The Writer/Agent Conundrum

You have to wonder about literary agents sometimes…

I, for one, am thankful for all the agents who do a lot of hard work pitching their clients novels out to various publishers. They get as many, if not more, rejection notifications than the actual writer does. Plus, they have to deal with the pressure from both sides: an anxious author and an exasperated publisher.

That being said, it does make me a little uncomfortable when I visit an agent’s website and I see them touting their own writing accomplishments and current releases. Now, I know that professionalism dictates that the agent is going to do the best to their ability to sell your novel. But seeing an agent trying to become published as well makes me wonder if the agent is truly invested with selling their clients.

I mean, think about it for a minute. As a writer, you’re thinking about your novel a lot. How much energy goes into other projects? How often has your work life sucked because of your latest work in progress?

Now multiply that by five. That has to be the amount of stress a writer-agent must be under. So why would they do that then? It’s not as though it’s helping them sell their novels, but puts far more pressure on them to sell their own novels while selling their clients. And you, as a writer, already have enough stress about getting your book out there. Do you want an agent who isn’t 100% committed to seeing your book sell?

Most agents gut a cut of the advance check and royalties. Something to the order of 15% if I remember correctly. Logic would suggest that because they don’t get paid until you do, then they would be pushing your book hard. However, throw in a minor change of plan – said agent is trying to sell their own books as well – and suddenly you start to wonder just who the client is.

I don’t have specific examples (mainly because I don’t want to start a rumor war on the internet), but does anybody else think these thoughts?

Oh, and if you’re looking for an agent who has no desire to be a writer (I know this for a fact), then you might want to think about submitting to the OnyxHawke Agency. I know their client list is small, but considering some of the names on that list…

2 thoughts on “The Writer/Agent Conundrum

  1. A good agent, like Lucienne Diver, has a different agent for her own work. Diver’s agent is Kristen Nelson of the Nelson Agency, which I know because I follow both of their blogs and am on the Nelson Agency mailing list.

    I have nothing against an agent selling his or her own work, but I do think they should not be their own agent if at all possible.

  2. First, do your research. Go to your local liarrby’s Children’s Department and ask to see some of the book review journals. Whatever you do, DON’T just write a book and go looking for a publisher. You need to know what publishers are looking for and writing childrens books (and getting a good illustrator) isn’t easy. It’s a discipline like anything else and it would behoove you to do as much research as possible before you spend a lot of time writing. Your local liarrby will have LOTS of material for aspiring writers. I can’t encourage you enough to pour over these books and absorb every detail.I work in a major metropolitan liarrby and one of my duties is our annual Local Authors Exhibit. Every year we get submissions from people who undoubtedly think they are good storytellers, illustrators, etc. Unfortunately, many of these people need a lot of help (and a tad bit more humility). Worse, these people fall prey to vanity publishers companies that will publish ANYTHING by anyone as long as the author is willing to foot the bill. These authors THINK they’re good storytellers, often because family and loved ones tell them so. But don’t kid yourself everyone thinks they have a great story, script or screenplay inside them just waiting to come out.The other thing you should consider is taking writing classes at your local community college. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re a great talent waiting to be discovered. You might be, but the odds are against it. Few writers are naturally talented just as few doctors, concert pianists or painters are naturally talented. To mangle one of Einstein’s great quotes, “Success is ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration.”One advantage to taking classes is that your professor will probably have some experience in the business and is best suited to give you publishing advice. The other important thing about school is that it will allow you to network with similar individuals.Whatever you do, don’t give up. Writing is like any other discipline and the road is often filled with (surmountable) obstacles. Only through determination, a willingness to learn and a openness to the editing process, can anyone hope to be successful in the writing business.Good luck!

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