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Friday, October 1, 2010

Straight From The Agents: “Work Like Hell”

I used to imagine that agents mainly want two things from their clients: quality production and timeliness (sorry to make a writing career sound like factory work). Accomplishing those two things is a feat in itself, but I left something out. Something big. I attended an agent panel at the RMFW Conference a couple of weeks ago, and the following question was asked:

What do you want the author to do in terms of publicity?

Agent X spoke first and gave the answer (paraphrasing here), “If the author wants to remain relatively anonymous and just do their thing, I will respect that. I have no problem taking on the publicity for a book I sell. If they want to get involved, fine, but if not, that’s fine too.”

I was stunned. I wasn’t aware that agents catered to their clients like that…maybe if you had Hemingway or Salinger for a client you’d stay the hell away and be happy they threw you a manuscript now and then, but in today’s world? I didn’t realize that happened.

Turns out, some of the other agents didn’t appear to agree with the first speaker either. After a brief period of silence, Super Agent Christine Whitthohn of Book Cents Literary leaned into her microphone to respond:

“I respectfully disagree. I want my clients to work like hell.”

It was a pretty cool moment. She elaborated, and the other panelists agreed heartily.

Getting the book down on paper/screen is only one part (albeit, a pretty darn important part) of being a career writer. Web presence, web presence, web presence…it was mentioned time and time again. Blogging, Facebook, Twitter…and whatever you put out into the virtual world, make sure it represents you well. You don't need to overextend yourself or stretch yourself too thin. Right now, I am consciously choosing one thing. I don't update my Facebook page on a regular basis, and I don't do Twitter. I blog twice a week, and that's it. That's what I'm comfortable with. That said, if I ever become a career writer, I WILL make time for other things, because that's what needs to be done.

It was intimidating to listen to, but there’s good news. Even if you aren’t familiar with some of these things, you’ve got some time between landing a contract and the launching of your title. Educate yourself, network, and make an effort to keep up contact lists. Writing the book will get you the first job…but being a good publicist will turn that job into a career.

Like I said, many of us are still concentrating on the “getting an agent/getting published phase,” but it’s smart to know what you’re getting into. Unless you land someone like Agent X, you’ll be expected to work hard on publicity and marketing. The guidance will be there, but you’ll need to, well, “work like hell.”

Another bit of good news is that we all love what we do, and putting in tons of hours for something you love is always rewarding. I posted a few links in the upper right part of this blog in case you want to take a look :)

Have a great weekend and I’ll see you on Tuesday!

FINAL TIDBIT: Elana Roth from Caren Johnson Literary just announced she's accepting queries again. She's looking for MG and YA, and lists specific things she'd like to see.


  1. Thanks for posting this. I was surprised, too, to hear Agent X's comment. My expectation of myself is that I'll work like crazy promoting my books. After all, no one wants me to succeed more than I do!

  2. Ah, you had my hopes up there for a moment. An agent to do all my publicity for me! If I ever get the good fortune to be published, I shall have to save up for a publicist since I am the very shy writer type. Hey, I can't even bring myself to approch friends for my daughter's 4H fundraisers.