Publishing, at its best, is a team effort. The agent is the writer’s first professional reader and, in most cases, first editor. Ideally, a writer should pick an agent who has fallen deeply in love with the writer’s work, warts and all. In the best of these relationships, the writer and agent develop a rhythm on the editorial side, working together to talk through the trouble spots in a way that truly resonates and allows the writer to make the work better. Agents and editors spend a lot of time talking about books and taste, so having an agent who really understands your work—and knows the editors who will, too—is an essential part of the process. The agent is the writer’s sounding board, creative adviser, business partner, and advocate. The agent negotiates the best possible deal for the writer and then stays in regular contact with the editor, who becomes the cheerleader in-house, working with marketing, publicity, sales, and everyone else who has a hand in getting the book out into the world. The agent celebrates each success, of course, but never leaves the fire of those successes unattended, and will make sure that kindling is being added to keep things hot. Equally important is being present when publications don’t go exactly as hoped. In those instances the agent is there to keep the initial enthusiasm for the book alive, to collaborate with the publishing team on ways to pivot in order to find the book’s audience in other ways. And in between books, the agent is the one who reminds the writer that being an author is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s about building a long-term career, not about any individual book—successful or otherwise. The writer-agent relationship is, hopefully, a long-term one, built on common goals, mutual respect, and in the best cases, a genuine fondness for each another.
Why does a writer need an agent?