Agent for Sale

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about agents. This is a natural occurrence for writers, like myself, who are at the stage of looking for an agent and tailoring what has already been written in that direction. One of the things I’ve been thinking about is that old adage that money flows toward the author, and how agents who have something to sell break this traditional model.

Some of the non-agenting things agents are doing these days for profit – hosting paid workshops outside of the independent conference model and even marketing self-created books and software that guarantee your idea as a finished novel in only 30 days – hinge on the borderline between providing a valuable service for value and taking advantage of hopeful potential clientèle. As a writer, I have some serious misgivings about working with an agent who engages in some of the financial activities at the latter end of that spectrum.

First off, there are ethics. As a nurse, I was taught that the relationship between a patient and a practitioner is sacred and that the patient should *never* be made to feel that they have to offer up a bribe to get good care. The AAR has a code of ethics, too. (The AAR Code of Ethics)

  • Agents shouldn’t charge up-front fees to read, evaluate, or respond to manuscripts (except when working with an independent conference).
  • Agents should not engage in activities that place them in a ‘conflict of interests’ with their clients
  • Agents belonging to the AAR promise never to mislead, defraud, or deceive any client or any other person with whom they do business

A lot of the activities I have come across agents doing outside of the agenting world, and using their status as agents to market, tread on thin ice with these very important principles. Marketing claims that promise your novel can be written and ready for an agent in X amount of days if you just follow this blueprint, formula, or plan smack of exaggeration, if not downright deception. Attempting to sell products to potential future clients based on the agent status has the potential to create a significant conflict of interest and give some writers the impression (whether intentional or not) that they stand a better chance of gaining said agent’s favor if they mention having paid $$ for the agent’s workshop, software, or book.

Secondly, what is the agent’s focus here? I’m a realist. I know that an agent has many clients and a life outside of the work place. No agent is going to spend 100% of their time trying to sell my novel (or anyone else’s) and that’s fine. But when an agent is interviewed for a writer’s publication and answers the question ‘so what are you focusing on now?’ with something along the lines of “My next $$ software tool to write your book for you!” it sends up a lot of red flags for me. Shouldn’t the answer be something along the lines of “looking for new clients” or “selling stuff for the clients I already have an obligation to” perhaps?

Maybe I’m too old school. Everything I’ve ever accomplished worth mentioning in my life has been achieved through hard work, diligence, strong convictions, and coming to an intrinsic understanding of the subject matter. I’ve been helped along the way – by books, by formal education, by self-learning, by my peers – but I have yet to accomplish anything worthwhile by just following someone else’s blueprint with little or no understanding of the processes involved.

So I’m more than a little leery of anything that promises I can skip all that there learning stuff and go straight to the finish line in X number of easy steps. Another old adage comes to mind here: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This cautious approach to spending my dollars on quick fixes is backed up time and again when the people I know who have spent those dollars remain unfulfilled hopefuls, or worse – end up dejected and disillusioned.

Both as a nurse and a moral humanist, ethics are vital to who I am and what I do. So ethics play a very big role in who I chose to send my manuscripts off to when it comes time to search for that perfect agent. I’m picky with queries because I want a good fit, and the agent who fits well with me will value ethics and honesty as much as I do.


What qualifications does your Ideal Agent have? Do you think that selling quick-fix products creates a conflict of interest for agents?

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