(By Chip MacGregor, President, MacGregor Literary, Inc.)
A good literary agent will help authors focus an idea, respond to the writing, perhaps offer thoughts to give shape to the manuscript, assist in the creation of a strong proposal, know who will be interested in the project, have the relationships to get manuscripts in front of publishing decision-makers, solicit offers, walk the authors through the decision-making process, negotiate the deal, and ensure contract compliance. Depending on the relationship, the literary agent may very well serve as encourager, timekeeper, counselor, career-guidance officer, and sounding board. Or the agent may serve as a business manager, helping authors map out the details of making a life in the arts.
While I play all of those roles at times, I don’t play all of them at once. There’s no one right relationship between agents and authors. Some authors want to talk through ideas; others don't care if they get my thinking on their ideas. Some need a lot of encouragement; others want me as a business partner, but they do not want me hanging out with them and slapping them on the back. So part of linking up with an agent is figuring out what you need.