Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Why Don’t We Take on Any Old Thing If We Think It Will Sell?

STATUS: Will I or will I not catch this cold? Verdict is still out although I stayed home the last two days hoping that would tilt it in favor of the “will not.”

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? AIN’T NO SUNSHINE by Bill Withers

Selling a book is not the same as selling a widget–at least for me (although I do know any number of agents who treat it that way and take on a whole lot of projects, throw them out there on submission, and hope maybe 2 out of 5 will stick).

On Facebook, I mentioned that I had recently seen a sale for a project that I read all the way through but in the end didn’t decide to take on and that I was thrilled for the author. One commenter just couldn’t fathom why I had passed if I could see the sell potential in the project.

The simple answer? Time. I only have so much time to offer to a new client and I simply have to love love love it to make the time investment.

Often times I work with the author through one or two revisions before submitting to an editor. It’s not like I offer rep one day and throw it out there the next. I want it to be the most amazing I can make it be. After all, it’s been a tried and true way for me to get really amazing money for my authors.

And what if the project doesn’t sell? Then chances are very good I’ll be spending a lot of time helping them get the next project into shape. And if I only took on a project because of its sell factor, chances are good I may or may not like the writing of the new project. That feels a bit risky to me.

I like taking on the things I feel passionate about because of the very fact that books aren’t widgets. Otherwise it’s just about the money and though that is one way to agent, it’s not right for me.


18 Responses

  1. Joseph Ramirez said:

    I like your style. If I were an agent, I would probably feel the same way.

    I actually kind of do feel the same way about my own writing. I have tons of ideas, but I don’t write every single one… I only write the ones that I love love love.

  2. Rachel said:

    I think the way you do it is best. I know I wouldn’t want someone representing my work if they didn’t love it. It makes it all about the money and that should never be what books are about.

  3. Caroline said:

    I think you’re right, Kristin. Publishing is a long slog and if you don’t love the project, you might be tempted to give up on it. I wish all agents were like you!

  4. Ashley B said:

    I think it’s commendable that you didn’t take on the client. A writer should have an agent who truly loves and truly believes in his or her work, not someone who was just in it for the money.

    By choosing not to represent the writer, you allowed them to find someone who did feel that way about the story.

  5. Nicole Mc said:

    This make complete sense to me. I’m sure your current clients also appreciate you being choosy with how you add to your work load since it will affect your time for them.

  6. Lisa C. Gant said:

    I really respect that. Publishing is hard enough when everything goes right, and if you take on a client that you’re not crazy about, it becomes that much harder. I wish all agents operated the way you do.

  7. Rachel Pudelek said:

    This makes a lot of sense. When an agent rejected my full, she was very kind in explaining that the ms was great. That she found nothing wrong with it, and that she was rejecting it for personal preference only. It broke my heart and I wanted to have my work published so badly, that I wished she’d just take it on anyway. But since then I’ve realized that I want an agent who gets my stories, loves my writing, and yearns to see my books on the store shelves just as much as I do.

  8. Bonnee Crawford said:

    Although it means that I’m less likely to get accepted by an agent, I’m glad that there are agents out there who value a story they’re passionate about over money and sell-potential.

  9. Brent Stratford said:

    Thank you Kristin. I love your blog and the time you spend educating us about the industry.

    I know you have alluded to this approach before and you clearly look out for your clients. When facing rejections it helps to keep this in mind.

  10. Kay Camden said:

    I’ve often wondered about this time thing. Specifically, is it okay to requery an agent for the same project after a certain amount of time? Maybe the first query hit their slush pile at a busy time. Do agents have slow periods and busy periods, or is it always busy?

    My gut feeling says no. It’s never okay to requery for the same project. But I still wonder…

  11. Ashley W. said:

    Thank you for this blog. I am helping my husband research agents, and so far this has been the most helpful place. You have answered all of my questions and then some!

  12. James Literary Services said:

    Kristin,

    I do the same thing. I make some authors very mad because I won’t accept their “best novel ever.” But we all have our standards and we need to live by them. I cannot tell you the number of Kindle edition books I read that I ask, “is this self-published?” and then find out it was not, giving me time to reflect on the value of a literary agent who takes time to make sure the best edited product reaches the publisher. We need to set our standards and live by them in our practice.

  13. Anonymous said:

    “I cannot tell you the number of Kindle edition books I read that I ask, “is this self-published?” and then find out it was not, giving me time to reflect on the value of a literary agent who takes time to make sure the best edited product reaches the publisher.”

    You need to step up your game, dude. Not all self-pubbed Kindle books are unedited. Many of them are being released by published authors with many publishing credits. And, they are making money.

    Another point: no publisher expects an edited book. They expect a neat, clean, tight mansucript with a good storyline. When the publisher buys the book they do the editing, and the copy editing. At least that’s how it’s always worked since I’ve been in publishing.

  14. Cholisose said:

    It’s great to hear you take on the projects you really feel passionate about. This is definitely the way to ensure that the books we read will be of the best quality possible.

  15. Sheryl said:

    I “met” Kristin at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference a couple of years ago. During a workshop, she read the opening paragraphs of a few projects she’d taken on.

    In each and every case, the author had a distinct and lovely voice…I would have read any of those books based on the voice and the writing alone.

    I’m glad there are agents out there who don’t simply look at the numbers and then approach the authors of the latest bestselling ebooks, but who look for quality writing.

    Bravo, Kristin. I wish you and all the clients you taken on all the best in this market, and it’s a difficult one. I recently (i.e., today) read a frightening statistic. Someone is predicting that this year there will be 14million new ISBNs on the market, compared with over 3million last year. If you think it was difficult to get noticed last year, welcome to the future.

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