Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Agents? Provocative! by Cathy Ace

Business: Do you have, or have you ever had, an agent? Depending on your experience, mount an argument for or against having one.

This is how it’s supposed to go:

1) find an agent

2) get said agent to sell manuscript to publisher for loadsamoney

3) sit back and accept the plaudits, watch the dosh roll in, polish your awards and beam every time your name appears on all the bestseller lists

But, here in the real world, that’s not how it goes at all, it seems.

When I'd written and self-published a collection of short stories and another of novellas I tried to find an agent, because I believed that was the best route to get my books to a wider audience. I wrote to agents one at a time, rather than en masse, only to first receive a reply of "I am about to retire, so I'm not interested in your work". A while later I had lunch with another agent who told me he was more interested in representing a sex therapist who'd recently snagged a regular spot on local TV and was about to write a book than my work. All of that took about six months. Gah!

Then I saw a story in a local newspaper about an event being organized at a nearby theatre, inviting authors to sign up, to read from their work and participate in an interview. I got in touch with the organizer, took part – really enjoyed it – and there met an author who connected with the company that had recently published his non-fiction book...he’d heard they were on the lookout for mystery authors! After six months or so they invited me to submit a manuscript for a novel, which was finally published in March 2012 as my first Cait Morgan Mystery – The Corpse with the Silver Tongue.

Having thus managed to find a traditional publishing house – albeit a tiny, independent Canadian one – prepared to publish a novel without my having an agent…then another…then another, I put finding an agent lower on my list of priorities.

By the time I was writing my third novel I realized I had better give some thought to the “agent question” again. I’ve always worked hard to try to understand the business of publishing, and – as far as I could see – the most critical role played by an agent was to get a manuscript in front of a publisher who wouldn’t otherwise look at it (because why would publishers deal directly with authors when they can work through the filter of agents?). However, I didn’t need a new publisher – I had one, right?

But…what if I ever wanted another publisher, maybe for a different series? I found the person who became my agent via a fellow author I met at Bouchercon in Albany (in 2014). Both will remain nameless. Yes, the agent found a home for my new series – The WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries – and with a well-established publishing house where my work was initially well-supported. But my agent simply passed my manuscripts to the publisher having given me a few comments I usually didn’t find very helpful.  

The services agents can offer can be wide, and varied – some specialize in critical editorial feedback prior to submission, some are great with foreign/TV/movie/international/format rights, some work with authors to allow their career-molding advice to deliver real benefits. I believe they should excel in one or two of these fields, though it might be a bit much to expect them to do well at all. I had found one who didn't want to give me input in any of those areas. I am now “un-agented” again – the response I got from my agent when I sent a letter firing them was along the lines of “I’m not surprised”. Really, Sherlock?

So – bearing in mind the fact I have had a less than wonderful experience with my one and only agent – I can tell you this…

I know authors whose relationships with their agents are longstanding and truly supportive; I also know authors who've been through several agents – always hoping they’ve found the right fit – and have been disappointed each time. 

Maybe – like me, to be fair – they didn’t really know what they were looking for – or needed – to start with. I have heard it said that you don’t need to like your agent, you just have to be happy with what they achieve for you…so knowing what that is will help when/if you search for one. 

One tip – check what agents achieve for authors they currently represent, but – whenever possible – also ask those authors how the relationship is going for them.

At the moment I am not looking for another agent; I have indie-published my last three titles and they are doing better than I could have hoped. It's been a steep learning curve to reach the point I'm at this week (I have successfully negotiated the return of the rights to my Cait Morgan Mysteries - in every form but English language print....long story!...and I'm about to relaunch the digital collection of books - YAY!). 

If (when?) this level of satisfaction with the Indie world changes, I'll follow the sage advice of Jane Friedman, who (IMHO) gives some of the best advice to writers and authors that's available online! Here's the link I'd start with:

If you'd like to find out more about my traditionally published, and self published books - click here.


Paul D. Marks said...

Lots of good advice here, Cathy. And I can relate to your up and journey with agents. It's one of those things sort of like "you can't live with 'em and you can't live without 'em."

Cathy Ace said...

Ah yes, Paul...Bless them :-) LOL!

Frank Zafiro said...

Cathy, one of the things I had never heard of for a long time was writers firing their agents. Then, over the last couple of years, I've heard it more often. Probably just happenstance and me paying attention, but it is interesting nonetheless. With how hard writers try to get an agent, the idea of firing one never really occurred to me.

Your journey was fascinating to read!