Workshop 25: Working With Your Agent
Agent Chip MacGregor (right) opened the session on Saturday afternoon as he filled in for the hospitalized Lee Hough. Because of this change, he altered the session slightly, calling it Finding an Agent and Working with Your Agent.
What’s an agent’s purpose?
First, using humor and common sense, he clarified our understanding of an agent’s purpose in a writer’s career. It is to put a level of professionalism between an author and a publisher in the way a realtor acts as a go-between for a home seller and a buyer.
Few authors want to divert precious time from creativity to learn business practices or negotiating techniques.
He told us of his bewilderment with his first personal writing contract. Because at that time he knew little of the business of publishing, he determined that from then he would understand how things worked. Few authors want to divert precious time from creativity to learn business practices or negotiating techniques.
These days, many agents are former editors. Others are former writers. A third set are dealmakers, specializing in contracts and negotiations. More recently, a fourth category has developed—those who entered their careers as agents through internships and have never worked outside the publishing industry.
Voice is the result of everything we’ve read, written, or participated in.
All actively seek great writing in unique voices. Most submissions are flat, similar projects. The elusive quality called voice is the result of everything we’ve read, written, or participated in.
Perspective, in this instance, answers the question, “What do I want to do or be with this urge to write?” Or in the words of Bob Beale, “Who do I want to help?” Perspective influences which agents we’ll query.
Prepare to meet your agent
Before the first query letter goes out, or the first face-to-face appointment is scheduled, know your specific plans for the next 90 days, the next year, and the next two years. All these background elements will assist you in researching not simply an agent, but the correct agent for your work.
Publishing and agent representation work by relationships. Each author has specific individual needs. One of Chip’s clients needs him for his business expertise. Another uses him as a sounding board for ideas.
Question agents. Ask about other clients and the titles they’ve sold. Bring up how much communication you expect in the relationship. Do you want your agent to inquire about your progress on projects? Will you request help with editing? Chip contacts his clients once a month.
He never chooses clients on celebrity value. Authors’ voice and story quality impress him. He also notes whether clients’ personalities mesh well with his. He keeps a small client list and reads everything himself. The reasons he might release a client include non-fitting personalities or no sales results.