Pub Rants

A Little Competition Between Agents?

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STATUS: RWA is like watching TV on fast forward. A consistent, frenetic pace! Off to meet an author and her editor.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? Well, it’s the clock radio. Not great reception but it’s LIGHTNING CRASHES by Live

I was at a conference this year and moderated an agent panel. A member of the audience asked if agents felt like they were in competition with each other.

Obviously, if there are a finite number of good projects out there to represent, by the nature of our job we are, to some extent, in competition with each other.

But I must say I never FEEL that way.

So I was really surprised when three of the four agents on the panel declared that yes, we are in direct competition with each other and we must be aggressive to win the author and the work.


This might be silly but I actually believe in karma, that certain projects are meant for certain agents (not that I won’t go after it heartily if more than one agent is interested etc.) but in general, there is enough good projects to go around.

Maybe I’m the naïve one!

But on Saturday, if you are here at RWA, you’ll know I’m about to moderate a 2-hour panel entitled The Literary Agent Cartel: A Powerhouse of Caring, Knowledge, & Expertise that May Possibly Change Your Publishing Career.

We are a group of independent agents who formed a Yahoo chat loop so as to share information, support each other, and in many ways, share knowledge so it benefits all our clients.

I have to say that this is the kind of agenting I subscribe to. Healthy too. And yes, when I’m vying against 4 other agents for the project, I don’t ask who is involved (because it just might be my fellow Cartel member and let the best gal win!) so there’s no lack of competition but there is definitely a different perspective in terms of agenting.

I never think of my fellow agent as my enemy.

19 Responses

  1. Patrick McNamara said:

    I’d love to have agents fighting over me. Maybe they just don’t know how good I am yet. 🙂

    I suppose if every agent is going to handle romances then there might be a lot of competition. But there are also a lot of writers in search of agents, so I wouldn’t think there would be a problem with that aspect. However, I could see a competion with agents and publishers, since there are a limited amount of publishers.

  2. Maprilynne said:

    Personally, I think the best way an agent can “fight” for an author is to do what Kristin does now. Be open to new authors and share their knowledge willingly and openly. If agents are ever fighting over me (please God, let it happen! *wink*) I will take honest, down to earth Kristin over big time, huge agency person just because of this blog. No real fighting necessary.:)

  3. Alli said:

    Kristin, it’s interesting you mentioned your Yahoo Chat Group of agents and the support you give each other without being competitive. I’m a member of a small Yahoo writing group and the writers there are supportive, keen to see each other do well and are genuinely happy when one of us scores a great contract or has a breakthrough in finding an agent. It’s nice to read you have similar relationships with some fellow agents. There’s enough good writers and agents out there for everyone to enjoy – life’s challenging enough without making “enemies”.

  4. MTV said:

    maprilynne – right-on!!!

    Yes, Karma. In my opinion people misunderstand Karma. In a sense Karma is the rest of a lesson you may not have gotten or a lesson you need to see again for whatever reason. Many look at it like a sentence. “Oh, it’s my Karma!!!”

    That aside, Kristin, I see clients like money. The reason some people are poor is that they feel there is only a “certain amount” to go around. Same thing with Gold. Truth is, there is as much as you say there is – for you for sure.

    How little we know about money is clearly revealed in the Landmark “Money Seminar”.

    The same is true of clients. Agent’s that “think” they have to fight for a client experience lives where they are “fighting” for clients.

    I love Kristin’s attitude here. She has hit the “nail on the head” in this regard. It was Henry Ford who said – “If you say you can’t do it you’re right. If you say you can do it you’re right.” His insightful point – On this planet – you always get to be right! Isn’t that great! So, where would you rather have your attention? I can’t get an agent OR I just haven’t found the right agent.

    I’ll take it a step further – AND, Kristin feels clients will always be available and there is just the right agent for each client. This, from my perspective, is absolutely true. So why writers obsess over this amazes me. It’s like if an agent rejects you – your work is not good. The fact of the matter is she has rejected you. There are a whole host of reasons for this. And, yes, her evaluation of the qualtiy of your work is only one of them. Notice, her evaluation. There are no absolutes. The best agents let good things go. Hey, they have no market at the time and don’t see how one may be generated. So, “Sorry we don’t feel your work is ‘right’ for us.” And, that is the truth at that moment in time. But, it is that moment that is bringing you to the next moment and the next moment.

    Again, it’s all about where you want to place your attention.

  5. 2readornot said:

    sigh. I like your philosophy — I like you 😉 Too bad I can’t convince you to love my writing.

  6. Jackie said:

    Good for you, Kristin! Just as writers should not be in competition, agents should not be in competition.

    Hope you’re having a terrific time!

  7. Anonymous said:

    I agree that it’s never felt like a competition to me either. Some of the best advice I’ve gotten has been from other agents who have never worked with me at the same agency. Sometimes other agents refer me things that aren’t quite what they’re looking for, but they know I am. (And I return that favor.) I’ve always found agents to be very supportive of each other–and not just the newer, younger agents either. Some very wonderful seasoned veterans of agenting have been invaluable to me, and I’ve passed on tips to others–if I hear about an editor who’s about to make a change to a different publisher, etc.

    That being said, I signed up a new client today, and another agent was also wooing her. (I don’t know who–the author didn’t say, but chances are I’ve met him or at least would know his name.) But I’m fatalistic about it too. I didn’t pressure the client to hurry up and choose me–I didn’t want her to ever question her decision later. I wanted her to choose me because we were the right match, and if not, then it wasn’t meant to be. Happily, it was meant to be! I’ve been completely thrilled all day to have the opportunity to represent her.
    -Rachel Vater, lit agent with Lowenstein-Yost Associates

  8. The Editrixie said:

    As an editor, I’m so glad to hear you say this. I often feel that editors are in competition with each other too (even more so than agents), both with editors at other publishing companies and editors within our own house!

    We also have this strange relationship with agents that I wish could be different – there are a few agents that I can say are true friends, but we’re always a little wary of each other as well.

    We’re all working towards the same goal – creating great stuff for the public to read. I hope that more people start trying to take your attitude – less antagonism, more collaboration!

  9. WitLiz said:

    Well, I think what might be really different and fun is for agents to get together and form the WWFWA (WorldWide Federation of Wrestling Agents).

    Instead of panelling you might install a boxing ring. I’d use Editors as the Referees. You could have fancy names like, Whiskey Sour,vs Tequila Jack, Margarita vs Pina Colada, Gin, Miss Snark only vs Vodka, Tom Collins vs Bloody Mary, etc…

    Winner gets to choose the Author. Loser gets to tend Bar at the next Convention. Would be Authors get to be in the audience and do a lot of toasting.

    Seriously, Kristin, I love your attitude about things, but please don’t volunteer to join the WWFWA.

  10. aspiring said:

    OK, you agents out there, can you help me with this?

    I’ve got four full manuscripts out with four agents – each of whom I’d theoretically love to be with.

    Trouble is, I don’t really know much about these agents – only what I’ve read on their websites: that they are with top agencies, and like my sort of stuff.

    What if one calls and says he/she loved my ms and wants to rep me? What’s the etiquette? Can I ask him/her to wait till I’ve heard back from at least one of the others – and risk losing him/her, or jump at the chance, and risk losing another agent who might, perhaps, be the perfect match?

    Or is it really just karma, and I should run with the first comer, because that IS the best for me?

  11. Anonymous said:

    well, I’ve had 6 agents fighting over me at once, and all it did was heighten my expectation that whoever won the competition would be able to sell my manuscript for a lot, since they all were in agreement that it was worth fighting over…yes, it sold, but what it sold for didn’t end up meeting my pumped up expectation despite choosing a powerful agent.

    The better game is to have a bunch of EDITORS all fighting to buy your book–that’s when you know your far less likely to end up disappointed.

  12. Anonymous said:

    Six agents fighting over you? I agree, that’s enough to raise your expectations to the stratosphere.
    How does one get into that situation? Obviously, the book is terrific. But how do you submit to so many agencies at a time?

    While that kind of competition is a good thing (at least it signals you’re a good writer), I don’t think I could take the additional stress of having to choose. I’d be happy to have to choose between two, rather than six.

  13. Wesley Smith said:

    Great. The next time I’m paranoid about agents sharing my query letter and saying, “Will you LOOK at this turd?” I can comfort in knowing it’s true.

    Oh, and “Aspiring?” There’s a link on Kristin’s blog that points to ‘Miss Snark.’ That’s where you want to look for the answer to your question.

  14. Allison Winn Scotch said:

    What a refreshing attitude. I completely agree, in terms of being a writer, and try to help out aspiring writers and novelists as often as possible (thus, the purpose of my blog). In the magazine world, there’s always enough work to go around, so why acquire a me v. you mentality.

    And on the flip-side, I really loathe writers who so obviously view me as the competition. And you know what? I think magazine editors can pick up on this vibe too: who wants to work with someone like that? Team players are so much more valuable.


  15. Ryan Field said:

    I’m a very good, old friend of one of New York’s best (and oldest) literary agents, and though we don’t discuss business often I’ve never heard him say, he’s in competition with another agnecy or agent. He’s been screwed over by associates several times, but he always mentions other agents and the good relationships he shares with them. From what I’ve seen at close range, good literary agents seem to ride their own tides and never get caught up in petty competition. Honesty and Karma and all those good things are usually unspoken aspects of the job.

  16. Anonymous said:

    anon #2 asked,”How does one get into that situation? Obviously, the book is terrific. But how do you submit to so many agencies at a time?

    This was a proposal for a non-fiction book, sent by e-mail to a number of agents simultaneously, and then a few more big-shots after the initial interest was shown. And while you would think it would be stressful, actually, it was a lot of fun having the wolves fight over the literary piece of meat.

  17. Gina Black said:

    Kristin–thank you and the Cartel for the panel. It was illuminating to hear you all speak and a great opportunity to ‘meet’ the group and hear sage wisdom about the industry.