WRITERS AT WORK, Pros & Cons of Having an Agent (Part 1)

BULLETIN: I’ve posted all of the January poems below the ballot boxes now. Sorry for the delay. If you haven’t voted yet, it’s easier to see each poem before deciding.

Hi everyone,

Our February topic is about agents, a favorite subject wherever authors get together. Sandy Asher uses an agent and I don’t. I look forward to this one and hope to hear from many of you as we go along. Read on!

Topic 5: Pros & Cons of Having an Agent
Response 1: David
February 1, 2011

Sandy, I know that writers with agents are asked why they have one and writers without are asked why they don’t. I don’t so I’ll go first.

That’s not quite accurate. I share a fine agent – Wendy Schmalz – when I work with you. Wendy represented you, and therefore me, on DUDE, the collection of stories, plays, and poems for boy readers that we did with Dutton.

Nor can I say I’ve never had an agent of my own because somewhere in the dim past, twenty-five or thirty years ago, I tried an agent for about a year. We weren’t a good mix and went our separate ways. More about that shortly.

There are certainly pros to having a good agent. Many publishers don’t want to look at manuscripts from authors they don’t know. Dealing with agents cuts down on the mass of unsolicited submissions to read and in these days of bare bones staffing, an agent who sends quality material might be more of an asset than ever. So yes, an agent can open doors.

But I’m pretty sure an agent can’t sell pap. I still shake my head remembering some of my early manuscripts. I was writing short stories still so protoplasmic they sort of flopped about from page to page in search of a backbone, a beginning, an ending. I didn’t get that, of course. I was in my twenties, convinced that each story was original and issued from my soul.

I don’t remember why I didn’t seek an agent in the beginning. I’m not sure I knew to consider the idea. I wonder if most writers these days automatically start the search for an agent before they’ve written more than one or two manuscripts. I’ve heard that finding a good agent is roughly the equivalent of getting published without one, but maybe that’s because agents have to plow through a lot of unpolished manuscripts. Again, I’m guessing.

On my own I soon developed the habit of grinding out one masterpiece after another and setting them off in all directions like cheap roman candles. By the time I sold my first story, I had been winging it for six years, the no-agent habit was established, and I had managed to acquire a modicum of writing skills the hard way.

Years and books later, my muse took early retirement. Nothing for the ages was emanating from my trusty soul. Obviously, I needed an agent! Given that I was well published, I found one soon enough. The problem was that in a twelve month period he placed one manuscript, a picture book that I had presold before we met.

Bad agent? Maybe, but probably not. I wasn’t writing well and knew it. I didn’t blame the guy for being unable to place stories that weren’t my best work. We split ways, I coaxed my muse out of retirement, and I’ve been placing my own work ever since.

Sandy, you have far more experience with agents than I do so I look forward to your comments. I hope we’ll hear from agents and authors willing to share their own thoughts and experiences. Back to you.