Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My Kingdom for a Mentor

In the past few weeks, I've seen a number of bloggers (self included) who have commented that they would pay an agent for career advice. If you watched the bidding for the agent meeting items in the Do the Write Thing for Nashville, it's pretty clear that people will pay a lot for some one on one time with an agent.

As writers, we are lucky that there are some great agent blogs out there to help us navigate through this increasingly-difficult industry. But what we're lacking is personal guidance. Yeah, we want to the agent to get us the book deal. But what we -- or at least, I -- want is an industry professional to help us decide what moves to make to help get that writing career.

There are a few reputable agents out there who do this, but not many. It does beg the question of how a writer would distinguish a 'real' agent from a predatory one. For myself, I would want advice from an active agent who has legitimate sales to good publishers, not someone who sets themselves up as an 'industry expert' even though there are no numbers to back up the claim.

But how would it work? How would an agent decide who to mentor? Would it work like a lawyer who accepts a case and charges by the hour (I think we're talking some big numbers too, like $200 per hour?) That puts us back into a new version of the query wars -- an application (complete with writing samples and a list of ideas) for consulting services. That would still leave people out in the cold, because you are looking at a whole new slush pile.

So what's in it for the agents? Many agents say they see queries for books/writers that they love but can't sell, so they have to pass (there's no money in it for them). But if they are earning income by helping a promising writer to develop their career, it could be a long-term payoff. The AAR says that agents cannot charge reading fees, but there is nothing in there to say that they can't charge consulting fees.

I'd love to hear your take on this. Would you pay an agent by the hour for some mentoring? How much would you be willing to pay?  Do you know of agents who do this? Or agents who've talked about this? If you have any links, put them in the comments and I'll include them here in the blog.

And in the absence of mentoring by an agent, we have turned to mentoring each other, which is one of the amazing things about this wonderful blogger world. If you haven't already, go check out The Bookshelf Muse's 1000 followers contest. She's offering to be a mentor!!!! 


  1. I've read so many interviews with agents where they say this: it's a subjective business. What I'm rejecting today is another agent's gold.

    So with that in mind, I think having only one agent mentor could be damaging, just as with listening to advice from only one person. If the agent can be objective and give you advice based on what they've seen in the industry, it could be very helpful - but if they're tailoring your work to what they would want to take on, then you could be putting yourself in a place where other agents will dislike it even more than before.

    It also seems that agents really want authors to do the work themselves - and I agree that we should. We should rely on a community of authors to help us through the process, not agents. Agents are guides. Most of them admit that they could not write a novel. I think having a published author as a mentor would be far more useful to a writer.

  2. Having the mentorship of an agent would be a wonderful thing, but there is definitely a lot of ground for abuse, especially with frauds who would take avantage of the unsuspecting writers. And there would also be the conflict of interests for agents, too (what if the author does (paid) revisions but the agent still doesn't like it enough to take it on?).

  3. I've paid a published author to mentor me before, which I think is just as good. Just because an agent mentors you doesn't mean they are going to sign you though, does it? People still have to be aware of that. Despite this I think if an agent has time to mentor someone, then they should have time to take a risk on a less commercial project, work on it with the author until it shines, and pitch it till it dies! Right?