Why I have an agent

Today’s guest post is by Amy Reichert. I’ve had a few posts on indie publishing and small presses, so I’m really happy that she and Emery (see previous post) have provided us with the other side of the coin. I’m all about “fair and balanced”. 😉 

When Cassandra asked me to blog (and a huge thank you for that), she suggested I write about why I chose to go the agented route—I’m represented by the talented Rachel Ekstrom of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. My initial response was, “Why wouldn’t you?” But with the rise of small publishing houses and self-publishing, many do feel finding an agent isn’t worth the hassle. The queries, the rejections, dear God, the waiting. It can crush your writerly dreams like Snuffaluffagus on a grape. So, dear reader, your path to publishing is your own, but here are few reasons why I wanted an agent.

  1. Reassurance. You know that kid in school who always wanted the teacher’s approval. Or your co-worker that needs the pat on the head from the boss to feel good about his work? That’s me. I want someone in the publishing industry to read my book and say, “I read a lot of books and this is so good I will convince people to buy it and print it.” I don’t have the confidence or the balls to do that myself. I need the approval.
  2. Guaranteed Critique Partner. Critique partners are essential to making a manuscript better. If you don’t have some, get them. However, until you establish a solid circle of beta readers, it’s hard to tell if you’re getting the honesty you need. Many people aren’t comfortable telling you your writing sucks. Since my agent has a vested interest in my book being its best, I know she’ll give me high quality, blunt if necessary, feedback.
  3. Options. With an agent, I have all the options. I’m not limited to small presses or self-publishing. I could get a book deal with a big house, or medium, or still end up self-publishing (though that isn’t my preference—see the following reason). Together, my agent and I will discuss what is best for my book and my writing career, then work as a team to make that happen.
  4. Publisher. While having an agent leaves me with all the options, I really do want a publisher for my book. One that comes with an editor, a beautiful-cover designer, and people who know about paper, ink, and fonts. And maybe a little marketing on the side would be nice. I don’t want to do it all. I want to focus on writing and interacting with readers. Working with a publishing house gives me a team of experts who are there to help my book into the world. I’m willing to give up some creative control to have all that publishing knowledge.
  5. Negotiation. Unless I’m at a street market in Mexico (in which case I’m a badass negotiator), I suck at negotiating things. I don’t even like calling the cable company and asking for a refund when service goes out. My agent knows the industry and what would be a fair offer, what rights to give up, which rights to keep. She knows everything is open for negotiation. She will also play bad cop if I’m not happy with my publisher. This is good because I also don’t like conflict. I’m a midwesterner, I like to be agreeable and feed people.
  6. Knowledge. Legal contracts are complicated, nuanced beasts that even regular lawyers don’t understand completely, but agents eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. As boring as they are, it’s what makes the publishing world clunk along. I want someone who will have my back and make sure I don’t give away my left kidney in exchange for an ebook deal.
  7. Money. I like money and I’d like more of it so I can take fun trips with my kids and maybe pay for their books when they finally go to college. Yes, every dollar I make will have a slice removed for my agent, but I’m more than OK with that. I feel that with her support in selling my book and future books, her knowledge of the industry, her negotiations skills, etc… I’ll make more money in the long run than if I went it alone. Maybe even enough for a fancy treadmill desk.

Have any questions for me? Ask in the comments, I love to share my wisdom. If I don’t know, I’ll just make up an answer.

Amy Reichert is a first-time novelist, mother of two (three if you count the dog—and you should), beloved wife, spectacular procrastinator, die-hard Harry Potter fan, and amateur baker. She earned her MA in English Literature and worked for several years as a technical writer. When she’s not writing or reading, she’s taking the children somewhere, drinking hard cider, or collecting more cookbooks than she could possibly use. Amy is represented by Rachel Ekstrom of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency.

You can find Amy at Twitter or her blog.

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What I wish I knew before my book deal

Today’s guest post is by Emery Lord, whose first contemporary YA novel is out with Walker/Bloomsbury next April. I’ve had a few posts on indie publishing and small presses, so I’m really happy that she and Amy (whose post will go live on Sunday) have provided us with the other side of the coin.

Hi y’all, I’m Emery! Cass was kind enough to invite me to talk about what I wish I knew before my book deal.

My biggest Wish-I-Knew? That the querying process was giving me tools I needed for the rest of my publication path.

(Just for clarification, I’m going to be talking about the way I pursued [traditional] publication: wrote a book, revised it a lot, queried agents, signed with one, revised some more, went on submission to houses, sold. Also, add in some rejection, angst and brownie-gobbling during and between every step. 😉 )

I guess I thought of querying as a wall—a tall gatekeeper set up on the road to publication. For some people, it’s a glass wall, easily demolished with a few thrown query-rocks. For others, it’s a brick wall that is chipped away at over years. It can be laborious and time-consuming and sometimes disheartening. I think it’s easy to wish that an agent would magically pick you from on high, before you even struggle through the querying.

But the querying process isn’t just a way to get an agent. It’s a way to get vital practice for what’s waiting down the publication road. If I’d known that at the time, I think querying might have felt a bit easier to handle!

Pitching

When querying, you write up a few-paragraph pitch, maybe a synopsis, and possibly a one-line “elevator pitch.”  Learning how to describe your story with brief but distinct details is vital once you sell a book. Plus, your agent may actually pull from your query text to create the submission pitch! So, all that time laboring over my query and synopsis? I now see it as a training ground for a skill I needed to start learning.

Waiting/Radio Silence

It’s so hard. But waiting is a reality of every step of traditional publishing. It’s good to learn your coping mechanisms sooner. (Mine: whipped cream straight from the can, shoe shopping, and diving into a new project.)

Rejection

It happens with editors much the same way it happens with agents: inevitably–some quickly, some slowly. You might get feedback; you might get a generic ‘not for me’.

These are hard messages to receive, but I’m glad I’ve gotten a taste of that. Because writing is so personal … but publishing makes it public consumption. There will always be rejection or disinterest from someone, and that’s okay. It’s still worth it. (Can you tell I’m trying to emotionally prepare myself for the 1-star Goodreads reviews…? 😉 )

Feedback

Sometimes you get feedback from agents you queried; sometimes you don’t. Same goes for editorial submissions. I learned not to judge that feedback from my first week’s reaction to it. Sometimes it rang true once the sting wore off. Some agents (and likewise some editors) will give you an R&R (revise and resubmit). Even if they don’t ultimately sign you, they’ve given you experience in revising with/for someone, which is a huge part of the post-book-deal process!

So, there you have it: the fruitful moments I wish I’d recognized when I was in the querying trenches! Happy writing to all of you, and thanks to Cass for having me!

Emery Lord is a 20-something American girl who writes stories about high school and best friends and weird families and the crushes that make you feel combustibly alive and also more awkward than you thought was possible. If you’re not sure how to pronounce Emery, try slurring the name “Emily,” and that will get you really close. Her first book, OPEN ROAD SUMMER, will be out in Spring 2014 with Walker/Bloomsbury.

Emery Lord