I’ve had people ask me about becoming an agent, and it’s
true that anybody can hang out a shingle and say they are an agent. There are
no licensing requirements, courses one has t take or tests to pass, which is
why people have to be leery of unknown agents. But acquisitions people know
this and a submission from an agent they don’t know can receive even less
attention than a slush-pile submission from an unknown author. Personally I
would have never jumped off myself without being associated with a known agency
like Hartline.

So, how do people start new agencies successfully? Most come out of publishing
where they established their name in the industry with a known publisher. I’m
one of few that came out of the writing side. The key is having contacts,
having people in the industry who know who you are. Either that or they get
accepted to intern at a big established agency. Most agencies have such interns
patiently working their way up the ladder. Most have college degrees.

The next key is building those contacts. The first few years I worked doing
writing conferences at the rate of a couple a month, building my name and
building exposure. I was looking to acquire some good clients, but maybe even
more importantly I was firming up those contacts with editors. Not a lot of
money made during this formative period. Being a little off the beaten path I
had the choice of apologizing for living in the Texas Panhandle or coming right
at it. I’m not big on apologizing, so I wear the big hat and boots and a
flowing mustache and hope it causes people to remember me. I’ve cut back and
this year only doing a dozen conferences and if the economy keeps going the way
it is going may cut back a bit more.

At Hartline Joyce was my agent, and still is, but she gave me my start and mentored
me. I’m very grateful to her and loyal to her as well. In return I have
mentored some people myself. I had a young lady come up to me at a conference
and convince me that I needed an assistant and that she would work for free to
get the experience. This is known as a remote internship. I helped her get the
experience she needed to go on and found her own Indy press. 

Since then there have been others willing to work to get the
experience they need and to start forming contacts. One has gone on to become a
Hartline agent alongside me, two others have become editors at small presses
and one founded her own PR company. I have a couple of others working in that
capacity with me now and they put in quite a bit of work as I let them try more
and more of the process to learn what is going on.  I worked with a client
to form his own literary agency and another client to found another Indy press.
Those who have moved on from it did 2-3 years with me until they had enough of
a grasp of what was required for me to be able to write them a letter of
recommendation to someone.

So what am I saying it takes to become an agent? It takes learning the business
somehow, from someone. It requires gaining visibility and contacts either by
getting with an established organization or building credibility ourselves. It
takes learning about contracts and negotiation and getting comfortable doing
both. It takes learning how things work in the industry and how to keep up with
the people changes as well as the publishing changes.  It takes some business savvy and sales
ability. In short, it takes a whale of a lot more than someone just announcing
that suddenly they are an agent.