The Author/Agent Partnership
by Harlen Houghton
Saturday afternoon's “The Author/Agent Partnership” presentation by Susan Nystoriak of the Golden Wheat Literary Agency—part of the 2022 “Writer Meet Agent” event hosted by The League of Vermont Writers at Pierce Hall in Rochester, Vermont—started with an outline of the do’s and don'ts of querying, before getting into the details of what a writer can expect from the agent/author relationship.
Fact/Fiction: With multiple references to Schitt's Creek and the Rose family—contrasted with their trusty employee, Stevie—Susan used a combination of humor and sound reasoning to explain what makes a query stand out in the slush pile. Her advice included common sense advice about following the guidelines laid out by an agent or agency, and being patient when communicating, because the volume of queries an agent receives on any given day can be staggering (in the hundreds! And yes, I understand, a writer should avoid the use of exclamation points, but...HUNDREDS!). Politeness, too, goes a long way.
She also had a list of don'ts, including “Don't be an Eeyore” (Why anyone would begin their book pitch with the phrase, “You probably won't like this, but...” is a mystery best left to the writer of that line, and/or their therapist), and “Don't be pushy” (“I need a response within three weeks”—which only means that the submitter's writing sample will go unread).
Revision Roundabout: Susan emphasized that every writer should expect feedback from their agent. Feedback leads to revision, which leads to more feedback and revision, and more feedback and more revision. It's important to understand that submitting a manuscript to an agent is the first step in sculpting a polished product. Dubbing this process the “Revision Roundabout,” she underlined her point by including a clip from National Lampoon's European Vacation, in which the Griswold family is caught in a traffic circle and sees—from a distance—Big Ben. Over. And over. And over. (Point of fact: what they see is the clock tower at the northern end of the Houses of Parliament. Big Ben, the fifteen ton behemoth, is one of the bells within the tower.) Nonetheless, her point is that, while a writer might believe their job is done, what they have created is only the preamble to the finished work—which the agent will guide them toward, because it is in the agent's best interest to have marketable work with which to interest potential publishers.
Post Sale: Once an agent has found a publisher interested in a writer's work, they step back, Susan made clear. The process now shifts to the writer working directly with the publisher in order to complete the process and create the final, salable piece. Although the agent is not directly involved in the author/publisher/editor relationship, they are by no means done with the author, in whom they've presumably invested a great deal of time, and will continue working with on new projects.
Following the formal presentation, Susan responded to questions from the group, which ranged from how advances work to current trends in publishing, and included more personal questions about her own client list and work habits.
Overall, it was an educational and entertaining session, and, by providing a glimpse into what happens on the agent's side, beneficial to prospective queriers.
Harlen Houghton's background includes a degree in literature from Hartwick College and experience in design. In addition to writing fiction, he is a singer/songwriter and woodworker who, in November 1991, moved to Vermont for six months, and has yet to find a reason to leave.