First we’ll review a few of the things a good agent does:
- Guides your career
- Looks for potential problems with contracts
- Negotiates on your behalf
- Edits the drivel you might otherwise release into the world
- Tells you you don’t suck when you’re fairly sure you do
I could have used this kind of support from the start. On my first day of school, my parents dressed me up in an itchy tunic, white blouse and knee socks, handed me a lunchbox and told me to follow my big sister to school where I would ultimately learn to fend for myself.
The trouble started right away. I walked into Mrs. Day’s class—without representation, I remind you—to be confronted with the delectable Jamie McPherson. How was I to know that, during story time, his t-shirt would brush against my cheek, predetermining my scholastic path? Or that, from that moment on, my every classroom decision would be colored by the tingly feeling on my face?
Within weeks, the teacher realized I’d done the entire year’s work already. My sister was two years ahead of me, and I’d been doing her workbooks since I was five. When Mrs. Day called me to her desk, she learned that I’d not only completed the entire first grade curriculum, but the second grade as well. She said she’d like me to skip ahead to second grade, then handed me a note to give to my parents.
I turned around and wandered back to my desk, passing Jamie and his floppy white hair. I sat down and thought about it. Hard. Then Jamie turned around and asked for a pencil and I noticed he had a little dimple on one cheek.
I gave him my pencil and tore up the note. It would be two full years until I’d encounter any new material at school.
This never would have happened had my agent been sitting at the next desk. First of all, he’d have vetoed the tunic. Maybe even the knee socks. Secondly, he’d have kept my focus away from Jamie McPherson’s t-shirt and on my work. And when Mrs. Day made her offer, he’d have pointed out the advantages and disadvantages of skipping ahead. He’d have scanned the note for potential pitfalls, then presented it to my parents—being careful not to tarnish my image by revealing my tawdry weakness for dimples.
Then, once he’d won over my parents, he’d have negotiated the highly coveted two-year deal by suggesting a move to third grade, which would not only create a wider gulf between me and Jamie, but would launch me into my money-making years that much sooner. (A child agent can only live so long on pinky-swear promises and smuggled Kool-Aid crystals.)
Fast forward to the next blond cutie, Don Anderson. So cute that I lost the ability to form words in his presence. Don teased me after school one day, which both thrilled and paralyzed me. I knew I had to tease back or he’d think me bland, unworthy of his golden-boy attention. I struggled to find something to say. Something witty and clever that made me sound desirable enough to walk all the way home. Something that made my hair look longer and my Lee jeans look like Levi’s.
“You’re a penis,” was all I had.
Don’s face fell. He spun around and disappeared into the bushes. He told his sister, who told my sister, who told my mother. Again, things would have been different if I’d had representation. My agent would have pointed out that my dialogue, while succinct, was both inelegant and puerile. That the recipient might not be charmed by it. That a simple, “What you say is what you are,” accompanied by a blush and a giggle might better secure his affections. And after Don fled, my agent would have said, “Onward!” That there were plenty of other boys I could entice with my freshly edited responses.
When I was eleven, my parents called me into the family room to explain that my father was going away because of something I’d never heard of. Divorce. That night, as I lay on my bottom bunk with my life blown apart, my father walked in. He sat on my bed and uttered a cliché I’ve despised ever since, “Every cloud has a silver lining.” I’d never seen a cloud lined in silver and I was fairly sure my beloved father leaving wasn’t going to be gilded with anything but soot.
Eventually, my mother began dating the man who’s now my stepfather. And when the kids on the bus cornered me, asking me who was the guy using my dad’s lawnmower, roaring with laughter when I lied and said he was my uncle; it would have been nice to have been able to call for reinforcement. Though, even my agent wouldn’t have been able to negotiate, edit, guide, or soothe this problem away. Even he wouldn’t have said, “Onward.”
But he might have brought in a publicist with really good spin.