Agents: POV from the Publishing Side

So, someone asked me recently – agents. Do I need one? What do they do? How do they fit into the process? There’s a lot of advice out there for authors on these points already, but I thought I’d add some random musings as a relatively new editor.

From the point of view of an editor: agents are good! In practical terms, they reduce our reading piles – and considering that I have more manuscripts than I can read simply from the submissions I get from agents, that’s a real blessing! If a manuscript has been through an agent, I know it’s already been verified as, a) good writing, and b) something I’m interested in.

The downside of agents is that someone else has already sorted the pile; they introduce another level between the editor (who picks the books to publish) and the excellent manuscripts out there, and mean that potentially, something brilliant won’t get to us – either because the agent hasn’t picked it, or because it doesn’t make its way to the editor who will love it specifically.

However – on balance, despite the extra level of what is often seen as gatekeeping, I’m all in favour of agents. The fact that I don’t have to spend time sorting through manuscripts to get to the ones that fit my criteria (it’s things like throwing out genres we don’t even publish, discarding a short story collection when we’d rather have novels, ignoring the ones who want me to read the entirety of a badly-written 200k manuscript… *sigh*) is definitely a bonus and lets us spend more time working with the authors we are publishing, and spending more time looking at the manuscripts that do fit our criteria, and therefore we do want to publish!

Most of the meetings at the London Book Fair had two purposes;

  • to introduce editors to agents (and in this case, introduce a new editor, aka me! to agents)
  • for the editors to find out what the agents have on their lists, and for agents to find out what the editors are looking for

At the base of this, the editors are the ones driving the market. We can see what is selling; we’re seeing what’s coming out, what’s being submitted, what we want in our lists for the next year or the year after that. We also have things we want to see; more diversity, an epic fantasy, more grimdark, the next [insert author here].

And so agents are responding to that. They need to check in with the publishers to see what we want to see, and let us know what they have that would suit that – and what they need to look out for as submissions come in to them. But they also get to push things; maybe there’s something we haven’t considered, or they know we’d like.

And that’s where the personal connections come in. As an editor, it’s why I definitely appreciate the chance to meet agents face-to-face; it’s knowing who has what manuscripts on their books and who can send me the genres and styles I’m looking for. And because various agents have met me (and my colleagues), they know what we’re on the lookout for – and so will send things to us that we might want to see. It’s been really fun to meet a lot of agents and then get more of a connection – both over social media and face-to-face, and there’s a bunch of agents that I’m hoping to meet at WorldCon for the first time!

That said, I’m also loving that I’m able to follow authors individually – I can see what they’re publishing now, what they’re working on, and what they want to write. Social media is amazing for connecting people in the book world – readers, writers, editors and agents! And it’s always really fun when something comes together and you find a book that you know readers (which includes editors!) want to read.

Basically, it all comes down to finding amazing books!