Friday, October 15, 2010

Agents are Business Partners, not Leprechauns

Free-form Friday

"A leprechaun is a type of fairy in Irish folklore, usually taking the form of an old man, clad in a red or green coat, who enjoys partaking in mischief. ... If ever captured by a human, the Leprechaun has the magical power to grant three wishes in exchange for their release." (Wikipedia) 
 The title of this piece likely elicited a profound, "Duh." But after listening to writers talk about their quest to secure an agent, I can't shake the suspicion that most of us harbor the fantasy that once we capture one they will grant us three publishing wishes.

I spent most of a weekend with a group that included an agent recently (no, she's not my agent nor were offers of representation forthcoming), and discovered that the mythical creatures are, in fact, people too.

What does this mean?

First, that agents do not possess publishing magic. Having one does not guarantee publication, though it may help.* In fact, getting an agent is generally the precursor to a great deal more work on your part (revisions, galleys, promotion, etc.).

Second, as people (not Leprechauns), agents have their own personalities, backgrounds, and biases. You will like some and dislike others. By the same token, some will like you and your work while others won't care for one or both.

A corollary is that there is no universal and objective standard of book goodness to which all agents subscribe; there is no college of agents and publishing professionals who bless or condemn manuscripts; no matter how great your manuscript is, some, perhaps most, agents will not offer to represent it.

Third, and most important--as fun and interesting as agents may be as people--at the end of the day the relationship between author and agent is that of a business partnership. Proper partners have something to contribute to each other's business. And between them can create a whole that feels magical because it is greater than the sum of its parts. But don't be deceived: the magic is the product of synergy and a whole lot of hard work.

* Similarly, getting published doesn't guarantee success. Consider this variation on the old philosophical question: "If a tree is cut from the forest, pulped into the paper on which your book is published, and sits on the shelf until it's remaindered, is that any different from a tree that falls in the forest with no one to hear?"

Image: Photography by BJWOK / FreeDigitalPhotos.net