A brief word about agents

I went to see an agent on Thursday. An honest-to-God meeting, pre-arranged and everything.


Don’t worry, I’m still unsigned, still no book deal in the offing, still resolutely unpublished. But the meeting’s a good thing (for me, obviously) and is undoubtedly progress. I’d been having kittens ever since it was arranged, and even more so when said meeting was postponed. Still, it happened. And went okay.


This was my first ever trip to see a professional in this way and it occurs to me that, if any of you are looking to get published, you might not have been in that position either. So: an account of my experience might be useful. Or is this just a thinly-veiled excuse to talk about myself? Who can say?


The agent (who shall remain nameless for fear of any embarrassment as might be accrued from being linked with me) and I communicated by email prior to the meeting. I’d submitted the standard slush-pile communiqué and she’d replied promptly asking for the full manuscript. This is always a great feeling for a writer, but there’s many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip. I have (as you’ll know if you’re keeping up with this blog) had requests for manuscripts before and had nothing come of it. Shortly after that, however, I got the reply I’d been dreaming of: an invitation to meet up.


This meeting wasn’t to offer me a deal or to bribe me with gold and silks, but to discuss my work. Indeed, representation didn’t come up in either the emails or the face-to-face discussion. Instead we spent the best part of an hour with the agent listing all the ways she felt my novel (this is Night Shift we’re talking about, by the way) could be improved.


It can be difficult for a writer to take criticism. After all, you’ve put your heart and soul into your work, you’ve got feedback and feedback and you’ve spent weeks, months, polishing and revising and – ahem – crossing the ‘i’s and dotting the ‘t’s. It’s finished. It’s done. It’s good enough to get published.


But agents and publishers know what they’re doing. I can’t deny that a lot of the criticisms of my work – if not all – are spot on. More importantly, they’ll make the novel better. And I don’t know about you, but I want anything that goes out with my name on to be the best it possibly can be.


But it’s a lot of work. This systemic review, from new-to-your-work expert eyes means that this forthcoming draft will contain not just small, isolated areas of revision, but some which run through the whole text; a gravitational force that’ll bend the walls and change the warp and weft in unpredictable ways.


This is the first time I’ve had to do anything like this. And there’s a deadline and at the end of the process I still have no guarantee of a contract.


This is just what I wanted, right?


*          *          *


So, why get an agent at all? What does an agent actually do? Do you have to have one?


Well, no to the last question. You don’t have to have one. Most self-publishers represent themselves, and I’ve got interest from publishers off my own bat. But the first, most obvious thing is that they circumvent the whole ‘slush-pile’ and discuss works directly with editors – the right editors of the right publishing houses. Maybe it’s just a confidence thing: an editor is getting not just a letter but a personal recommendation from someone they know knows the business. It’s much easier to take a chance on a new author if they’ve got someone to champion them.


That’s one thing. But equally important is that they’re acting on your behalf to get the right deal for you. They give advice, both on your writing and on your business dealings. How well do you know contracts? Are you fully cognisant with publishing rights? Do you best know what’s best for you?


The other reason is that I don’t know of any published authors without an agent. Perhaps that’s the most powerful argument of all.


So yes: I want to have an agent take me on. Because I want to make my career as a writer. And, right now, that seems to be what I need. Maybe tomorrow I’ll wake up and find I’m someone else, but for today? This is what I’m working for.

4 thoughts on “A brief word about agents

  1. Good to hear you’re moving forwards. I know nothing of the industry obviously, but it seems having an agent is the equivalent of a band having a manager, a necessary evil in order to get your demo tape into some arsehole’s sweaty mitts/get a gig at the dog n duck etc. To not get an agent when one is seemingly interested would stink of Brian Jonestown Massacre style self sabotage (see the film Dig! for further details!).

    Good on you buddy, Re-write, re-write, re-write, it;s not the romantic option but its the way to actually achieve something. Personally I’ve spent a lot of wasted years in holier than thou punk ethic-indie bands, but we spent a lot of time shooting ourselves in the foot as a matter if principle, which cannot be a good start, Not sure what my point is, but there you go…Basically keep revising your artistic vision and don’t be too precious. Though, if you think you’ve compromised to the point of making it shit you’re probably right. Trust your instincts, and the judgement of those who talk sense and, most importantly of all, ignore all drunken rambling replies on your blog.


    • Yeah, I think you’re right about the parallels with music. Some things just have to be done – unless you’re going to do everything yourself. Just as home studio software has made it much easier to produce a quality sound, so self-publishing has developed in the literary world. But if you’re going it alone you’ve got to work so much harder – and not necessarily on things you want to be working on


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