A long while ago, Moonrat wrote a lovely post on why you need an agent. It’s nice to see someone say this from the editorial side of the desk, and I’ve kept that post in mind all these months.
I do have to add one thing that I know now that I didn’t know a year ago. A year ago, when I was looking for agents, I looked at publishing deals as the end-all be-all. More was better. More money was better. More debut sales were better. And to a certain extent, that’s true.
But agents do a lot of work after the deal, too, to make sure that the relationship between author and publisher is productive and fruitful. I’m in e-mail contact with a lot of writers–a lot of debut authors in that crowd–and while I can’t break confidence to give any specifics, I feel like over just the last week, I have seen a million scenarios where someone has said, “Help! What do I do about X?” X might be a deadline the author has to miss because of an unexpected sickness, or a miscommunication with an editor, or a question about what to do in such-and-such a circumstance. Any number of things. In all of those instances, it turned out that the right answer was, talk to your agent.
If your agent is just there to make the sale, she’s not helping you along in your career enough. Her goal should not just be to negotiate a great advance for you (although she should do that, too). She should also make sure you get the support and help you need so that you deliver a great book and get the maximum push from the publisher, so you earn out your advance and you both start earning royalties. When you’re trying to decide on agents, don’t just look at sales. Talk to clients and see what the agent does for them behind the scenes. Don’t just look at first sales; look at what they do for author’s careers as a whole. Your agent is your partner in your career; choose someone who will take your success as seriously as you take your own.
(In case you are wondering, my agent is surely one of the best.)