Great Agent, Good Agent or Bad Agent
It’s an ongoing discussion within the book publishing community—literary agents. Various online groups will discuss it. When they get together on the phone or in person, editors will talk about agents. Even this week, I was talking with one long-time literary agent who mentioned a common misconception. Agents do not work for a particular publishing house. An agent may have a lot of dealings with a particular publishing house if the publisher acquires the books from their clients.
I’ve been writing about the book, Putting Your Passion Into Print by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry. The chapter on “Locating, Luring and Landing the Right Agent” is loaded with insight and wisdom. Why? Arielle is a literary agent with the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency and in fact she runs their Bay Area office. From that vantage point, this chapter describes the qualities of a good agent, then what makes a great agent and what are some of the characteristics of a bad agent. Also they discuss whether you need an agent in the first place and how to determine the answer to your situation.
The great agent is a true partner with the author and as Putting Your Passion Into Print says, “Great agents are part wizard, midwife and guide dog. They’ll show you the tricks of the trade, manage your career, introduce you to all the right people, and guide you and your manuscript through the messy maze of the modern book world.” My experience matches these characteristics and I’ve worked with some great agents who know how to carefully guide me through the various land mines of publishing. As I’ve mentioned before in these entries, anyone can become a literary agent—whether they have experience in publishing or not. It’s the responsibility of the writer to follow a principle emphasized repeatedly in this book: research, research, research.
I completely understand how writers land bad agents. We are insecure about our writing and the merits of our idea or book proposal. Yes, our family loves it but what about the publishing world? No one enjoys getting rejected but it’s a key part of this world of ideas. Some ideas find a home and others are repeatedly rejected. This chapter includes sound advice about how to find the right agent for you and where you are in your career. It’s different for each person and the relationship is one that the writer has to seek and cultivate. Here’s a principle never to forget: good and great agents work for their authors—not the other way around. Often a writer is thrilled to snag a top agent and reluctant to evaluate whether that agent is a great agent for them. I’ve seen several authors who stay in a poor agent relationship for this reason.
OK what characterizes a bad agent? According to Eckstut and Sterry, “Bad agents…won’t return your phone calls and sometimes even steal your money. Like bad travel agents, they can send you on some really bad trips, or worse, not even get you off the ground. Naturally, there are many more bad agents than good agents. Sadly, when you meet them, it’s often hard to tell the difference. But once you’ve experienced their incompetence, sloth and/or idiocy firsthand, the distinction becomes painfully obvious.”
One of the best articles about searching for an agent is this one combined with the principle of sound research. I have no doubt the discussion about different agents will continue through the ages. I appreciated the counsel and wisdom in this chapter from Putting Your Passion Into Print.