Pub Rants

Young Guns

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STATUS: I’m off to Washington D.C. tomorrow for RWA. I’ll be blogging but it might be sporadic—just like Friday’s lost entry. Sorry about that. Some days there really are not enough hours to finish everything.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ME AND MRS. JONES Michael Buble version

Just recently, an aspiring writer sent me this note:

“One thing that worries me is how young many of you agents are. [Young in my forties, I love this person!] I feel so old when I meet these youngsters who will have so much power over my future.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this concern from an aspiring writer. First off, “young” is a relative term. Are we simply referring to agents in their twenties? Yes, that’s certainly young but that doesn’t mean inexperienced. Agents in their thirties? Well, A thirty-something being in a position of power at any type of company (not just publishing) is not an unusual thing.

Being in my forties, well I guess if the writer is in his or her eightes, I’m certainly a whippersnapper in that context but I don’t think that’s what this writer means.

So I’m going to assume that we are talking about agents in their twenties. And here is what I can tell you. Publishing is a young profession (You have to be young to be willing to take on such low-pay for considerable length of time and do it all potentially in New York City but that’s an aside.)

The young agents I’ve met (which is quite a few) are scary bright. I look back at myself in my twenties and think, “did I have it together like that?”Maybe, I was a college teacher in my twenties so I must have had some act together but boy, I’m not sure I had the focused that a lot of these young agents do.

They are dedicated, passionate, and hard-working. As a writer, I would worry less about age and more about these young guns’ reputation, commitment to your work, etc. These young agents know the young editors who will be running the publishing houses in about 10 to 15 years (and I’m not kidding here).

So keep that in mind. And of course, what I’ve said above can’t possibly apply to every young agent but I’m willing to bet that if the above doesn’t apply, those youngsters will be weeded out before they have an opportunity to build their own client lists.

“Old timer” Janet Reid raves about “youngster” agent Barbara Poelle on her blog. On mine, let me rave about two young agents who have also got it going on—Holly Root and Emmanuelle Alspaugh.

If you haven’t checked them out yet, maybe you should.

28 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    I doubt the concern is about whether the twentysomething agents are smart or professional enough.

    I suspect the concern is such agents will not ‘get’ these aspiring authors’ stories, due to a lack of life experiece.

    For example, say an aspiring author raised four children and taught hundreds of children over the course of her career as a Kindergarten teacher. The agent has almost zero experience with children, but if she believes children are a certain way will she respect the aspiring author’s experience? Or will they think about how their one nephew whom they see once a year at Christmas doesn’t like that kind of story so all six year old boys must hate it?

  2. Sara said:

    So glad to see you posting a shout-out to Holly. She’s my agent, and she’s great!

    And anon, I think the worry you mention is misplaced. If an agent represents the kinds of books you write (I’m assuming children’s books), and she’s had any success, then she obviously knows the market, whether she taught kindergarten or not. She’ll judge your manuscript based on whether she thinks it will sell, not on what her 6-year-old nephew thinks.

  3. DebraLSchubert said:

    Great post, Kristin! Since I’m “old” like you (40 is the new 25, right?) I get the worry. However, I agree that dedication, energy, connections and enthusiasm are what matter most. I’d much rather have a young agent who’s wildly enthusiastic about my work than an established agent with a long client list who’s not quite as excited.

    Have fun in DC!

  4. Michelle said:

    Well Barbara is my agent and I can confirm that she rocks. I did have a moment of shock when I realized she was younger than me (only by a year or two) but that was more about me getting older than her being a “whippersnapper.” I am used to be the youngest one in the board room, and now the gap is narrowing.

    My agent is incredibly shrewd and seasoned so I don’t much care about her age. Plus, I’m pretty sure my editor is even younger. They know way more about this biz than I do.

  5. Shimmer said:

    Excuse me, but is there any way to send a private message to Kristen or do I need to spell out my troubles to the followers of this entire blog?

  6. London Mabel said:

    Can’t say I’ve ever worried about this. There are pros and cons to age in any profession–the pro for someone *older* is that they’re experienced (in the profession and life), but they might also be more cynical or tired of the work. A young ‘un lacks the experience, but might be super driven and enthusiastic.

  7. Karen Mahoney said:

    Great post! I have to chime in and agree 100%. My agent has only just turned 30 and I am 36, but I would never doubt her experience and ambition. Miriam Kriss has been selling books that are now New York Times bestsellers for several years already – I will always listen to her advice & guidance. 🙂

  8. Sheila Connolly said:

    I think it depends on your perspective. Recently I realized that I and most of my mystery-writing colleagues are “of a certain age”–one that makes forty seem young. Do we appreciate your energy, when you work on our behalf? Of course. But now and then it feels like we’re talking to our children.

  9. Anonymous said:

    I’m about to generalize here big time, so take it with a grain of salt…

    I think the real worry, isn’t the age of the agent but their willingness to stick with your work if it doesn’t sell right away.

    I’m querying new agents right now (after having been agented previously). Partial and full requests from the “younger” agents I’ve queried have been almost manic — thanking me extensively, promising to get back to me quickly, and then dropping off the face of the earth.

    Responses from the “established” agents are more measured. They’ve been calm when requesting to see more work, and there is a sense that if they took me on it would be because they’d have 10 editors in mind that would buy my book. I get a sense of “Oh, cool!” from the younger ones, “cool” but without a “plan” of how to sell it or who to pitch it to.

  10. Janny said:

    I’m actually more concerned about the ages of the editors involved, actually. Young agent? Heck, yeah. Bring ’em on. I can tap off that energy. 🙂

    But being in my fifties, I relate more to the earlier posts that wondered both how well these younger folks would “get” our stories, and how persistently they’d stand by those stories in the marketplace. I think both those concerns are legit.

    Not to mention that it gives me absolute hives to think of one of these younger editors trying to edit my manuscript…a concern I got way back twenty years ago when my son’s kindergarten teacher sent home letters to parents that had spelling and grammar errors in them. I’m thinking, “You’re teaching kids to read, and you can’t tell the difference between singular and plural or spell correctly?”

    That’s actually more a nightmare for many of us than sheer age; the fact that many, many younger people aren’t sufficiently well-educated in the language not to take our stories and make things that are correct into things that are INcorrect…too late for us to do anything about it. The person whose name is on the book is the person who’ll be blamed for those mistakes, and too many of us have seen these kinds of things happen to people we know not to be at least a little concerned about it!

    My (old fogey) take,

  11. Anita said:

    I was recently at a conference in which this very young agent was part of a panel. She was chewing gum, applying lip gloss and saying things like, “Like,” regularly. I was just about to dismiss her as a total ditz, when she got into her groove. She began making these succinct, spot-on writing evaluations. She used examples of great novels (classic and contemporary) to compare and contrast. I was shocked. Forevermore, I will look beyond the lip gloss (and the age on the license)!

  12. Janny said:

    …and yes, I realize I had a grammar glitch in my post as well. Just checkin’ to make sure you’re all paying attention. 🙂


  13. Mechelle Fogelsong said:

    If a young agent is employed by a relatively well-established agency, I feel more confident about creating a partnership with that agent. We all have to start somewhere, but if we’re surrounded by excellent support and guidance as we embark on a new adventure, good things will follow in our wake.

    As a side note, the youngest person to climb Mt. Everest was a 15-year-old Sherpa girl. I would venture to guess, she did’t accomplish it alone.

  14. carla said:

    I think the problem belongs to the client, not the agent. I am middle aged, too. Every once in awhile, I feel good and sorry for myself and indulge in a pity party. It does not last very long because younger people do not have the energy or time to allow me to whine and cry to my heart’s content. They get a look on their faces of pure amazement: “Does she really believe she is ever gonna get any younger?”

  15. Jeanie W said:

    FYI for all those attending RWA in DC – There will be a Kidlit drinks night at 6pm at Murphy’s – 2609 24th Street NW (across the street from the conference hotel). This is being organized by Pam Bachorz, author of CANDOR, a ya novel (Egmont, September 2009). I think we’re to meet on the terrace.

  16. Suzan Harden said:

    Thanks for the good laugh, Kristin!

    I’ve had too many fellow writers tell me lately I’ll “understand when [I] have more life experience.” After surviving an alcoholic abusive parent, nursing my husband through cancer, dealing with a pregnancy that nearly killed me, and fighting with the insurance company over a home damaged in Hurricane Ike, will someone please tell me what constitutes sufficient experience?

    Pfft! Finding the right agent and editor seems relaxing by comparison.

  17. Liana Brooks said:

    I don’t care what your age is as long as you love sci-fi.

    Hey, I even adore a few agents who won’t rep sci-fi because they’re fabulous people.

    Age is relative. And if someone younger than me has the connections to get me published *and* loves my book age is no barrier.

  18. catie james said:

    I fear the folks who equate “young” with “unprofessional,” “irresponsible,” and “apathetic” (or worse – “lazy”) as much as those who believe age is tantamount to fossilization, irrelevance, and being out of touch with modern culture. We all bring something to the table (if I may be permitted to use such an outdated term. lol) Instead of focusing on what each party lacks, why not pool our resources and passion to make an industry we love thrive as it reaches the dawn of a new era?

  19. Anonymous said:

    If you all want, I can drive up to DC and give a session on writer scams. I’m just a few hours away. D.Kuzminski, P&E

  20. Kenmeer livermaile said:

    After surviving an alcoholic abusive parent, nursing my husband through cancer, dealing with a pregnancy that nearly killed me, and fighting with the insurance company over a home damaged in Hurricane Ike, will someone please tell me what constitutes sufficient experience?

    That IS a good question. I think the answer is a ratio: life experience/writing experience, with the factors of talent and literary standards also weighed in.

  21. Brett said:

    I’d happily work with an 18 year old agent if they know what they are doing, can communicate effectively, and facilitate a mutual success for everyone involved.

  22. Anonymous said:

    I was being considered (subsequently rejected) by a well respected older agent, and I was excited but a little worried that I’d fall under the shadows of his bigger clients that he’d had longer relationships with. I eventually signed with a young agent and I’m thrilled- I don’t have much fear that she’s going to ignore me, and I know that we have the possibility of a relationship that could go for decades if we want it to.

  23. Bryn said:

    I have no concern about younger agents having enough “life experience.” Most manuscripts deal with experiences that an agent has never had: being bitten by a vampire, digging a foxhole, etc.

    At my day job I work with all kinds of smart people, from people in their 20s to people in their 60s. I don’t see it as an issue at all. But if some writers shy away from querying younger agents, so much the better for me…those agents will get to my query more quickly 🙂