You can ask fifty people, “What is the responsibility of a literary agent?” and you know what? You will get 50 different answers. There are no set rules or regulations that apply to literary agents, and I’m often amazed at what writers expect.
A literary agent is a professional business representative whose main objective is to find a publisher for her client’s work and negotiate the best possible contract. A skilled agent is open and straightforward, and tries to educate writers about the realities of the publishing industry.
Problems often arise when an author does not understand the extent of the agent’s role. A literary agent is not a therapist, social worker or a banker. Unless you’ve worked with an agent for a period of time, and have gotten to know her personally, you are business partners and not friends. It is important to realize that while an agent needs to be in contact with her authors, it is unrealistic to count on her to stay in touch several times a month. Most agents are too busy to be constantly available and as accommodating as their clients would prefer.
A literary agent is not a publicity agent. This is probably the most common misconception of a literary agent’s function. An agent gets paid a percentage of an author’s royalties because of the work she does before the manuscript is sold. She doesn’t take responsibility for the publicity of the book after a publisher has acquired it.
The most valuable advice I can offer about dealing with a literary agent is to respect an agent’s time and not expect services outside her capacity.