{Between the Lines}

The Agents of Books & Such Literary Management Muse About Books, Publishing, and Life

Agents Represent Authors

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

I’m a literary agent.

I advocate for authors.

That’s my job, it’s what I choose to do, and I enjoy doing it. Every day I’m grateful for my partnership with talented writers. It’s my privilege to assist them in reaching their publishing goals. I work hard to understand their needs, priorities, and dreams so that I can serve them well.

Part of my job as a literary agent is also to have a deep understanding of publishers.

The better I understand publisher goals and concerns, the better I can find the right authors for them as well as negotiate contracts that are win-win for both author and publisher. The more I do that, the more both authors and publishers appreciate working with me as an agent—and the better I am able to provide authors with a positive publishing experience.

Sometimes agents are put in the position of explaining and defending the actions and viewpoints of publishers. This can occasionally make authors wonder whether we’re somehow on the side of “Big Pub” (as some put it) rather than being an advocate for authors. This isn’t true at all. But there are a few things to understand:

I am the author’s advocate.

I take that role seriously, as I know most agents do.

In order to properly represent authors, it’s crucial for me to understand publishers.

It’s also necessary to maintain a win/win philosophy in all negotiations. It’s in every author’s best interest that publishers respect agents and want to work with them. So the agent/publisher relationship is not combative, it’s not “us versus them.” There is a spirit of working together to get good books published.

Every author’s situation is unique.

They each have their priorities, goals, and preferences. Like most agents, I approach each publishing contract with that individual author in mind, and I work hard to protect their interests, paying attention to their specific needs. No two scenarios are the same, and therefore no two contract negotiations are the same.

Like most agents, I work very hard on the stickier contract clauses.

These can include non-competes, options, reversion of rights, and others. My goal is to protect the author’s rights and get them a contract that’s as favorable as possible. This doesn’t mean I’ll win every negotiation—there are a number of variables that determine that. But I’ll always do my best. Going in to those negotiations, I have a pretty deep understanding of the publisher’s goals and limits, which helps me to speak to publishers intelligently and work with them to come to a win-win solution.

Agented authors depend on their agents’ ability to be strong advocates.

Sometimes we have to advocate very strongly and even be fighters, while always maintaining the ability to sell books to publishers. It’s in everyone’s best interest to avoid “us versus them” thinking. We are all in this together.

As agents, we represent authors. We’re committed to representing writers’ interests, and to do that, we must have strong working relationships with publishers. Don’t assume, because we understand and can explain the publisher’s side of things, that we’re confused about our loyalties. We know for whom we work.

Have you ever been unclear about the agent’s role?
Why do you think these publishing issues lend themselves so readily to an us-versus-them viewpoint?


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