Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Agents to Smooth the Bumps, and Agents Who Are the Bumps

Besides handling money and contract issues, how else is a relationship with a publishing house different with an agent? Does an agent submit new ideas, or does the author, for instance?
An agent opens doors for you and will most likely represent all of your work. A publisher will not publish anything you write.

EA, what are the pros and cons from the editors side about working with agented or nonagented authors? What is different for you?

From my point of view:

Sometimes agents act as a buffer, and it's a good thing: For instance, the author has misunderstood something and is suddenly angry with the publisher. The agent, as an industry insider, explains the situation so that the author can understand the publisher's side of things. The agent can also advise what the author's next steps and options are. Agents are great for people who worry that publishers have devious agendas and will only treat an author well if it suits them to. They're also great for people with no social skills.

And sometimes an agent acts as a buffer and it's not so great. I like to start developing a relationship with the author as soon as I can—letting her know I'm friendly, that my door's open. That sort of groundwork heads off many misunderstandings later on. It' s difficult to do that passing messages through a third party. Some agents don't step out of that relationship as quickly as they might.

Of course, sometimes agents don't act as buffers, and that can be annoying. The agent who passes his primadonna's every little hissy fit along to me is not doing his job. The agent who doesn't point out to his author that this new manuscript is significantly similar to the last five manuscripts she's written and had rejected, especially when publishers are commenting on that similarity, is not doing his job.
If someone feels comfortable with negotiating and contracts, and has luck in finding a publisher - is there any other reason to deal with an agent? Especially in picture books?
If you're comfortable with negotiating and navigating a contract, and find a publisher you're happy with, then perhaps not. Plenty of people do without them. It's a matter of personal choice.


Anonymous said...

Sometimes it's better go without an agent when you're working with a small independent publisher. An advance from places like that is pretty small to begin with, and an agent won't be able to make it any bigger. Whatever extra $$ the agent manages to negotiate will probably just go to her commission, and if she can't negotiate extra, you'll have less. I know a few authors who deal directly with smaller houses and who save their agents for the publishers with deeper pockets.

Anonymous said...

Really? And their agents agree to that? That seems a bit odd. Unless the small houses you mean are not trade publishers.

Anonymous said...

Emay, this can happen when the author has worked with the publisher (and yes, they can be trade houses). If there's already a relationship and not much money at stake, it might not be really worth the agent's time to get involved.

Some agents are similarly hands-off when it comes to work-for-hire trade projects (i.e., writing for a series, etc.).

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your thoughts, EA! The agent/no agent topic is pretty hot in groups of people who do picture books, and it is good to hear some perspective from the other side so to speak.

Seems like if someone feels confident about handling the money and contract issues, the answer boils down to personal work style and individual personalities, and how much steering they may want from a third party in career direction. Would I be correct in thinking you didn't seem like you preferred one over the other in the abstract, but only on a case by case basis?

Also, thanks in general for this blog!

Editorial Anonymous said...

That's right. Either arrangement is fine.

Anonymous said...

Thank you,EA.

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