The 5 Cs of Working with an Agent

Over the summer, two challenging situations came to head in the publishing world, reminding writers of the importance of working with a professional and approachable agent. You can learn about these situations here and here.

The immediate reaction was hard on the writers affected by both circumstances, as well as authors in search of representation. Many worries surfaced, as any writer’s books (or even career entirely) can be impacted by working with an unprofessional agent.

In response, many agents, including a few of us at Red Sofa Literary, stood up and shared our thoughts on what to expect, in hope of calming those fears. This is a pivotal moment where many agents want to assure writers that we take our role seriously, and that we value transparency instead of smoke and mirrors. Despite these bad situations happening, they are not the general practice by the majority of legitimate and highly professional literary agents.

Here some valuable things you should anticipate while working with an agent:

1. Communication – Do you have questions? We are here to answer them. Agreeing on the best form of communication in advance is always proactive. We’ll always do our best to answer your emails and return calls in a timely manner. Sometimes we may be traveling or dealing with "real life," but an engaged agent will keep in touch. If there’s no response for an extended period of time, it’s a good idea to see if they’re okay before jumping to any conclusions. 

2. Contract – No agent should sign an author with a handshake; that’s not how one runs a business. There should be an agency contract before your book is taken out to publishers. This is a business agreement with your new agent, through which the terms of your business partnership will be defined. It’s always great to ask questions and discuss any aspects of your writing career in regard to that contract. Once the contract is signed by both parties, it’s okay to prepare your book for publishers.

3. Collaboration – Your new agent should not take out your book until it’s ready. There should be a level of preparation before the publishers see it. Even at our agency, there’s the prep of a book proposal, editing of the sample chapters and manuscript, and lots of research on the front end (before it goes on to submission).

4. Check-ins – This will happen during the submission process. Many agents, my agency included, will operate by the AAR (Association of Author Representatives) standard, where reports are provided to our authors. I try to do these reports a minimum of twice per year (in June and December). These reports should note which houses and editors were pitched, any responses, and a discussion of steps to take.

If a book isn’t sold in any round, there’s a possibility your agent will want to slightly revise the book. Perhaps the book has been on several rounds of submission, but it hasn’t been picked up yet. This may be a chance to discuss your new book ideas, with the intention of shelving the current book for the time being. This is always a healthy conversation to have and I highly encourage it. It’s a normal thing for the 2nd or 3rd book to be sold if this precedent is set.

5. (Important) Conversations - Once your book does find its future publisher, you should expect a clear discussion of the terms of the offer on the table. I always anticipate an offer in writing (also known as the deal memo) before the official book contract is negotiated. I will call my author, share the good news, and we’ll talk about the offer specifics. Once the contract is negotiated, your agent will explain the nuances of the contract before any author signs the dotted line.

The author/agent partnership is a collaboration, a journey where the agent works closely with their author in seeing a book to publication. This level of professionalism will put your writing career in long-term teamwork with your future agent.