Tuesday, February 3, 2009

On Why I'm Not An Agent

Manuscript Evaluation has become the bedrock of my business, and I love working directly with authors. Recently, one of my clients sent me an e-mail. He has completed his revisions and is ready to start sending queries out to agents (and I think he's got a great shot - it really is phenomenal book). He wanted me to send some recommendations, but he also, in so many words, asked if I had ever thought about getting into the agenting game, because he'd really like for me to be his agent too.

There are a few reasons why I don't consider becoming an agent at this point in my career. I've worked at agencies in the past, and still have some contacts, but I've been out of the NYC scene long enough that I would need to join a large firm, at least at first, to get back into that game. I love working for myself and building my own business - and I have no desire to move back to NY.

And then there's the ethical no-no. I charge my clients for my editing services, of course. If I became an agent, I would have to close shop on the editing business - ethically, you simply can't run both. You can't charge the client on one end, become their agent, and charge them a percentage too. Yes, there are agents who do this, but they're not the kind of agents that you want to work with.

Finally, I don't want to be an agent at this point in my career for one VERY important reason.

I like my authors. I like working with them to shape their characters and stories. I like being able to take a manuscript that would clearly not make it out of the slush pile at a big agency, and help the author turn it into something that gets some attention. You can't always do that as an agent. Agents make money on commission, so if the book doesn't sell, they don't get paid. And in the publishing world today, that means they can only really afford to take on clients who have manuscripts that are at least 80% ready to go.

Once upon a time I worked as a literary agent's assistant. My job was to sort through all of the queries, picking out only the very best and most likely to be what my agent was looking for. I requested those few partials, then had to simply send rejection letters to the rest. It seems cruel, but that's all we could do - every day another batch of 50-100 queries arrived in the mail.

Of the partials, I was told to read the first ten to twenty pages. If the manuscript didn't grab me right from the start, another rejection letter went out.

Once we got to the full manuscript stage, I read through and completed an evaluation, then wrote an evaluation report for my agent, either recommending that he take a read through himself, or that we send out yet another rejection letter.

In the second two stages, I was already close enough to the manuscript that I could, more often than not, have told the author exactly what he was doing wrong - and exactly what he needed to do right to make his manuscript ready to sell. But by then we'd moved on to trying to find the next manuscript - the next book that might actually bring a few dollars into the firm.

And that is why I do what I do. That is why I'm not an agent. Because when a manuscript comes to my door, or an author contacts me about fixing up his or her manuscript, I don't have to turn anyone away. I don't have to send out rejection letters just so I can move on to the next big thing. I have the opportunity to sit down, read the entire manuscript, and provide the author with the tools he or she needs to realize their writing dreams. Would I make more money as an agent? Probably. But would I give up the relationships I have with my authors? Or the sense of accomplishment I get when I receive the signed early reviewer copy editions of a book that was languishing under the author's bed before I stepped in and helped guide her journey to publication?

Absolutely not.

No comments:

Post a Comment