Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

What Do Agents Actually Do?

Most depictions of agents in popular culture fall into two categories: the Ari Gold fast-talking hustler who is vainly trying to be one of the boys, and the bloodsucking leech who attaches itself to the author to extract that 15 percent; Or, possibly, both. It sounds pretty dire. But if you talk to authors about their agents, you might find something pretty strange -- most authors love their agents. Why is that?

It's very difficult to fully describe the range of functions of an agent, but one of the most important aspects of the author/agent relationship happens at the very beginning. Agents sift through the mass of queries and letters and projects to find projects he really believes in. From the author's perspective, this usually means that in a sea of rejections and adveristy the agent is the first person who really truly believes in the author's talent and potential. Being an author is really, really tough -- there's a lot of rejection throughout the process, and sometimes even their friends and family don't believe in them. Knowing that there is someone who believes in them is invaluable.

Once the agent has found a project, he shops it to publishers. A lot of expertise and networking goes into this. Agents have lunches with editors and network relentlessly so they know who is buying what, what's working and what's not, and where and to whom they should submit. It's more art than science, but since publishers will generally only accept submissions from agents it's a crucial step.

If there is an offer on the book, an agent will negotiate the advance and the terms of the contract. Again, there's a great deal of expertise that goes into this. Agents know how to get better deals than authors could get on their own. They know what rights to hold onto, how to get editors to increase the advance or royalties, how to negotiate the contract to protect the authors' interests, and often the simple fact that the author has an agent automatically ensures that they'll get a better deal simply because the publisher knows they can't mess around.

Once the contract for the book is signed, there are other rights to deal with, such as film and translation. Some of the bigger agencies, such as Curtis Brown Ltd., have their own foreign rights and film departments, and can be very effective in selling film and translation rights. The smaller agencies usually still work to sell these rights through other agents with whom they are affiliated.

After everything is all signed and finished, the agent continues to track the book to make sure things are happening as they should, to make sure the author's money is being paid on time, and just generally keep on top of things. The agent will also work with the author to craft a long range vision for their work to aim for the greatest success down the line.

So in short, what does an agent do? A good agent is part business advisor, part creative director, part lawyer, part salesman, part negotiator, part life coach and part psychotherapist.

Now let's hug it out, bitches.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Author Resources

UPDATE: 10/4/14 - This post is pretty out of date. Check out the resources section on the blog itself for more up-to-date suggestions.

Finding an agent can be daunting, but there are resources that can help:

Literary Marketplace (LMP) - a massive tome that lists everyone in the industry. Since very few agencies have websites it can be very useful if you need contact information. Check out your library, they may have a copy.

Association of Authors' Representatives ( - the website of the AAR has a database of reputable agents, and you can search by genre and whether an agent accepts email queries. Everyone in the database follows the AAR canon of ethics.

Publishers Marketplace - sign up for the free Publishers Lunch emails to familiarize yourself with industry news and the latest book deals. You can use this as a resource fo find agents. If you can afford it you can also subscribe to the site, which allows you to search a comprehensive database.

Jeff Herman's Guide - provides a list of agents and some advice on how to find an agent.

Your favorite books - always check out the acknowledgements section to figure out who represents your favorite books. Use these names to personalize your query letter (i.e. Because I'm such a fan of X I thought I would write you about...)

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A Word on Short Story Collections

Publishers (and therefore agents) are very leery of short story collections because, typically, they dont sell. Its kind of a mystery because a lot of people like short stories and a lot of people read short stories, but, for whatever reason, they don't sell. Publishers will generally only publish short story collections if the author has received some national exposure (i.e. published in the New Yorker, the Atlantic, etc.), has graduated a top tier MFA program (generally Iowa) and/or if the author also has a novel that the publisher loves, and they plan to whet the publics appetite with the short story collection.

Yes, I represent short story collections. But. Rather than pitching your short story collection to an agent, who will likely be reluctant to read your work from the get-go, I would focus on trying to get your stories published. Once you have had some success publishing stories it will be much easier for you to find an agent - one of the best ways to find an agent is to be able to say that you have been published in some very reputable magazines or journals.

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