it to." And this is fair, and honest, and I appreciate it. We file those under "Someday, if the name gets famous enough that people will take chances on weird stuff, maybe they will buy a book about a goblin platoon stuck behind enemy lines."
And then there was the one where she came back and said "I can't do this. It's too grim, it's freakin' me out, the writing's fine, but it's like a horror novel -- I just can't get behind it. I'm sorry."
"That's fine," I said. "Not for everybody, I understand. If you can't get excited about it, I can figure something else to do with it."
"Oh thank god," she said, and heaved a huge sigh. "It's so hard to tell your authors if they write a book that's just not for you -- a lot of them get offended. Thank you for being cool about it!"
"If I get around to finishing it, maybe I'll put it online as a serial or something..."
"That's a great idea. Do that. Just... not for me."
And that was the end of it. I've still got the manuscript, I may finish it at some point and find something else to do with it, she's still selling all the work of mine that she loves and can get behind -- but this particular story was just not working for her. It happens.
And this conversation was enlightening for me, because it occurs to me that just as I had no bloody idea how much I needed an agent until I got one, other people probably don't realize that the agent is not selling everything you've ever written. They sell the stuff that appeals to them as people, and that they know how to sell.
Which is still more than I'd ever manage to do on my own -- I'm a "write, and let them slide food under the door" type -- so I cannot recommend them highly enough.
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