Agents Role in Getting Published to a Big 4?

I have always been really confused about the process that occurs after you get an agent and representation. For example, Chloe Gong’s These Violent Delights is blowing up like crazy right now and she got a deal with one of the big 4 publishing houses which is so amazing. But when I look at her agent, it seems as if These Violent Delights and Chloe Gong is her only well known and popular customers.
In this case, does your agent really matter? Do their connections / their publishing company connections matter the most here?

Just really confused as I am looking into querying and considering a few and of course would love to be picked up and published by one of the big four houses and am unsure of the best way to go about this.

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From what I understand it doesn’t matter who the agent is when trying to get published. They care more about if your work is good or not and if it will sell. I just know that if you get an agent they do a lot of the footwork for you. And some agents will even soften the blow of rejection letters.

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Basically the agent will pitch your book to all editors they think your book would be a good fit for. Whether or not it includes big four depends on a case-by-case basis. Whether you get a big four deal is also another different thing.
And to be honest, Chloe’s book didn’t blow up because it sold to big four, though of course, it makes a huge difference, it blew up because she made lead title (the select few titles that publishers put most of their marketing attempts behind.) A mid tier author at a big four gets the same push as a lead title at a smaller publisher, for context on how much marketing that means.
And while a newer agent at a smaller / not very well known agency can get you a good deal at big four, the difference between the same deal with them and a power agent is huge - because a newer / smaller agent lacks negotiation power. They often won’t be able to get a bigger advance, for example. But they still can negotiate, just not a whole lot.
Power agents, on the other hand, are offered a better deal from the start - that means higher advance, better marketing brief, better positioning in the market, less rights with the publisher.

Let’s look at Chole’s agent - one big giveaway that she isn’t a power agent yet is because of the rights the publishers have to her author’s deals - most publishers she’s sold to have either all English or world rights, and only on the books that are lead titles or by established authors she’s managed to get them to budge to North American rights. But she’s also got other good authors - Tasha Suri (who is very critically acclaimed by a lot of bestselling authors, and was an award nominee), and Heather Walter, whose debut was a lead title (I think) at Del Ray US and UK.
This agent is on my list for querying, and I really admire her list - even if it isn’t very big or she isn’t a power agent.

Just goes to show that while there’s a difference between power agents and smaller agents, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the best fit for you. I’d suggest researching to see whether they’re legit and then querying those who seem like a good fit - and go with the one that fits your process best, whether that means they’re a power agent or not.

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Pretty much what others have said.

The agent thing doesn’t exactly matter, but it does… in a way. It matters because you need to make sure they’re a good agent who can find the best home for your book—they’re considered your business partner, and of course, they should care about where your book goes because they only get paid when you get paid (when you have a contract).

In order to do this, they pitch it to anyone who will listen, anyone who might like the book and who knows it could sell (after all, they also know what sells and wouldn’t have chosen you otherwise). This means the book can land anywhere from the Big Four to a smaller but still notable publishing house.

But just because they should care, doesn’t always mean they’re supposed to be a good agent. There are some agents who are bad, who don’t take the time to shop around, who don’t try to go for the big stuff, etc. That’s why it’s good to do your research on said agent, and or their agency.

So, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who the agent, in particular, is… but it does matter to know that they are good at their job. If that makes any sense?

Also, you can still have a great agent but not get published by the Big Four, whether at all or at first. Getting published with any of the big boys is a rarity, and also very lucky. And it doesn’t matter if you get published under their main name or their imprints (because even if you do under an imprint, you are still being published by that publishing house)—it’s an honor overall. But it doesn’t happen to everyone.

On that note, just because a book was published under the Big Four also doesn’t mean they will become an instant success. The market for the book has to be right, the marketing you do also needs to be good, and so on. So much goes into making a book a success, and sometimes and most of the time, it just comes with luck.

Another thing to think about is that a lot of books will become a success after the book is released (and I’m talking, a few years after). The Hunger Games, for example, got published in 2008, but didn’t really start to catch fire (pun intended lol) until around 2011-2012 when the movie was being made. Same thing happened with Harry Potter. Not many read it, until a few years later as the series went on and people started seeing it more often, then the movie came and around that time, it blew up.

These Violent Delights may have blown up, but it seems it was more recently (within the last year, so it’s technically taken the book a year to become such a huge success). And yes, it seems that it made it to the bestseller list, but unfortunately, the bestseller lists are curated. This means that even an unsuccessful book can make the list. :grimacing: Plus, even if it is on the bestseller list, doesn’t always make it a bestseller in every aspect. From what I’ve gathered, a bestseller that isn’t an actual bestseller is on the list because they liked the book or there’s connections in there between agent/publisher to the curators. Or, it can mean it’s a bestseller for the particular genre they’re in. Like if a historical fiction novel hit the list, it doesn’t mean that everyone is buying it. It can mean that, for an historical fiction novel, it did really well in that genre. If that makes any sense?

But I personally don’t know if this is all correct. It’s my two cents. :sweat_smile: Still learning as I go haha.

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I think the agent matters…because it comes down to their connections in the industry and how busy they are, too. There are pros and cons with both newer and more established agents. The new agent will likely have the time to work with you…and also may give feedback even on a rejection. Their going to have a little more time to devote to doing all they can to get your story published. However, they might not have the connections. I have some friends who landed agents within the same agency. One of them has a book coming out next year. Her book was picked up by a small publisher…which has me wondering if she even needed the agent. The other has had his agent for over a year and it’s gone nowhere. As I’ve done research about this agency, I really have doubts about their connections in the industry.

With the more established agents, they might have the connections but not have the time to devote to you and your story. And of course, there are established agents who have burned bridges when it comes to their contacts.

Ultimately, you really have to do your research. You may find that the agent doesn’t look legit (lots of fraudsters out there). You may find that the agent is too busy for your taste or that the agent is a jerk and you just can’t work with him/her. You may find that some agents have a more hands-on approach and will edit and hold your hand through the process while others are purely focused on the contracts.

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I haven’t started querying, but I can reiterate what I’ve heard Shawn Coyne say. I respect him for many things, but I think that when it comes to the traditional publishing world, he’s worth listening to because he’s no longer tied to it. He opened his own publishing company, so he doesn’t have to worry about things he can’t say - he’s not afraid to lose his job for telling the truth. Lol.

The process according to Shawn (based on everything I’ve heard him say):

  • Agent’s assistant scans all incoming querries and hands over the interesting ones to the agent.
  • The agent decides which ones are worth pursuing - quality matters, but more so, the agent is always looking for something specific. The right place and time matters.
  • If the agent finds something good, they start utilizing their contacts. And here, reputation matters. Shawn would call up his contacts at the big publishers, and they’d get back to him the same day because he had a reputation for pushing out bestsellers. If he got an offer from one, he’d call up the others and say, hey, I’ve got an offer, are you ready to counteroffer? And that would get a move on to speed up the process.

So what I gather is that agent matters because they have connections.

But that doesn’t mean that an unknown agent is bad. They’re just going to have to work a lot harder to get your manuscript noticed. The wait will be longer.
If you don’t have a reputation as an author yet, and you get an unknown agent, then you’ve got two things working against you.

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The agent ABSOLUTELY matters. Agents have different strengths and weaknesses. Agents have different skillsets. Agents have different CONNECTIONS. Agents have different reputations – and yes, that matters.

There are agents who will get a better offer based on THEIR name alone.

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That is so interesting to me! Is there anyway to find out the most well known and respected agents in the industry? My genre is NA dark fantasy/gothic horror of sorts

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Look at established, bestselling authors. Their agents are most likely big. Agents who are at the heads of their agency with a large client list and one or two assistants / associate agents (which is where someone with little to no experience would start out) are also powerhouses.
Other flags to notice would be how often they take on clients - the best agents take only 3-4 clients a year, because they already have a list built. They will also have a lot of sales happening.

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I used Publishers Marketplace (which isn’t free, sadly). They have a long list of agents that make the most big deals. I checked each on QueryTracker to see if they rep what I write.

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