Sunday, November 14, 2010

Reading the Fine Print or Why I Love my Agent

So... you all know that I've been blogging less and less lately. It's something that I'm going to try to remedy, though I suspect it's going to take some serious effort on my part to actually make it happen. I've got a few weeks of free time before I'll be gearing up for edits and so I'm going to make the most of my time.

The writertly world was abuzz this week with news of James Frey's Full Fathom Five, a fiction factory aimed at recruiting young MFA's and other writers to produce the next "big YA" novel for virtually no money and no rights whatsoever. Obviously, I disagree with what Mr. Frey is doing here, but it made me so very thankful for my agent that I thought I'd share with you all just why I appreciate her so much.

First of all, I want to start off by saying that being young doesn't inherently make you gullible or ignorant. I didn't start seriously writing with publication in mind until I was 34 years old. Not exactly a spring chicken. That first year was tough. The manuscript I was seeking representation for was not at all ready, my skills as a writer had yet to "mature", and I had very little knowledge about the rules of the biz. I didn't even have a crit partner! With each rejection rolling in I became a little more downtrodden and a friend of my husband sent him many links to self-pub services. His basic message: it's just too hard to get an agent these days. Self-publishing is probably your best bet.

I wasn't quite ready to go that route. I'd set out a goal for myself and I was determined to reach it. But I'll admit that if someone like Frey had approached me during that first year, I would have JUMPED at the opportunity to sign on with him. I realized that my manuscript was not going to get me an agent or a publishing contract and so, I put it away. And started the sequel. Stupid? Not really. Of course the sequel wouldn't do me any good in securing an agent, but what it did was give me more writing experience. In the meantime, I found crit partners (great ones, I might add), reached out to the writing community, and learned the ropes. By the time I finished my third manuscript, I was ready to jump back into the query waters. It wasn't easy, though. Seven months, and two revisions later I found the perfect agent. Why is she so perfect, you ask? And what does this have to do with the Frey situation? Well, I'll tell you! :)

First of all, she believed in me. She "got" me. She read my story and saw the potential meat in the skeleton that was my manuscript. She wasn't just looking to throw my MS out there and earn a quick buck. She saw the potential and helped me craft my MS into something worth selling. We writers have a tendency to doubt ourselves and never once during the submission process did she ever doubt that my book would sell. She knew the market, knew the editors, KNEW the business and I always trusted her advice because I knew she had my best interests at heart, rather than solely thinking about what this could do for her. She has a firm grasp of contracts. I know for a fact that she'll cross every T and dot every I. No way am I going to get less than I deserve. I could have never negotiated a sale on my own behalf. I just don't know enough about contracts and I probably would've gone blind trying to decipher the legal jargon. She's with me for the long-haul and I consider her a partner. She's worth her weight in gold and if I could, I'd pay her that and more. It takes a lot to trust someone with your livelihood and that's what you're doing when you sign with an agent. You're saying, "Okay, here's my hopes and dreams for the future. Go for it."

There are pubs out there that take unsolicited submissions. You don't have to have an agent. But even if you sell to a publisher without the help of an agent, I strongly suggest having at least a contracts lawyer take a look at the paperwork for you. As writers, as artists, all we want is to see our work out in the world, our pages perused by eager readers. Sometimes the fine print takes a backseat to our hopes and dreams. No matter how you do it, traditionally or not, agent, no agent, indie pub or self-pub, know what you're getting yourself in to. Don't let someone exploit your dreams.

I'm glad I stayed true to my course. I'm glad I stuck it out when I wanted to quit. I'm glad I have an agent who can be tough when I know I couldn't be and has the guts to say, "Calm yourself, Amanda," when she knows I'm about to go off the deep end. I'm glad I have her on this journey with me and even though I've told her more than once, I just want her to know once again: I am SO thankful for you! I can't wait to see what we accomplish next!


Shain Brown said...

That was by far one the posts that have meant the most to me. I can relate so much to it, and one day that is exactly what I hope to have. But in the meanwhile I will keep writing so that I can get there. Thanks for sharing.

Amanda said...

Thanks SO much, Shain! I've gotta say, tearing up a little here! To know that you can relate and got exactly what I meant with this post puts a smile on my face! Keep writing, don't give up! You'll get there ;)

WindyA said...

Yes, I concur with your agent. "Calm yourself, Amanda." LoL!

I agree with you completely, that while you are putting your hopes and dreams into an agent to help your publishing dreams come true, those agents are putting their livelihoods in your hands as a writer. A good agent believes in you and your work.

p.s. welcome back to the land of blogging.

Sarah Bromley said...

This is why having a good agent is so valuable. They are our advocates, beyond just championing our writing. They want the best deal for us to lead us into what's hopefully a great career. I am very happy with my agent, and it's a relationship I won't trade for the world.