There’s a lot of things that agents do: sell books, edit, negotiate, offer advice and consultation. However, there are a lot of things that don’t fall within our purview. We hope to help guide you on your career path and offer suggestions when to consult other experts (lawyers, accountants etc).
While most agents handle a wide range of support to their clients sometimes writers build up unrealistic expectations for an agent’s range of work. Literary agents aren’t magicians; we hate to admit it, but there are some limitations to what we can do.
Since we’ve already reviewed what you can expect from your literary agent, here’s what not to expect.
1. Constant contact
Yes, in the age of smartphones, we’re never really unplugged. And as an agent, I’m connected in many ways: Twitter, Instagram, and email in the palm of my hand. However, all agents have personal rules about how we communicate with our clients and how often. Just because we tweet at 9 p.m. on a Friday, doesn’t mean we’re going to respond to your email at that time.
For my clients that have day jobs or live in other time zones, I make myself available during “off” times. However, you can’t expect that treatment every time, from every agent. I do this on a triage system. Most things in publishing can wait until Monday at 9am.
2. Editorial advice
Not all agents are expert editors or choose to spend their time as an agent doing rounds of edits. It’s no secret that agents polish client manuscripts, but not all agents call themselves “editorial agents” and work through draft after draft.
If that’s something you’re looking for, make sure to ask this question when an agent offers you representation.
When I’m editing with a client I tell them: “My background is an agent, not an editor. I will edit this to the point where I think it is saleable and then we’ll need an editor to take over.” I want every project to be in the best shape possible and I will work through 1-3 rounds with a client to get it there, but I am agent first, always.
3. That they’ll put up with being micromanaged
There’s a high level of trust involved in an agent-author relationship — on both sides. Authors have to trust that their agent is doing their best, and agents have to let authors write. Don’t micromanage your agent by telling them how to do their job. Sign with an agent you trust and respect from the start.
I’ll always consult with my authors on social media best practices, how to engage professionally with their editor, marketing goals, and what to expect from their relationships with their editor, publicist, and other partners in the process. Bring up any issues and we’ll work through them, but the minutia of the job is best left to the expert: the agent—that’s why you hired us.
I’m always, always here to have conversations about your vision for your career; I want to hear your goals and dreams. However, remember that I will be doing lots of work behind the scenes at all times so just because you don’t hear from me doesn’t mean I’m not working hard for you.
4. That they will love everything you write
This is a hard one to swallow: writers can’t expect that agents will love everything they write. Sometimes it’s a concept that isn’t working. Sometimes it’s a whole draft.
Be prepared that it will be a collaborative relationship. An agent’s job isn’t to pat you on the back and tell you you’re wonderful. An agent’s job is to manage your career to the best of their abilities. We’re on your side and we want what’s best for you in the moment and long term.
So when we say that a concept or project isn’t working, it’s not to crush your dreams. It’s to help you get to the BIG idea that is going to take flight and make a splash in this crazy, competitive industry.
5. That they will sell everything you write
To some this might be a surprise: agents don’t sell everything they pitch to editors. Even the best of the best have to shelve projects sometimes.
It’s our job to explore all options, share editors’ feedback and consult on what the next steps should be. We don’t always sell debut novels, and we might go back and ask our client to write another one. We’re not magicians and we can’t make every experience a perfect one, but we use our judgment based on years of experience to steer things in the right direction, whatever that direction is: to a deal, or back to the drawing board. We can’t control the industry. We can only control what we represent.
6. That they’ll help you finish your book
We can’t make something out of a partial concept — unless it’s a nonfiction project, but that’s a whole other story. Novels have to be complete, and they have to compel us to sign them and get editors excited about them too.
Many writers think that once they get an agent, life will be easy. Unfortunately, signing with an agent is only one part of the puzzle. We aren’t going to save you, fix your writing or finish your book. We’re here to help professional writers get book deals. Once you get an agent, that’s when the work begins!
Have you worked with an agent? Was it what you expected?
This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.
Photo via Roman Samborskyi / Shutterstock