Greetings from Jackie M. Johnson!
Are you working with a literary agent for the first time? Or, are you looking for ways to improve the working relationship you have with your current agent? If so, here are six essential things you need to know.
As an author, it is vital to know what your agent does—and what he or she does not do. Knowing this information can help alleviate misunderstandings and create a sense of realistic expectations.
1. Your agent is your advocate. His aim is to get you the best book deal possible. And he does that by presenting your idea (which you’ve delivered to him in the form of a book proposal and a manuscript—or, for nonfiction, sample chapters) to a selection of different book publishers. He is your negotiator for the contract and all that entails (your advance, royalty rates, rights, and the like).
2. Your agent knows the business side of publishing. Savvy agents earn their pay. (The industry standard is 15% of your book advance and royalties, which the publisher pays to the agent; you don’t pay the agent directly). In exchange, you receive the services of someone who has experience in the industry and connections with book publishers and editors. In addition, your agent will help develop your writing career and brand. How that is done will depend upon the agent.
3. Your agent is a problem-solver. For example, if you have questions about your royalty statements, ask your agent. Royalty statements are sent to the author (and to the agent) after your book has been released; that is how you keep track of your earnings and book sales. How often you get statements will vary by publisher. Some send them every six months, others send them quarterly. One publisher I know only sends royalty statements annually.
4. Your agent is not your editor. Don’t expect your agent to edit your work. She may ask you to make changes to the book proposal or the manuscript before it is sent out to publishers. But once you have a book contract, the publisher will assign you an editor; that is the person with whom you will work during the production process.
5. Your agent is not your publicist. Typically, an agent does not perform the task of creating publicity for your book. Depending upon the publisher, they will provide an in-house or a freelance publicist to create initial buzz for your new book. Of course, in today’s publishing world (with increasingly limited funds and staff), authors need to do much of their own publicity, too.
6. Your agent needs you to communicate what you need so she can best help you. Be sure to communicate with respect, tact and professionalism. Be friendly and get your needs across, but don’t be a diva or be demanding. Ask your agent how she prefers to be contacted—by phone or email. Also, when you are in discussions with the publisher over topics like the book cover image or title, for example, your agent relates your preferences to the publisher, but you also need to know when to stand your ground and when to be willing to let it go.
While this is meant to be a general description of the author and agent relationship, your personal experience may vary. Some agents I know treat their authors like close friends or family, and host author gatherings in their home from time to time, while other agents prefer to be more businesslike.
In the end, the more you know about what an agent's role, the better equipped you will be to have an enjoyable and effective connection with your agent. Relationships, of course, are key to a good partnership. Find an agent with whom you connect—someone you get along with and who also understands your vision as an author.
My hope is that you and your agent have a successful working relationship for many years to come.