6 Insights into the Changing Role of Agents in 2017

agents, authors, publishers, booksA panel of literary agents met at Digital Book World 2017 for a lively discussion about the issues and concerns surrounding agents today. The panel had expertise in a range of genres and target audiences, and included Ginger Clark, Brian DeFiore, Regina Brooks, Laura Nolan and Christy Fletcher. John Mutter moderated.

Here is a snapshot of some of the topics that are affecting agency life in the new year:

1. Agency mergers. As news of recent mergers has arisen, the agents pondered whether this is a trend. The reason for mergers, it was said, can be simply that similar agents believe they can work well together and share resources.

2. Agency size. When asked whether the size of an agency made a difference, the panel offered the suggestion that size may not really matter. Some small agencies have great taste and handle their clients with care. What it comes down to is the preference for the agent and the author: some prefer larger, more formal agencies, while others prefer smaller, more hands-on agencies.

3. Agency influence. The agents discussed the power of an agency brand. One panelist observed that publishers offer larger advances to agencies with strong brand personalities. Another posited that agents work on behalf of their clients and should highlight their clients’ brands. This agent suggested that an agency’s reputation is more important than its “brand,” as an agency with a strong reputation brings a sense of urgency to its offerings. When these agencies offer a manuscript to an editor, the agent said, that editor is more likely to read it quickly, saying, “I better read it today or another editor will read it.”

4. Social media. The agents agreed that social media is important not only for keeping up with the trends of the business, but for attracting and communicating with authors. One agent said, “Social media is important for client care, to be more accessible and to be more transparent.” The agents observed that recently enthusiasm has moved from Twitter to Instagram. Strategy is a lot more complicated, they conceded, but they’re adapting “to meet the customer where they are.”

5. Acquiring new clients. One agent noted that there’s “never a dearth of potential clients.” He suggested that if an agency opens its doors one day, the next day they might have 100 queries in their inbox. The issue for agents is finding the authors who have potential for big careers. One agent offered an interesting analogy. If you go out to sing karaoke, she said, you may hear a lot of beautiful voices. But it’s not enough to have a beautiful voice. Agents are looking for big, professional voices who can sing at the Met.

6. Author platforms. Finally, the agents discussed author platforms. One agent descried an author platform as an “ongoing conversation that an author has with an audience.” One shouldn’t confuse an author platform with an author’s audience, though. A platform is not defined by the existence of the audience itself, but by the way an author communicates with them.


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