Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Agent’s Role

What does a literary agent do? What is their role in the publishing process?

I can only answer that from the writer’s POV since I’m not an agent. My list of what agents do would probably be similar to yours. They look for talent. They or their assistant culls through masses of query letters, looking for “saleable” book ideas. They look for manuscripts that are polished and ready or could be polished. They work to get a publisher to buy the book; they are the conduit that connects the writer to the publisher. They work with the writer on edits, covers, and anything that needs a go-between person. They negotiate advances and technical details in contracts. They work to get overseas deals. They help protect the author’s rights, whether it’s your rights to have your book published in Russia or your e-book rights. You could come up with even more things an agent does, but you get the idea.

The agent’s role is changing.

They’re still doing all that. After all, it’s how they make their money. None of them want to become dinosaurs without a means to feed their families. So, with more and more writers turning to self-publishing their own print and e-books, agents are adapting.

Oh, they’re still looking for those breakout, best-selling authors and books, but they’re also moving into the e-book era and helping authors do the work. They’re putting more into helping authors build their brand. Your success means they are successful.

I’m not saying that agents didn’t work to make their authors successful before now. I’m saying they are moving into areas that before were not their responsibility. Just as writers are taking over more of the publishing work and going it alone, some agents are seeing that change is inevitable and are adapting in ways that benefit the writer – and will keep agents in the equation.

What do you expect or hope for from an agent? Are you still hoping for an agent – or are you moving forward on your own? How can agents change to keep themselves relevant and necessary?


  1. This is a tough question. There are definitely some conflict of interest issues when a writer is trying to decide between self-publishing and traditional publishing and an agent is involved (if the agent acts almost as a publisher...would they try as hard to submit your manuscript to publishers if they're wanting to produce the book themselves as an ebook?...etc.)

    My agent is helping me with my traditionally published mysteries for Penguin and I'm doing the epub on my own. So far, this seems to be working for both of us. :)

  2. Not looking for one, but it will be interesting to see how their duties change. And if they can change successfully.

  3. I've never looked for an agent and don't plan to but they need to adapt quickly in order to survive. The middle man gets squeezed out first.

  4. I'm definitely looking for an agent. Someone in my corner to help me avoid the knockout punch. Someone who knows the ropes and the business better than I. Someone to help me avoid the mistakes I will surely make on my own, in spite of all my research.

  5. I know what you mean, Yvonne. I think most of us who write dream of having a partner to guide us through the maze of getting published.

    I'm not sure that's my goal anymore. I'm leaning more toward mapping the maze so I can lead myself.

  6. I think every writer (myself included), dreams of going the traditional route with an agent at one time or another.

    We've already seen the changes taking place from a writer's point of view. No longer are we simply a name on a book, we're more visually attainable; we interact with readers through social media, etc. The revolving role of the writer, would suggest Agents are going to have to evolve in their duties as well.

    We're seeing writers with success stories in both formats - traditional and self publishing. In the end I think it comes down to choice. Which is saying something in itself. Years ago our choices were limited at best. (Hugs)Indigo

  7. When the time comes, I'll be talking like Yvonne.

  8. At this point we still have a choice. I fear the choices are getting more polarized, though.

  9. I would like to have an agent, but I'm not waiting around for one. I sold seven romance novels without one and three fantasy novels.
    I wonder what a literary agent's job will be five years from now?

  10. I considered an agent when I first started writing, but after hearing a few horror stories from fellow writers I decided to go it alone. One author friend had an agent who steered her toward a different genren (changing adult fantasy into a children's book. She also asked her to remove an important character and although her book was published it was also removed from the shelves within a couple of years - it simply didn't fit into the genre it was pushed into.

  11. I'm still hoping for an agent, and I'm excited about starting the process of searching for one (once the novel is in cleaner shape!), but I'm also really aware that times are changing fast and it's not the only option.

    I would hope for all the things you list, and in a more general sense, simply for someone who's on my wavelength and who gets what I'm doing with my writing, someone I can build a vibrant, interesting business relationship with and enjoy working with. That's what I want (someday!). :)

    Great post!


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