Susan Gleason is a real-life, honest-to-goodness New York City literary agent. What that means to you probably depends on where you are in your writing career. When I tell some authors they say, “Wow,” like I just told them I won the lottery. Others sneer like I just reminded them of every bad experience they’ve ever had as a writer.
And if I tell you that I e-mailed Susan in early February and she called to reply this week, you might ask why I would put up with such treatment.
The fact is that agents are part of the yin and yang of the publishing world. For example, there are two kinds of publishers: the small press and the majors. You can submit your manuscript to small press publishers and they may read it and even publish it. Advances, support and distribution will all be small or nonexistent. The majors pay substantial advances, have powerful distribution arms and can offer substantial backing if your book warrants it. However, they won’t look at your manuscript unless they get it from a reputable agent.
Hustlers and crooks aside, agents also come in two varieties. Some will invest the bulk of their time into finding a home for your manuscript. They can do that because you are the biggest name author they represent. But they haven’t brought any publisher a big money maker, so publishers don’t hold them in very high regard.
Then there are agents who HAVE brought money makers to the publishers they work with. They have proven they can pick a winner, so when they talk, publishers are more apt to listen. What that means, of course, is that these agents spend a substantial amount of their time on bigger fish and only take on newcomers if they really believe in their work. Having proven themselves to publishers, they won’t represent anyone who’s going to embarrass them. For this reason, I know that Susan believes in me and my writing.
I met Susan through one of her clients, Warren Murphy. She got another client, David Hagberg, to blurb one of my manuscripts. She’s representing Barb D’Amato and has asked her to blurb another of my manuscripts.
When Susan called, it was to tell me that one of my manuscripts is with Kensington right now. And that she’s had another to Thomas Dunn, Bantam and Warner Books. It was to share feedback she got from an editor at St. Martin’s Press who was kind enough to recommend changes that could make that book more commercial. To tell me that at Book Expo America she’ll be discussing a couple of my properties with a film rep. And that she’ll meet with me during Thrillerfest in July so we can present a manuscript or two to some industry names in person.
So this is why you need an agent. Not just because they can help with contracts or because they know which editor might want your work (yes, Susan has these attributes too.) But most importantly because, while writing is an art and a craft, publishing is a business and if you want to win big you need someone in your corner who is also inside the business.