Wednesday 4 September 2019

Take my money, the value of a good agent - Ciaran Murtagh

The relationship between writers and their agents can sometimes feel one sided. We do all the hard work and they take 15% of the rewards. That doesn’t seem fair! 

We live in a world where the need for an agent seems less clear. We can publish ourselves in a variety of ways and if we wish to go the traditional route then access to those who can help us has never been more transparent. Thanks to Twitter and Facebook we can make direct contact with publishers and their emails are often in the public domain – so what is it an agent brings to the party?

In the rose tinted halcyon days of the Hampstead set, they were a confidant and a friend. Taking you out for long lunches to discuss your latest career defining masterpiece. Moulding you into the visionary they always knew you were. Then there’s the more modern view of agents – hardnosed short termists who’ll drop you as soon as the hits stop coming.  Thanks Ed Reardon.

So every now and then, it’s natural, as writers, to find ourselves questioning the role of our agent and whether or not we need one. Could we do this better on our own, or at least just as well and take all the money? Often, when things are going well, we probably could. When editors are approaching us directly for our next idea, when books are coming thick and fast, it seems a doddle. All an agent does is say ‘yes’ and ‘how much’ – we could do that.

The truth is, I’ve found you should never judge a value of an agent when things are going well. The true value of an agent emerges when things hit the buffers. My best agents have always been the ones who phone to check in when they haven’t heard from you for a while. The ones who call you in for a meeting to discuss your next idea when you don't actually have one. The ones who set up a meeting with an editor they know you’ll like just to see if something sparks.

Most importantly, they’re the ones who’ll wade in when the money isn’t coming or isn’t what it should be. A project I’m working on recently went very wrong. It was my biggest job of the year. The money coming from it was significant and without it I was going to be in trouble.  Without my agent I’d have lost the lot, as it stands her intervention has saved the project and renegotiated the deal in my favour. Has she earned her 15% -  one thousand times over, just don't tell her that.  And it wasn’t just the money, the emotional support, the advice,  the reassurance, all of that gave me the feeling that I wasn’t on my own in a business where you often are.

So if you’re thinking about whether or not you need an agent in your life, get out there and meet some. Don’t take the first one that says ‘yes’, find the one who’ll have your back, no matter how tough things get – and if you’re planning to make a career out of your craft, they will get tough sooner or later and then you'll come to appreciate an agent's true value. 

1 comment:

Moira Butterfield said...

Agree 100%. Having worked for many years without an agent, I can confirm that it makes a huge difference - to the way publishers deal with me, to my contracts and to my sanity.