Sunday, June 10, 2012

About the Agent-Author relationship... aka, Who's the Boss?

Often on Writerly Internet Message Boards, if you are around them in the "agent" section for more than two nanoseconds, you'll come across this phrase, meant to bolster a shy query-writer's confidence when dealing with those Big Bad Agents:

"Remember, YOU'RE HIRING THE AGENT, not vice-versa!"

Ugh. The thing is, that's not true. Yes, I work for my authors. But they also work for me. It's a partnership. We both have to communicate, or it doesn't work. We both have to be happy, or it doesn't work. We both have to WORK... or it doesn't work.

To imply that an author is "hiring" an agent the same way one might hire a repairman is misleading. You don't get to pick whatever agent you want out of a phone book, call them up and ask for an estimate. You don't order them around, or pick and choose from a list of priced services, and then throw them a check. That just isn't how it works. First of all, because your book is not a washing machine or an automobile or a widget, it is YOUR BOOK. Presumably it has bits of your heart and soul wrapped up in it - you want somebody who reps it to have a sense of passion for it, too. And because there are no "estimates" or "list of services" - every single project is its own peculiar beast that will demand its own unique approach.

And it's also not an "employer-employee" relationship where you sit in an office and call the shots while your agent is out digging ditches. An agent is navigating the world that they know quite well, and that you are unlikely to know well at all. You have expertise about writing your story - but your agent (hopefully!) has expertise about selling it and all the business associated with that. You need to listen to them, not "boss" them... and they need to listen to, and not boss, you. (Well, OK, I am a bit bossy, but WITH LOVE.)

An agent might work with you for a lifetime. Even if you part ways, they are always the agent on the books you sold together. You have to trust them, they are your fiduciary, they handle your money and tax info and know secrets. If you work with them long enough, they'll likely know more about you than anyone outside your family.

So here's another thing that people say:

"Finding the right agent is like GETTING MARRIED."

Nope, I totally disagree with that too. Sorry, guys, you know I love you, but... I don't LOVE-love you. While I work closely with my authors, we don't actually go home together at night.

While marriage is closer to the truth than the "repairman" model above, I still think it is off-base. Most people don't find a spouse by sending applications to a dozen potential ones and then letting them pick, first of all. And, it implies that the relationship is all about FEEEEEEELINGS and that the loss of it is or should be DEVASTATING.

Look, it's not an employer-employee relationship. It's not a marriage. It's a business partnership, OK? When they work out great, there can be magic. But not everyone is a great fit for everyone else. Sometimes the magic doesn't happen. You often really can't know what it will be like to work with somebody until you work with them - and you can't know how you'll react to being published and all the mishegas that goes with it till it happens.

And sometimes business partnerships don't work out for whatever reason. If you aren't getting along with your agent, or you disagree with them about the direction you should be going in, or whatever, and you've had the conversation with them but nothing has changed, you are holding yourself back by remaining tied to them. It's OK to part ways. It happens all the time, and, provided you've given it a fair shot and been honest, there should be no hard feelings. IT'S NOT A DIVORCE.

What do YOU think?