Monday, April 8, 2013

Agency Lessons: It Ain't about the Money

This past week I read a great article about why agents attend conferences. Lots of great stuff on there about networking, getting fresh ideas from the front line, and of course, discovering new talent. I was feeling the love until I read the comments, almost always a bad idea.

The general theme of most comments: This is all a bunch of bologna. We all know agents only care about the money.


To express my feelings about this, I turn to the Barden Bella's who say it best.

It Ain't about the Money

 If you count up the actual number of hours worked per week, compared the the actual amount of take home pay, it becomes pretty clear that literary agents are not in it for the big bucks.  That's not to say that an agent can't make a nice chunk of change if they happen to find the next best seller, but their odds are just as good as an author's when it comes to that outcome.

But the thing that bothers me most about those comments is the assumption that agents apparently should work for free. I guess the commenters feel that working in the arts means you shouldn't make a decent days wages. Do they think that writers, singers and sculptors should also live in the poor house? What is it about working in an artistic field that makes people think earning money is vulgar?

After all, I doubt that any of the folks who commented on the article willingly head off to the office every morning dreading pay day.

Back when I was a marketer with a day job, I worked my tail off. Partly because I genuinely liked my job (if you don't, you need a new one). But also, because I hoped that hard work would pay off with raises and promotions. Is being an agent or writer any different? No.

We work hard. We love it. And we hope that hard work will pay off with success.There's nothing crass about expecting to be rewarded for a job well done. Never let anyone tell you taking a pay check means you're only in it for the money.


  1. I think part of the problem is cons can cost A LOT. And some of them are now charging for pitch sessions. I agree agents do a lot of work (my agent does) and should be paid. But I can see where a writer who doens't have an agent or know any agents would think that if I'm paying $400 to go to a con plus $100 for the agent's critique, and the agent got paid to go to the con, the agent is in it for the money. More of the problem is authors usually do these things hoping to get discovered which rarely happens.

    And I can tell you this before I had an agent I wouldn't not pay for a pitch session, and I will never pay for a critique again unless it's like an editorial situation. I learned that one the hard way.

  2. Yuck, I am against paying for a pitch session. That doesn't seem like a wise investment considering it is free to query an agent.

    I will note that I'm not aware of conferences paying agents. I know that many provide travel and airfare in exchange for being a part of the panels. I'm sure there are some out there that pay, but not any that I've seen.

    1. That's interesting. I thought most big cons paid, and I read it on blogs. I guess there are more misconceptions.

    2. The really big ones might, but your average (insert town name) Fall Conference probably doesn't.

  3. I can understand not wanting to pay for a pitch session, but I don't get the anger. It's funny as an artist, I get asked a question all the time. How long did it take you to paint that picture? As if there is a formula to the amount of time it takes to do something equals its worth. Well, it make take me an hour, a day or a week or even a month, but that doesn't include the years in training to do that piece of work. I think people forget or don't consider that aspect.

    It's the same with writing or being an agent. I could go on about being more understanding and walk in the other's persons shoes, but I also don't know those who compained or were angry.

    Another informative post!

  4. I remember paying for an agent critique and I thought that was worth the money. Getting feedback from CPs is vital, but having an agent or editor offering the same feedback seemed to be to invaluable. After all, does your unpublished CP really have it right? And I had no problem paying for it because I was asking them for a service.

    I didn't realize that agents aren't actually paid to be there though (just reimbursed travel expenses) - that makes me even more in awe of them!

    1. I didn't have a problem paying for a critique for the same reasons. Until I got the critique back and really didn't think it was close to on par. Now I'll only pay for a critique from someone who has given me an impressive sample whatever their background. I'll also say my unpublished, unagented critique partner is amazing. What she says matters to me.

  5. I think agents should be paid a lot more than they are. You guys do so much!

  6. I don't understand why writers would get mad at agents or even think that they're in it for the money. Common sense would tell you they aren't. I mean, whenever I think about all the query letters they have to go through and all the time just doing that takes up ... and how they make money off of selling their writer's work on commission (so they aren't really making anything going through the query pile) ... goodness, that's a lot of work for not a great amount of pay. Obviously they're in it because they love books and writing (I'm sure there are bad lit agents out there that are in it for the money, like the ones that pay a reader fee... but most a good book lovers).

    I think it's partially because of the paid critique session that someone gets mad, but that's still silly to me. You're asking them to do something ... so why not give a little?

    What is it about working in an artistic field that makes people think earning money is vulgar?
    This is a question I wonder a lot. Artists clearly are willing to work a lot more and get paid less (because they don't think hr/pay but finished piece of work/pay -- and even then it's a maybe you'll get paid a little). But everyone's got bills to pay.

    Great post!

  7. Playing devil's advocate here: If they WERE in it for the money, would that really be so bad? I only ask because I agree with your wonderment about why being involved in creative fields automatically means you don't deserve to earn a good living, or that they payment you receive should barely keep you above subsistence living. Honestly, a lot of agents are giving so much good advice away for free (through social media, books,etc.) that overpaying for conferences really isn't necessary anymore.

  8. I find this whole topic puzzling. I've known a number of performing arts agents, and they certainly do it for the money. No one works for free. And if you're a client who can't get bookings and make them money, they'll drop you. Business is business, even if it's a glamorous business. So what if agents (literary or otherwise) make money? That's what everyone's supposed to be doing.


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