Pub Rants

In The Author’s Shoes

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STATUS: Working all morning. Talking all afternoon.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? CRAZY by Icehouse

The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference kicks off today. I’ll be there all afternoon chatting about digital changes in publishing (starts at 2 p.m.). And I’ll probably need all afternoon given there is a lot to talk about.

Last night RMFW had their opening cocktail party and I was chatting with an author there. She mentioned that she had to switch agents recently and it was one of the more agonizing things that she has done in her career. Not having been on that side of the fence, I asked her what she thought was the most important factors to keep in mind when going through the process. I thought it would make a good blog topic!

Here’s her list:

1. Make sure the agent loves your work.

Kristin commentary: I agree–especially if you are looking for someone to rep your whole career. An agent should love your writing–not just one book.

Or, as we continued our chat, have an agent take you on simply because you already have a deal on the table. This author said that for the fellow authors she knew, if that was the reason the agent took the author on, the business partnership didn’t last.

2. Ask the agent what their career vision is for you.

K commentary: This would seem like a straightforward thing but different agents might have very different visions for you. For example, you might be a genre mystery writer and the agent sees you evolving more into literary mystery. Now if the author is aligned on that vision, great. But if the author is happy with straight mystery, this particular person might be a good agent but not right for you.

3. Meet the agent in person.

K commentary: During our chat, the author stressed how important this is. It does make sense because you get a general feel for an agent and his/her style when meeting in person more so then just a phone convo. It happens for me when I meet editors in person. Why not agents? But this author was really adamant on how helpful it was to her when making her decision.

So there you have it.

I mentioned to her that in the last year, I’ve taken to skyping with my clients and any new people I’m interested in representing.

I totally feel the difference. It’s like having a face-to-face meeting–even if the client is half way around the world.

18 Responses

  1. Joseph L. Selby said:

    That’s actually a question I research during the query process. I don’t use a home phone and my cell phone gets almost no reception in my home. I use Google Voice for phonecalls, a very convenient VoIP. And Skype allows video calling (best when both are hooked directly to the broadband rather than over the wireless).

    When an agent is reticent to use new technologies, I wonder how well (s)he will adapt to the digitization of the business. Skype isn’t that different from talking on the phone.

  2. Matthew MacNish said:

    Personally I’m so shy that meeting, or even skyping, with an agent terrifies me a little bit. However, I suppose if it was to the point of representation, I’d have to just go ahead and get over myself.

  3. Kristy Stewart said:

    Thanks for posting about this, Kristin. The attitude I’ve seen among some authors (not many, mind you) is that signing with an agent is some sort of achievement instead of the creation of a partnership. When you shift your focus on the agent-author relationship to a partnership, most of these points become a part of your common sense decisions. Do you want a partner who doesn’t share your vision? No. Do you want a partner you’ve never really met? Not really.

    So thanks for focusing the discussion on the partnership aspect.

  4. e.r.a. said:

    Your post and the comments are incredibly helpful. As a young writer, it is nice to have a true insider’s opinion. Thank you!

  5. Caroline said:

    Good post. I agree with all three of the author’s points – especially the last one. I met a lot of agents at the Backspace Conference in May (including Kristin). And I think I learned more from 5-minute chats with them, or from watching how they interacted with other people, than I learned in months of surfing on the web.

    Most of the agents made a positive impression, but there were a few that I could see would not be a good fit for me.

    P.S. I don’t think it will surprise anyone to hear that I was very impressed when I met Kristin in person 🙂 Not only is she super nice, but I could see that she knows her stuff – especially concerning contracts – and can be assertive when she needs to be.

  6. Anonymous said:

    I was going to say what about those are far away and can’t meet in person, but skype is a great idea.
    The whole agent changeover is interesting, because I was actually wondering about an agent retiring.

    You’re an author looking for someone to represent, and I even wonder whether it’s good to get someone who is so established and experienced for many, many years, when they could be retiring soon, but the author wants a career.


  7. Anonymous said:

    I like the skyping idea. But I’m always a little cautious about meeting people I work with online in person. I know this will sound terrible. But I can’t help it. I’ve had online working relationships with editors, agents, publishers…even book reviewers. And sometimes, not always, when I meet them in person it totally ruins it for me. It’s like you build up the concept of what the person is like and then when they turn out to be totall different it’s a huge let down. It doesn’t happen all the time. But I’m always afraid whenever I meet someone in person that I’ve known online for a long time.

  8. Anonymous said:

    I’d add: don’t necessarily sign with an agent because he’s the one who said yes. Three years in, I’m having major problems because he seems to think we cannot sell every project I propose to him. It’s an uncomfortable place to be. I want to ask him, “Why did you take me on if you don’t like what I write?” but at this point, I don’t know how I would gain a relationship with a different agent. Think once and again if the agents seems to stop liking the sort of fiction you’ve been writing right from the get-go.

  9. Angela Brown said:

    When you are in the un-agented shoes and you desire to “just get repped”, it’s hard to take this food for thought and truly use it.

    When you are in the un-agented shoes and you desire to go from being a writer to an author, following the advice mentioned in this post seems to be a recipe for a lasting business relationship with the agent you eventually “match” with.

    If I had my choice, I’d rather go with gaining a “match” than “just getting repped”.

  10. Anne A said:

    As someone who’s not yet in the looking-for-agent pool, but soon will be… I’m wondering about this “getting repped” vs “partner” issue. Is it any easier/harder to get another agent once you have one? I can see it both ways: easier, if it gives you some sort of “street cred” that at least one person in the business read a manuscript and thought it was good enough to rep; harder, if it looks like you either don’t play well with others, or make decisions on a partnership when perhaps you shouldn’t have. Or maybe it makes no difference at all.


  11. Laura Lee Nutt said:

    I really appreciate you posting this list, Kristin. There is such a momentum in the idea that you have to get representation to even get an editor to look at you that it’s hard to remember these wise precepts. The reminder is very welcome. Thanks.

  12. Stacy said:

    Thanks for posting this, Kristin. I will be looking for an agent soon, and this is a great reminder of what I need to be thinking about and focused on.

  13. Anonymous said:

    A little quibble…

    I don;t care what the agent’s ‘vision’ for my career is. It is *my* career. The agent must be willing to work with me as *I* see things or it is not happening.

    That is not to say I think agents are useless or stupid. But you are hiring them to advise and guide you along paths you don’t know.

    Think of it this way – you hire a carpenter to remodel your kitchen. Do you want it done as you want it or how he wants it??

    You need to trust the guy enough so that when he says ‘Really Mrs. Smith, three ovens is going to look real stupid and be real wasteful’ he is giving you good advice. But you don’t want him picking your layout for you. You want to design it yourself and get his input.

    If he doesn’t agree, you get someone else (again, within reason). The idea that he would insist on an oven you don;t like and say ‘trust me’ and you would agree is a bit of a stretch.

    Writing is YOUR career. Agents work with lots of authors – they can’t all have the same vision. So if an agent is good, he/she likely is able to work WITH other people’s visions, not have one for each client.

  14. vi said:

    Thanks for the helpful tips Kristin, trying to get over some writers block here but then off to the agency.