Agents Only Care If Your Current Book Sells
Also see Rule Number Fourteen.
Just like publishers, traditional agents only care about your current book. That’s all.
On the other hand, a representative cares about all of your books—past, current, and future—and about you as a professional in order to reach their goals. It just so happens that the representative’s goals usually coincide with those of the author.
The really bad part here is that while a publisher isn’t in the business of taking care of authors, the agent is. For agents, they have a vested interest in making sure the authors they work with do well. (Think about it…agents and representatives both make their living by taking a commission (typically around 15%) from the author’s earnings. The more the author makes, the more the agent or rep makes.) The problem comes in because traditional agents look at their income for the next 6-12 months. After that, they have no concept of time, income, or anything else. This nearsightedness is typical of most businesses and not special to literary agents…I have MBA types in my company that give me the deer in the headlight look when I ask about a ten year plan.
A real representative will look farther down the road…sometimes a decade or more. This means that the representative has an interest in helping the author achieve long-term goals. This is a very different perspective on the entire process.
This also ties back to Rule Number Five. Just to say it again, agents handle one book at a time while real representatives handle all of the books from a particular author.
This means you need to look carefully at what you want your “agent” to do…
If you want to sell just one book to a publisher, you might save a few dollars by hiring a traditional agent. Maybe.
If, however, you want a long term relationship with someone who will accept and sell and place every single work you throw at them, then you need a representative.
Yeah, it really is just that simple. It’s a shame that more writers don’t understand the difference between agents and representatives.
The difference is usually measured in income by a factor of twenty or more. I know of one writer who was struggling with small-press and self-publication to make ends meet. His annual gross income was in the $50,000 range. He made the switch to a representative and in the first year he broke the $1-million barrier. In case you missed it, he was leaving $950,000 on the table.