An agent’s job is to sell books to publishers, right? Well, yes, but it’s more than that. Agents partner with authors to help make their writing careers as successful, seamless, and enjoyable as possible.
Another thing agents do is champion worthwhile authors and books—trying to convince publishers to take a chance, even against market conditions or conventional wisdom.
Most agents have a few of those projects on their roster—the ones that have obvious problems with marketability yet we decide to represent anyway because we truly believe in them. We think the author has talent and deserves to be read by many people. We know they might be a tough sell to publishers, but we’re going to try anyway. The book’s just that good.
I know some writers complain about the publishing industry as if we’re all just mercenaries, caring nothing for the advancement of literature or the dissemination of important ideas. We all just want to make a buck. That’s the word on the street, right?
But the truth is something less black and white. Something more human.
Yes, many of us are trying to make a living in publishing, and that means we always have to watch the bottom line, spending our time on activities that have a good chance of being financially profitable.
But most of us went into the world of books because… we love books. And so, we not only look for authors and books we believe can be successful and find a large audience, we also look for books that matter. Books that touch our hearts, books that change our minds, books that are stunningly well written, books that feel necessary.
We take them on, and sometimes it takes a long time to sell them to a publisher. So if you’ve got an agent on your side who is doggedly determined to convince an editor to just read your work and catch a vision for it… and they’re willing to put in the time and effort it takes to persist against the obstacles… then your job is to be patient and keep believing in yourself. Write more books. Keep yourself busy. Allow yourself to feel good that someone sees that much potential in your work.
Try to avoid discouragement. Your subjective experience might be that you’re anxious, you want something to happen and you want it NOW. But quicker isn’t better. When readers are enjoying your book, they’re not going to be asking themselves, “But how long did it take to sell to a publisher?”
Things that are worthwhile need to be allowed the time to come to fruition. As an agent, I’m just as subject to anxiousness and wanting things to happen FASTER. I keep reminding myself, if FAST is what I want, then I’m in the wrong line of work.
If you have a book you believe in, and you know it’s worthwhile but there are external forces making it a difficult sell, don’t despair. There is always a way for an important work to find its audience. Agent or no agent.
Have you accomplished anything in your life that required you to be diligent and persist despite tall odds? What was it like? Did you reach your goal?
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