I started thinking the other day about agents. I've had an excellent agent, I've had a very bad, back-stabbing agent, a mediocre agent and no agent. But, regardless of how it all turns out with your agent, what is it exactly you should expect of him or her?
Well, for one thing, this is a business relationship. It's not that it can't be friendly, cordial, even turning into a close relationship, but it is business. And as a business, you agent is in it to make money. It isn't a crime, a personal affront or any other negative thing you can imagine, it's simply a fact of life. No money, no business and you would have no representation. There it is.
Another thing is your agent isn't there to be your mommy or daddy or to hold your hand (although some may at times hold your hand). Still, that isn't their job. It isn't required that he or she encourage, support or sooth your wounded feelings. It's not their job to validate your creative angst or to love and cherish you. The bald-faced truth is no one cares about your career as much as you do. So what that means is the agent is focused on selling your work and making you some money (him or herself as well). The burden of everything else, including where your artistic asperations are taking you, your income, the reputation you are building and your own professional satisfaction rests exclusively with you. Sorry, but that's the truth.
Many writers, because of their relationship with their agent and because that agent is a part of the commercial mechanism that gets a book to market, expect too much from their agents. Many remember seeing agents in movies or TV shows where the agent is just about 'baby-sitter in residence' with the writer. Such images are unrealistic and the writer needs desperately to keep the relationship in context. Just because an agent doesn't return a call or has a reaction to a new work that isn't as wildly enthusiastic as you'd like doesn't mean you should allow it to affect your own sense of self-worth. The agent is another link in the chain. Hopefully a strong and good one, but they aren't always right, and they aren't often available for that hand-holding.
A writer must develop a very strong working relationship with his or her agent, understand that (shock!) the agent has other clients and sometimes that call will not get returned and will have to be placed again. No insult, just busy. Writers are, by nature, vulnerable folks. But, if you can create a solid understanding of the relationship between writer and agent, if only intellectually and not in your gut, things that are perceived as slights or even body-blows will be lessened.
So go out there and find yourself an agent if you're ready - just remember business is the name of the game - it may well be cordial but it is business.
To Hell and Back