Recently I went to the Willamette Writer’s Conference in Portland, Oregon. Like almost every year since I was 18, I volunteered part of the time, went to workshops, and pitched my latest manuscript to agents and editors. Unlike previous years I had a novel out and one to come out next year, and was also one of the paid presenters. I taught a workshop titled, “The Clowning Linguist: How to Write Humor.” Most importantly, this was also the year I signed a contract with an agent for my novel, WRATH OF THE TOOTH FAIRY, a funny fantasy romance in which the tooth fairy meets the bogeyman while on the job and chaos ensues.
Do you have any idea how significant it is for an author to have an agent?
When I announced this news to my family, I was met with general, “Oh, that’s nice, dear.” Even when I tried to explain how important of a step having an agent is in my writing career, I was met with a lack of enthusiasm—mostly due to them not knowing why an author needs an agent. On the other hand, my writing friends in Portland and back home in Eugene knew exactly what getting an agent meant and how thrilling it was.
Here is what an agent does:
Think of a literary agent like a real estate agent or insurance agent who sells a product. They know the ins and outs of the industry, are the middle man in charge of your negotiations, and through their contacts are able to ensure you get a better deal. They are very selective in who they take on because they want to make sure the author’s writing is something they can sell and make a profit from. Editors are more likely to respond to their book proposals and packages than an author sending directly to them because the work has already been screened by someone in the business who knows what sells and what quality is.
Which comes first the chicken or the egg—a.k.a. the agent or the editor?
Writers joke that in order to get a good publisher (and a good contract) you need an agent, but in order to get an agent, you need a publisher. Agents do take a 10-15% commission but they aren’t going to take you on unless they think they can make money off of you. Some authors I know think agents are the bane of the earth and warned me against signing with one. After some of my experiences without an agent, and knowing I am more likely to reach the larger publishers, I am convinced that this is the next big step in my writing career.