The Role of the Agent

As the publishing industry undergoes tremendous upheaval and change — mostly because of the arrival of eBooks and self-publishing — there has been lots of talk about the role of the literary agent in all of this.

As readers of this blog know, I secured representation for Baby Grand in January 2010. And even though two years later I decided to self-publish my debut novel, I’ve said this before: Having my agent for those two years was invaluable, and Baby Grand is a FAR better novel having gone through the traditional publishing process in the early stages. Why, you ask. Not because my agent helped me to write Baby Grand or gave me ideas or even did “light editing,” as I’ve seen a literary agent’s “role” described on websites. My agent actually did no editing at all.

What she did do — among other things — is similar to what is depicted in this scene from Walk the Line, the 2005 film based on the early life and career of country music artist Johnny Cash and starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. Here, Cash and his band/friends are auditioning for a record label executive, who is explaining to them what he needs in order to sell their music. He’s not asking them to be something they’re not. He’s not asking them to sing the songs HE wants them to sing. What he does is what I think a good agent does for writers — pushes them. Pushes them to dig deep down and find their true voice. Pushes them when they think they have nothing else to give.

So while, yes, there are sure to be changes in the industry regarding agents’ role in the writer/publisher relationship, to me it seems the core of the writer/agent relationship will always stay the same.

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