Thursday, September 08, 2005

Who's Zooming Who?

Miss Snark posted yesterday about the work relationship between agents and writers. To sum up, she said:

Let's be clear here.

Miss Snark works WITH you. She's a member of your team, but in no way shape
or form does she work FOR you.

A commenter then had the temerity to take her to task for being "pompuous".

Your agent is not "your" agent. She is your partner. You don't pay her. She makes money for you and keeps a fair share of it in return for her work, knowledge, and expertise. Neither writer nor agent works for the other. You work together. The writer creates a product, which the agent then helps bring to market. Saying that your agent works for you is arrogance of the most egregious kind, and that bodes ill for a relationship that depends heavily on the two of you getting along.

A running theme on Miss Snark's blog is that of communication. Of all the people in the world, you would expect writers to know about communicating. Unfortunately, too many of us appear to be deficient in those skills.

The most important part of your relationship with an agent is a mutual understanding of who, what, when, where, how, and why. Some things the agent will explain to you. Others are up to you to determine. How? Ask. Just like all other humans, agents cannot think of every detail regarding what you want. Neither can they read your mind. If you want to see all rejections on your manuscript as they come in, you had better ask up front. The same goes for any other concerns you may have about the particular way you want your agent to deal with you. This is particularly important for deal-breaker issues that you may have. The things you consider most important may be a source of contention between the two of you later on. You should avoid this.

Up front, by the way, means BEFORE you sign anything. It is normal and expected behavior for you to interview your agent before signing a contract. Your agent also wants to interview you. You can expect to do this over the course of one or more phone calls before the contract hits your inbox or mailbox. You will be working together very closely over the short term and, we all hope, the long term, too. Mutual understanding and respect are vital. If you don't ask, you cannot assume, and you will have to accept the agent's way of doing business or start the search again.

Plan, ask, discuss. Your agent will be one of the most important people in your life, and your career as a writer will very likely depend in large part on your relationship with your first agent. Think things through; think about all the details of how you want to be kept informed of your agent's efforts on your behalf. Write down all your concerns. Then, ask the questions. Again, do this before putting pen to paper.

Contracts are serious documents, and it does not take long for you to develop a reputation as an unreliable contract-breaker. This is, of course, not good. Especially for a first-timer. When you put your name on the line, you are committed for good or ill. It's up to you to make sure it's for good.

It's all about communication, respect, and cooperation. The more of each your relationahip has, the better for all concerned. Life is hard enough as it is. Don't make it worse.



At 10:13 AM, Blogger Melly said...

If all an author does is to *write* about communication, how do you expect him/her to be good at it??? ;)

I do agree with every word.

At 3:07 PM, Blogger Debra Young said...

Well said, Carter. Will keep your points in mind when time comes for me to find an agent. d:)

At 11:47 AM, Blogger ME Strauss said...

Hi Carter,
You put forth the issue and the handling of it in a clear, concise, straightforward manner. Your writing voice was friendly and intelligent. My guess is that you have no real problems with communication yourself. :)

Thanks for a great post.

At 10:06 AM, Blogger Carter said...

I hate it when Blogger eats my comments. 2nd try:

Good point, Melly. I think most writers are far too used to talking, whether on paper or out loud, and don't listen enough.

Thanks, Debra. It's never too late to start thinking about what you want in an agent and listing the questions you want to ask. Good luck when the time does come!

Thanks, ME. Now if I could only speak as clearly as I can write...


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