4 Types of Literary Agents

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

Recently I had a conversation with Dee, a potential new client, and our chat turned to four different approaches agents take to teaming up with authors. I explained to Dee some of those methods. I think they’re instructive in understanding how an agent can help to structure an author’s writing career.

Just-Show-Me-the-Money Type of Agent

This person is all about the business side of the equation and sometimes is indifferent to the creative side. She wants to work on the financial stuff and not cross over into the right-brain territory.

That means, in terms of career planning, that thecompass focus will be on getting more money for the next book. Such an emphasis is inevitable because the agent isn’t tuned into helping to shape the project so that it not only satisfies the author’s vision of what it should be but also appeals to the market. That’s more nuanced than this type of agent tends to want to be. In turn, that means the agent gauges only one way to grow the author’s career–through the size of the next advance.

Move-‘Em-in,  Ship-‘Em-Out Type of Agent

This person receives a proposal from a client, puts a cover note on that proposal with the agency contact info, and then ships the proposal out to pretty much every editor on the agents’ list. Funny thing about this type of agenting: All the editors know which agents operate this way.

How? First, by the sheer number of projects submitted to the editor, many of them inappropriate for that publishing house. Second, the proposals aren’t adequately focused, don’t contain all the elements that should be in them, and the writing can be flawed–often containing grammatical and spelling errors.

This agent is unlikely to want to work with clients to create a plan for future writing projects. Taking each proposal as it comes is the method that works best for him. If you think you write stellar proposals, then no problem. This agent will get your concept in front of the editors to take a gander.

I’m-in-for-a-Chapter Type of Agent

This agent agrees to represent one project at a time. If all goes well, then the agent wants to continue the relationship; if not, the agent is ready to slip away.

The idea is to try out the relationship to see how it works for each person. On the surface that sounds good, but in actuality, it gives the client no assurance that the agent is committed in the long-haul. I describe this as teaming up with a writer for one “chapter” of a writing career rather than signing on for the entire “book” of a career.

The  Long-Haul Type of Agent

This agent takes a long view on each decision made: Should a significant offer be accepted for a book several publishers were interested in, knowing that the book might not earn back the advance? Should the author dabble in different genres rather than settling into one to build a reputation for a particular type of writing? Should the author devote six months to each manuscript so momentum can build quickly, or does it make more sense to take a year for each one to make sure the client is growing as a writer?

These are the questions an agent who is in the relationship long-term would ask. This type of agent thinks about the client’s work in a different framework than the other agents.

Who is Right for You?

Each type of agent appeals to different authors. If you don’t want your agent to mess with your creative business, then you want a Show-Me-the-Money Agent. Or if you want to make as much as possible on every project without being overly concerned about the future, than Show-Me-the- Money is for you.

If you don’t want feedback on your ideas, then a Move-‘Em-In, Ship-‘Em-Out Agent is for you.

If you want someone who will be involved in all phases of your writing career, than a Book-vs.-Chapter Type of Agent is for you. Or, if you’re satisfied to try out the relationship, by all means head in the direction of a Chapter Type of Agent.

The best adage to help guide you in selecting an agent–or changing agents–is simply this: To thine ownself be true. Form an alliance with an agent who’s a good match for your expectations.

And don’t be afraid to ask agents how they function with their clients. It will help to avoid disappointment all the way around.

What aspects of the different types of agents appeal to you?

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4 types of lit agents with 4 different approaches. Click to tweet.

What type of lit agent appeals to you? Pick from these 4. Click to tweet.

 

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