Tag Archives: literary agents

The Literary Marriage – Agent and Author

A guest post by Travis Heermann.

That most hallowed and sought after milestone for authors pursuing the traditional publishing route—landing a literary agent—is not always the golden ticket we think it’s going to be.

I’ve had two literary agents, one of which was a soul-crushing scam and a complete debacle that derailed my career for several years. The second one was real, and it is the second one I will discuss here.

Any professional, agented author will tell you that the relationship between author and agent is like a romantic relationship. The author woos the agent with tantalizing words. The agent falls in love with the author’s book. The agent thinks this past the initial flush of excitement to whether the book is marketable, to who will buy it. And then, the agent decides whether to offer representation.

That email from the agent saying she wants to represent your baby—er, your novel—is one of those thrilling moments that fledgling authors yearn for, that penultimate moment of validation, second only to being offered a contract by the publishing house of one’s dreams. An industry professional, someone with contacts, someone who can make writers into stars, has taken notice and found your baby worthy.

So then, if all goes well, the agent will sell your novel, you’ll have a grand honeymoon, and it will make money for you both. And meanwhile you’re writing more novels for the agent to sell, etc., etc.

But the long haul of a relationship lasts way beyond the honeymoon.

Like romantic relationships, the agent/author relationship has infinite shades of forms, from distant business-only correspondence to bring-the-kids-over-for-Sunday-dinner relationships. It all depends on the people, their preferences, their capabilities.

And like romantic relationships, agent/author relationships often do not last. They fail for a variety of reasons, often because one feels the other is not fulfilling some need. Authors can have a lot of needs—artistic validation, editorial input, career promotion, sage advice from someone who’s supposed to know the business, and let’s not forget actually marketing the author’s work to editors who might be interested in buying it. Agents have needs, too—professional behavior from their clients, turning in quality manuscripts on time, maintaining that spark that made them fall in love with that first book.

And like failing romantic relationships, somebody has to decide when it’s over. Someone (the author) has to take a hard, objective look and consider whether those needs are being met.  What happens then when the answer is No? It’s one of the scariest, agonizing, most heart-wrenching moments writers face, asking the question: “Should I stay or should I go?” For me, it was almost like dissolving a marriage.

I had a high-powered literary agent for several years, one of the big, established, reputable ones. My elation when he agreed to represent me launched me into the stratosphere. But he wasn’t able to place my novel as highly as he hoped. After three years of effort, he landed a couple of minor contracts, one for foreign translation, for which I am still grateful, but after that it became apparent that the honeymoon was over. And my agony when I finally came to the realization that he was no longer doing my career any good, when the accumulation of questionable advice and red flags built to such a volume I could no longer ignore it, when I realized it was time to move on, sent me hard into the earth like a meteor plowing into a cornfield. I had invested so many hopes and dreams in this relationship. The literary agent was supposed to usher me into the gilded ballrooms of literary success, but I was still stuck in stables. Without an agent, how could I even submit manuscripts to Big Publishing? I would be back to Square One.

Anyone who’s been through the dissolution of a long-term romantic relationship will recognize familiar thought patterns. Questions of self-worth (something writers already struggle with daily). “Will anyone else ever want me again?” Despair at how much emotional energy went crashing into the waste bin of life experiences. Grief at the loss of something once valuable. Memory of how much effort had been required to find an agent in the first place, so how on earth would I find another one?

And if one has kids (books) together, one had better make sure to get along with one’s Ex. The agent is still party to any contracts you signed together.

There’s no happy ending here, because the story is ongoing. I’m a writer pursuing a career, grinding through the trenches. I’m writing books and marketing them, without a literary agent. Would I engage a literary agent again? If the circumstances were right, certainly, but I’m not actively pursuing that route. I’m like the guy who’s given up on dating until the right woman comes along. Sometimes she does, sometimes she doesn’t.

The good news is that, like recovering from a failed relationship, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, apply bandages, drink the obligatory allotment of whiskey and guilt, and move on, wiser from the experience.

Guest Writer Bio:
HeermannPhotoFreelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poker player, poet, biker, roustabout, Travis Heermann is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of the Ronin TrilogyThe Wild Boysand Rogues of the Black Fury, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Weird Tales, Historical Lovecraft, and Shivers VII. As a freelance writer, he has produced a metric ton of role-playing game work both in print and online, including Legend of Five Rings, d20 System, and the MMORPG, EVE Online. He enjoys cycling, martial arts, torturing young minds with otherworldly ideas, and zombies. He has three long-cherished dreams: a produced screenplay, a NYT best-seller, and a seat in the World Series of Poker.For interviews about the Writing Life, check out his Author Interview Series at the Ronin Writer: http://travisheermann.com/blog/

Laurie McLean: Literary Agents in the New Publishing Era

With the advent of indie publishing, there has been much speculation about the demise of traditional publishing and the role of the literary agent. Laurie McLean, Senior Agent at Larsen Pomada Literary Agents, shares her views on her profession and the changing industry. Check out her agent blog, www.agentsavant.com, for tales of the agenting life, and the agency’s site, www.larsenpomada.com, for valuable information and links.


  1. Can you tell me a little bit about your background in publishing?

I entered publishing from a sideways path, not the traditional one of being an intern at a publisher or agency having gotten a creative writing or MFA degree from college.  I was a journalist first, then worked in public relations, eventually starting my own PR agency in California’s Silicon Valley and building it into a multi-million dollar business.  When I retired early, I was too young to sit around and do nothing, so I wrote a novel. Got a literary agent (Elizabeth Pomada), got involved with the San Francisco Writers Conference, and never looked back. Less than two years after I retired I was a full-time literary agent, author, and on the management team of the San Francisco Writers Conference.  Today I am also the Dean of the newly created San Francisco Writers University found at www.sfwritersu.com. And this year I am starting two ePublishing companies with two of my clients to make out-of-print vintage romance (JoyrideBooks.com) and children’s books  (AmbushBooks.com) available to a new generation of readers.

  1. How would you describe the role of the literary agent?

I find authors with promise, work with them to improve their manuscripts and try to sell them to a large New York-based publisher, a smaller indie publisher or help them self-publish their work.  But agents do so much more than that. (see next question)

  1. In your opinion, what are the most important things that you do for your authors?

An agent is:

  • A scout who constantly researches what publishers are looking for
  • An advocate for an author and his or her work
  • A midwife who assists with the birth of a writing project
  • A reminder who keeps the author on track if things begin to slip
  • An editor for that last push before submission
  • A critic who will tell authors what they need to hear in order to improve
  • A matchmaker who knows the exact editors for an author’s type of writing
  • A negotiator who will fight to get the best deal for an author
  • A mediator who can step in between author and publisher to fix problems
  • A reality check if an author gets out of sync with the real world
  • A liaison between the publishing community and the author
  • A cheerleader for an author’s work or style
  • A focal point for subsidiary, foreign and dramatic rights
  • A mentor who will assist in developing an author’s career
  • A rainmaker who can get additional writing work for an author
  • A career coach for all aspects of your writing future
  • An educator about changes in the publishing industry
  • A manager of the business side of your writing life
  1. What skills and qualities should literary agents possess?

An agent must be organized, intelligent, multi-tasking, a good negotiator, have excellent time management skills, love books, know marketing and sales and be well versed in the mechanics of writing/storytelling/character development/plot/pacing and social media.  He or she must also be relentless in keeping up with developments in publishing contracts, editorial taste and digital publishing.

  1. How do you think the role of the literary agent has changed in the past ten years?

Two things: digital publishing and social media marketing.  These are disruptive technologies that are transforming one of the oldest businesses on the planet.  The rapid rise of eBooks is truly changing the industry and opening opportunities for writers and new eBook-only publishers never before seen. By solving the twin headed dragons of accessibility (through self-publishing) and discoverability (through social media), authors will be free to experiment, broaden and enjoy the control they have over their creativity and careers for the first time in hundreds of years.

  1. What would you describe as the biggest threat to literary agents?

The biggest threat I see is not keeping up with the changing landscape of publishing. If an agent doesn’t dive in and integrate digital publishing into every client’s career planning, he or she will cease to thrive and eventually be out of business.

  1. Is your agency doing anything specific to overcome that threat?

In 2011 we created San Francisco Writers University (www.SFWritersU.com), an online and live place of learning for authors that is a 24/7/365 resource for writing.  We have created tracks at the non-profit annual San Francisco Writers Conference (www.SFWriters.org) for social media for authors and self-publishing.  I have spent four years immersing myself in digital publishing to understand its wide-ranging implications and impacts. And this year I am launching two eBook-only publishing companies with two separate clients-Joyride Books for previously published romance books, and Ambush Books for out of print children’s book backlist titles.  No original works, so I won’t face any conflict of interest accusations…only good, out-of-print backlist titles that deserve to be reissued and now they have a chance.

  1. What is your opinion on some of the new agency business models emerging (e.g. full career management, fee-based services, consultant and publishing services)?

As you can see from my answer to question 7, I love the fact that agents are looking at their specific tangential talents outside the core agent competencies and offering this expertise to their clients, and sometimes to authors who are not their clients.  It is an exciting time to be involved in the publishing industry.

  1. Is there a business model that you think will become standard?

I doubt a standard business model will emerge within the next decade, if ever.  Agents are as individual as authors, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.  I am a serial entrepreneur and I bring my business and marketing strengths to any new venture I create.  Other agents are more comfortable offering indie editing services or book-to-film advice.  Some are assisting their clients with indie publishing…going so far as procuring cover art, editing, formatting, etc.

  1. Do you see the 15% commission continuing as the standard payment for literary agents?

For traditional publishing deals, absolutely.  And I don’t see traditional publishing going away.  Like the myth of the paperless office, we will not abandon paper books altogether. There will be shorter initial print runs with quick follow-up runs if a book sells well, print on demand services will thrive (could we possibly see an Espresso Book Machine leased by publishers to booksellers so they can make a book while you wait…I hope so!), and people will read more books in more formats than we ever dreamed possible.

  1. Do you have any thoughts on what the role of the literary agent will be in the future?

If things settle down at all, I believe agents will take on more of a career management role for authors, similar to the way sports or celebrity agents work today.  So they’ll negotiate deals for their authors’ print, ebook and subsidiary rights, but they’ll also make more things happen themselves along the way.