Last night I had the pleasure of doing a Twitter chat with a group of writers. Have you participated in one of these before? The topic was “The Author-Agent Relationship” and we had a great discussion. I’d like to share the highlights with you because I know many of our readers here are authors or aspiring authors. And if you don’t fall into one of those camps, maybe you just want to eavesdrop, as Toni talked about yesterday.
In case you’re unfamiliar with Twitter, you can follow a certain conversation by following a hashtag. For the evening, we followed the hashtag #bookcountry, which is an online community of writers. Bookcountry hosted the discussion last night and invited me and my longtime agent Kevan Lyon of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency to participate.
1) Many of people’s questions had to do with “how do I get an agent?”
The good news is, there are more resources than ever before. If you have a completed manuscript and you decide to seek an agent, you can check out various agencies’ web sites, Facebook pages, and even get to know agents a bit through Twitter, before ever sending in a query letter to see if they would be interested in your work. Warning: Don’t query an agent, or pitch your project, through Twitter. I have seen many agents object to this. But following an agent on Twitter is one way to hear about her likes / dislikes, and if she is seeking any particular type of book. Check out agents’ web sites for submission guidelines.
2) “What are the right questions to ask an agent?”
If you find an agent who might be interested in representing you, there is somewhat of an interview process. The agent wants to read your work to see if she falls in love with your project. You, the author, need to determine if you want this person representing you to publishers.
Three important topics to ask about are references, what she sees in your work, and what genres, or types of writing, the agent already represents.
References are very important. If the agent has offered to represent you, ask to talk to or email one of her clients just to “hear more about her communication style.” This is code for “see if her clients like her.” You can learn a great deal this way. The author may be full of praise, but you may discover that the agent you are considering is not a fit with you personality-wise. OR you may discover that the author’s “one pet peeve” is something that wouldn’t bother you at all, so you’re good to go. Talking to other writers, about agents AND editors, is a great way to educate yourself about the business. Just be careful not to be mean-spirited. Keep it professional. Publishing is a small world, and you never know where you will end up.
Ask what they see in your work. The agent who represents you will be pitching your book to the world. You want to make sure she loves it as much as you do. Ask what potential she sees in your project to get a sense if she is truly 100 percent behind the project. You want to feel confident that this person is on your team.
Ask what else the agent represents. If the agent already represents other authors in your genre, or other projects similar to yours, then it’s possible the agent has good industry contacts (i.e. editors) in that area of the business.
3) Another question I heard during the discussion last night was, “Why do I need an agent?”
Today, with so many authors opting to self-publish, not everyone needs an agent. However, if you want to try the traditional publishing route, an agent is an invaluable asset, in my opinion. I count on my agent to be my liason between me and my publishing house. I let her handle sticky conversations and business issues so that I can preserve a good rapport with my editor. Also, my agent is experienced in reading the fine print of publishing contracts, whereas I have only read my own. And when those cryptic statements come in from the publisher, telling you about reserves, and returns, and net royalties, a good agent can help you decipher all the jargon.
A good agent is someone who will be on your team. It’s not just about one book… it’s a career. Think of it that way. You want someone who fits with your personality and will be a champion for your work.
My final bit of advice is to follow your gut instincts. There are hundreds of agents out there who might be fabulous, but not a fabulous fit for YOU. Ideally, you want someone who’s communication style and professional philosophy are in step with yours. If you talk with someone over the phone and you’re feeling a communication gap, or there seems to be an “off” vibe, trust your instincts. Maybe you should keep looking. But when you find the right person, the person who loves your project, you will feel the “click.”
Best of luck to any of you who are agent hunting!
Anyone who comments today is eligible to win a signed copy of ANY book in my Tracers series. And in case you missed it, I’m happy to announce that there will be more Tracers books coming in 2013-14. Look for the next Tracers novel, TWISTED, on April 17.