Deb Joanne Talks about the Writer’s Marriage

I’m talking marriages today. Not literal ones, but the kind of marriage a writer has with her agent. “Don’t be silly,” you might be thinking. “It’s a business relationship where the agent works for the writer; nothing like a marriage!” And you’d be right in some ways, (I’ve never shared a bed with an agent, nor taken him/her home for Rosh Hashannah dinner) but in others, well, just bear with me.

Trust me when I say you need to find a great match in an agent, because chances are, once you get on the publishing roller coaster, you’re going to need the support of a cheerleader/negotiator/hand-holder/shoulder to cry on. Even the most stoic and pragmatic of writers need an objective business partner who can not only negotiate on her behalf, but also reel her in when she’s put on her crazypants and can’t be objective and smart about important businessy stuff.

But before you can get married, you need to do some online dating when you’re looking for an agent. Online dating is scary for the same reason online grocery-shopping is scary—you want to squeeze the bread and knock the melons before you make your choices and commit. But there are some tools to help your online agent dating be as painless as possible. You first want to weed out all the scammers. You know, those slick guys who wine you and dine you and then find themselves in Greece and their wallet has been stolen and can you just loan them your life savings to get them home where they’ll pay you back with interest? Yeah, you don’t want to end up with one of those guys. So I suggest you stick to known and recommended resources like – a great website where you can cross-reference all your information. You can also vet out scammers at Writer Beware.

So when you have a few suitors, how will you choose? Like a mate, you need ask questions and see if you’re going to be a good match. And, just like in the real dating world, if you’re honest with yourself and know upfront what you really want in your suitor, you’ll save yourself from choosing the wrong one. And like dating, you want to ask around to see how other people feel about their relationships with the agent (polygamy is okay here!) and are there any exes who may have some things to say. Don’t be afraid to do your due diligence. This is an important, potentially career-making or breaking thing—you want to do it right.

And then you need to talk to the agent to get a feel for them and how they work. Like spouses, every agent is different. Do you want one who will help you editorially or are you looking for more of a salesperson who will leave the nitty-gritty editing to you and your editor once you sell the book? Are you looking for a fling (where the agent signs you on one book) or a long-term relationship (are they signing you, the author with the hope of sticking it out through your career). Do they have editors in mind already? Are they chomping at the bit to get your book on submission? You want them to love your work this much—it’s sometimes a long haul and you do not want to get in deep and have your agent lose interest. Use your gut on this one—if something feels wrong, step back and figure out why. If it feels right, still take some time to mull it over. Important decisions are always best made with a little thought and distance.

Like good marriages, agent-author relationships can be very satisfying and filled with good times and mutual respect. There’s nothing quite like getting that call from someone you really admire when she has an offer on your book and SHE is as excited as you are. Sure, she’ll get paid from that sale, but maybe she’s an agent because she loves books and wants to see authors make more of them. It’s not inconceivable—you probably don’t write just for the money, do you? You want to find someone who is in it for the love and the money and who you can work with well with. Someone who will sit on the roller coaster beside you and hold your hand and scream and laugh along with you. And then, when you get off the ride, she’ll hold your hair while you chuck in the bushes. And THAT’s what makes for a great marriage.

10 Replies to “Deb Joanne Talks about the Writer’s Marriage”

  1. Excellent post, Joanne! So many writers are willing to take any offer they get, because what if no one else asks them to the dance–er, offers to represent them? What everyone needs to realize is that a bad match with an agent (like a bad marriage) is worse than no match at all.

    Of course (being me), this line had me giggling helplessly: “Online dating is scary for the same reason online grocery-shopping is scary—you want to squeeze the bread and knock the melons before you make your choices and commit.” Kind of holds true for marriage, too, when you think about it. 😉

    1. I did think twice about the melon-knocking, but hey, it’s still a truth. And it really is so important to get a good match and you’re so right: the wrong agent (or a bad agent) is way worse than no agent.

  2. “She’ll hold your hair while you chuck in the bushes”

    Joanne, that may be my new favorite Deb Joanne line.

    This is such a clever post–and with so many truths in it. I think it’s common too, in agent-writer relationships, like in romance, to have several relationships before we find who we truly click with.

    1. Ha! I couldn’t resist on that one, but honestly, there are so many times publishing has been a roller coaster, from the extreme highs to the horrible lows, that it felt right to put that in. And you’re right – sometimes you gotta kiss a lot of frogs! (not to say agents are frogs, but you get what I mean)

  3. Good Morning

    Great Post Joanne, an insight for all of us who do not know or feel the pressure of having a good agent let alone know how to start a book.

    Keep up the good work. Looking forward to reading this weeks blogs.

  4. The only thing I’d add to this is that you need an agent you trust completely and one who’s honest. By “honest” I don’t just mean someone who won’t cheat you, but someone you have faith in so that when they say, “Here’s the deal we can get for this,” you have no doubt that it is, indeed, the best deal you can get for your book; someone who, if they say, “No, don’t do this or don’t do that,” you’re able to say, “Okay, I won’t do this or that because my agent says so and I trust her completely.”

    1. Great point, Joe – that trust is absolutely essential. We need to be able to put 100% faith in our agents, for sure. Thanks for weighing in!

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