I get asked this question A LOT, and it’s one of the many topics I cover in my Highlights Foundation courses on Children’s Publishing.
Agents do a lot of things, but some of them are more important than others.
Here are what I say are the three most crucial things, plus a bonus tip:
1. Agents contact publishers.
But they don’t just get waved in through the closed doors that are so common these days. They also have relationships with many editors and art directors, and they know who wants what.
2. Agents negotiate contracts.
But they don’t just ask for larger advances, and sometimes get them. They also know what the “boilerplate” language that occupies 90% of a contract actually means, and often get it improved.
3. Agents keep track of financial stuff.
But they don’t just bug a publisher when an advance is late. They also keep track of your royalties and other earnings, and give you the information you need for your taxes.
To do those three things well, I usually say that an agent should have worked for a publisher and/or agency before setting up as an agent.
But for my bonus tip, I want to add another option. Some agencies have agents whose prior experience was mainly as an author. I’ve come to think that that is OK, if the agency where that agent works has a contracts manager and accountant (or people with similar skills) to provide the necessary support to that agent.
These are things you can ask about when considering an agent. It’s worth the homework to set yourself up in a mutually beneficial relationship that is a good fit for you and your work.