Saturday, August 07, 2010

What you don't see

A couple of things happened this last year that reinforced my growing suspicion most people don't know what agents do. Most particularly those who don't know are the very people who are "informed"--the ones who read the blogs, attend the conferences, follow us on twitter. Even clients and editors.

There's a reason for that: we don't talk about it. We don't and can't talk about most of the things we do. I can't mention any specifics because I can't talk about my clients' business in public. Not at all.

I can talk about querying, and reading manuscripts, and conferences, because those are general information, and guideline type things. I can talk about reviews, and book signings, and blog mentions, and contests because those are public.

The sum total of ALL of those things is about 10% of my work day and work week. Less if it's really busy.

The major disadvantage to the increasing transparency of publishing (and much of that transparency started with agent blogs-a transparency I'm proud to be part of) is that it leads to the idea ALL of publishing is now transparent.

It's not.

And it shouldn't be.

I advocate for and represent each client individually. Their business is not the concern of anyone else.

I read those "day in the life of an agent" posts (and I've written a few myself) and articles with a LOT of skepticism. Most of them are pretty general, and pretty unrealistic. You'd have to be an actual book on the shelf of my office to know what goes on there all day.

And that's the way it's going to stay.

So, why this post? Just a heads up that unless you've actually worked in an agency, and specifically with an agent, you probably don't know much if anything about what agenting actually entails.

Which is just fine, unless you plan on hanging out a shingle as an agent. You aren't planning to do that are you?


jenny said...

I agree. Some things are better appreciated when you don't know everything that goes into them. Like the publishing process. And hot dogs.

Becca said...

Ah, I see. Being an agent warrants those "I'd tell you, but then I'd have to kill you" moments.

Anonymous said...

Well, I did hear that agents have sure and ready access to cupcakes...but I figured it would be less stressful to open my own bakery.

So when that happens (this year, in fact, hubby's the baker), I'll enjoy a cupcake or two on your behalf. In gratitude for all that you do.

A3Writer said...

Transparency is really a myth for a lot of professions. The inside scoop is not something really discussed, nor should it be.

Until I get representation, I don't want to know what's behind the scenes. Even after I get an agent, I don't need to know it all. I have enough to do and know in trying to be a writer.

I'll worry about doing research for my books to make sure I know about witch trials in Germany or find out about a branching off of militant orders known as the Knights of Alcantara, or any of a thousand other things that I as a writer need to know.

I will work with my agent knowing that he or she has the relevant knowledge and experience to do the job.

Margaret Yang said...

I've been writing a long time and I've come to terms with the fact that if I live to be 100, I will still never understand publishing.

Stephanie Barr said...

It's a cool picture, but it's not a single real iceburg (above and below), but a composite.

Just so you know. I don't want to be an agent. Heck, I don't like the marketing side of my writing NOW, but I'm a heck of a fact checker.

Eileen said...

Even if you have an agent I suspect we don't know what you are up to. We can only see the piece that impacts our world. Our submissions, our talks about "where is our career going?", contract questions etc. A good agent is worth their weight in gold.

Jenna said...

I'm only going to become an agent if it means you'll hang out with me. I can pretend to be an agent so we can sit together at conferences and stuff, though. Hmm. That might work... pretending takes less effort than actually learning all that agenty stuff.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

That's good to know - I hadn't assumed to know everything about an agent's work, but I didn't know how far off I was. Hopefully, this will save me from a misjudgment or humiliating incident someday. :)

Ricky Bush said...

I did have plans once upon a time to become a secret agent, but I shelved that idea along with plans to be a doctor. Now that you're a secret agent, Janet, tell me how you did.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

Janet, so you're saying 90% of what you do is mysterious, clandestine and fraught with dangerous midnight back alley... OMG, are there knife fights? Zipguns? Chains? - and this is just to keep your clients writing, pacified, or for some, in their best interests?

Haste yee back ;-)

Unknown said...

So, I have to know. Is there a special ops kind of outfit you get to wear with a super utility belt? Are there pens strapped to your thighs like a 9MM?

Or better yet, do they sail through the air like throwing knifes at all who oppose you?

Loretta Ross said...

I can't talk about my clients' business in public. Not at all.

And, believe me, we really appreciate that! By the way, thanks again for getting rid of that body for me.

Oh, wait! I wasn't supposed to mention that.

Never mind . . . .

Anne-Marie said...

I love this post. It reminds me of how naïve I was about teaching when I was a student. No matter how it looks from the outside, no one can appreciate what a profession really entails until they are in the thick of it.


Sabrina E. Ogden said...

I don't know what you do. I don't care what you do. I'm just happy you're doing it.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

Sorry, I have to comment again. I know everyone is on to something else, but this post has me asking...
Are you saying authors need agents because 90% of what agents do is unknowable and could not be fathomed by anyone who hasn't toiled in an agency?

If so, without revealing personal details, give me a far-flung example, (just something off the top of your head), of the kind of animal this "unknowable/unfathomable" is... Please?

Haste yee back ;-)