I’ve said this about literary agents many times, but if you still don’t believe me here’s Bob Mayer to reinforce the message:
Most writers just want an agent — any agent. But a bad agent is worse than no agent. Not “bad” in terms of them as agents (although they do exist) but bad in terms of an agent that believes “well, maybe I can sell this” versus an agent who believes “I love this manuscript and want to sell the heck out of it.”
My first published book came about through the efforts of my fifth agent. Agent One signed me up about 10 years ago on the strength of another book, a novel, and scored a sale to a major publisher. Agent One took a job in Hollywood and Agent Two, the head of the firm, stepped in. He promptly fumbled things when the editor who’d bought my novel jumped to another house and her replacement killed the contract after a month or so of dicking around. Another agent in the same firm took me on, only to quit to start a family. She confided to me that Agent Two hadn’t even read the manuscript and was caught off-guard when the new editor decided to swing his corporate dick, and advised me to look elsewhere for proper representation.
(People in the publishing business tell me that my experience is the worst story they’ve ever heard. Lucky me, right?)
So goodbye to Agent Two and his company and hello to Agent Four and a different company. After Agent Four marketed another novel without success, I showed her the proposal for a nonfiction book. After much foot-dragging, she said she thought there was the germ of a book somewhere in the proposal but she wasn’t sure how to reach it. Well, I knew how to reach it: I just needed an agent who could reach publishers with it.
So goodbye to Agent Four and her company and hello to Agent Five, who read the proposal and loved it. Through her good efforts, The Last Three Miles was published to worldwide acclaim, with rabid customers storming bookstores to demand their own copies, printing plants running day and night to keep up with the demand, and Brinks trucks leaving sacks of cash on my front porch.
Okay, that last part was a bit of an exaggeration. But the point is that getting an agent isn’t the answer to all your problems as a writer. It elevates you to another, higher level of problems. A good agent can be like a gift of gold. A bad agent can be like an anchor chain around your neck.