Pub Rants

Does Size Matter?

 25 Comments |  Share This:    

What a silly question. Of course it does. The real question is how do you define “size”?

Is size defined simply by how many books an agency or agent sells in year? Is size defined by the number of agents on board and the size of the support staff? Or is size defined by the number of zeros behind the deals an agent makes?

Which is the size that matters?

This is why researching possible agents and learning more about the industry is so important.

For example, it’s not a question of whether an agency is a boutique agency or a big house like ICM; the real question is how powerful are they?

There are small boutique “agencies” that are very ineffective and a quick look at the sales record (foreign rights included) or lack thereof will make it clear. Then there are “small” agencies that carry very big sticks. Most of my agent friends own their own show and all of them easily sell over 50 books a year and get, in Deal Lunch terms, very nice, good, significant, and major deals. They are powerhouses.

Besides, the only real difference between an ICM and a boutique agency is the location of the staff. ICM is all internal while a boutique agency partners with the players externally.

Same support staff on board—contracts manager, accountant, publishing lawyer for the issues, foreign rights manager, assistants, etc.–only the staff location differs.

Or that’s how it should be for effective boutique agencies. Avoid the ones who don’t have a support staff in place. And if a small agency is interested in you and your work and you don’t know whether they have the needed connections, ask.

So, does this size matter? Doesn’t seem like it but I’m biased because I can be considered a boutique agency. What about the number of books sold in a year?

What would you prefer? An agency who sells a 100 books but all in nice deals (under 50k) or an agent who sells 10 or 20 books a year but does very nice, good, significant, and major deals?

I guess if you can find that agent who does a 100 books a year and all for major deals, grab him or her—if they’ll have you. That many books a year means the client list is pretty full. You want to make sure you have an agent who has time for you. Many authors can tell you horror stories of being lost in the crowd. There is such a thing as an agent who has a client list that’s too large in size and the less successful authors on the list slip through the cracks.

So size does matter. Just make sure you know which definition of “size” matters the most to you.

25 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    Kristin, I really don’t know who you are trying to impress. I count 24 deals for you, since your inception. So I guess, according to your own criteria, you don’t qualify as a BIG little agency either. What was the purpose of this crap anyway and what will happen to you now that chick-lit is dead?

  2. Eileen said:

    Size doesn’t matter- fit does. Just like in clothing you might take a size 8 in one store and a 12 in others- the label doesn’t matter. What matters is that your behind fits into the pants without erupting. You need to figure out if you can cram your ego into an agency with whatever neediness you have and be confident that you look good. Based on some postings I must guess that some have a pretty BIG ego.

  3. Sandra said:

    This is to the crass anonymous poster:

    If you are going to criticize someone, have the guts to do it under your real name. What was the purpose of your rude and obnoxious post? Did Kristin pass on representing something you wrote? To me, it sounds like you’re throwing a tantrum. If you don’t like what she writes, stop reading her blog. I, for one, don’t care to read such an unwarranted rant from a coward.

  4. Molly said:

    Most of my agent friends own their own show and all of them easily sell over 50 books a year and get, in Deal Lunch terms, very nice, good, significant, and major deals. They are powerhouses.

    Who are these friends? 🙂

  5. December Quinn said:

    Anonymous, what will “happen” to Kristen now that “chick lit is dead” is that she will continue to be a well-respected and popular person in this industry.

    One who has better things to do than (self-censored) off by posting snotty garbage in other people’s blogs.

    Ahhh…the bravery of the anonymous poster…it’s the internet equivalent of a prank phone call, and just as mature.

  6. kim reid said:

    Anon sounds like a jealous and bitter fee-charging agent with a subscription to PM. Meanwhile, Kristin is making deals and educating writers.

  7. Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said:

    What is it with the terminally rude and blog posts?

    A string of words runs through my mind. The string starts with Coward and ends with “retromingious troglodyte with questionable mitochondrial heritage.” All of these words seem to relate to our dear Mr. Anonymous.

    I wonder if he’s one of them thar “shot-gunning” agents that Ann and Victoria warn us about? I wonder if his last name starts with W or B or umm well, I just wonder.

    Be nice, bub. Or I’ll sick my killer goat on ya.

  8. Jackie said:

    “Just make sure you know which definition of “size” matters the most to you.”

    You know, though — part of the problem is that sometimes, you learn only after you sign what it is that you really want.

  9. Heather said:

    Let’s be honest for a moment. As writers we can research all we want. We start querying our A list – then B list and so on. But by the time we do get a bite it may not be one of those “perfect” agents that we so desire.

  10. kim reid said:

    There is no perfect agent (and if there is, you won’t find that until after you’ve worked with them). We have to find the best fit for our work and work style from among the choices available. If the right research is done, everyone on the list – from first to last choice – should at minimum be a good choice on paper, even if not the first choice. And even then, as Jackie points out, you can’t know that for sure until after you work together. About the only thing of which we can be certain: no agent is better than the wrong/bad agent.

  11. MissWrite said:

    I agree with Ellen. It’s not the size, it’s the fit. One nice thing about the vast number of agents is that there’s something for everyone.

    For me, I want it all. I want an agent who will fight like a hell cat for me in negotiations, and be a pussy cat to me on the phone. (I am a writer, I have a tender ego. LOL)

    I want an agent with plenty of connections. I don’t care if they make the connection via telephone, or cocktails.

    What I don’t care about is where they are, or how many offices they have in their suite (or if their suite happens to exist in their livingroom).

  12. Diana Peterfreund said:

    Heather, if by the time you get a bite, it’s not your perfect agent, then maybe you shoulnd’t have been submitting to them. I only submitted to agents I would have been happy to sign with if given the chance. So if I got to make a choice, it was between wonderful agents who I’d be happy to sign with and recommend to anyone, and if I didn’t get to make a choice, then it was still an agent I really wanted. A bad agent is worse than no agent, so “researching all you want” can tell you which ones you should even bother with.

  13. Heather said:

    Perhaps I should make myself a little more clear. I’m not talking about me. As of yet, I have only received one rejection so I’m still on my A list. 😉

    Several sources (Miss Snark included) say that you should query at least 80 agents before you give up. There can’t possibly be 80 agents that every individual would be happy with.

    I researched and I only came up with around 35 or so that I would be compleatly happy with. Hopefully I’ll get a bite within that. But you never know. Sometimes it does take 80.

    And yes I agree that no agent is better than a bad one. So the question is, do I stop after my 35? Or do I go on faith, query agents that I know less about and hope to God I get a good one?

  14. Diana Peterfreund said:

    Well, at that point, I’d probably be writing another book that will hopefully get a better response, but you could also look at it from another perspective. I thought I was doing a lot of research — a LOT — and it turns out that I only had a lock on a particular segment of the industry, because hey, that was the part i knew the most about. As Miss Snark has said in ANOTHER post, many of the agents that are experts in a particular field “probably aren’t even on your radar.”

    I know that was the case for me, because of my professional connections, I knew of agents that did romance AND chick lit, but not agents that did chick lit but NOT romance, or YA or etc. I started getting requests from people I hadn’t even heard of, excellent agent who worked outside of what I was quickly learning was a rather narrow field of expertise.

    But if we’re being honest and all that, I would NOT have signed with someone, or even submitted to someone, who I didn’t think would do an excellent job. Waste of both of our times.

  15. Anonymous said:

    I would like to say a few things, and I suppose, waste some of this internet space – if everyone here doesn’t mind.

    First – as I read through this blog, trying to get a better idea of what type of profesionalism I should expect from an agent (specifically Ms. Nelson), it struck me as being uniquely amusing that in this blog, I have found a person that is more than what I expected.

    More down to earth; more comfortable for me to envision and certainly more opinionated than I had originally bargained for.

    So Bravo! for the blog – it brings the images of untouchable agents back into a comfortable reality.

    One where the writer can be made to feel like a human being, instead of just an unworthy object that might be picked up and dusted off should the agent be in the right mood.

    Second – The comment from anonymous was really bizarre.

    To what purpose was it placed in here?

    Why would someone who is so obviously upset bother to take the time to even sit down and type that out?

    I feel the internet has changed society into a less morally responsible group that acts as if they are an invisibly shielded mob… With the mentality of 6th graders who believe it is acceptable to say online what you would not dare to say when face to face with the person you are speaking to.

    You may call them Forum or Blog Trolls, but I call them people who have no manners – people who are quite possibly psychotic as long as they hide behind the anonymity of the internet. Gutless. Spineless and extremely rude.

    And finally…

    Third – I think size matters in some things – and in some things it does not.

    There are plus sides and negative sides to both large and small companies, no matter the type of business.

    I believe that both types of agencies offer something integral for the writer.

    A small agency may have more time and less deadlines – with a larger budget because of less overhead. They may be able to be more personal with each prospect – they may be able to offer more of themselves for the projects they encounter or create.

    On the flip side – they may be overworked and underpaid and not have enough eyes, arms or brains to deal with the ever increasing load of dealing with a company or with their clients.

    A larger agency might have more people to tackle a project, thus getting it completed in less time; meaning less cost. They might have more contacts, simply because each person involved might bring something to the table.

    They might have more financial stability, because of the amount of projects that they are able to complete.

    On the flipside – they might be impersonal, arrogant and rude. They might turn down more offers or ideas – because they gain the “corporate mentality”.

    Personally, being new to the writing/publishing/agent/editor world – I think I would opt for someone to take care of me (represent me), on a more personal level.

    Someone who will take the time to get to know who I am and what it is that I write about.

    And most of all – someone who will believe in me, as a writer and a person – instead of just seeing me for dollar signs.

    So. Those are my absent minded thoughts that crossed my sleep deprived brain as I read through this blog.

    Again – thank you for the insights and I hope you continue to write this blog – it is very interesting.

    Lady M

  16. Lisa Hunter said:

    I think the writer also has to look at his or her work objectively and ask, “Is this a ‘big’ book, or a small niche-market book?” That should indicate which type of agent would be right for the project.

  17. Anonymous said:

    That sounds good, but the reality is that very few writers can accurately evaluate if their book is BIG or not.

    They’re just too close to it. And you’d be amazed at the majority of queries that come in are convinced they’re the next big thing and that Hollywood is dying to film their book…inevitably these are also the worst written.

  18. Amra Pajalic said:

    I’ve been reading a few agent blogs (thank you so much to Kristin and everyone who takes the time to provide this invaluable tool to newbies) and I have to agree with Lady M. While in any other field it would matter if you like the person you work with, as long as they are someone who’s expertise you respect, this rule does not apply to writing.

    It’s such a personal endevour for the writer (and also to the agent who has to take on rejections for it) that you do have to have a match in terms of agent + writer=book.

    I also think that writers have to have an idea of their career objectives and what they aspire to in order to be able to contribute to a meaningful dialogue with the agent and see if they match. While most of us (currently unpublished who will be doing the agent route at the end of the year) won’t know if the agent is good until we actually start working with them, we have to at least know what we aspire to and discuss if the agent can envision/support us in this.

  19. Anonymous said:

    Size does not matter. However the agents contact list does. How they are respected among their own community. How much passion they truly share towards your work and in helping you with your career. That is what Matters.

  20. Anonymous said:


    I think you can research all the live-long day and still end up with an agent who turns out to be a poor fit. It’s like deciding to get married to someone by what you can find out about them from the internet.

    I signed with an agent who seemed like a perfect fit at the time–an experienced agent who was helpful and generous and enthusiastic…at first.

    When the book didn’t sell to the first handful of folks she sent it to, her attitude changed dramatically.

    Be advised, because this is an increasingly common agenting style: find good books you think have a shot at the big time, heave them at a few big houses with great enthusiasm…and then, if they don’t immediately sell, give up on the author and move on to the next hot prospect.

    Guess what? PM and agent websites and all the rest only report agent’s successes. The only way you can find out about an agent who has treated an unpublished author poorly (not unethically in AAR terms, but poorly) is to happen to meet that unpublished author. Research doesn’t help a lot, as unpublished writers by definition don’t have a widespread voice.

    Sorry to be the bearer of these tidings. But I did everything by the book and landed an agent whose bona fides are unquestionable…and, well, to be polite, let’s just say “it isn’t a good fit.”