Part five of our almost-ending series of posts about deciding if a particular agent is for you looks at three different balances of power in the author-agent relationship. (Part four in the series is here, part three is here, part two is here, part one is here.)
Ladies and gentlemen I give you…
WHO THE HECK’S IN CHARGE?
THE AUTHOR: Perhaps you like to control–oh let’s say–EVERYTHING. First of all, I’m going to guess that you live alone.
But seriously. When you work in isolation for years and years honing a manuscript until it’s nothing short of true genius, it’s hard to cede even the ittiest bit of control. You’ve had years to imagine exactly how your cover will look, which publisher you want to sign with, maybe which editor would serve your story the best, and how many Scholastic book order forms you want to be included in.
Also, film rights. With Stephen Spielberg.
By some miracle, the agent sells your book. But what if your next manuscript is an unholy mess that only your mother would publish? Doesn’t matter. You will insist your agent shops it until one of you dies.
THE AGENT: Or maybe you hate the business side of things so much you want your agent to handle–picking a random number out of the air–EVERYTHING. Maybe she’s got some dirt on an editor and can make a quick sell. Sure, she could’ve pushed for another percent or two or five on the royalties, but why alienate the publisher? She’s working on quantity, not quality.
And you don’t need to see the original royalty statements–she’ll take care of those boring details for you.
Suppose your next manuscript is a brilliant rhyming book chock-full of little white boys doing things their grandmothers would approve of, and yesterday you read an interview which quoted Arthur Levine saying, “I’m desperate for a brilliant rhyming book chock-full of little white boys doing things their grandmothers would approve of.” But your agent likes working in biopunk, and she won’t send your manuscript out.
BOTH OF YOU: You hate the business side of things but still want to know the terms of your contract, and discuss things like whether it’s reasonable to push for an extra percentage of profit after your book sells ten thousand copies. And you want. To see. The royalty statements.
Your agent might give you notes on how to improve your manuscript, and you will consider them objectively and make the changes that make sense.
You and your agent might discuss what you’re planning to write next, and you will consider her opinions on the market, just as she will consider that you write what must come out of you.
Discuss your priorities and expectations with the agent before you sign. A power-balanced relationship hinges on honesty and mutual respect, and remembering that your destinies are in both your hands.