Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Literary Agent to Author (or) Author to Literary Agent

Ever since I began my research into the ins and outs publishing I’ve noticed something about the world of literary agents that has left me perplexed and at times uneasy.
There are many literary agents who are also authors.  Now, which came first I cannot always tell.  Sometimes this feels like a conflict of interest to me, yet at others I can see how it might be an asset as well.  I think the deciding factor has to do with a couple details, which came first and what they’re publishing.
Let’s look at a couple different scenarios…
If the agent was an agent before becoming an author and the genre has to do with non-fiction publishing advice, I can totally see that working.  However, if they’re an agent and then somewhere along the line write a novel and get it published, I can’t help but say “huh?” 
Did they have to go through the query process and find an agent to represent them, or did they skip that and submit directly to publishers?  When do they find time to write, edit, and publish a novel while also being an agent to clients?  Will their focus be on one or the other in the future? 
This scenario leaves me with questions, and I’m not sure exactly how to feel about it.
Now let’s look at the opposite view.  Say an author of fiction or non-fiction who isn’t the type of writer to churn out one or two MS’s a year decides that they’d love to use their literary skills and connections to help others reach their publishing goals.  Ok, I can totally see how having gone through the process would help in your entire understanding of writing, writers and publishing.  I feel like this might be an asset as an agent.  I still can’t help but wonder how one might juggle the two jobs, but then lots of people do handle two jobs at once without issues.

After weighing the pros and cons of having an agent that’s published themselves I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it.  I’d love them to understand me as a writer, my processes, my struggles and my journey.  I honestly don’t know how I could do both jobs without one getting in the way of the other though.  How would my writing affect the way I represented other writing?  How would my agenting affect how and what I wrote?  I’m not sure I could separate the two and do either justice in the end.

So I’m curious.  How do you feel about agents that are authors or authors who turn into agents?  Do you think the jobs can co-mingle?  Do you have an agent/author?  How does that affect the way they represent you?
I’d love to hear your take on this subject, because I’m truly undecided.


Jennifer Hillier said...

Last year, I was where you are now, really thinking hard about how I felt about agents who were also authors, and agents who blogged, and agents who were on Twitter, and agents who also worked as office managers at their agencies, etc. What kind of agent did I want? Did I want an agent who only agented, or was I okay with having an agent who did other things?

At the time, I decided it didn't matter to me, and so I queried everybody who seemed like they might be a good fit. And ultimately I ended up signing with the agent I'm with now, a former author and editor-in-chief, who's been in the biz a long time. I signed with her because she'd had success in my genre and because she had really good suggestions for improving my book. Plus we got along really well right off the bat.

But she's solely an agent. She doesn't blog, tweet, or write professionally anymore (as far as I know). And personally, having worked with her for the past year and a bit, I now know that I like it that way. I like that she's not on Twitter. I like that she doesn't blog. I like that she's not currently promoting books she wrote herself. I like that her career is 100% client-focused.

This isn't to say that agents who write and do other things can't be fabulous agents (many do, and they ARE fabulous). But my personal preference NOW is that I'm happy that my agent just agents. It works for me.

Julie Geistfeld said...

Wow, thank you so much for your comment. It's great to hear your take on it since you have real experience working with an agent.
I'm sure it depends on each individual agent-author relationship, but it is interesting to see that your thoughts are similar to mine on the subject.
Thanks for sharing your experience with us!