Wednesday, April 5, 2017


Last year, I attended sixteen writers’ events. After six years as a literary agent, this is my all-time high. Some were across town (Los Angeles), while others were across the country (Kansas City). Two weeks ago I was in New York City, and soon I will be in Orange County. 

I’ve come to expect at least one strange conversation with a writer in attendance, at each event. His language might be subtle or explicit, but one way or another, he accuses me of a crime. Not necessarily because of anything I’ve actually done, but because he has heard a horror story or three about agents. Surely we’re all the same, right?

Apparently, in anticipation of our meeting, he checked me out on my website. Let’s just say that he was unimpressed with my portfolio. That is, some of those book deals were with publishers that didn’t require agented submissions. I did nothing that the author couldn’t have done on his own, so I shouldn’t collect a commission for it. At least, that was how it seemed.

What he doesn’t know (because he didn’t ask) is that I always start my submissions with the Big Five (Simon, Harper, Penguin, Macmillan, and Hachette) and their many imprints. And when I do, I always score a few reads. At that point it’s just you and the editor (or intern reader), and my influence means little. I can sweet-talk her into reading it (which you’d be hard-pressed to do on your own), but I can’t compel her to like it. I brought you to the party, and now it’s up to you to deliver.

Either your story measures up or it doesn’t. Either you have the right platform or you don’t. You need to fit into their plans, to be a good ambassador of their brand. I can coach you in these matters, but in the end your fate will depend on you, not me.

Think of it this way: You might get a job interview because your uncle knows someone. Absent his influence, you’d be waiting in a long line with the unwashed masses. But once you’re sitting face-to-face with the HR director, Unc won’t be there to hold your hand. He got you in the room, and now you either have the right stuff or you don’t.

In your quest for publication, it’s important to manage your expectations. In the big picture, your agent is not responsible for the outcome of your career. Nor is your publisher. Yes, we have a role; we will do what we can, with our finite time and resources. But it’s simply not in our power to manufacture what isn’t there.

No comments:

Post a Comment