A Literary Agent’s Role Beyond the Book Deal

Many authors, most especially those querying, think of an agent’s job as selling the book and not much beyond that. The truth is that while that is my job, it’s only a tiny piece of an agent’s role in an author’s career.

Selling the book is, surprisingly (even to an agent) the easy part. It’s the rest that you really want and need an agent for. It’s negotiating the deal, negotiating the contract after the deal is final. Once you are settled in with a publisher, the agent will be your right-hand woman. She’ll be there to answer questions, to challenge the publisher, to push you and the publisher to do more and to be your advocate in all things. She will rewrite cover copy, have strong opinions about the cover, and make sure that everyone is working to make your book the best it can be.

So to answer a reader’s question:

Hi Jessica: I’m always very interested in the conversation of creating audience and readers. What ways can you envision the literary agent’s role in developing and supporting readers? (Longer version) While agents are seeking to solicit new writers/books, could you foresee the agent evolving into a junction for authors/readers, and becoming its own brand, or forum for its authors… I’m thinking the lit-agent taking on a more active role to connect authors of the same genre (or not), on their list, to create functions (e.g., tours, conferences, book clubs, picnics, etc.) so that essentially, rather than agents attending just writing conferences, they began to develop a 12-month plan of author events… (like a bookstore, or partnering with a bookstore). Maybe this is happening, already? As an author, then, the appeal would be to sign with an agency actively engaged in ‘selling’ books, and having a solid list of readers at the author’s disposal. Equally, if agents created mini-stores and communities for their authors, it would potentially be selling more books all-around–better for everyone, keeping down costs? Readers would then be on the lookout, trusting the agency to find similar authors, as opposed to just the publisher… Thoughts?

I think that while anything is possible and certainly, my job has evolved over time, I have a hard time seeing an agent adding the support of readers to an already expansive job list, one that is focused solely on supporting the author.

Some larger agencies have played with the idea of adding publicists and others to their team and while I cannot speak to how well it’s worked for them, I also haven’t seen most agencies, large or small, follow suit. This is the job of the publisher and I think it should remain the job of the publisher. They are the ones you team up with to sell the book and reaching readers is what selling the book is all about.

That doesn’t mean an agent is uninvolved in the marketing, publicity, and sales of an author’s work. In fact, we are very involved. I am constantly on the phone with publishers and authors making plans, pushing ideas, and making suggestions for what can be done and what new ideas we can try. I am taking all that I’ve learned and using it to grow my authors.

I think that while I understand your idea, and I certainly understand the thought behind it, I don’t know that it is in the immediate future for most agencies. Agents are already stretched thin and stepping into the roles of what a publisher already does–publicity, stores, selling books–doesn’t seem like it would allow us to do our real job which is to be the author’s advocate and support system.

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