The hardest thing an agent does
Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
What do you think is the hardest part of being an agent? Negotiating contracts? Selling projects? Handling clients’ emotional wipe-outs?
While each of these tasks is a considerable challenge at times, the hardest part of this job is telling the truth. Oh, not, as in avoiding lying to colleagues but as in being a truth-teller in a sea of myths. Online writers’ loops perpetuate myths as fast as rabbits create offspring. Legends regarding get-rich-quick self-publishing ventures, rumors of the death of bookstores or the irrelevance of physical books find fertile ground on these loops. Because a multi-published author propounds a certain theory, others listen, even though that author has only his or her experience to see the publishing industry from.
Who’s going to tell you the truth? Your agent.
The other day I was talking to a client who asked for some word of encouragement as his career was being bounced around by the ever-shifting currents of publishing. I explained to him that most self-publishing ventures offer little financial reward for the hybrid author; that the majority of books still are sold through bookstores; and that digital sales make up about 25% of all book sales. Suddenly the publishing world looked very different to him from how it did a few minutes before.
While most writers have critique partners, sometimes those people don’t have a bigger perspective to see your work from–and they judge it based on how far it has come, not how far it needs to go. So they encourage you to submit your work or to self-publish it because they deem it ready. But that can be a myth.
Who’s going to tell you the truth about not only whether your manuscript is good but also whether it’s marketable? Your agent.
It’s one thing to tell the truth when the news is good, but it’s quite another to deliver bad news. It takes a commitment to truth-telling to inform an established author that her latest manuscript isn’t strong enough to keep her reputation untarnished. And, therefore, that the agent won’t be submitting it potential new publishers.
Or to say that an author’s latest idea won’t work because it’s trying to stretch a genre in a direction the genre’s readers don’t want it to go.
Or that the trajectory of sales numbers has created a problem for an author, and a plan must be put in place to change the momentum.
Or that the author isn’t strategically using social media and needs to apply stronger filters on what is being shared.
Or that the agent can’t shop a reworked proposal because, after it was sent out to every possible publisher, the writer got a brainstorm and has revamped the project.
If your agent won’t tell you truth, who will?
In what other ways do you want your agent (or future agent) to tell you the truth? Does it surprise you that truth-telling is a challenging part of being an attentive agent?
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