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August 2016

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On the agent-writer relationship

A few online discussions I've seen or participated in recently (most notably at #yalitchat, which if you don't already know, is a regular Wednesday-night event on Twitter) have involved the agent search, the role of agents, and the relationships between agents and writers.

I see a spectrum of writers' attitudes on the writer-agent relationship, and these are the two extreme ends of the spectrum:
1) A writer writes. An agent should just sell the work for as much as possible, and it's all about business.
2) The perfect dream agent is out there somewhere; and finding him/her is like finding your soulmate.

Most writers probably approach the relationship from a point somewhere between these two ends, as I do. My attitude, FWIW, can best be described this way:

It's primarily a business relationship; you're not shopping for a BFF, but a professional. An agent and a writer should expect professionalism from each other when it comes to meeting deadlines, communicating, handling money, etc.

And yet, the product the agent is dealing with is not a box of widgets. It's a creative product in which the writer has invested emotion as well as time and thought and craft. It's a product whose value is determined subjectively in the marketplace. And it is therefore very helpful if the agent believes that the writer has talent, and is able to champion his or her work with honest enthusiasm, and knows when to be supportive as well as when to be critical.

It's also an easier relationship, I think, if the two genuinely like each other. It's almost always better to work with someone with whom you're at ease. (I suppose there are exceptions: people who thrive on conflict, who work better when they're not at ease. But I'm not one of those people.) And while it's not as essential as, say, a basic mutual respect, it's the best-case scenario. It's icing on the cake. (I suppose there are people who don't care for icing, but I'm not one of them either.)

And finally: I don't mean to say that anyone who falls anywhere else on the spectrum, including either of the ends, is wrong. We all have to find the relationships that work for us; I'm just talking about what works for me, in the hopes that others might find something useful in what I say.

This is what I always want to say when the subject comes up, and in a venue like Twitter, I don't always get to express everything I mean to say. Now I have.


Excellent post. I whole-heartedly agree.
I'm watching my agent-hopes evolve as I keep writing--probably one of those good side effects of NOT getting agented right away?! When I was working on my first book, I definitely had a wider view of what I was looking for--as I work on this WIP and have ideas for books for different ages, I'm narrowing it down and refining the hope. And telling myself this means I have a better target, not just a smaller one! :)
Yes--because why query people with whom you wouldn't have a good working relationship anyway?
Well said!
Thank you!
Thanks for this post. Twitter is great, but the word limit does mean full, nuanced expression is difficult. I'm with you in finding that middle ground--it is business, but because of the nature of the work, a certain amount of the personal does have to be there.
I've been doing an awful lot of thinking about this in the past two months, and I pretty much share your take.

I'd still love to find that crystal ball, though, to give me confidence in my next decision.
If you've done your research and checked your gut and made sure you're not ignoring any red flags, that's the best you can do. Until we get those crystal balls!
nicley said!
Thank you!

agent relationship

Being one of Nathan's clients as well. I have to agree with what you have said here. I had the good fortune of having related to Nathan at least on a limited basis well before I ever sold. Because of this, I knew he would be a fantastic agent to work with, one of those no brainer decisions if I was lucky enough to get an offer. I certainly pays to be able to have some interaction with the agent in mind prior to having to make a choice. When it came down to my decision between Nathan and another prominent agent, this connection is what made the difference for me. It pays to network!

Re: agent relationship

Although I was trying to speak generally, naturally my own experience and preferences affect my point of view on this subject.
Again speaking generally--people can't always tell what the relationship will be like just from the querying process or even through research. But I think that knowing what one wants, being clear about expectations, is half the battle.
And finally, reverting to the specific situation of our agent, I agree that what you see is what you get, and it works very well. :-)


But what about those demanding orange pen edits? :)

If you really want an orange pen edit, I hope you find one. :-)
I have an agent for a non-fiction work, who was recommended to me by a few other prominent authors in the same field as the best of the agents representing that genre. I only ever sent out the one query, to him, and to my incredible surprise and delight he took me and my co-author on with gusto. He did an excellent job in selling our book, and I am exceptionally pleased to be working with him.

That said, I haven't ever felt any click with him. I read the occasional novel about a writer interacting with his/her agent, and they always have a strong, friendly relationship, the sort where they can meet up for coffee and while away a friendly hour laughing about this and that. I'm looking ahead toward pitching a second project, and have been wondering about what sort of relationship other writers have with their agents. Thanks for providing a bit of illumination on this subject.
I don't think it's *essential* to have that coffee-drinking camaraderie, although it's nice. I've seen a whole range of relationships that work, from the very businesslike to the very friendly.


Absolutely. My agent is always professional towards me and I her, but that being said, we also get on tremendously.

Great post!

Dawn Kurtagich
Thank you!