I’m wrapping up my answers to the various questions that have been posted here lately on agents.
I was reading about a conference. They said there would be public and private interviews with agents. Does this mean some interviews are done with an audience listening in? Or a panel of agents? Dispair!!!
Randy sez: I’m not quite sure what it means, but one thing that is commonly done at writing conferences is to have a panel of agents and let writers do quick pitches to either individual agents or to the panel as a whole while the audience listens.
This has got to be the most terrifying thing imaginable to me and so I’ve never done it. I’ve seen it done, and it seems not to be so bad, especially if you already enjoy crawling naked over broken glass while a tiger chases you. Some people like that sort of thing and others don’t.
If this doesn’t appeal to you, then don’t do it. There are other ways to meet agents and editors.
My question is what are the responsibilities of an Agent?
Wow, this question will show just how much of a freshman I am: What is the difference between the Agent and the Editor?
Randy sez: This is a safe place to ask Freshman-level questions. Be assured that there are other Freshmen out there wondering the same thing, but who don’t have the guts to ask.
The main responsibility of an agent is to help you sell your book to a publisher and get the best terms you can. This includes the following tasks:
* Help with preparing a book proposal
* Give editorial suggestions
* Pitch the book to editors
* Negotiate the deal
* In some cases, receive the money from the publisher and cut you a check for your share. (In some cases, the publisher writes a check to the agent and a check to the author.)
Agents can and often do some of these other tasks:
* Give you career guidance
* Give you ideas for marketing your book
* Make connections with other authors for co-authoring opportunities
* Support and encourage you
I have had agents do all of the above for me.
Agents usually DON’T do these tasks:
* Give you loans
* Do paid editorial work for you
* Babysit your cat
* Marry you
I have heard of agents doing most of the above, though my best belief is that all of these events are rare.
Carly’s second question was on the difference between an editor and an agent.
An editor is someone employed by a publishing house to acquire manuscripts, edit them, and shepherd them through the publishing process. An editor will be the person who takes your book to the publishing committee (if there is a publishing committee) and fights for approval to get your book published. The editor will often fight for the right cover for your book (I’ve had an editor do this when everyone else at the publisher wanted the wrong cover, and he won–thank you, Steve Laube!) In short, your editor is your book’s champion at the publishing house. Please note that it is not your editor’s job to get you the most possible money for your book. The editor has a fiduciary responsibility to the publishing house to help it earn money. So the editor will offer you what he or she considers a reasonable amount of money, but NOT a generous amount.
The agent is YOUR employee. You hire an agent on a commission basis to get the best financial deal and to negotiate the contract to make sure there are no onerous clauses that will cause you trouble. Typically, the commission is 15% and the agent doesn’t get paid until you get paid. You should avoid agents who want money upfront to represent you. The agent has a fiduciary responsibility to YOU to protect your interests.
There is of course some conflict between editors and agents, because they have fiduciary responsibilities to different parties. The editor’s job is to make money for the publisher. The agent’s job is to make money for you. Somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot where everyone is as happy as possible.
It is common for editors to switch sides to become agents. Chip MacGregor, whom I interviewed here recently, was the editor for my first novel. Later, he became an agent and represented me for several years, until he jumped ship to work for Time-Warner. Now he’s an agent again. The editor of my second novel, Steve Laube, is also now an uber-agent like Chip.
I will say it again: Editors and agents are some of the coolest people on the planet. (Matched only for inherent coolness by novelists.) I realize that it’s hard for Freshman-level writers to believe this, but if you persist in this writing game, eventually you’ll have many friends who are editors and agents and you will be interested in them because they are so much fun to be with, rather than because you think they can advance your career. And they’ll be interested in you for the same reason.