Wednesday, February 24, 2010

In Praise of the Good Literary Agent

by Patricia Sprinkle

Behind the pages of most books lurks an invisible presence—a midwife, a slave driver, a guardian angel—also known as the literary agent. I’ve had a three in my life, two excellent ones and another who would have made a better Chicago meat packer. I cannot thank my two good ones enough. The other? I suspected for a time that he had killed his boss and hidden him in the agency basement.

But a good literary agent? S/he is the person who . . .

. . . wades through dozens of bad manuscripts to find one that is publishable—if enough changes are made;

. . . finds tactful phrases to convince an author that those changes are necessary if the book is to sell;

. . . endures numerous publishers’ cocktail parties, luncheons, and conversations in order to pitch a book to the right person at the right place and time to convince an editor to read it;

. . . must persuade a writer that the advance is all s/he can expect in the current market, but keeps a hawk’s eye on contracts and royalty statements to be certain the author gets all s/he has earned;

. . . must harass the writer to meet deadlines and the editor to release the checks—and remain friends with both.

A good literary agent knows what a writer can do better than the writer does, presses for a long-range career plan when the writer is barely thinking of the next chapter, and is masterful at imparting bad news without breaking a writer’s heart, because a literary agent knows better than anybody—unless it is a writer’s spouse—how insecure and fragile a writer is, how little the writer believes in his or her own gift for words.

For all that, what does an agent expect? Fifteen percent of a writer’s income and perhaps an acknowledgment line in the book. It’s not very much.

Most readers will never know or care that the book would never have appeared if a literary agent hadn’t served as yenta to bring an editor and writer together, as midwife to persuade the author to push harder to birth the book, and as taskmaster to insure that the author’s royalties were paid in a timely fashion. But next time you read a good book? Be grateful not just for the writer and editor, but for the literary agent who brought them together.I lift my glass to mine. You know who you are!

Patricia Sprinkle’s new book, to be released March 2, is Hold Up the Sky, a novel about four strong women who meet crisis with courage and determination but discover they still cannot survive unless they stand together to hold up the sky.


Anonymous said...

It's nice to see such a positive essay on literary agents for a change.

I had no idea how much they did.

オテモヤン said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
TOM said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Wanda Jewell said...

Congratulations Patricia - we love having your book as an Okra Pick -