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October 2011

Reporter: Pepper Basham

Pepper BashamUsing storytelling elements of her Blue Ridge Mountains’ heritage, Pepper Basham writes a variety of fiction seasoned with grace and humor. She’s a pastor’s wife, mom of five, university instructor, and a 2011 double Genesis finalist. She can be found causing mischief at her group blog, The Writers Alley, or at her personal blog.

Editor: Janny Butler

Janny ButlerA popular speaker, workshop teacher, and writing coach, Janet W. (Janny) Butler is a Golden Heart winner, author of the “best little book no one’s ever heard of,” ACFW member, and book project editor for the nation’s largest nonprofit Catholic publisher. She blogs at Catholic Writer Chick at Large! and Hoosier Ink. Visit her here.

Workshop 23: Red Alert: When to Contact Your Agent

Natasha KernIn her workshop, Red Alert: When to Contact Your Agent, literary agent Natasha Kern (right), who has contracted more than 1,000 books in her 22 years as an agent, began by talking about the importance of choosing the right agent.

A matter of trust

Kern discussed how the author-agent relationship should involve a deep trust that the agent is there to promote, guide, and encourage the author in all aspects of his/her career. Researching to ensure that an agent you choose is not only qualified to represent your basic writing needs, but also sees the long-term possibilities of your work, is vital.

A good working relationship includes the client feeling free to ask for help. Agents guide writers in the larger world of publication, so researching the best agent for you is an important prerequisite to signing with him/her.

What an agent does

Using examples from her clients, Kern discussed the areas of support she provides, while reminding authors that each agent is different. 

At her agency, it is common for her to place a vested interest in all areas of the client’s career by:

  • Providing editing for proposals and manuscripts.
  • Helping with accounting.
  • Working with publicity in all arenas.
  • Sharing guidance about changing trends in the ABA and CBA markets.

Kern says agents should be advocates for their clients in areas that may not typically be considered, such as foreign contracts (she mentioned several she is working on), movie rights (several other projects), re-publication of out-of-print books into e-format, and managing authors’ estates related to royalties.

Advocacy: What it means, what it covers

Kern stressed the need for open dialogue in the author-agent relationship, but also said many of her clients have become friends over the years—though her primary goal for them is not friendship, but advocacy.

With the large number of responsibilities that agents take on, a client may feel uncertain about when to ask for help. Kern believes clients should come to their agents with questions/concerns related to:

  • Extensions on due dates.
  • Pursuing payment once you’ve completed all revisions and turned them in.
  • Concerns about your cover design.
  • Any questions you have about the publisher’s changes related to your manuscript, edits, title, or PR.
  • Book reviews to be used for future reference.
  • Career direction — even related to which book you should write next.

Communication is key

There are many other ways an agent is involved in the client’s career, but the most important note Kern conveyed is for authors to contact their agents for information, guidance, and support.

“You need to take responsibility to keep us informed about the progress of your books each step of the way,” she said. This ensures the best possible career success for you—something that will benefit both you and your agent in the long run.

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