May 9, 2010

WRITING ADVICE: Nathan Bransford 2: What do literary agents DO?

Nathan Bransford (NOT pictured above) is a West Coast agent with the New York literary agency, Curtis Brown, Ltd. For the past nine years, he has been writing a popular blog reflecting on and illuminating the publishing world. Humorous, serious and ultimately enlightening, I’ll be looking at how THE ESSENTIALS (PLEASE READ BEFORE YOU QUERY) have had an impact on my writing. I am using them with his permission and if you’d like to read his blog (which I highly recommend) go to

To those of us who do not HAVE agents, this one can be a bit of a mystery.

Belonging to a few online communities, I’ve heard both horrible and wonderful stories about the agents people sign with. While it seems that the horrible stories outweigh the wonderful, my guess is that it’s because people want to a) warn others from a particular agent, and b) they are looking for sympathy.

There’s nothing wrong with either goal, but for those of us who have experienced neither the horror NOR the wonder, it seems to be a moot point. Those of us who have reached the point of knowing we NEED an agent and not having one would (might?) willingly suffer the bad to find the good.

Nathan Bransford expands briefly on the subject of what he does, but the bare bones are here:

1) acts as a filter between writer and editor

2) edits a writer’s work

3) submits to the right place

4) negotiates

5) monitors

6) retains

7) shapes careers

8) advocates

However, I notice that he left out the most important thing that he does. I don’t know if other agents do this, but reading his blog illustrates it VERY CLEARLY. It’s something I found out long ago that I value highly in my relationships with people. This particular skill is one I sought when looking for friends. It’s one of the main reasons I married my wife of 23 years. It’s one of the things that lets me connect with some students more than others as a teacher. It frequently dictates what I watch on TV or in movies.

It is something that Nathan Bransford has – and it’s something so intangible that I made the mistake of trying to capitalize on it when I began to submit my work to him while seeking representation. It’s something personal. I blogged about a mistake I’d made in assuming a personal connection that wasn’t there (read about the disaster here: just because I value this intangible quality so highly.

Though he doesn’t state it explicitly, it seems to me that Nathan Bransford could easily add to his list: Maintain sense of humor.

This sense of humor is implicit in almost everything he writes.

Corollaries to this bit of unspoken advice include, “Don’t take yourself too seriously”, “Keep a good perspective on things”, “Relax, things will only happen as fast as they happen”, “If an agent/editor/publisher/reviewer/reader rejects you, take any wisdom from it that you can and move on”, “Smile and the world smiles with you, weep and you weep alone”.

Even the Bible offers a corollary in Luke 6:21, “God blesses you who are hungry now, for you will be satisfied. God blesses you who weep now, for in due time you will laugh.

I’m looking forward to that day – and I’m looking forward to finding an agent with whom I might laugh.


1 comment:

GuyStewart said...

Michael: I tried to post your comment but it disappeared into cyberspace! If you want to add it again, I'm sure second time's the charm! I read it quick, then posted it...and I can't remember exactly what you PLEASE post again!