An agent’s job is part project manager, part contracts consultant, part therapist, part editor, and always full-time advocate. We try to be so many things for our writers and all agents have particular strengths in one part of that equation.
However, what we all have in common is treating our writers’ careers like a business.
When we sign up new authors this is what we ask ourselves:
“How can we help you make a living from your writing?”
Not only do we have to fall in love with a manuscript, connect with the author personally, sell ourselves to the writer as their champion, and know how to sell their book–we have to have a strong vision for their career and know that we are the best agent to help them secure that future.
That’s why you hear agents saying “it wasn’t for me,” or “I liked it but I didn’t love it.”
We have to be looking two books, three books, or a series ahead. It isn’t just what’s on the page today, but if we think they can grow into an author we can help for years to come.
HOW CAN YOU SHOW AN AGENT YOU’RE A CAREER AUTHOR?
In the author bio paragraph of your query letter tell us you are working on your next book.
Have a short synopsis of your next book prepared if an agent asks.
Know where you see yourself in 5-10 years as a writer. Writing the same genre? Switching gears? Still writing?
Network with other writers and show a public commitment to your own success.
Make sure your social media bios include the word writer and your posts link to writing or creative topics from time to time.
You don’t have to have an MFA, but attending writing workshops or joining organizations is helpful. There are so many: SCBWI for children’s books, WFWA for women’s fiction etc.
Knowledge about how the industry works. This is my top book on the business: INSIDE BOOK PUBLISHING. This will provide you with more than you need to know.
Know what you want from an agent (other than the basics): publicity division, film/tv specialists etc.
Have you wondered what the difference is between ‘associate agents’ and ‘agents’–well I’m sure you can guess. Associates are newbie agents that benefit from the mentorship of principal agents at their agency.
Associate agents are more actively building a list a looking for new clients.
Associate agents are more often working with debut writers.
Agenting, like most of publishing, is an apprenticeship career. Agents either come from a background in publishing houses (often in the editorial or rights departments), come up through the agent ranks as interns, are readers for agents (who read slush and give reports on mss that agents need a second read on), or are agency assistants. My foray into agenting was the latter: agency assistant at Darley Anderson Literary, TV and Film Agency in London from a connection through my masters degree program.
Starting my career on the agenting side of the industry (with a brief stint at a large independent publisher, Bloomsbury UK) has given me the framework to always think in ‘agent’ terms:
Best interests of the author
Familiarity with contracts and contract negotiation
Always being able to question procedures and processes with hopes to improve them, which is a benefit of working for smaller companies
Agency/client relationships and communication
Constantly reading industry news, blog posts and Twitter feeds
There is much debate over whether doing an MFA is crucial to the experience of a writer.
There are two schools of thought (pardon the pun):
The MFA shows a dedication to the craft and a seriousness about being a writer.
The learning experiences of the world are of greater value than those learned in the classroom.
While the advantages to both are notable, and the combination of workshops and writerly real life experiences is ideal, the MFA is not the be-all end-all of your writing career. An MFA is expensive and often requires full-time attention leaving little time for a job or your family. However, it makes you focus and dedicate much needed time to work on your craft.
On the other hand, taking a course does not mean you are a writer. Spending money on a certificate to give you the credibility is not enough. An MFA, and any workshops you attend as a writer, should help to develop your craft not define it. Be wary of programs that offer weighty promises.