What Agents Do for Their Authors, Part II


Th_asktheagent_art Greetings WEbook. I can’t believe it’s been an entire week and here we are again. Speaking of an entire week, just so you know, going forward I am going to try to be here for you on a regular basis. And by that, I mean weekly, but, you know, I am a busy guy (a busy and hugely important agent at that!). Really, I’m busy like everyone else, so I can’t absolutely promise the weekly thing. However, I will endeavor to not let too much time go between posts. That I CAN promise.

I also want to thank those of you who took the time to read and write in about my first post. I know you’re all busy too, so it means a lot that you’ve taken the time. Thank you. There were a lot of good questions and points, and not one that I won’t address in future postings. The most frequently asked question last week was about finding a good agent -- specifically, how do you do it? -- and that will absolutely be what I’ll write about next, after today. So stay tuned. But first I want to finish up my top ten list from last week about what good agents do for their authors.

Here it is:

6) We help shape your ideas into full, selling proposals for nonfiction; and we edit your fiction manuscripts into shape to send out to editors.

7) Because we know all the editors pretty well, we can identify the ones right for your project. We will strategize about the submission process and tailor a submission list that is right for you and your project. A good agent will not simply throw your work out there and hope it sticks. 

8) We’re also your career advisor. We’re not in it for just one book. Because we’re in it for the long haul, we will be thinking, and encourage you to think, about what’s next and why; and we’ll help you get there. We do this with an eye towards your entire career in writing.

9) Eventually we WILL sell your book, and that means you will have to sign a contract. Have you ever seen a publisher’s contract? Twenty-some legal-size pages of fine print… We negotiate with the publisher all the fine points on your behalf -- the advance and its payout, the royalties, the subsidiary rights, reversions, delivery dates, option, revisions, etc.

10) We’re your partner in this whole writing and publishing thing, and your champion and advocate every step of the way. On call 24/7. Well, not exactly, but we do return your emails and phone calls pretty quick!

I’m going to end today by answering one of the many questions that came in this past week. It’s from Athinia, and the question is: “What is the most wanted type of book?” And I say, good damn question, Athinia! If I really knew the answer to that one, I’d be a very rich man. 

There is of course no single answer, just like there is no one type of book everyone wants. If you tune in here from time to time though, I think you’ll see that it’s both more complicated and more subjective than you think. But what it really comes down to is your book has to be the very best one you can write. Period. You write that good book and you really will have a shot at finding a good agent.

More about which next time… 


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  1. Once again Ken, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to share some insightful, yet easily digestible nuggets of the agent's overall role in the grand scheme of the writer's "career". The value of the information you can provide to hopeful writers is immeasurable (at least in metrics).
    One thing that I would be very interested in reading is a 'day in the life' article on what constitutes an agent's 'typical' day.... just the work stuff, we're probably not all that interested in what you had for dinner or the color of your pyjamas.
    Another question that sprung to mind in light of your point #8: Given society's penchant for categorizing anything they can, how much more difficult is it for you, the agent, to pitch a writer's work if their manuscripts cover different genres (e.g. a thriller, romance novel and collection of spiritual poetry)? Is it 'worth' having a level of diversity before you have more than a foot in the door?

  2. Hi Ken,
    Just writing to ask a question that has been bothering me this past while.
    And here it is:
    I am a young adult, and have no interest in YA fiction, (but that is beside the point), however I have written a good chunk of Horror, Sci-Fi, Mainstream, Fantasy and other fictional short stories, Novels, Novellas, and one (and I use the term for lack of anything deemed not modest like...Epic or something) big-ass book. Add this to innumerable essay's on all things boring and one thesis on something a little more interesting.
    Back to the point, I am fifteen years old and as that entails, rather devoid of credentials and suchlike, and have few ribbons on the proverbial lapel.
    So, the real question behind my rambling is "Does a fifteen-twenty year old have any chance of getting Published, or even getting an agent?"
    I would be much obliged if this question could be addressed in one of your articles, (which are really are quite the berries, in my humble opinion)and I assure you that this would warm my iron lung...er, I mean heart...
    So, in conclusion, all the best in your future, and answers are fun, remember that.

  3. Hi. I have two question.
    Hi. I have one question, and one ideal. Like Brian said, Does a fifteen-twenty year old have any chance of getting Published, or even getting an agent? I am 19 and have been writing since I was 12 (I wrote before that, but 12 was age I wrote the first thing that turned out good enough to count. I wrote it after reading the Narnia series.) and I am a creative writing minor in college. AND are there specific agents/publishing houses that are more likely to look at work from younger audiences.
    My ideal is I think it would be very helpful to us aspiring authors, especially the ones who read the ask the agent blog, to be able to get an inside-the-agents head look at how you select or reject a query. I know about blogs such as QueryShark, but I have submitted my query to them with no response.
    There are full projects on webook dedicated to perfecting queries. And though I have taken advice from everyone and people are saying my query is good, when send it to agents I get a reject without an explanation on why it was rejected. I think it would be a good ideal for readers who have queries to be able to post them on here for an agent to say if he would reject and why.

  4. Oh, and I don’t have that typos in my query like I do in that quickly written post…

  5. Ken,
    Thank you again for sharing your knowledge with us here on webook.
    After reading your posts from last week, I've been researching different Agencies and along the way finding quite a bit of helpful information. However, one question that's been on mind that has me a bit nervous about submitting my query (in addition to other things of course) is length. How important is length (of a prospective or proposed novel) to an agent? Will an agent reject first time authors because of the length of his/her work right away or will they still read the rest of the query? I guess my question is for first time authors, is length a determining factor to agents or just the agents interest in the writing and plot?
    Thank you again and I look forward to reading your post next week.
    Best Regards,

  6. Ken,
    Your post above brought up something I've been wondering about. I write for fun. I have a more important life going on. I'm afraid to hook up with an agent because, well, I follow my own writing schedule. I don't care if it takes me ten years to write something. I have many many many more important things to do. So, I'm wondering if that's (not having long term commitments to writing) something that would deter agents and publishers? If you only get one or two ideas every once in a while, is that too sporatic for an agent/publisher and would they drop you? I think this is a concern to people who have children and such, who can't really crank out a new story every other month like some authors can.

  7. Hey Ken! Thanks for keepin' up as best you can.
    Like Brian and Kk asked, is it possible for a YA to get published? I'm actually under 15 (12), but my teachers, parents, friends, and even friends' parents are encouraging me to try and get some of my novels published. My teachers are always giving me high (usually top) ratings on everything I write, my little following of online and RL friends are always helping me get even better, and I can't seem to stop coming up with ides. No matter how much I express this on paper, if there's only a few people who read it, I can't really understand the point.
    According to everyone I have talked to (and probably all that I have yet to talk to), getting published as a young author is next to impossible. Is this true? Hell, even if we got a chance to get published, is getting an agent even possible? Under the age of 18, you're not permitted to sign a full-fledged legal contract. Does that affect it?
    OK, I'm not going to flood you with quesitons like I did last time. That's all I have to ask (for now), so I shall be taking my leave until next time.

  8. OK, here's an interesting one that came up yesterday:
    WeBook Tweeted a link to an article whose subject was 'what agents hate'. The first subcategory, prologues, gave a resounding "NO" from the quoted agents. This seems somewhat in contrast to what is evidenced on store shelves so I ask a two-fold question:
    What is your stance on submissions with prologues?
    If so many agents are against prologues then how do so many novels that have them get published?


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