Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Location: Books & Such Central Valley, California Office
A good agent will have a well-developed nose and an instinctive level of taste. Let’s look at these one at a time.
John Q has always had a nose for a good story. He can almost smell it coming. A good agent will understand story structure. He will know which editor and which house will like what story. In nonfiction he needs to instinctively recognize great content. Even more, he needs to know how to take the author’s content and help build a compelling book.
He also has a nose for recognizing good writing—very important for an agent. Sometimes writers get frustrated at a writer’s conference when they sit opposite an agent who takes a quick look at the first page or two and tells the writer, “This needs more work.” But that’s what makes a good agent. When we talk about “having a nose” for something, we’re talking about instinct. A good agent has that sense of what’s good and what’s great.
And it’s not just the writing, a good agent can sniff out a good idea and immediately recognize a high concept when he sees one. Part of that comes from so much reading. It’s easy to see the clichéd concepts when you see so many queries and proposals. That’s why high concept— an idea which can be described in a handful of exciting words—appeals to him.
The mouth, with its taste buds is also an important part of the agent anatomy. John Q’s own taste needs to track with reader taste. If he were crazy about Christian slasher novels, say, it might be a problem. I’m guessing there’s not a big market for that genre in CBA. If John Q kept offering projects of questionable taste to editors it wouldn’t take them long to start discounting anything that comes from him.
So, to sum it up, our agent needs:
- A nose for a good story or a great nonfiction book.
- A well-developed understanding of story structure and how to build a nonfiction book.
- To be able to sniff out good writing almost instinctively.
- Recognize high concept
- Smell an over-used plot.
- Sense a fresh idea
- To have a finely honed taste level.
So how about you as a writer? Do you need a well-developed nose and a highly evolved sense of taste?