For better or worse, agents more often than not serve as gatekeepers to the world of traditional publishing. And as such the advice from agents is in demand. But as with everything else, there’s good advice, and bad advice. A quick survey here at Career Authors revealed the best advice we’ve received from our own agents.
My agent (Barbara Poelle at Irene Goodman Literary Agency) is fond of telling clients to “keep your eyes on your own paper”—a helpful reminder of that Theodore Roosevelt quote that “comparison is the thief of joy.”
In this business where so much is beyond our control, it can be difficult not to have our heads turned by who is getting what invitations and manuscript requests and offers and, later, marketing plans and promotional budgets and mentions and reviews—it truly never ends. While it can be beneficial to understand where we fall in the grand scheme of things, comparing ourselves too much to our peers can lead to bitterness, confusion, and negativity that does not serve us well.
My best agent advice is from Gina Panettieri of Talcott Notch Literary. It’s a time-tested adage, but something that so many people do not do. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
I’ve been published by six houses (PenguinRH, Thomas & Mercer, Blackstone, Tyndale, Crooked Lane, Skyhorse). This diversity is thanks to Gina. As an author, if you do not network and encourage your agent to diversify your work, you may find the fate of your career controlled by the whim of a single editor…and it may be a different editor than the one who acquired you.
The whims of publishing change like the winds. You need to be agile, and like a sailboat, ready to tack and change course at a moment’s notice!
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN
My first agent stopped me from panic selling, and I am infinitely grateful. When we had my first novel, PRIME TIME, on submission, we were in a bit of fallow territory—waiting waiting waiting. And it was demoralizing, and depressing, as only waiting on submissions can be.
We got an offer from a small publisher, a publisher who had a good reputation, but… was not what we were looking for, and nowhere near my dream.
But I said oh my gosh, what if we never get another offer, we should take this maybe?
And she said no no no. No. We will wait. We are not taking an offer that is not good enough for your fabulous book.
Well, she was my agent, so of course she thought it was fabulous, and I thought, frankly: take it take it take it!
But her talking me off the ledge was life-changing, and that book, still in print and for which I am still getting royalties, is with a wonderful publisher.
That would probably not have happened otherwise.
I’ve known my agent (Gina Panettieri of Talcott Notch Literary) for at least twenty years. I met her when I was an acquisitions editor, and she pitched me projects, and I bought them. A lot of them. I knew how good she was at representing the author’s interests even as she appreciated the publisher’s side of things.
So when I needed an agent, I went to her. She represented my memoir, FIXING FREDDIE: A True Story About a Boy, a Mom, and a Very, Very Bad Beagle, and then she valiantly shopped the young adult I’d written. Which even she couldn’t sell.
“Write something new,” she told me.
And so I sort of followed her advice, half-writing several mysteries, never finishing any of them, because none of them really inspired me. I was bored writing them, so I knew readers would be bored reading them.
But when I wrote a sample first chapter of a mystery just to use as an exercise in my nonfiction book THE WRITER’S GUIDE TO BEGINNINGS, Gina told me, “That’s good. Write that book.”
And that first chapter eventually became the first chapter of A BORROWING OF BONES, the first novel in my Mercy Carr series. I’m writing book five now.
When I left acquisitions, Gina invited me to become an agent at Talcott Notch Literary. (Best job—and best boss—I’ve ever had.) And now, I tell my clients, “Write something new. That’s good. Write that book.”
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