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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13 Responses

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  1. Angie Arndt says:

    It sounds as if you’re like an interpreter in many ways, too, putting legal lingo into writer-speak and vice versa. I don’t know about other writers, but I would definitely need an advocate in the publishing world. There’s so much involved in the legalities that I don’t understand.

    Thanks for the explanation.

  2. Not “them.” Not “us.” “We.”
    God is included in the “we.”
    I wouldn’t want it any other way.

  3. Great post, Rachelle, and I am sure you’ve made many people at the beginning of their journey to literary success sigh with relief.
    * I would guess that it can be quite hard to balance what a publisher can and will offer in terms of publicity and promotion with what a first-time author might expect. Even for someone who thinks he or she in knowledgeable, reality may come as a distinct shock and disappointment.

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Andrew, you’re right. I started working in publishing 22 years ago, long before the advent of social media. But even then, it was already well known that authors will always be unhappy with their marketing and publicity. It has always been the case in publishing, and always will be. The truth is that it’s very difficult to successfully promote books – but now with social media, it’s easier than it used to be. And authors now have tools available to them that authors of the past could only dream of. So I do find it ironic that everyone is still so unhappy with how hard it is.

      • Rachelle, thank you so much for answering this. From what I have read (and felt, myself), the dismay is not so much in the need to promote as it is in the specific how-to of promotion using social media. There are a lot of generalities out there…build a street team, for instance, is great advice, but what are the nuts-and-bolts of doing so for an introverted author whose platform is supported by a blog, and whose interactions largely consist of blog comments?
        * I’ll try to address the issue myself, and say that it seems that the largest part of promotion is in relationship, and it takes both time and talent. You can’t expect promotion-ready relationship to spring, like Athena, fully armed from the head of Zeus, and it has to come about differently for everyone.
        * There’s no magic formula to promotion, and each campaign is a journey of hope.

  4. Relieving post ma’am. One of my first impressions about agents was that ‘they are in it for the money’ as quoted in the first writing book I read (should have thought otherwise though). But from following this agency as well as watching what other authors say about agents, it feels more like twenty archangels packed into one individual.
    And that’s one invaluable feeling for every writer.

    P.S: Did anyone notice the animated woman looks like a spy monitoring her client?

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Michael, the animated woman is meant to be a “secret agent” but it’s all in fun!
      *We agents always can’t help laughing that anyone would think we are in it “for the money.” We could all be working corporate jobs outside of publishing for 2x, 3x, 4x what we can make in any area of publishing. Honestly, I’ve never met a single person who goes into publishing “for the money.” We try and make a living like everyone else. But we choose publishing for the love. Otherwise, we’d choose another industry with far greater earning potential. I suspect it’s the same for authors.

  5. Thank you, Rachelle, for explaining this topic more. I’ve never really thought much about the us-versus-them issue, but it’s real. I don’t know why. Maybe writers feel that way when we aren’t delivering what the publisher needs. But when we get on the same page, through proper guidance, how sweet things can be. I hope when we get on the same page, it’s easier to stay on the same page. 🙂

  6. Hi Rachelle,

    I think agents are so important to writers. It’s a lot of work to learn our craft without worrying about all the laws and fine print. I know your authors are blessed to have you work for them.

    Aside from money, I wonder if the us-versus-them has to do with the fact we’re presenting our baby to the publisher? We want them to love our baby as much as we do, and it hurts when they don’t. I’m not saying don’t be flexible, because it’s important to listen to the experts.

    I think writing inspirational, we need to keep our focus on who we aim to please with our stories. The writer, agent and publisher can come together for the best story if we keep the final product in mind. None of us know everything, so it sounds like good teamwork is important.

    Thanks for this post today!

  7. I wonder how much of the “us-vs-them” mentality comes from the fact that publishers have the final say in whether or not a writer’s book is accepted for publication. And, the publisher knows what they can put up for marketing. Oftentimes, it’s a matter of budgets, rather than a matter of them wanting to make things harder for the writer to get their books out there.
    *When all parties can come into the agreement with a mindset of “we’re in this together” I imagine most of that “us-vs-them” mentality disappears.
    *I really appreciate the way you describe an agent’s role in this whole process. It’s important for us writers to remember that agents are for the writers they represent.
    *Great post today, Rachelle!

  8. Carol Ashby says:

    Humans are naturally competitive, and anytime a go/no-go decision has to be made, it’s going to feel like us versus them if we lose. I would hope it’s less so in CBA because we have a higher Guide than current best business practices, but even Christian publishing is a business. If a company doesn’t pick enough winners, it dies.
    *If the need to keep the rights to my novels hadn’t pushed me off the traditional route into being indie, I would want to have an agent who views the job as a partnership with me and who can play well with everyone involved. I might not “win” every time, but at least I’d know I was playing the game by the right rules. From the eternal perspective, that’s worth much more than winning.

  9. Mary Kay Moody says:

    Thanks for this, Rachelle. Your words clarify any confusion. In some fields (such as real estate, law, psychotherapy) laws spell out a fiduciary obligation and behaviors of an agent. I think one contributing factor to the “us versus them” situation in publishing is lack of understanding the roles and culture of the business. (A situation that you at B & S constantly work to clarify!). Another could just be lack of communication from an agent leaving an author in the dark as to what is transpiring.

  10. Pat Iacuzzi says:


    Thank you for setting me, and so many others, in the right direction in this industry!