Monday, October 24, 2011

What a Literary Agent Should Do For You

A few weekends ago a NYT bestseller came to speak at our local RWA group and she answered all of our questions with utter honesty. One of the questions was about her relationships with different agents. She's had some good ones and some bad ones but she said with the one she has now it was the first time she actually felt agented.

This got me to I feel agented? The answer quickly for me is a resounding yes.
But why do I feel agented? She sells my books - but is that enough? The answer quickly there was no. What are the elements besides selling my books that makes Pam Hopkins such a great agent for me?

1. She's not my friend. We're chatty. Sometimes we gossip, she's VERY friendly and warm and I like her a lot - but everything comes back around to business. I think this is important. Sometimes, after a glass of wine too many - I feel awkward, because I want secretly to be best friends with everyone, but it's business. Good business.

2. She subtly and not so subtly pushes me. I was having babies and writing Superromances and life was pretty good but after every book I turned in she'd send me an email saying - I know you're busy now, but you really need to think about single title. Every time. I never pushed her into thinking about my single title career, she was there all the time with the next steps in mind. An agent should see your worth and hopefully your trajectory. The NYT bestseller at the meeting had a conversation with an agent who had been selling a lot of her books but the writer wanted more and the agent said "not everyone can be a star." Your agent should think you can be a star...

3. She helped my work. Pam is not an editorial person and I didn't want an agent who was going to critique my stuff - I have lots of critique partners - I wanted an agent who would look at my stuff and critique it's salability. Her comments on my proposals were always things like "I don't think this works. This won't sell." She's the one having conversations with editors - she knows what they want and she helped me match my work to that need/want.

4. Respected in the business. Sometimes we don't know how our agent is viewed in the wider world - but considering the respectful and warm business relationship she has with me, I can guess she has the same relationship with editors. If your agent crosses a line in your mind with you or another author - red flags should go up. She hasn't burned any bridges. And as much as writers want to write for editors like Shauna Summers and Jennifer Enderlin, agents want to work with them too and should be building relationships with every editor despite being thorns in thier sides when it comes to contract negotiations.

5. As your career changes so should thier services. This is new to me. Moving into single title I am getting a whole different service from Pam. Wait...maybe that's not true. It's the same service but more of it. She's always been the middle man between me and my editors but now she is more so. In more ways. Tuesday she has a conversation with my editor about what the publisher is doing about promotion...that's never happened before. And I think it should. Promotion is a freaking big deal and a big freaking mystery. And almost no writer I know feels like they've gotten a great answer from thier publisher. Please, tell me if you have...

6. Despite how little money I made or make for Pam, I feel important. Writing catagory I wasn't making Pam much money - like almost none. But I always felt like I could call her. I might be uncomfortable doing it, but that was me, not her. We should feel like our agents - no matter if we're making NO money or ooodles of money - work with us. So many authors I know after a couple of manuscripts don't sell - the agents stop calling. Or returning emails. Wow. Really?

Now, sometimes questions in emails don't get answered. And sometimes it takes a day for an email to get answered. Sometimes I feel all alone in the world - but I'm a writer, I'm bat shit crazy on a good day.

Anyway - those are my thoughts. Do you feel supported by your agent? Why? What do you wish was different?


Eileen said...

What a great post, Molly. You really lay it out there and how nice it is hear about someone being happy with their agent!

Simone St. James said...

As a fellow client of Pam's - yes to all those things.

I would add, that as a debut author, she's aware of how overwhelmed and outright lost I usually am, and she takes the time to explain things and coach me a bit. There are no stupid questions, in other words.

Maybe it's just my personality, but I would be lost without a good agent.

Molly O'Keefe said...

Thanks Eileen - I am really happy with Pam and I'm grateful because the kind of drama that authors can get involved in with a BAD agent would just destroy me. I have no stomach for drama

Molly O'Keefe said...

Oh Simone that reminds me of another thing I was thinking about - having talked to another debut author whose agent is not helping her answer those questions - this woman is lost and now, because so much time has passed she feels silly asking basic questions - like she should know the answer. terrible way to feel...

Maureen McGowan said...

I know I want/need my agent to think I can be a star. And still believe in that star potential even if a few editors don't agree.

When they first offer to sign you, most agents will be seeing stars in their eyes and in you... But the test is whether that holds through some disappointments.

I need an agent who feeds my dreams, not my insecurities, because I am a master at feeding the latter all on my own. :)

Stephanie Doyle said...

I think I said this before... but I'm okay with Agents losing interest.

They like your work, think they can sell it... but nope. Now maybe that's on them, maybe it's the work, whatever.

My problem is - the passive way they fire you. Or get you to quit.

Calls don't get returned, emails don't get answered. You get upset - they're looking for ways to avoid you... That's what I can't stand.

Just be upfront. I can't sell your work. You don't make me $$ - so I have to let you go. Again it's a business!

And when you lose time because of crap like that - it costs. Time you could spend getting another agent who might have different editor contacts.

Kristina Mathews said...

What a great post. I've read many of your Super Romances and would totally be interested in single title from you.

I am just looking into finding an agent, and boy is it scary. It seems like there aren't many who are looking for contemporary romance, and even less who represent category. Thanks for the tips on what to look for.

Anonymous said...

Molly, great post. The agent thing is also subjective. A great agent for one author is terrible for another.
New authors forget that sometimes in their desire to get an agent. A bad agent truly is worse than no agent at all.

Eileen said...

And the agent that's terrific for you at one point in your career, may not be what you need at another point. We all have our skill sets and different times in an author's career have different demands.

I am very unsure about the subject very agreement in that last sentence and hope you all understand. Apparently at this point in my career I need someone to teach me grammar.

Simone St. James said...

So true, Sinead!

Eileen said...

subject verb not subject very

Me want nap now, k?

M. said...

Molly, I'm so pleased to hear you're striking out into single title territory. I've tried and tried, but somehow I'm just not a category girl (sorry!). I'm very curious to see how your stories would branch out with more wordcount to play in.


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