Day 1 of Agents - Finding Nemo
Let’s get the controversial stuff out of the way first.
Do you need an agent to get published in CBA?
The answer is: No. The simple fact is that authors are signed who don’t have agents. And also, many successful published authors are still unrepresented.
But that tells only a fraction of the story. In the past decade agents have gone from “scarce” to an integral part of the CBA publishing landscape. Publishing houses are shutting off access to their slush pile (though mine is still open) and are attending fewer conferences. Agents are supposed to be doing the job of filtering manuscripts for us.
Many unpublished authors today don’t even look for a way into a publishing house on their own, they look to find an agent first. So with that in mind, we’ll spend a week talking about agents.
If you’re a first time author and you’ve decided to select an agent, don’t half-ass the job. This is a crucial decision that you’re making here. Do your research.
Find out who they represent and how many clients they currently are serving. Gauge their knowledge of both the industry and of your particular story-type. Do they represent fiction? Do they know mystery or romance or fantasy or whatever you’re writing? Do they seem to “get” the story you’ve submitted?
Do you want to be a potentially big author for a lesser-known agent (and get a good share of their energy) or a smaller author for an agent with more name recognition who might not spend a ton of time on your book? Are you looking for somebody primarily to handle the business side of things or an editorially-minded person who’ll help out with your book itself?
There’s no right answer to these questions. The only thing, in the end, is that the agent must be looking out for your best interests. That’s their job. That’s what you’ll be paying them for, securing the expertise you’d otherwise be without.
At best, it’s a symbiotic relationship—like clown fish and the sea anemone where they live—you supply the manuscript/they supply guidance to make it more successful than you could have achieved on your own. When that happens, Nemo is safe, the anemone is parasite-free and the sea is one big party.