Having a literary agent certainly opens a lot of doors for writers. If you have spent time reading blogs or listening to podcasts about publishing, this is abundantly clear. There is so much focus on an author finding an agent and getting signed, which is a huge accomplishment! But the relationship continues long after you sign the contract—and, mostly important, it’s mutual. We want to spend some time on the myriad ways agents think about and oversee author care.
Agents, at their best, aren’t just brokers. At Lucinda Literary and other agencies, it’s not uncommon for an agent to collaborate with an author for months to crystallize a book idea into one that will be attractive to the market. And there are a number of ways in which an agent’s consultation continues to be useful once a publishing contract is negotiated, the ink is signed, and your book is underway.
But before thinking about the book deal, let’s focus on getting signed by an agent. While a huge milestone ,landing an agent is just the beginning! Here are some of the most important things where an agent’s consultation can be invaluable early on in your agent-author relationship.
Before Your Book is Sold to a Publisher…
Consult Your Agent on Any Big, Sweeping Editorial Revisions
Even when you’re interviewing agents, I advise authors to probe for what an agent will see as the work—and the degree of work—they see as optimal before submitting your book to publishers. Start with the question: what do you think my book needs to make it salable? Typically, the answer is more than you think and you want to avoid surprises down the road, on top of ensuring a shared vision. You can ask each other: what comparative titles do you see for my book? What kind of publisher is a fit for this project? Who is the primary reader?
Once you’ve come together on the overall concept and arc of the book, there should be a fair amount of trust, room to experiment and finesse as part of the creative process. But if you’ve decided to kill off a major character, change POV, or begin or end your novel differently, check with your agent to make sure you’re on track. For nonfiction, it’s common for writers to find repetition within chapters and then condense them. But if the “big idea” of the book is evolving as you write and edit, you may wish to get a pulse check from your agent.
Get Your Agent’s Opinion on Your Website/Social Profile
If you’re launching or rebranding your website or social media, solicit your agent’s feedback to see that your online presence is aligned with both the book and the audience your book is targeting. Remember that publishers will extensively research prospective authors online before choosing to invest in them. So before you relaunch anything about what you’ve already done, a savvy and attentive agent can lend guidance on the dos and don’ts of marketing yourself online.
Once Your Book is Sold…
Involve Your Agent in Key Book Milestones
Our belief is that authors and editors should have direct, creative correspondences—an agent steps in mainly as your “business affairs” person. Before you decide to enlist a coauthor, ghostwriter, or illustrator, ask your agent for perspective and recommendations. If you’re considering a different direction for the length, format, or title of your book, your agent should also be consulted.
Along with a book’s title, cover art is a sensitive, subjective, important decision. Many agents bring a helpful eye and gut check on what is or isn’t working. Plus, feedback to a publisher is always more effective when an agent and author are delivering it together in a unified way.
Let Your Agent Troubleshoot on Certain Matters (Like Payments)
The road from book deal to publication is long and winding. If something goes awry in the relationship with your publisher—for example, you delivered a partial manuscript six weeks ago, but haven’t had any communication from your editor—you can enlist your agent to follow up and get answers. It’s important to remember that an agent is your advocate first and foremost; we work for you, not your publisher. And if you’re late receiving an advance or royalty payment? Your agent should be the one to inquire.
Get Big Picture Ideas and Direction on Your Publicity Campaign
Authors should have a direct and frank relationship with their publicists—the more often authors are directly, but respectfully, in touch with their publicity team, the better the results. However, it’s beneficial for your agent to join the first publicity kick-off call and look at a marketing and media plan to ensure that every avenue is covered. They can also brainstorm any big-picture ideas (as agents are wont to do). Your agent may have freelance publicist recommendations, so don’t hesitate to ask.
While your agent doesn’t need to be copied on every email related to publicity, especially in the earlier months, you can again have us troubleshoot on your behalf if things feel especially quiet or aren’t going to plan. It’s always important for authors to keep perspective: a larger advance and print run signals the level of a publisher’s (and agent’s) investment in results. If you’re published with a smaller house or received a more modest advance but have huge publicity ambitions, you may be better served by an outside publicist, and emailing that outside publicist more regularly, keeping communication to your publisher and agent as efficient as possible.
And Remember: Publishing is a Long Journey
As impatient as we are to get your book to market (as I’m sure you are too!), there’s a publishing timeline that we all contend with. The time period from when you sign with an agent to your book hitting the shelves can take a few years, and agents don’t have much control over this time once it reaches the publisher’s hands. There will be sticky situations, but: be patient, take breaths, and remember that your agent and publisher are just as eager for your book to be a success as you are! It’s a long relationship ahead, where thoughtful communication and understanding will always win you the best results.