Starting today, Kenneth Wright, a literary agent at Writers House and a former editorial director at Scholastic, will be penning a (semi) weekly column on WEbook. Ken’s primary focus will be to shed some light on the agenting business, how it works, and why it’s important. The column will sometimes take the form of a Q&A, a list, or a short essay. Ken will try to answer questions as part of this column, so don’t hesitate to leave one in the “comments” area below.
Greetings WEbook. Starting today, in this space, I will be talking a lot about how good agents can – and do – help their clients through the entire publishing process. I’ll cover everything from finding an agent, what we look for in queries, where we look for new writers, what you should know about editors, the submission process, receiving and surviving rejections, getting offers (!) for your book, and helping you decide which offer is best. I am absolutely sure there is more I’ll cover, as I start getting questions from all of you, which I encourage---in fact, I need you to write in, ask questions, and share your experiences so this remains interesting for you AND me.
To kick things off, I asked three writers in different stages of their careers what was the first question they asked themselves when they were thinking about finding an agent. All three said essentially same thing: Do I really need an agent? Not “How do I find an agent.” Not even “How do I find a GOOD agent.” Nope, the most common question we get is “Do I really need an agent.” And the answer is an unequivocal (and an un-self-serving) YES. Why? Because most importantly it frees you up to have the creative relationship with your editor and publisher that you need in order to do your best work. Of course there are lots of other good reasons…
My top ten list of what good agents do for their authors:
1) We’re your eyes and ears to the marketplace. We really do have breakfasts and lunches and drinks with editors nearly every day of the week. We listen when editors tell us what they’re looking for, what’s selling, what’s hot, what’s not. And we read all the trade magazines (PW, LJ, Kirkus, etc), all the consumer magazines, the appropriate sites, blogs, newspapers, etc. We follow the bestseller lists. We go to the trade shows (BEA, ALA, etc). We are plugged into what books sell where and how.
2) Spouses and best friends excluded, we’re likely to be your first sounding board for your ideas. And since we’re so plugged in, we can really help you as you think about your writing, your next project, or your career.
3) We’re one of your first and harshest editors and critics. Because we’re usually your first readers, after the above-mentioned spouses and best friends (and, increasingly, writing group members), and because we have a vested interest in your work being the best it can be, we will be honest with you.
4) We’re the bad cop to your good cop. For example, if a big marketing problem comes up about your book, we’ll make that difficult call to the publisher on your behalf.
5) We’re likely to be the one constant in your professional writing life. Editors come and go and switch houses all the time. We tend to stay put. And we know where those editors have gone, why, and who has replaced them, all the better to help guide you through the tumultuous world of publishing…
Okay, I am going to keep you waiting for the other five points. I’ve gone on long enough for the inaugural column. Come visit next week for the rest of the list. It gets better. And leave questions or comments below if you have them. In the meantime, if you’re still asking yourself why you need an agent, maybe this will help: When you buy or sell a house, you get a realtor, no? When you need legal help, you go to a lawyer, right? When you write a book and want help navigating the book publishing business, you need an agent. YES.
Read more insight from Ken Wright's "Ask the Agent" column.