Monday, 1 September 2008

Don't Expect Miracles From Agents

Agents only agree to represent writers when they think that they have a better-than-average chance of selling their books.

Agents work as literary matchmakers, pairing the right writer and book with the right editor and publisher. They also know which publishers will not suit, and when not to submit.

The publishing world is finite. Most books will suit only a handful of publishers, and good agents know that there is little to be gained by submitting beyond that small circle.

So if you are newly represented, and your agent only seems to be submitting to a small number of editors, they are probably doing their job properly despite your worries: but if you're still not convinced, you could always talk to them about it.


Lynn Price said...

Jane, I have to take mild exception to this. I know a number of very good agents who took years to sell their client's books because they believed in the strengths of the story. Many I've worked with are caring, loving souls who genuinely adore their clients. Of course, everyone is looking for the big seller, but they also have hearts.

Jane Smith said...

Lynn, do please feel free to disagree with me at any stage--I'm always happy to hear from you.

I wonder if what we're seeing here is the difference between the UK market and the USA one. Here, there are not nearly as many of the smaller publishers as there are in the USA; and many of those smaller publishers are only just slipping into view, as far as many agents are concerned (in fact, just today I read an article which discussed this--I'll look for a link).

I didn't mean to suggest that agents aren't passionate about their clients' work: most of the agents I've met care very deeply about their clients, and are disappointed and sometimes hurt if they fail to make a sale. But they won't publish at any price, and they will only submit to publishers which they feel would do well for the books concerned.

Over the last couple of months I've been in contact with a good handful of writers who have had found themselves good agents, but then their books have not sold. Have those writers spoken to their agents about why this might be? No. Not one of them. They were all too nervous to do so. Two of them ended up self-publishing their books and another turned to vanity-publishing; none of them have made any sort of sales.

One, however (and you know who you are!), considered self-publishing, and got some of the way along the road before she thought again, and talked to her agent: who is now submitting her work to more publishers. Let's hope it turns out well for her. And let's hope that more writers ask their agents the important questions. Agents are not monsters (that's my job). Some of them are actually quite nice!

Jane Smith said...

Aha. Got it. Here's a link to an article about slush, which briefly mentions how Tindal Street Press is only just being noticed by the agents. Tindal Street published Astonishing Splashes of Colour, and What Was Lost (which won or was nominated for several prizes this year), and is one to be watched.