Pub Rants

The Pseudonym Out

 22 Comments |  Share This:    

Status: Happily working—but it’s still early in the day.

On my lunch break, I often surf the various blogs I enjoy and a variety of writers discussion forums. I like to see what’s going on, what’s bothering folks. There seems to be a lot of angst swirling around agents who are also authors.

Seemed like a good rant topic to me.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m an agent but not an author, and to really get the ball rolling, it doesn’t bother me one iota if an agent is also an author.

Why? Because it really doesn’t impact a good agent’s ability to do her job (emphasis on the word “good”). It also doesn’t impact an agent’s ability to sell her clients.

I think there is a misperception that an agent/author is in direct competition with her clients of the same genre—but that’s not how publishing works. If it were, it would also be true that if I have one contemporary romance client, she would be in competition for the empty “slots” with all my other contemporary romance clients– that I have already or will sign in the future.

That’s not how it works—the idea that there are only a finite number of slots and once filled, game over. It’s too simplistic.

I could rant on but I think Deidre Knight (an agent/author) has some very valid points to make on the subject and there’s no need for me to repeat them here. To be fair, Miss Snark has also expressed an opposite opinion regarding this topic, on which I don’t happen to agree.

What impresses me most is when the agent/authors are completely upfront and frank about their dual role. It would be so easy to do the “pseudonym out” without anyone being the wiser. There is a level of integrity exhibited with full disclosure and as far as I’m concerned, that’s a characteristic of a good agent worth having.

(This is not to suggest that any agent/authors using pseudonyms are lacking in integrity because I can see not wanting to deal with all the hassle and the misperceptions that swirl around this topic. One could pose the argument that it’s nobody’s business but her own as long as she continues to do her agent job and do it well).

Besides, just because your agent isn’t writing now doesn’t mean she never will. And maybe your editor is already writing and publishing in your genre with another house because lots of working editors are also authors.

After all, agents and editors got into the biz because they love books. It’s not that far a leap from love of, to editing, to writing one and it seems silly to deny them that dream because of their day job.

22 Responses

  1. Ewoh Nairb said:

    I think that it is perfectly fine for and agent or an editor to be a writer. They still have their day job and they are still trying to sell as many of their clients books as they can. There are only so many well written manuscripts out there at any given time.

    There could be a conflict of interest, however that falls under the same heading of agents and editors stealing ideas for their own books. Sure it can happen, and sure it does. But the agent/editor is risking their reputation and “day job”. Unless they have written the next great novel and will become millionaires, it just doesn’t make sense.

    Just my $.02

  2. Jan Conwell said:

    Mrs. Nelson,
    Right before you posted this blog entry, I posted thread on our RWA Online chapter about this, and seemed to have stirred an unpopular pot by asking opinions.

    Interesting to hear yours.

  3. Deidre Knight said:

    Thanks for posting this, Kristin. I appreciated you bringing a positive voice to the discussion. 🙂

    I also appreciate the link to my original column. Thanks and hugs, Deidre

  4. crabkitty said:

    I don’t have a problem with an agent also being an author so much as I have reservations about my agent having another job, any other job, including that of writer.

    This is because I want an agent that is passionate about being an agent. And if they write (and are published) then thier brain time at agenting is diluted. They not only have their agenting deadlines to meet, but their deadlines as an author.

    On Friday, you posted that you were bringing home client manuscripts to read because you didn’t want your clients to have to wait a long time to hear back from you. What if an agent had a deadline on thier own manuscript and they worked on that instead? Theoretically, no harm as they can still read client manuscripts on Monday.

    But now they’re reading the manuscripts a bit more burnt out. I would rather they’d taken the weekend off and done nothing, gone to the movies, an art gallery, painted, and, yes, even written if that was relaxation for them. But not writing as a published author with all the extra tasks that involves. Not any other job which requires high amounts of energy.

    Maybe I’m wrong. It wouldn’t be first time. But I think the biggest detriment to the client, isn’t being in competition with the agent to be published, but being in competition with the agent’s own writing for engery.

    It’s kind of like

  5. Dave Kuzminski said:

    If an agent has the talent to write a publishable book, that agent deserves an equal chance to see it published.

    If we take the stance that agents shouldn’t be allowed to write, that would set a precedent that editors and resource sites helping writers shouldn’t be allowed to write and be published, either, in spite of the fact that it makes their views of the industry that much more valuable to other writers. They’ve been there. They know the pitfalls from two or more viewpoints. They know how it feels to receive a personal manuscript rejection. They know what it’s like dodging the scams and trying to do marketing. So long as they’re honest in presenting their own manuscripts and representing those of other writers, I see no conflict.

    Dave Kuzminski, Editor
    Preditors & Editors ™

  6. pennyoz said:

    Isn’t it simply a matter of fact that probably if you know the agent is also an author, they are also up front and honest?
    Agent. Editor. Publisher. Author.
    Four actors in the play.
    Four people who deal with the written word.
    Four people who are supposed to know the good, from the bad to the ugly.
    So why assume that only one of them is allowed to write… when probably all four of them is capable of it because they deal with the written word.
    Funny but in actual fact it’s probably only the author who doesn’t do it for a living. 🙂
    Logic tells me that there is a high chance that – apart from the author obviously – one of them might even have a pseudonym?
    Editors particularly can be there because they are authors, but as authors they need to work too.
    And as far as publisher slots are concerned. I can understand if you are running an athletic race. Only a certain number of athletes can run on a track at one time. There is a finite number. But publisher slots? Spare me!

  7. doc-t said:

    I actually started my own agency so that i could send myself acceptance letters and offers…

    but when i read the query letters I just couldn’t accept them… I sent myself a letter saying, it’s not that the idea is bad, it’s just not for me…

    now i’m really feeling rejected

  8. Adrift at Sea said:

    I don’t see any real problem with an agent or editor also being a writer, provided they are open about it with their clients.

    There needs to be complete transparency and openness between the agent and his or her clients.

    I’d agree with ewoh about the possibility of a conflict of interest, and possible idea theft. The real issue is whether you have a good relationship and trust your agent or not.

  9. Diana Peterfreund said:

    crabkitty, things can get in the way no matter what “other” the agent experiences. Your agent isn’t going to live in a cell. She’s going to have family, kids’ soccer practicces, health issues, hurricanes (Pam Ahearn lost her office in Katrina), hours that she has to wait in line at the DMV…

    The trick is whether or not the agent is going to be able to balance the various requirements of her existence.

  10. Lady M said:


    I don’t have any problems with agents also being writers.

    I think it opens avenues for both the agent and the client.


    AGENT XXXXXXXX wrote “The______ Mystery”, a prolific NY Times Bestseller! And now… drum roll… AGENT XXXXXXXXX wants to represent YOU!

    Not only does AGENT XXXXXXXX have the imagination it takes to get into print, AGENT XXXXXXXX can use that same imagination to get you published as well!

    The only problem I can potentially see that might bother people – is if an agent of ill repute starts digging into the slush pile for ideas or plagarism.

    However, since I truly believe most people are honest, I don’t think this would generally be an issue.

    About an agent who works for me trying to sell their own book?

    I don’t own the agent. If that’s what they do – as long as they are still putting efforts into getting me published, and treating me as a client, fairly and without prejudice, why would it matter to me?

    Why do I care what they do on their own time?

    It’s not my business, unless they want to make it my business.

    I don’t care how many times they go to the bathroom.

    I don’t care if they paint for a hobby.

    I don’t care if they can or cannot write.

    Just as long as they are honest, do their job for me – I’d be content as a lark.

    You’re right – it isn’t a large jump – the love of words has a long history of enticing many people.

    I’m a pretty mellow person, who just likes to write and write and write… And I get tickled pink if someone else enjoys doing it, too! I could care less if they were my agent, my postman, my bartender, my hairdresser, my mechanic – just as long as when they were dealing with me… they were dealing with me. 😛

    Lady M

  11. Lady M said:

    Also, I did want to add, that Miss Snark made a valid point with what she said.

    If an agent who was writing, took me as a client, and then used all of his/her contacts to get himself/herself published – and ignored my work… I think I would be a bit miffed.

    But the overall feel of her article to me wasn’t whether the agent would or would not take care of their client – but more of…

    Does the agent’s work get published because of who they know?

    Or because of the quality of the writing?

    Does the agent forget about their clients in the persuit of fulfilling their own dream.

    Not necessarily that there are limited contracts everywhere, but at that specific house… that perhaps had shown interest in the client’s work PRIOR to the agent’s work being snatched up.

    At least that was my take on it.

    I think both views show that like any other job – Agents and people within the publishing industry are all different, unique and view the same situations differently.

    I think this is a good thing. Because if everyone thought the same then every writer would be rejected by every agent.

    Opinions are a lovely thing. At least, in my humble opinion.

  12. December Quinn said:

    Personally, it would bother me.

    Only because I know what I’m like when I’m really writing. I pick up a bad of frozen peas in the grocery store and suddenly flash on an idea for a new scene. The next thing I know there’s water running down my arm and people are standing around me looking concerned.

    OK, maybe not that bad. But I do tend to be a million miles away when I’m really working, whether I’m actually typing or not. I know not everyone is as bad as me, but it would worry me just the same.

    Although for some reason I think I would feel differently about non-fiction. Maybe because I’ve never written it.

    A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

  13. crabkitty said:

    Diana, I agree. But how do I know whether my agent is one that can handle the extra pressure? Pressure from family and the rest of life is different from the pressure of a second engery draining job. And with two jobs, the pressure on the rest of ones life gets even greater. It’s not that I think the agent shouldn’t do what makes them happy or that there is a conflict of interest in them writing. But it is a concern to me that agenting may no longer be their number one job. Their work for me may not suffer. But how do I know that going in? It’s not that I would never go with an agent that was also a published writer. But it isn’t something I would do lightly. The key word in my previous post was “reservations”.

  14. Anonymous said:

    I want to be able to say “go for it!” without reservation…agents should get to make their dreams come true like anybody else.

    So I have to say “go for it!” with reservation. I know from experience that many writers who have a day job other than writing, sneak in bits of writing/researching/plotting/promoting during that dayjob. Does that day job get the full attention it deserves? Not so much.

    But it’s possible agenting is different, since at my day job, I’m not paying me for the quality of my work, my boss is. But any time spent on writerly activity cuts into the agent’s own bank account, and is thus counterproductive…depending on the agent’s set of priorities.

    Guess it always comes down to that. Integrity, honesty, priorities.

  15. Anita Daher said:

    Doc-t, too funny 🙂

    This can apply to others in the industry as well. I am a marketing director, and an author, but don’t and won’t publish with the house I work for. There has never been a conflict.

  16. Anonymous said:

    I know of three editors from large houses who write and publish (under pseudonyms), but for other houses.
    Did the editor at purchasing house know it was an editor from another house? I have no idea.
    But so what? What you do to pay the bills may not be the same thing you do to stoke your creative furnace.
    Writers obsess way too much. Forget what other people are doing, and write your book.

  17. Cindy Procter-King said:

    Doc-t, that was hilarious.

    I don’t have a problem with agents who are also writers. I’d just want to know about it up front, not sign on and then be surprised to learn the news later. If I know upfront, then I can decide if it’s REALLY an issue for me or not.


  18. Anonymous said:

    Crabkitty said: But it is a concern to me that agenting may no longer be their number one job. Their work for me may not suffer. But how do I know that going in?

    People need to pay the rent. I would imagine that a lot of agents have other jobs in the beginning. How do you live without income? Or do you have to be independently wealthy to be an agent? Sounds like!

    Agenting is not exactly a regular job, and (especially new) agents can’t predict their incomes from week to week.

    There’s a case to be made about feeling uncomfortable about an agent being a “competing” author (if he writes in your genre, for sure)if you feel ignored. But if an agent is doing his job, you are being taken care of, where’s the problem?

    If anything, you’d have more in common than not.

  19. Anonymous said:

    I’m surprised by the number of commenters who think that someone who wants to write is incapable of holding down a day job responsibly. Do they speak from personal experience as listless, lazy workers, or are they being unfair to agents who have the same writing dreams they do?

  20. Janny said:

    I am completely in agreement with Miss Snark on this,and therefore in the minority here. So what else is new? 😀

    This isn’t because I don’t want my talented agent to also be out there as a talented author and get his or her kudos for his or her work…but because there’s a qualifier here: “A GOOD agent” can do both at once, yatta, yatta. But I would say the agent has to be waaaay more than just “good” before this kind of juggling act is going to work.

    Not many agents that I’ve met, dealt with, pitched or heard about through dealings with fellow writers are, in fact, what I’d consider “good” enough agents that they can tackle great agenting and sell their own great writing at the same time. They cannot help but give their own work first priority, and I wouldn’t expect it any other way. If that work is in the same genre as mine is, and they’re pitching a house that has X number of slots to fill (think category)and NO MORE, and their book is up for one of those same slots mine is…unless the agent is a true saint, she’s going to put just a teensy bit more effort into trying to get that slot for herself than she will for me.

    That’s not saying she’s a nasty person. That’s not saying she lacks integrity. That’s simply human nature, and I prefer not to put the agent into the situation where she has to make that kind of choice.

    Ditto goes for editors who sell their own books to the same house that they’re supposedly reading and considering my work for. I’m sorry if it offends all the artistic sensitivities out there, but there is an inherent and unavoidable conflict of interest in that scenario that never fails to make me uncomfortable. How much does this editor “sell” to her house because she’s a better writer than the rest of us…and how much does she “sell” because she’s on hand, and a known entity? It’s not paranoid to ask that question. It’s just common sense. And it has no real good answer, because publishing is such a subjective business in the first place that to put this additional qualifier in, to me, muddies the waters way more than they need to be.

    Yes, agents have lives outside of their agencies. Yes, they have soccer and school plays and aging parents and car repairs and all the other things that the rest of us have…and that reinforces the point that they shouldn’t be further subdividing their attention by trying to write and publish at the same time. There are only so many hats one human being can wear, and only so many hours in the day. From what I’ve seen and heard from agents, agenting is a full-time job and a half; well, so is writing. So do the math. If that agent is wearing her “writer” hat and doing that full-time job and a half, what’s left for her representation of my work?

    Don’t forget, I don’t hire an agent because I need someone to hold my hand, tell me I’m wonderful and send me bonbons (although that would be very nice!). I’m hiring an agent to do the tough, in the trenches contract and money work for me, more than anything else. I’m hiring her for her savvy, for her “sixth sense,” for the time and effort and people skills she puts into being in the market and getting ME out there. I’m paying her to know the difference between two legal phrases that sound almost alike but are very different…and two royalty statements that look almost alike, but in fact say very different things. I’m hiring her, in a word, to be sharp–and to use that sharpness on MY behalf. If she’s coming at my contract after being immersed in the Black Moment of her own novel, while she might come at it with a certain exhilaration, will she come at it with a clear eye and a clear head?
    I know what my answer would be, if the situations were reversed. And I do not want to take that chance.

    I also completely and utterly disagree with the notion that if you say agents shouldn’t write, then all other writers’ resource and information folks shouldn’t, either. Being a writers’ resource/teacher, mentor, or whatever, is a totally different job than agenting. It’s not an inherent conflict of interest for me to be mentoring someone in a genre in which I also happen to write. We’re both on the same, level playing field in the end…because I’m not in a position (nor do I put myself in one) to determine where this mentoree will market her work, who will see it, and what kind of contract she will get. That, to me, is the crucial difference: one’s a selling situation, one is not. For selling me, and my work, I want someone whose job is that–not trying to sell her own with one hand while she sells mine with the other.


  21. Mama Rose said:

    Since most writers have day jobs, families, lives, and manage to do them all, I don’t see an issue with an agent doing the same. 🙂


  22. Deedra Kennedy said:

    Those who know me realize I often serve as the salmon swimming upstream. It’s getting so nice and warm here against the current!

    I can report on this from firsthand personal experience. I had an agent who wrote, and sold, in my market. The agent and I parted company after a half-hearted, no-follow-through effort to sell one of the half-dozen books I have ready to see daylight. I feel I did everything I needed to do, to make this relationship work, but it didn’t.

    The reason he gave me when he canceled our contract? He didn’t have time to give my work the attention he felt it deserved. Enough said?

    Since then he very kindly offered to present a novel for me. This, I felt, made up for his lackluster actions earlier. The publisher turned my novel down after he presented it, in favor of one of his which he’d previously stated he didn’t have time to write for them.

    I hold with those that say it SHOULD be able to work, but in my case, it didn’t.