Brenda Bowen, an agent with Sanford J. Greenburger, is using Entourage-related images to enhance her talk (subtitled, Somebody Has to Channel Ari Gold.)
There was a time when an writer didn't need an agent, she says. You sent your manuscript, an editor bought it, and they became your editor for life. Richard Jackson was Judy Blume's editor for 30 years.
The agent's job now is to get a book in good enough shape to go to an publisher. These days a manuscript must be more polished before it's presented to a publisher than it needed to be 10 years ago.
Agents create strong relationships with certain editors because they reflect their tastes. They schmooze with editors. They know which ones are cat people and which ones are dog people. It's important for agents to know everybody--assistants, editors, marketing folks, etc. An agent's job is not done once the book deal is signed. The agent's job is to help their authors work with their editors. (Brenda said she even will look over drafts of emails her authors are writing to editors before they send them.)
An agent, she says, takes the heat so you can be a star.
(Brenda gave an email address for submissions and a secret word for the subject line for all the attendees in her session. But I'm not telling.)
A couple of Brenda's pet peeves:
Seeing "Fwd" in the subject line
Queries that start with a rhetorical question
She recommends writers subscribe to pubishersmarketplace.com (go in on it with your writers group) and read about the deals. It's a great resource, she says, when you are at a point where you've finished your book and love your book and are ready to submit.