Monday, February 9, 2015

My Agent's Role

One of the fun parts of this whole getting published thing is trying to answer the various questions from my friends and family. 

From the ubiquitous When can I buy it? (and I'm learning, by the way, that publishing can be positively glacial, and that’s saying a lot for someone who works for the Federal government), to the similar Why haven’t I read it yet? (and at this point, I just ask if they really want to flip through a stack of printed out pages  or click through a Word doc, rather than wait for the damn thing to come out). I’ve gotten lots of questions about the whole editing and revision process (I’m so new at this I had to ask MY editor how it works), the possibility of a book tour (don’t know), what the cover is going to look like (don’t know that either, nor am I sure it will even have the same title by the time it's released), and if I get free copies (and that I can answer – read it somewhere in my contract). The truth is, nine of 10 questions I get asked I really don’t know the answers to at all, since I really am learning as I go. But the one question I can clear up easily is – What does your agent really do?   

My agent has been my manager and editor and cheerleader. As I’ve said before, I didn’t share my writing with anybody, so until my book deal, she’d been the only person to have any significant exposure to what I was doing. At the time I signed with her, other than those agents who had requested fulls or partials, she was literally the only person in the world to have read that book cover to cover. The same is even more true for the book that, as of today, is still-called BAD LAND (but, as of tomorrow, who knows?). When that book went out in the world she was the only person to have read it or commented on it. I’m sure that book doesn’t sell without her input and help, and I know it doesn’t sell without her carefully selecting the editors she thought might respond to it, and cheering it on the whole way. She found the home for it because she knew where to look, where I wouldn’t have even been able to find the neighborhood. When it came time to go over and sign the contracts, she was there to walk me though each line, answering all of my questions and explaining why we’d want to make changes or ask for something different. I have a law degree, and I still relied on her guidance, because her knowledge and insights were specific and relevant. When I decided to be a “professional writer,” I knew enough just enough to know all the things I didn't know, so I turned to someone for whom managing and supporting writers is their profession.

Everyone’s path to publication is different – I imagine every author here on has their own unique take, not all of which required an agent or a traditional publisher. There is no right way to do this, just whichever way gets your book out into the world. However, as a complete neophyte, I know what worked for me. I wasn’t even sure I could write a whole book when I started, much less get it published or handle the "business side" of writing. True, the book "happens" with or without an agent, because I'm the one in the chair putting the words together, but putting those words in front of publishers; i.e., the "deal," doesn't happen (for me) without one. In my case, she believed in me when no one else even knew I was writing, and if she hadn't kept encouraging me after that first book didn't sell, I sometimes wonder if I would have tackled an even larger, more complex book as the second. There are so many questions about this new road I'm on that I still can't answer, but I know I'm not even on this path, without an agent helping light the way...

Always keep writing - JTS

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