Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Wednesday is writer’s day no 5: getting an agent

I decided to post a little bit about getting an agent because the single most common piece of advice I saw on the subject was to check out the Writer's Guide. Now, this is a very useful reference book, but to be honest if you are using it as a starting point it’s a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. It’s huge. You can spend hours marking up agents who mention the sort of writing you might be doing.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t check it out, it’s a truly valuable resource for anyone in publishing, and I guarantee you’ll refer to it many times. It’s especially useful for when you see an agent mentioned, you can look them up and get their contacts. But there is another way to go about finding the right agent for you. Check out some authors who are writing the sort of books you want to publish i.e. in the genre/sub genre, and try to find out who their agents are. When you do so, you may begin to see a pattern; several of them are with the same agent. This is what happened when I was looking at agents. I went to Roberta Brown because I knew she had an interest in publishing women’s erotic fiction, reflected in who her clients are.

That’s one way of hotwiring system, as it were. But you might be asking yourself if you even need an agent. With many publishers, you don’t. With New York publishers, by and large you do, although some authors go right through the whole process without using an agent. There are ways to do this, get an organisation like the British Society of Authors or a legal representative to read over the contract and explain it to you, just to be sure what you’re signing away. You also need to be the sort person who can deal with negotiations yourself. Having an agent makes that side of it a lot easier for me. I knew it would, and that was my primary reason for getting an agent.

There is also the question of whether an agent will help you get your work in front of a publisher quicker than if you are trying to do that yourself. I didn’t have an agent when Berkley signed me, but I wanted to have one before I signed anything and it worked out really well. I can see, however, that having an agent does move things along quicker, in most cases, but it also depends on what background you’ve built up (i.e. who you have previously been published by) and what openings a publisher might have at the time. (i.e. if they are actively looking for what you write, things will move a hell of a lot quicker -- a lot to do with luck in this business!)

In the longer term, I found there are many benefits of having an agent, things I hadn’t really thought about. Your agent becomes someone you can turn to for all manner of advice; someone who really understands the business, knows you and what you can do, and can talk you through things. I have found that truly invaluable, and I’m really glad I went the route of getting an agent. Roberta is also helping me to be more confident, to chat about new ideas, and my dreams for the longer term as well as the short-term. There is a real feeling of validation that comes with having an agent, and that’s important in this business, where there are so many unknowns.

OK folks, my next Wednesday writing slot will be in a couple of weeks time, when I’ll post some thoughts about the dreaded synopsis.


Anonymous said...

Yep, definitely agree on the benefits of having an agent. I turn to mush when faced with a contract, so it's great to know that expert eyes have perused it and spotted any pitfalls I might have missed. It's also useful to have a 'buffer' between you and the publisher with regard to negotiations. It means you can stay on pleasant terms with your editor, while your agent handles the contractual wrangling! :)

Jordan Summers said...

I think you're absolutely right. Most people don't realize that a lot of authors thank their agents on the acknowledgement page in their books. :)

Larissa said...

You are SO right! I adore Roberta and wouldn't be where I am now without her!

Devon Ellington said...

All good advice.

Also, it's important to do the research on the agent BEFORE submitting. I'm always shocked at how many writers, who should know better, see a name, submit, and then can't believe it when it's a scam and they're asked for cash up front.

Do your homework, people!