There have been a couple of fascinating pieces written recently that focus on the ever-expanding role of the literary agent. Though I’m relatively new to the profession, which means it’s impossible for me to provide firsthand knowledge of how things used to be, I certainly believe that a good modern agent is responsible for far more than finding you a publisher.
Jofie Ferrari-Adler, an editor at Grove/Atlantic and the man who brought readers the illuminating Agents & Editors series, contributed a fascinating new piece to the July/August 2010 issue of Poets & Writers. It focuses on the different ways an agent can advocate for a book in that crucial period between the contract signing and first publication, and it presents valuable perspective from a variety of sources on both sides of the book deal. Here is an excerpt:
This is where a good literary agent comes in. An agent who understands that at a time when there is an industry-wide blockbuster mentality that makes it harder than it’s ever been for editors to find the institutional support it takes to publish serious work well, it is more important than ever for agents to be fearless, savvy, and relentless advocates for their clients after their books are under contract. An agent who understands that the long and winding road to publication is fraught with trouble, and that her role has evolved into a symbiotic partnership with your editor. An agent who understands that in today’s publishing industry, your editor needs her constant presence and support—needling, brainstorming, cajoling, and sometimes even harassing. An agent who understands, in short, that your editor needs her help.
READ THE FULL ARTICLE
Jason Allen Ashlock, Founder of Movable Type Literary Group, approaches the same topic from an agent’s perspective, and makes an incredibly compelling argument in his piece for Digital Book World. Here is an excerpt:
…the [publishing] industry is badly in need of what an agent—freed from the previous paradigm’s constraints—can offer.
Rather than resting, invisible, alongside the content in the acquisition category of the chain, the agent must evolve into the work’s inseparable acolyte, accompanying the work across subsequent categories in the chain—development, marketing, promotion, and branding. While publishing is grappling with the consequences of disintermediation in the value chain, I recommend an Agent’s role is one of radical mediation in that same chain.
To make my point, I’ll risk overstatement: the agent—more than the publisher, even more than the author—is best suited to stand alongside the work through a variety of categories along the value chain, to ensure the work’s proper development and shape, and to shepherd its arrival into the communities ready to appreciate its virtues.
READ THE FULL ARTICLE
Let’s start the discussion by honing in on a key facet of the publishing process that has traditionally fallen in the publisher’s domain: marketing. Do you think it’s reasonable today for the agent to work in concert with the publisher to develop the marketing plan for a book?