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English: Dark chocolate. Español: Chocolate negro.

This is my idea of a visit to the dark side. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Question of the weekend: What was a self-published author doing at an “Ask the Agents Panel” where “Bay area literary agents share their thoughts and answer your questions”?

Answers:

1) The panel was free.
2) It was part of a new slate of offerings at the revived Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park (an important independent venue for local authors to support).
3) I might look for an agent again. Someday. (Shhh…).

I did have an agent once. Many, many years ago, for one of the novels that never saw the light of day. The novel was shopped around for a year before the agency let me know they needed to move on.

Needless to say, I did not maintain a relationship with that agent, nor had she (or her agency) taken a keen interest in my career. By the time I finished Dance of Souls I had to search again. By then, the world had changed. No more poring over a fat book in the library. I could do a search right from my desk on agentquery.com.

After a hefty number of rejections, I decided to go the self-publishing route, with modest goals:

  • Get the book out in a form that friends and family could easily read.
  • Experiment with self publishing.

Mission accomplished. But now, with another nearly completed manuscript on my hands, I’m again hearing the siren call of the agent. And last weekend’s panel reminded me of why having an agent might just be a good thing for an author’s career (not to mention her sanity).

Panel moderator Laurie McClean of San Francisco Writers University and an agent at Larsen Pomada described an agent as “an author’s business partner.” Something about that phrase really clicked. Often, the hardest part of marketing a book is the feeling of being out there all alone. Yes, agents take a cut. But being allied with someone who stands to make money if you make money might not be a bad thing. Remember: 100% of nothing is less than 85% of something.

Natanya Wheeler of the Nancy Yost Literary Agency and Andy Ross of the Andy Ross Agency rounded out the panel and added lots of practical advice, including, from Ms. Wheeler, “Don’t be intimidated by agents.” Which was fine for her to say, but did nothing to still the stutter of my heart as I did a two-minute pitch for Dance of Souls in a small group after the presentation.

Scrubbing Bubble

Scrubbing Bubble (Photo credit: sdettling)

Good agents know the publishing world is shifting as fast as a receding polar ice cap. The era of book deals being struck in a smoky steakhouse over a three-martini lunch is long over. Good agents don’t rest on their connections. They make themselves business savvy, tech savvy, and marketing savvy. Their job is to be out in the publishing world every day.

As that old Scrubbing Bubbles commercial says (why do I keep coming back to bathroom cleaning?): We work hard so you don’t have to. That’s exactly what an agent should do for an author, at least as regards working with the publishing side of the business.

What about you? Do you have an agent? Would you ever consider looking for one? Do you enjoy the dark side? And which exactly is the dark side? Tell me now!

Resources

How to Target Agents For Querying – Excellent blog post by Kourtney Heintz.

Where to Find Free Market Listings – From Jane Friedman. Includes publishers, agents, journals.

How to Find a Literary Agent – Advice from former literary agent Nathan Bransford (yes, he rejected my work but the advice is good).

Do You Need An Agent? – Durant Imboden’s suggestions.

“A Right Fit”: Navigating the World of Literary Agents – Essay by Michael Bourne takes an inside look at what agents do and your odds of landing one.

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