I wrote this blog post several years ago. Somethings remain the same over time, including the various types of literary agents a writer can choose from. Here’s the post:
Yesterday I had a conversation with Dee, a potential new client. Our chat turned to 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.
This person is all about the business side of the equation and can be downright 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 the focus will be on getting more money for the next book. Such an emphasis is inevitable because the agent isn’t tuned in to 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.
I was an editor for a couple of decades before I became an agent; so this approach is anathema to me. If I can’t help to fine-tune an idea or direct a client to the next great idea, I’m not being the kind of team player I want to be. I want a holistic view of a writing career, not just a left-brain approach.
Move-‘Em-in, Ship-‘Em-Out Literary Agents
These agents receive a proposal from a client, add the agency contact info, and then ship the proposal out, usually to every editor on the agents’ address list. Funny thing about this type of agenting: All the editors know which ones operate this way.
How? First, by the mere 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 is flawed. This agent is unlikely to want to work with clients to create a plan for future writing projects. Taking each proposal as it comes in works better for her.
This agent doesn’t sign on for the long haul. If all goes well, then the agent wants to continue the relationship; if not, the agent is ready to slip away quickly and quietly.
I find such an approach unsatisfying. Why would I want to team up with a writer for one “chapter” of a writing career when I can sign on for the entire “book”? I expect the author to make a long-term commitment to our relationship, which gives the two of us time to build a career. Shouldn’t I make that same commitment?
Who’s Right for You?
To be fair, I know I’ve painted approaches to agenting that differ from mine as if it’s hard to believe anyone would want to work that way, but 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. Should you not want feedback on your ideas, then a Move-‘Em-In, Ship-‘Em-Out Agent is for you. If you’re fine with an agent who will sign off when the publishing waves turn stormy, I’m-in-for-a-Chapter Agent is the one to look for. And if you want someone who will be involved in all phases of your writing career, than a Book-vs.-Chapter Agent is for you.
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. Oh, but don’t use the labels I’ve assigned to the different types. The conversation might not go so well; know what I mean?
What type of agents have you or your writing friends encountered?
Literary agents aren’t created equal. Here’s a description of different approaches to agenting. Click to tweet.
Four types of literary agents and how they approach their jobs. Click to tweet.
I am not now represented,
nor do I expect to be;
if that is what God intended,
then that’s really fine by me,
but if in my life lightning strikes,
and an offer will thus come,
here they are, my hopes and likes
that may signal who it’s from:
I’d want a staunchly Christian guide
to walk the publication road
with me, moving side by side
to share the laughter and the load
with confidence, not in success,
but that we each would do our best.
Nicely expressed, Andrew.
Janet, I have found so much reinforcement for my faith here…and it is so needed now.
I’m so grateful to you, and to everyone in the agency.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Oh, goodness. I would be so thrilled to find an agent who loves my writing, laughs at my stories, catches my vision for creating a whole mess of interlocking adventures, and wants to plan out fun things to write that will keep me busy imagining, “How would 2 kids, a puppy, and an angry circus pony react to that?” until I’m old and gray!
What a lovely vision of the future that is, Kristen.