Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Agent Expectations

Expectations are difficult to manage.  They're the voice inside you whispering that you deserve all the things.  When we were trying to sell Deathday, I fantasized frequently about the money I'd make.  I planned how I'd quit my job, how I'd buy a new car, how I'd take vacations to Europe.  Even though my agent at the time and I had spoken about what to expect, I couldn't keep those tiny, chattering voices in my head from making me dream.

That's a trap I believe a lot of writers fall into–new and old.  They expect that signing with an agent is the road to amazeballs happiness.  They expect to sign on the dotted line and be ushered into a literary brotherhood of non-stop wine parties1 and greeted with a metric shit ton of cash.  But that's not how it works.  Not usually.

I'm all for dreaming.  I still dream of the day when I can write as my sole source of income, but I keep my expectations in the realm of the real.  And writers who are querying agents should do the same if they want to avoid slipping into that deep, dark trap of "why does everyone hate my book?!?" self-pity.

Signing with an agent is just one of many steps along the road to being published. It's a big step.  Huge, really.  But there are still a ton more.  Agents aren't magic2.  Signing with one doesn't guarantee your book will sell.  It doesn't guarantee wealth or happiness.  What signing with an agent should do is give you an advocate.  Someone who can help you make your book better and hopefully sell it. That's all.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Publishing is a long, hard road.  But also a hell of a lot of fun.  If you let your expectations get the better of you, you run the risk of missing all the cool stuff along the way.

As cliché as it sounds, it really is all about the journey.

1.  I lied, the wine parties are real.  There are also a lot of cupcakes.
2.  Except mine.  She's totally magic.  Or part awesome cyborg, I haven't decided yet.


  1. I wonder how many actual instances there are of an agent not being able to sell a single manuscript for a particular client. I mean I'm sure it happens, but I would really be curious to see hard data that showed how often.

    1. You're a braver man than I! I definitely wouldn't want to see that number.

    2. You really think it's that high? Maybe I'm too optimistic.

    3. I don't think it's super high, but I do think that as the market shrinks and agents are feeling the squeeze, there's more pressure on them to focus on the projects and clients that can make them money. I read over on Janet Reid's blog a post where she talked about what it meant when she said that the book wasn't for her. One of the things she mentioned was that she liked the book but didn't think she'd be able to sell it for enough money to make it worthwhile for her. Which is an honest answer. So I think agents might give up on project that they don't feel are going to sell so that they can focus on those that do.

    4. Ah capitalism. It does make some people money.

    5. I wish I could be mad at them for not spending more time on literary-but-probably-won't-sell projects, but there's got to be a balance between doing what you love and putting food on the table. You know?

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  2. I think I'm going to delete that last one. I sound so whiny.


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