One of the biggest benefits of having a literary agent, is to have someone in your corner that knows their market really well.
As an agent, that means that we’re constantly in communication with editors, fellow agents and others to gather feedback and information about what specific editors and imprints are and aren’t looking for – and also extrapolating that into a bigger picture of where we think the market is shifting. Since we’re (usually) shopping several projects at once, and generally in our areas of expertise, we can use this knowledge for all of our clients.
I know I used this example before, but if I’m shopping a book about a donut for client X, and all of our responses are saying that publishers have too many donut books on the list – then if client Y says, “Hey! I have an idea about a donut!”, I’m likely to look at that feedback from the market and suggest that perhaps the new donut idea marinate a bit while we focus on another project of client Y’s. It’s not that I’ll never be able to sell another donut book again – but it might not be in client Y’s best interest to spend the time revising and shopping something that the market is already telling me they’re full on. (And most of the time, we can’t revisit editors or houses once they pass, so while it can be tempting as an author to be like, “Let’s just see what happens,” the flip side of that is that you may blow the opportunity to sell it later when the market or the client’s situation changes.)
I know, as both an author and an agent, that it can be disappointing when your agent tells you that a project should be shelved or marinate for a bit until the market changes. And I also know that you have to really trust your agent and their sense of the market to be able to accept that that is the best plan of attack for your long term career.
(And even then, as an author, sometimes it is still hard to put something to the side. If you absolutely can’t not write it, I think that’s fine too – there’s no greater feeling than working on a project that you are extremely passionate about! There is such a difference in writing something for the joy of it, and working on a tough revision – and obviously in publishing we need to embrace those joyful moments! But at the same time, I would probably still recommend working on something else your agent can sell in the meantime as well.)
Finally, there’s a difference between an agent telling you that a particular project isn’t currently marketable and an agent that just isn’t shopping any of your work, period. If you feel like you’re hitting a wall, then it’s time to have a conversation with your agent. Agents are still people with personal lives and responsibilities. If they’ve slowed down for personal reasons, they should tell you as their client. (Of course, they’re not obligated to share personal details, but you should feel reassured that they still are excited about working with you and that things will resume as usual when they return/are fully back.) But if you and your agent are having a hard time finding a project of yours that you’re both excited about, then that might be a different conversation.
Hope this helps if you’re currently working with an agent, and/or gives you a glimpse of what you can expect when you work with one in the future!
Posts in this series:
Working with An Agent: What does an agent do?
Working with An Agent: Step 1 - Writing your query letter
Working with An Agent: Step 2 - Researching agents and submitting
Working with An Agent: Step 3 - Getting the call
Working with An Agent: Step 4 - Responding to an offer
Working with An Agent: Step 5 - Your author-agency agreement
Working with An Agent: Step 6 - After your sign
Working with An Agent: Step 7 - If you decide it's time to part ways...