Skip to Content

The changing role of the agent

15 August 2016

A recent interview with Sheila Crowley in Bookbrunch threw an interesting light on changing patterns of agenting. She is a wonderfully enthusiastic agent at Curtis BrownSee Curtis Brown listing London, who prior to being an agent worked in publishing sales and marketing, so she is noted for her strong sales approach. The interview is largely only available to subscribers, but some of her thoughts deserve a wider readership. In particular Crowley has a longer history in the publishing industry and can spot the trends:

‘There used to be a big divide between publishers, agents and authors. I respect that everybody has their own style, but I think there were a lot of agents who were uneducated about the bigger picture in the industry. It isn't just about getting a big advance and a great contract, it's a 360-degree management now and a 365-day job!'

The way in which the agent's role has changed is notable, with agents now becoming publishers themselves, often with ebook versions of their authors' backlist books. What hasn't changed is that it can take a long time for some authors to hone their craft and produce books with a wide appeal:

"Some authors don't hit a huge bestseller until their eleventh book - and Me Before You was Jojo Moyes' ninth book. You've just got to keep believing."

Then there's the changes which have come about because of digitsation and the opportunities for reaching your audience through the internet, especially key to the rise of self-publishing. But not only self-publishing, as Curtis Brown has been successful with its portal for submissions through the Curtis Brown Creative website and its Twitter "pitch parties".

But Crowley also comments that social media possibilities are not always an advantage for authors:

‘Social media is a fantastic advantage and a terrible curse. I confess I occasionally want to berate publishers when they ask an author ‘Oh, are you on Twitter? What's your social media platform?' Because sometimes, when publishers don't know what to do with a book, they rely on the author to use their social media and that becomes their campaign. Social media is important and so are blog tours, but if the publishers fall back on that as being the only thing, how do you find the consumer? You can't just rely on social media!'

But the opportunities offered by social media are of course one of the reasons why so many authors have decided to publish themselves, and therefore feel that they don't need an agent. We'll explore agents' roles more fully next week.

Bookbrunch is currently offering free subscriptions for booksellers, see their subscription page.