I have always felt I wanted and maybe even needed an agent before publishing. I viewed and agent as someone with the expertise and insider info who could market my stories to a variety of publishers. I also wanted someone who could look out for my best interests once I got to the contract phase. I learned that I should be expecting a little more from an agent.
I had the chance to sit in on panels with three different agents Josh Adams, Michael Bourret and Steven Malk. All three talked about the usual duties of finding a publisher and contract negotiations. However all three talked about being so much more to their authors. They talked about managing the long term careers of their authors and illustrators. I have to tell you that I am especially excited about the prospect of a career manager. After all, I am a writer and an artist who would prefer not to be a starving writer or artist. Another interesting comment from Michael Bourret was that he wanted the author/illustrator to consider all options (including other agents) even if he has made an offer to represent a particular author. He wants it to be a perfect fit for him AND the author. I got the impression that all of the agents were seeking that perfect match. After all, they want a long term profitable relationship just as much as author/illustrator. This means that they are going to be very selective (some receiving 6000+ submissions a year) so that they will also be able to support any client with all their resources.
I had a chance to visit with Michael Bourret after his panel and I finally understood one important thing. I have a very picky sense of the art I would like to hang in my house. Oh sure, I can look at other art and think “I appreciate that piece but I would never hang it in my house”. This is also is true for agents. They may appreciate a story or the artwork but if they don’t love it then how can they fully represent an author/illustrator.