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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One thought on “6 Insights into the Changing Role of Agents in 2017

  1. Robert Gottlieb

    1. Agency size matters a lot with publishers without question. Large agencies represent authors that go right to the bottom line of major publishing houses. As a result the agreements struck with publishers (boiler-plates) are superior to those stuck by small agencies. Why? Because publishers want major books from the big agencies. Because big agencies have a large list publishers want access to.

    Size matters because publishers will do more for authors who are represented by big agencies from marketing to publicity and promotion. Again it is about the bottom line. Trident also has a Digital Marketing team which works with our authors and along side publishers. Knowledge is power. At Trident we have seen every sort of marketing plan and can incorporate elements from many into hand crated plans for our authors and the publishers we work with. Publisher’s love this.

    At a time when publishers are forcing small agencies and some large ones to give up foreign rights again size matters. Trident is known by publishers throughout the industry as an agency that holds on to foreign rights for our clients. Rights can be a very lucrative avenue of income for authors. It’s about career management.

    2. Brand is important world-wide for major agencies in the market place because it denotes an agency that everyone wants to be in business with.

    3. Social Media and the platform of the author are critical in the market place today. Publishers want to know what the author brings to the table besides a wonderful book. Most agencies are not equipped to offer services in this arena. Again Trident has an entire department devoted work with our authors. A strategic approach can make a substantial difference for an author in social media.

    Most agencies are ill equipped and leave it to the author and the publisher to figure out.

    4. An author’s platform and social media are interwoven. Understanding that dynamic is essential.

    Robert Gottlieb
    The Trident Media Group, LLC
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