The Author-Agent Relationship- Anushi Mehta
Securing an agent was almost as challenging as waiting for my IB exam results to be announced. I’d pulled all-nighters, written and edited my butt off, shouldn’t that be enough to get an agent (or get into the top university)? Evidently not. My work was out there, in the metaverse, dissected, ranked and rated to see if there was anything in there that was worth investing in.
For two years, on and off, I submitted to rounds of agents, picking out a fallen eyelash each time praying that this would be it. The year I got my agent. The all-knowing, bhagwan-like person who would transform my life by chanting positive mantras into my work. Of course, this is not quite how it played out.
This post is to help early career authors navigate their relationship with their agents, but I wanted to set off by explaining that an agent isn’t God.
As a newly-agented writer hoping to advise other writers on a matter that is fairly subjective, I’ve relied on podcasts, articles, conversations with other agented friends and finger-numbing scrolls through Twitter threads about agents (what’s up with Boris Johnson getting lost amidst his speech and trying to compensate by talking about Peppa Pig!?).
So let’s begin. Congratulations, you have interest from an/ multiple agents, but what do you do now? How do you know they are the "one" for you?
First and foremost, an agent should be a champion for your work, one that pushes you to be the best writer you can be, but also makes sure you don’t lose faith in your work.
When my agent first read my work through a #DVpit giveaway, she sang praises about my work, but also was very clear that the book might work better if I slashed off the first chapter.
Secondly, communication is key.
The way I see it, an agent is the creator’s eyes and ears through the submission process and it’s their responsibility to share what’s going on behind the scenes. In an ideal scenario this is a long-term relationship so setting clear expectations about what you expect and what they can give is essential. You need to find an equilibrium and style that works for both of you.
My agent and I communicate via emails, zoom and also have a private Facebook group with other clients. Some authors, myself included, go through spells of isolation, especially when deep in a project. Moreover, I’ve realised that diverting my attention to something that I have control over (i.e. working on something new) helps ease the stress of being on submission. At these periods contact may be limited, even though I know my agent is still putting my work out there. On the other hand, you may like to touch-base on a biweekly/ monthly basis. It’s your decision and it's important to express what you need.
A final factor to understand is that the agent-creator relationship is ultimately a business one.
By this I mean that it is worth researching (via QueryTracker, Publishers Marketplace and word-of-mouth) about sales records, industry and business knowledge and their standing within the publishing industry. The agent should know how to negotiate and know what to ask for. The caveat here would be that newer agents with fewer sales may have a fresh and enthusiastic approach as there’s more on the line for them. It is a good idea to ask them their vision.
Different agents may work well for different creators as everyone's needs and wants are so vastly different, but I believe advocacy, communication and business know-how are vital factors for anyone looking for an agent to represent their career. On that note, I am leaving you with a list of questions based on resources from Alexa Donne and Jim McCarthy.
What is your turnaround time with questions?
How do you prefer communicating with clients?
What did you like?
Do you have editorial feedback? How will you share your feedback?
How close to submission ready is it?
Where do you see it fitting in the market?
Do you have imprints and editors in mind?
How many editors will you go to before giving up?
Who decides if the manuscript is ready to go- you or me?
Will I get a list of editors/ batches before submission starts?
How do you share submission status updates?
What happens if this book doesn’t sell?
How early do you want to be involved in future projects? How prescriptive are you on what I write?
At what point should I send you a project (first draft, after CPs and polish, etc.)?
How long is your turnaround for notes on a new project?
What happens if I write something outside of my genre?
What do you like about your agency?
Are you being mentored by anyone at your agency?
How many clients would you like to have / do you feel is manageable?
Who handles subrights (in-house or outsourced)?
Does anyone from the agency attend Frankfort or Bologna? If not, does the agency produce a catalog for fairs?
How involved would you be in the subright process?
What kind of support does the agency offer on marketing and promotion?
Under what circumstances would you part ways with a client?
What happens to me if you move agencies or leave agenting?
I’d like to speak to some clients who have sold and some who haven’t.
Anushi Mehta is a first generation Belgian-Indian who grew up in charming Antwerp. She pursued degrees in psychology and primary teaching at Warwick University and met her husband while working in London. Now, they live in Mumbai and everyone from her two-year-old to her 88-year-old grandma teases her for always feeling cold.
After moving to Mumbai, Anushi completed an introductory course on learning disabilities and ‘Yoga for the Special Child’ by Sonia Sumar and then worked as a special educator until her son was born. Moreover, she oversees a primary school in her ancestral hometown, where she focuses on raising literacy levels.
Anushi discovered the power of voice when she began inventing stories about spunky Indian girls for her daughter. It is her dream that each of her stories feature masala chai. In addition to honing her craft with courses at Highlights Foundation and The Writing Barn, she is an active participant of 12x12 and Desi Kidlit, a community of writers from the Asian Diaspora.
Anushi has also been selected by WeNeedDiverseBooks as one of the “sixteen creative, rising voices”. Alan Gratz is mentoring her for her MG, LEVEL PLAYING FIELD. She is also a chronicler at #LOVEnotfear, a mental health awareness campaign on the psychological impact of the pandemic encouraging values of love, hope & unity, one story at a time. Finally, Anushi is an interviewer at WeNeedDiverseBooks and a contributor at The Word - A Storytelling Sanctuary.