Agents aren't gods

Over on that excellent forum for writers, Litopia, there is often discussion of how difficult it is to get an agent. Sometimes, it seems almost like a hunt for a dangerous wild beast - trying to capture this most elusive and powerful creature.

And I don't want to underplay the importance of a good agent. They are an author's best friend and fiercest critic. They pursue your business interests with the publisher, while privately telling you exactly what's wrong with your new book idea. More than one of my agent's clients dread his verbal feedback more than a visit to the dentist - but recognize it as equally valuable.

However, it's well to remember that getting an agent isn't an end in itself. I know writers who have got an agent and still not got published. Even with the best agent in the world it's possible to have a project that you know is brilliant - and your agent knows is brilliant - and still not manage to convince a publisher to invest in it. I hate to say it, but sometimes publishers are fallible and short-sighted, and even having an agent won't change things.

Someone I know, a first time writer, finally managed to get an agent for her non-fiction project. It was brilliant. An expose of the dark machinations behind a world famous building project. There was politics. There was human drama. There were tantrums and celebrities. It was a heaven-sent book. And not a single publisher wanted it. Said first time writer retired hurt. Having an agent hadn't suddenly opened every door.

Of course, if you are looking for an agent, it will be different for you, I'm sure. Yes, seek an agent with great enthusiasm. Treasure him or her when you get one. But don't think that getting an agent means you can relax and lose that drive to succeed. It's just the next step on the road.


  1. Oh, Brian. What a timely blog. Just a few weeks ago my agent called to say that she was retiring, and so now, although there's a possibility I can sign on with someone else in her agency, I'm basically having to start the courtship process all over again. I'm enough of a realist to know that having had 1 novel already published may not help (it may even hurt), but I suppose it's the crazy writer in me that refuses not to be optimistic. Here we go into 2009.....
    hoping your new year brings with it all that you hope for.

  2. Sue - It's really unsettling if you've had a good working relationship. I think your story even more emphasizes the message that you can't assume everything is now going to be plain sailing because you've got an agent.

    Best of luck with your search - I'm sure being already published will help a lot.


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