Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Role of Agents In Career Planning

One of the first questions agents are often asked after we start talking with authors about representation is what role we will play in career planning. This is a very valid question and certainly you would want to ask any agent before signing with them. This is also the place where you first start seeing how the author-agent relationship really becomes a team affair.

Career planning really starts with the author. I do think many authors seem to believe that the agent is the initiating point here but that is far from the case. We start with where the author wants to go with his or her career. We talk about issues such as:

  • the genre the author reads and and writes
  • the voice the author likes to write
  • is the author interested in series or single title
  • how many books a year can the author write
  • how much guidance the author might need
  • what is the support network for the author
  • etc.
The idea here is to get a handle on simply where the author is and where he or she wants to go.

We then start with the first one or two manuscripts. Working with their vision of where they want to go and where they think they are, we determine if the manuscript is  A) matching with that vision; or B) can be shaped into that vision; or potentially C) if that manuscript really fits with another direction the author has not thought of.

In some cases, we might not really get that sense of direction fully until we have gotten some feedback from the editors after sending the project out. With the comments we get back from the editors, we can decide to either reshape the story into that direction, or we can shift the writing into a direction that seems to be a bit more focused.

The career planning takes shape when we discuss new trends with the author that might be occurring in the publishing world. Again, decisions we make with an author are not universal decisions. What works for one author may not work for another author. For example, an author might come to me to discuss the idea of venturing into another genre of writing. In some cases, I might recommend holding off on that shift to get the writer a chance to become established in one genre. In other cases, we might say to go with that new genre and let's see what happens.

We also guide them with determining which publisher would be the best for their writing. We do this because sometimes, certain publishing houses just aren't going to be a right fit for certain authors.

Finally, that career planning comes from the connection the agents have with the editors. We are frequently asked by editors to suggest authors within our agencies for certain projects. You have seen some of these with the anthologies that come out. Again, we determine if that author is in the right place at the right time with the right project to take on something new.

Now, I do understand that much of this is what you as an author are already doing or can do on your own. As I said earlier, career planning starts with the author. However, with that said, it is often difficult to see the right path because a person is too close to their own situation. When we started this post, I noted that we look at where an author thinks he or she is at. As I said, sometimes where they think they are at is not even close to where they really are. Without someone from the outside, the author can often flounder in this business.

Let me give you a quick example of this. I had an author I worked with early on in the agency. She really wanted to write single title romance and really thought her writing fit with certain publishers. In reality, she fit better with a category voice. She simply had stories that were really long category romances. I recommended that direction early on but she was determined to stay the course. So we worked with the stories trying to get her to reshape the stories into that single title voice. No matter how hard she tried, the stories just got longer but never shifted voice. Even some of the initial feedback we got from some of the editors was that her voice was category and not single title. We ended up parting company. Why? The career planning we provided was something she just didn't want to hear.

When it comes to career planning, we cannot do it for you. We can guide, we can shape and we can suggest, but we cannot "make your career happen."

So, what type of career planning would you want an agent to do or to help you with?

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