What a Literary Agent can and should be

Years ago, when I was a hopeful, unpublished writer – and thought I was a great deal better than I actually was – I started to shop my work around. Rejections followed. And no matter how often you are told never to take a rejection personally, of course you do. Your work is your baby. You’ve spent years burping it, cleaning it up, dressing it in the best finery you can find. You think it’s beautiful and that it deserves to grow into a fine book with a snazzy cover sitting on the shelves of Barnes and Noble or Dymocks. You dream of lunches with editors in Manhattan, or signings in London, or your name on bestseller lists as the creator of this marvellous child, whose name – of course – is on everyone’s lips.

I eventually threw some of my early babies away. Well, on to the top of the wardrobe anyway. I believe they collect dust there still. Sometimes I might disembowel one for an idea or two to use elsewhere.

Finally, though, I found an agent in the UK (I was living in Austria at the time). I did it by consulting the list of agents in the Artists’ and Writers’ Yearbook 1990, and selecting one who said she took sff. She had once been an editor; she was married at the time to a well-known writer; she represented published authors. She accepted me as a client in January 1991, and told me what other authors she represented.

I didn’t pay her a penny. She suggested a few minor alterations to the MS, which I happily did, and then she started to look for a publisher for me. (That first book is now The Aware. I envisaged it then as the first in a series, set in the world of the Isles of Glory.)

I was already writing the next book: now called Heart of the Mirage, set in a different world. When that was finished, my agent started to offer that around as well. She’d had no luck with The Aware, but she didn’t give up. The feedback was always positive, a number of times it seemed one of the books would sell – but somehow it never quite happened. Do I blame my agent? Of course not! I saw how much she did on my behalf; I read the comments of editors who read my work.

How much had I paid my agent by this stage?

Nothing. Not a penny. Not a cent. Lord, I hadn’t even taken her out to lunch.

She had done all this work for me – sending out the book again and again, talking about me to publishers – for nothing. I even had meetings with editors in London, which she arranged for me, but somehow the contract never materialised. And still it had all been free for me.

I sat down to write to Havenstar. And finally, I had a book that sold. It was published in 1999.

Look at those dates. 1991 and 1999. Would you work that long for someone for nothing? My agent did! Is it any wonder I worship the ground she walks on? She has gone on since then to sell seven of my books – including those first two – around the world and in different languages. It took 13 years to see The Aware published, and 15 before I held a published copy of Heart of the Mirage in my hand! Every time I earn money now, so does she. And I am delighted that at last she is getting some return for her faith in my writing. That is what an agent should be. (Dot, I think you rock.)

So what’s my point here?
I want unpublished writers to know what an agent can and should be, instead of being scammed by the unscrupulous.

Read the latest posts over at Miss Snark’s blog or at Making Light to find out what can happen. There are ratbags like Barbara Bauer who run so called Literary Agencies, scam unpublished authors out of their money, and then have the gall to object when they are unmasked. Long live those with enough guts to protest.


What a Literary Agent can and should be — 4 Comments

  1. Thanks, Glenda. I haven’t snagged an agent yet, but my communications with them thus far have been professional. Many of them have been helpful. Nobody’s yet asked me for a dime.

  2. Hi Glenda,
    I came over from Miss Snark’s to see what you had to say about agents. Glad I did.

    I signed with a highly respected NY agent in March and am now riding the rollercoaster of hope and despair while she shops my book around. My mood changes every minute. There is no much negativity about the business out there that it’s good to read other writers’ stories about the real agents – like yours. It helps me to have faith in my own agent, and to control my paranoia.

    Even among the league of wonderful agents, your Dot must stand out. Wow. What dedication. I’ve read of so many situations where agents drop writers if their books don’t sell in six months or a year, or even two. Wow again.

  3. Yep, I reckon I am incredibly lucky. Doubly so, seeing I would never have been able to continue to shop my MSS at any meaningful rate once I was living in Malaysia again – it would have cost too much.

    I guess one way to keep an agent interested while s/he is trying to sell your first one, is to produce another MS of calibre. That indicates that you have talent and professional dedication, that you’re in it for the long haul – and of course, gives him/her something else to shop around.

    Keep trying, and keep getting better. Good luck!

  4. What’s particularly offensive about the Bauer thing is that she’s resorting to shameful bully and intimidation tactics in an attempt to stop the truth being told about her repulsive business practices. The woman is lower than shark shit, and the faster everyone out there learns this, the better for all of us in the business.

    I too applaud Ms Snark and Making Light and all the sites working round the clock to make sure the good people aren’t tainted by the bad ones, like Bauer.

    And kudos to your agent, who isn’t afraid to invest in talent for the long haul.

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