Ah, the ubiquitous dance between querying an agent and the moment you start picking out curtains together. It's a frightening time, somewhere between throwing up a little in your mouth and finally being able to eat a messy sandwich in front of them, and as the relationship grows you're able to settle down into a sweatpants familiarity -- if you're lucky. My agent, Dawn Frederick of Red Sofa Literary, and I came out of the gate in a mad rush of hell yes. I had done my homework, researched agents, sent out a couple of queries custom-fit for the agents I'd chosen and waited. It didn't take long -- Dawn responded to my email within ten minutes. She wanted to chat -- get to know each other -- see if we spoke each other's unspoken language. I'm a leaper and follow my instincts, I knew she was a good egg and by the end of our chat I was all in.
In the five years that we've been business partners and friends, we've sold four books, taught agent/author relationship workshops together, she's dropped my name so hard on editors that they bruise, and I've learned the value of trusting someone else's opinions in my career decisions. So, what does the relationship look like from the inside?
The role of the agent
Far from being the aloof and rather untouchable side of the writing team, the agent is the writer's best ally in publishing. It's their business to know the business: the trends, when editors switch houses (happens frequently) and where they go so as to maintain ties, negotiate contracts and follow up with publishers, and my favorite part -- thinking long term about a writer's career. Agents care about writers, they care that what we write makes a difference and that they're part of the change even if they don't get as much of the high-fives and cake as they deserve. They're passionate about publishing and keep us going even when we want to hide under our desks and eat crackers instead of pushing out another chapter or book proposal.
The most important role of an agent is to be honest, even when you don't like that they're not on board with your most recent idea. That's when you trust their experience and their role within the publishing community and just let it go or chat about self-publishing options.
The role of the writer
I would love to think that all writers are cuddly and creative. That sunshine and prose falls from our fingertips instead of the reality of staring at a wall so long that you can see Patrick Swayze in the drywall cracks. Our role is much less defined, if just as hard as the agent's. While typing out the next great hit, we are now the Primary Promotion Specialist for our work -- we are our own marketing team and idea generator. We make the rules about when to wear pants. But within our semi-pants wearing, Swayze-daydreaming lives, we remember that we're part of a team and what our role in the agent/author relationship requires.
As writers who would like to succeed and not just become a blip on the Amazon "whatever happened to" screen, we work with the agent to not only write but to engage readers via whatever method we're comfortable with. Don't enjoy Facebook or Twitter? Try connecting with readers at conventions, readings at local schools and libraries, start a blog and target readers that dig what you dig, or fire up your old Instagram or Pinterest account and find your tribe. As writers, we adapt or get buried under the rubble. Our agents are there to brush off the dust and make you presentable before you roll out another idea.
Will there be trouble in paradise for some agent/author teams? Of course. Priorities change, career vision changes, lives change -- so how do you handle it when it's time for you to leave (or be left)? That's the call the blogs don't go over as often. Sure, it's uncomfortable but staying in a relationship that isn't working or is stagnant because no one wants to be the bad guy isn't just detrimental to your anxiety levels, it could be bad for your career. While most contracts ask for a written statement to end the relationship (always do this), a phone call first is always preferred. Even if you're not on the best of terms, your grandmother would be proud of you.
As the publishing landscape evolves, the roles between agent and author are also changing. Agents work harder to keep their authors relevant while they search out new opportunities. Authors are asked to do more than ever before to keep their work before readers while still being creative and emerging as businesspeople. It's the balance between the two that keeps the relationship growing. By committing to a healthy partnership, your career blooms -- which translates into extra non-pants-wearing days. It's a win-win.
Stacey Graham is the author of four books and a rag-tag collection of short stories. She is currently scaring the pants off of readers with her book HAUNTED STUFF: DEMONIC DOLLS, SCREAMING SKULLS, AND OTHER CREEPY COLLECTIBLES. She intends on returning the pants at a later date.