And now, for my next rabbit in the hat trick...

Dear Miss Snark,

What exactly is an agent's role in the world of 21st century publishing? I've been reading your blog for a while, I search the internet, I read, I read and read again, but there really aren't any answers that satisfy me as an unpublished writer. So maybe you can help.

Miss Snark adjusts her pedagogical chapeau and prepares to answer the Age Old Question: what the hell good are you anyway since you don't produce anything!

oh wait, that's not really the question is it?

Miss Snark steps back and numbers the questions because she likes to be very very organized.

1. What is an agent expecting a prospective author to bring to the table when they receive queries and partials (besides it being well written and legible)?

2. What sort of relationship does an agent expect to have with a new writer they've decided to take on board?

3. What do you feel are an agent's responsibility to an author?

4. Do you feel than a new writer is expected to know exactly where their manuscript fits into the market?

5. Is it an author's responsibility to "hustle" their work to an agent whether they are or aren't aware as to where their manuscript fits?

Let's start with 1. It's a prosaic choice, but hell, it's easy. Almost as easy as Miss Snark.

First, let's remember that due to a very very sad oversight Miss Snark does not rule the world and thus can't speak for other agents. I can only tell you how I handle things and my sense of how other agents do, and what I know to be industry standards.

so, #1. You toss off well written and legible like they're nothing but they're not. They're important and less common than you'd think. That said, I look for fresh writing and interesting choices. Something that keeps me guessing. Something that holds my interest. Talking cats did it way back in 1980 but they aren't going to now. So if you write about talking cats and you are annoyed cause everyone knows Lillian Jackson Braun gets published so why not you..remember, I've read all LJB's books and I don't want to read your imitation thereof.

That's the creativity part. Hell I can write a decent sentence. I can write quips and I can even write a fairly funny and compelling blog entry. Can I write a novel? I doubt it. I have a hard time imagining things. That's YOUR job. I may not be able to write it but I know it when I see it.

#2. You're signed now what. Answer your emails. Listen when I tell you it's going to be hard work to get ready for publication. Ask me questions when you don't understand something or you wonder about something. It's easier to answer questions than fix screw ups. Understand this is a professional relationship.

Understand you're not my only client. Would that you made such bucketfuls of money you were. The only person who wants that as much as you, is me.

#3. What is an agent’s responsibility. You mean besides sell the work, negotiate the contract, push the subsidiary rights and cough up a movie deal? Well, given that only takes five minutes a day, let’s add: keep them generally informed of how things are going. Regular contact even if it's just hi howdy, I'm closing the office for two weeks and going to Antarctica with George Clooney. We've had snarly conversations here about the minutia of what "generally informed" means, but if you want me to do something different, I'd prefer you just tell me rather than seethe.

#4. Do you feel than a new writer is expected to know exactly where their manuscript fits into the market?

No. If possible, sure. But knowing the market is some of the value I bring to the table.

#5 I don't understand the question. Can I have another? Better yet, can I have a drink?

As to the general question of what is the value of an agent when anyone can go out and get published these days, let me just say this about that:

1. Do you do your own brain surgery?
2. Do you mark your own hems?
3. Do you ask the librarian for help if you can't find a book or do you just keep searching or go home in disgust?

The answers to these are all the same: you benefit from time and expertise learned over a long period of time, and a lot of time you benefit from a second set of eyes, and most of the time it's a smart choice to have someone on your team who has done this stuff before.

Of course, you're welcome to pick your own brain as needed.
I'll provide the gin for anesthetic.


Ric said...

Miss Snark up and about early this morning.

And, she is actually making some very good points.
Sounds like anyone who signs with her has a really good idea what they are getting into.

Curious, though, as to the amount of help she expects from her clients? Are they supposed to be out hustling? Taking care of local outlets, doing PR, Does she orchestrate this - or work out a plan with the author and/or publisher?

Miss Snark said...

early? its 10 am in New York City. My god, you'd think I was still in my bunny slippers. Oh wait.. I am.

See post "Does Miss Snark do the Hustle" for a long winded answer to this question.

And fork over some coffee.

mapletree7 said...

I'd say that if you are very assertive, diligent, oprganized and very knowledgeable about publishing, you can do without an agent. As long as you already have a book deal, that is.

If you're not assertive, diligent, knowledgeable....

Here's what happened to an unfortunately someone who shall remain nameless. They had just won a national award that should have gotten them a 6-figure book deal. Instead:

1) they paid the publisher $40,000
2) no reversion of rights in the contract
3) contractually prevented from writing any other books on the topic

Bad things can happen.