Deb Tawna thinks finding an agent is like the happily-ever-after in romance novels

I write romance, so it’s no coincidence I often see life through a filter of heaving bosoms and greased abs.

It’s not just the love scenes (OK, it’s mostly the love scenes). Aside from that though, there’s a parallel between finding a great agent and achieving the elusive happily-ever-after.

The thing you think you want isn’t always what you need. That’s a common romance novel theme, whether it’s a guy debating between churches in a faith-based inspirational romance, or a woman plotting a threesome in a steamy erotica. Before I had an agent, I thought I might like to be represented by a larger agency with a big-dog reputation in my genre. After a year in just such a relationship, I realized that wasn’t what I needed at all.

For the last three years, I’ve been represented by Michelle Wolfson and her smaller boutique agency with a more personalized approach. I couldn’t be happier if she showed up on my doorstep every afternoon with a bouquet of roses and a bottle of wine.

Well, the wine might make me happier.

Equal partnership is key. In romance novels, you don’t see a lot of browbeaten heroines picking up the overbearing hero’s socks. There also aren’t tons of heroines flogging their submissive men (unless it’s a BDSM novel, in which case flogging is encouraged).

Naïve writers can fall prey to one of two misguided ideas about agent relationships – the chest-thumping notion that an agent is some sort of subservient employee, or the cowering, “I’ll lick the gum off the bottom of that agent’s shoe as long as she occasionally returns my calls.” Neither is quite right (though for the record, Michelle has a lot of cool shoes I’d consider licking if she promised to give them to me). Both agent and author bring something vital to the relationship, so balance and mutual respect is crucial to making things work.

You’ve gotta talk. There’s a stereotype in bad romance plots called “the big mis.” Short for “the big misunderstanding,” it’s where your story’s entire conflict could be cleared up in 30 seconds if the two characters sat down and had a conversation. In a good agent/client relationship, this isn’t an issue. You talk about your goals. You talk about submission plans. You talk about trashy TV shows and the superiority of Starburst over Tootsie Rolls.

My imaginary vacation in Jamaica with my wonderful agent, Michelle Wolfson. We also had an imaginary cabana boy.

Few things are more important in any sort of relationship than the ability to talk openly, honestly, and kindly (unless we’re talking BDSM erotica again, in which case name-calling is preferable to kindness).

Oh, and you want to know one area where agent relationships and romantic ones aren’t alike? You can’t have a romance novel where the hero and heroine never meet.

But in over three years of working together, Michelle and I have never met in person. We plan to remedy that in June at a national Romance Writers of America conference, but in the meantime, I’ll just have to imagine our delightful trip to Jamaica to do publicity for the release of Making Waves.

In my mind, there is a cabana boy with greased abs. Can you see him?

22 thoughts on “Deb Tawna thinks finding an agent is like the happily-ever-after in romance novels

  1. Great analogy. I have one romance novel theme that did happen to me, “Love at first sight.” When I heard Eric speak and saw him interact with authors, I felt instantly he was the right agent for me. Even though my newbie hormones had been raging for others.

    Here’s to ALL of our careers living happily ever after.

    K

    • I wondered if the romance novel analogy would be too oogy, an then I thought, “wait, I love oogy.”

      Tawna

  2. I finally met my agent last spring when I went to NYC to visit my publisher, and she was just as lovely in person as she is on the phone. I adore her. So glad you are in agent love, too!

    • I almost worry it’s been built up so much now that we’ll be all weird when we finally DO meet!

      Tawna

  3. I think we’re each going to need our own cabana boy for the trip. I’m envisioning a steady flow of drinks and lots of back rubs. Good thing we cleared up this “big mis.”

    • Duly noted, will order extra cabana boys and make it clear they will not be allowed to wear shirts. Or pants.

      Tawna

  4. Tawna – you’re hysterical. I love the way you put ‘lick the gum off the bottom of the agent’s shoes if they’ll only return my call’. I guess in the query trenches we are just so ecstatic to have ANY interest that we don’t think about the long-term relationship. Having my wonderful critique partner @Monica_BW sign with Michelle and sing her praises too makes me know that this is the relationship I want to have with my agent. So, when I finally DO get the call, I know better than to scream ‘YES’ at the first agent that offers and consider each offer carefully. Once the initial crying and happy dancing is over anyway.

    As always your sense of humor makes my day. And so do greased abs.

    • It’s very true that authors often forget to think of the long-term when they’re in that lust-driven stage of hunting for an agent and swooning over any attention. Glad you enjoyed the post!

      Tawna

  5. I love this post, Tawna. I’m still in the early stages of romance with my agent. We haven’t been working together long, but each time we’ve talked on the phone, I feel like she knows exactly what I want (well…I did tell her what I wanted, but that’s besides the point). She’s very down to earth which I adore. I don’t need someone to tell me this is perfect and wonderful and we’re going to make millions…not unless it actually happens. I want someone who’ll tell me what kind of trends we’re facing and where I fit in those trends and what my realistic expectations should be. And that’s exactly what my agent did.

    And are you saying that reading romance is like viewing the world through beer-goggles? I just wonder…

    • I briefly considered Photoshopping us in bikinis, but wasn’t sure Michelle would be amused 🙂

      Tawna

  6. Tawna, I’m afraid I have a serious issue with your post today.

    Tootsie Rolls are FAR superior to Starbursts!

    The agent stuff is all phenomenal, but come on! Synthetic chocolate totally beats synthetic fruit!!!

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