What do you think of bridges? Think about what they do, whether it's spanning the impassable or shortening a trip, they are great, right?
Agents are bridges. Oh, they are much more, but the first purpose is to provide a professional avenue to publication. Without an agent, you are left to your own devices. This is where you all-knowing types insert your ego: "I know as much as an agent", "They are just middle men", "I'm an attorney, so any contract they can do..." or worse still, "They are a cult, bent on keeping my work from a soon-to-be adoring public." Actually they are witches... Just kidding, though I know of one that thinks she is... Ok, knows she is, A SHARK (Though she suffers from ailurophobia).
An agent offers industry and market knowledge they are intimately associated with on a daily basis. They have expertise, gained by exhaustive reading in every genre. They do interject personal opinion, which is only natural, and something every author should be glad that they do. I, for one, would rather have an agent that liked or loved my work, rather than puts up with it. Agents are an extension of your passion into the marketplace. They get paid if they sell, so they are inspired like few others to make you a success. The whole, "like to have groceries and a place to live" thing works FOR you.
If you read Writer's Angst Part 1, you'll know that you have a wimpy side... Admit It! Doubt, fears, nerves... ANGST of an author can be handled and, in most cases, shared with an agent as you travel the publication road. In fact, call them at home, late, late at night and they will send you gifts... (things to do: delete my e-mail address before I post this)
I am not an agent, but I know that to be an agent, they have to have the patience of a pre-school teacher, especially with debut authors. "Hand holding" is probably ranked as one of the worst things about their jobs. They buoy egos, talk away tears, and shake you by the shoulders to snap you out of a funk when you need it... All before their first cup of coffee in the morning. ( OK, maybe third cup) The agent is your deal maker, publicist (in some cases), and works vast social networks to give you the best chance at success. All this while they read... Gulp!... Queries of possible new clients, simultaneously pitching your book to editors and marketing executives. Add the "light reading" of partials and full manuscripts at the office and home, plus doing writer's conferences, blogs, pod casts and the obligatory cocktail party (insert fake arm twist) as well as book signing and supporting their colleague's efforts for their clients... Whew!
If you're thinking, "sucks to be them" you'd be wrong. The vast majority of agent live for their work. They LOVE it, even though it takes a huge toll on their lives in many cases. They feel frustration, when they can't find a place for a work they believe in. They strike out more than they succeed in many cases. So, look at it this way: You submit one book and hope and pray it goes to print. An agent handles multiple books, that they have placed their reputations and passions on, at once. Think about that for a second. They know they hold so many hopes in their hands, and most of them fail. That means, when you get "The Call" about a book deal, there is more than likely a failure they have to deal with after or before your call. Talk about "Peak and Valley"...
We, as authors, take more for granted than we ever should when it comes to an agent. The common view is that an agent wields Zeus-ian powers over literary life. In a small way, that is kind of true. Yet the power they wield, is tempered by an intellect we, as authors, don't readily fathom. They live in the real world, a business world, and they have to make tough choices. Agents crush hopes, but as God is my witness, I know they don't relish doing so. Their business must take personal tolls, because some leave the business after only a few years. They start with idealism of finding wonderful works to bring to print, and many do. Agents have to toughen themselves, to numb themselves, to the reality that of the tens of thousands of works offered yearly, few fall into the category they dream of, and live for every day.
There are bad agents. Some are scam artists, offering an easy road to your dreams. Remember the bridge reference earlier? Well, bad agents hide the "Bridge Out" sign. If you take the road of not doing your research into the qualifications and history of an agent... "Sucks to be you" will be your publisher. Never pay an agent to read your work. Never contribute money to an agent to "get the ball rolling". In fact, if an agent ever asks for money up front or at anytime, run! ( ****There may be a "returns-reserve coverage" codicil in your contract that is legitimate. Read your contract, and ask... that's right, your agent. That is what they are there for and why they get paid.)
I have touched on so very little of what an agent does. I haven't touched the things they won't do (But they will wash your car, mow your lawn and do your taxes... I was supposed to remember to do something before I posted this...Hmmm?). Reading this, you may say I'm a huge fan of agents, and you'd be right. I respect everyone for the job they do, and thank God when they are doing the job for me. Getting an agent doesn't insure the success that so many believe it does, because there are no guarantees offered or given. Agents are about building a business, your business. Build it right and winning is left to your words. After all, that is what started this dream. Be bold... Be smart... Be patient... If that doesn't work, write about VAMPIRES...