I’ve been meaning to write about agents after recording a podcast for Kill Your Darlings journal some weeks ago, but with the release of Megumi and the Bear I haven’t managed to find the time. I promised myself that I wouldn’t upload the podcast until I could write about everything I left out for the sake of brevity but, frankly, that might never happen. So instead let me offer a few thoughts and say that if you’re a writer thinking about getting an agent, this is the podcast for you.
I had the pleasure of interviewing one of Australia’s most experienced agents, Mary Cunnane, and respected authors Jackie French and Marion Halligan, who have opposing views on the value of agents. Jackie only had an agent for two months early in her career and the experience was a negative one. After advice from fellow authors, she decided to represent her own interests. Marion Halligan, on the other hand, has had the same agent for her entire career and swears by her.
One of the issues we discussed was the perils of an agent securing a large advance. All three of my interviewees had some fascinating experiences to share, with Jackie and Marion agreeing about the dangers inherent in accepting a large sum. However, I also want to refer you to this article by Chip MacGregor that Mary Cunnane directed me to. It eloquently makes Mary’s point that an unearned advance doesn’t necessarily equal a loss for the publisher. It’s a clear and compelling argument, though it doesn’t necessarily alter the perception of a book that hasn’t earned out its advance, and the way that might impact an author’s career.
The reality, however, is that very few authors are in the position of worrying about whether their advance is too large. In the podcast we discuss a range of other matters, including what an agent does, how to secure an agent, how to distinguish the good from the bad, the pros and cons of having an agent, and the ins and outs of contracts.
Authors often share their agent ‘horror stories’ but as Marion says, the thing is to get a good one. Easier said than done, of course. It’s common knowledge that these days it’s harder to get an agent than it is to get a publisher.
Given her extensive experience Mary Cunnane is undoubtedly one of the ‘good ones’. Having interviewed Mary and had the pleasure of listening to her speak at a Canberra Small Press Network gathering, it is evident that she loves what she does and is a strong advocate for her authors. So it seems appropriate to finish with her response to my question about what she most enjoys about her job: ‘It’s endlessly surprising … You just never know what’s going to come up. It’s fascinating. It’s exciting … It’s a great intellectual journey and its fun and a challenge … And books can change things. I really still think that.’
On that encouraging note, you can listen to the podcast below. It was first published on Kill Your Darlings’ website here.