Pub Rants

Category: agenting

Myth Buster #3—Out To Lunch

STATUS: Feeling a little despondent. It’s my last day in the tropics. I hear it’s going to snow in Denver on the day we return. How’s that for climate shock?

What’s playing on the iPod right now? No little iPod. Why I didn’t travel with it is a mystery to me.

So just what exactly to editors and agents do when out to lunch?

We eat of course—and the good stuff. After all, editors don’t get paid a ton of money (until they’ve been in the biz awhile, have a couple of big sellers on their rosters, and have worked up to being senior editors or higher). One of the editor perks is that they have expense accounts to take the agents out to lunch.

Yep. You heard that right. Publisher pays for lunch.

Nothing crazy exorbitant (unless you are the agent of one of the big sellers on the editor’s roster) but definitely nice. And editors have their favorite joints—usually within walking distance of the publishing house because as I mentioned yesterday, lunching is time-consuming and both parties pretty much want to jump right back into work. No wasting time in a cab or on the subway to hightail it back to the office.

What do we do?

We talk. I’d say, on average, 10 to 15 minutes of the lunch might actually be about business. It depends on whether the editor has a client of mine or not. If there is big business to discuss (like an issue, or a publicity/marketing campaign outline, or something along those lines, then that meeting is always done at the publishing house so all the key players can be involved—lunch or dinner then comes afterwards). Sometimes all the key players will come and other times, just the editor.

Publishing folks are busy. It took two months of scheduling to set up a meeting with me, my client, her editor, the editorial director, the head of publicity, and the head of marketing. The publisher just popped her head in to say hello. To get all these people together for lunch might take more than 2 months of scheduling. Big smile here. It happens though.

So lunches are usually just with the editor. What writers need to understand is that the business of publishing is all about who you know and your connection to the editors. If the editor is new to me, lunch isn’t about pushing business (how rude would that be) but about getting to know the editor, his or her tastes, what writers he or she has on the list. Can you send me copies of your list favorites? When the copies come, I read those books and take notes in my database regarding that editor so I’ll know what she likes and what submissions of mine might work for her.

Agenting is about relationships and that’s what is solidified over lunch. The agent is a person the editor wants to do business with and vice-versa.

If I have something in the submission hopper, I talk about it. I’ve certainly sent a project to an editor who wouldn’t have originally been on the submission list because of a lunch conversation. (But to be honest, the majority of sales don’t happen this way. I have better sales history when my submission list is carefully targeted but you never know. Sometimes an editor has a secret passion that is only revealed over lunch and boom, I’ve got a new submission where that passion is the main subplot or propels the story. Suddenly that editor is the perfect person to look at it. It happens.)

Often, I’ll give a copy of my client list to the editor so they can have it as a reference. Editors often request copies of my clients’ books. Maybe they have been hearing buzz and want to read what everybody is talking about. I’ll send Sara a quick note to get a copy out to the editor.

And yes, sometimes editors want to take you to lunch so they can casually chat about a client of mine published by another house. It’s their job to find out if that client is perfectly happy because if they are not…

But for the most part, we talk about life. What we are doing. Our hubbies, boyfriends, or girlfriends. A new baby. A recent trip. A fun movie we saw. Something crazy that happened on the subway literally on my way to this lunch (and for some reason, this happens a lot to me…). We create a powerful connection.

This is what lunch is actually all about.

Myth Buster #2—Lunching Is No Daily Event

STATUS: I’m heading to the beach in 5 minutes. What mood do you think I’m in?

What’s playing on the iPod right now? No little iPod.

Writers have a romantic view of agents dreamily heading out to lunch with editors on a daily basis. We dine and do business over yummy sushi or whatever.

Actually there are two myths involved here.

Myth #1—Daily lunches

Myth #2—Conducting deal business over lunch.

So let’s tackle Myth 1 to start.

If editors and agents actually lunched every day, they would never get enough work done. Lunches take a huge chunk out of the day—on average about 2 hours. We don’t lunch lightly. It has to be worth the time investment considering that both of us will have to stay late in order to finish what didn’t happen while we were out to lunch. We literally haven’t got time for daily lunches.

Since I’m out in Denver (but travel to New York often—as do all other non-NYC based agents), I decided to poll some of my New York-based agent friends to see how often they went to lunch with editors. After all, they are just right there. They should be lunching often. Once a week. Twice a week? What do you think?

Now obviously this will really vary per agent. Some might lunch more than others.

On average, my NYC-based agent friends went to lunch with editors about twice a month. That adds up to about 24 to 30 lunches in a year.

Guess how many lunches with editors I do in a year? You guessed it. About 24-30 lunches.

And here’s another aspect of this (and this is true for NYC-based agents as well as Non-NYC agents). A lot of these lunches are not done in New York City.

Surprise!

These lunches can occur at Book Expo (which is not always held in the Big Apple), at RWA, World Fantasy, World Con, BoucherCon, ThrillerFest, Children’s Book Fair, and gosh yes, even at the popular writers conferences.

Not in NYC.

And here’s another myth buster for you. It can happen but it happens rarely that an actual deal will be negotiated over lunch. That’s not the kind of business we do when eating (Deal making and digestion—two things that shouldn’t go together). So tomorrow, I’ll give you a little peek inside what actually does occur at the editor/agent lunch.

Myth Buster #1—Walk This Way

STATUS: Okay, I have a secret to divulge. I didn’t go to World Fantasy because I opted to be in the Caribbean with my hubby for his business trip. For me, it’s mostly vaca with a light smattering of reading work for current clients. Hence, it will probably be blog light all week.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? No little iPod.

I just had to chuckle at one of the posted comments from Friday’s entry about agents walking the manuscript over to the editor. Because no agent, even if they live in the Big Apple, would ever walk a manuscript over to a publishing house therefore saving the messenger fee.

Why? Well, first, who wants to lug loads of paper around the subway? But here’s the real reason. Agents don’t mail manuscripts these days. I kid you not. We email it. There are some exceptions (and agents know the editors who will insist on a hard copy etc.).

It’s very rare that I’ll actually snail mail a manuscript. For the good majority of my projects, there’s not enough time. I’ll have an offer in within days and if an editor asked for a hard copy, he or she probably hasn’t even received it before the excitement gets going. I end up emailing it anyway.

And I want to be very clear that I’m not poking fun at this comment poster. In fact, I think the he or she is brilliant for bringing it up because this puts me in mind for a whole series of rants I could do this week about publishing misconceptions and the perceived advantages and disadvantages of being based in New Yor (or not) and how we actually work.

The “manuscript mailing costs” just being one of them.

A Non-New York State Of Mind

STATUS: Is it really this early on a Friday? I’m going to be on a plane for most of today (and not off to World Fantasy) so I’m getting an early start on my day.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I’M GOIN’ DOWN by Bruce Springsteen

To be honest, whether an agent is located in New York or not seems to be a big matter of importance only for writers.

For editors, they simply don’t care where an agent is located as long as his or her reputation is solid and the projects they see from those agents are good, good, good.

I bring this up because I hang out at a few online writers chat places (because I love keeping in touch with what writers are thinking and feeling) and almost once a month, this topic rises again and someone always posts that “most of the top agents” are in New York and writers should really have a New York agent.

Of course this bothers me for obvious reasons—being located in Denver and all.

Well, I started to really think about that. I could literally name 30 agents (just off the top of my head) with really stellar client lists that include huge NYT bestsellers who live and operate outside of New York.

Here’s a quick sampling just to get the ole brain cells firing this morning:

Deidre Knight, Knight Agency (Madison, Georgia)
Jeff Kleinman, Folio Literary Management (Washington, D.C.)
Jim Hornfischer, Hornfischer Literary Management (Austin, Texas)
Amy Rennert, The Amy Rennert Literary Agency, (Tiburon, CA.)
Sandy Dijkstra, Dijkstra Literary Agency (CaminoDel Mar, CA)
Robert Shepard, Shepard Literary Agency (Berkeley, CA)

And when you start boiling down the really stellar agents in New York, yes, I can name more than 30—but in reality not too many more (depending on criteria and what one considers “top” etc.)

So since it’s my blog, I’ll rant if I want too! Wink.

Now the problem that gives us non-New Yorkers a tougher road for this myth-busting is the fact that the good majority of scammers operate outside of New York (because it would be too expensive to operate in the Big Apple).

That’s easily fixed. Have Writer Beware and its 20-Worst Agents list on your radar.

And spread the word.

Pub Horror Stories—Just In Time For Halloween

STATUS: I was a submission demon today. Two projects went out to many an excited editor. And I’ll know tomorrow whether I’ll be setting up an auction for a project already out and about.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MOONLIGHT LADY by Julio Iglesias (man, that is one sexy voice)

I have to send you over to Rachel’s blog today. She literally summed up my last couple of weeks on the job (except she doesn’t have the fabulous Sara to help her but sounds like she could use a Sara-clone.) Are we living parallel lives?

And you know what’s even stranger? I, too, wear a size 6 ½ in footwear so we can literally walk in each other’s shoes.

Watch your closet Rachel! The Midnight Shoe Snatcher might be on the loose.

And the savvy Bella Stander is blogging about publicity horror stories on her blog—just in time for Halloween.

How perfect is that?

I wish I had a horror story of my own to share but besides the person calling and leaving a query pitch on the voicemail today (despite the fact the recording clearly says no phone queries), there’s nothing very horrific going on. I have no horror clients. I’m not even sure I have an editor horror story to share.

Wait I have one.

I once had to hang up on an editor because she was screaming so loud during a phone negotiation that I had to hold the phone a foot away from my ear. I interrupted and asked her to call back when she felt more able to discuss the terms and I hung up.

Hasn’t ever happened since because now I won’t submit to her. Problem solved!

And check the blog early tomorrow. You are in a for a super Halloween treat.

Boo!

Scammers That Scam Together…

STATUS: TGIF! The week ended way better than it started. I have one project that’s garnering lots of editor attention. Love that.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FASCINATION STREET by The Cure

Of course I had to go and research David Kuzminski’s cryptic comment in yesterday’s comment thread to click here if I wanted a good laugh.

But nothing prepared me for the sheer hilarity of scammers and fee-charging agents banding together to pretend they’re legitimate.

I even love their new organizational title: The International Independent Literary Association and yet not one of the agencies listed there is international. Perhaps they are just being optimistic for new members?

But my favorite part? The link that says Retainer Fee—To Pay or Not to Pay.

There they clearly spell out that it is a common misconception that reputable agents do not charge fees.

Eyebrow raise.

But it gets even better, they admit that reading and evaluation fees are still a big NO but retainer fees are the new black. After all, you’d expect to pay one when hiring an attorney, so why not for hiring an agent? In fact, according to them, this is now the case for literary agents.

News to me!

They even outright say that it’s okay as long as the retainer fee is for a reasonable amount.

Right. I’d like to know what constitutes a reasonable amount.

Folks. Repeat after me. Legitimate agents sell books to make money. To publishers who pay advances and royalties for the privilege.

They don’t charge money upfront (call it retainer, reading, submission, evaluation or whatever).

Why? Because if you actually sell books, you make money. There’s no need to charge fees.

And I also want you to go to the Association of Authors’s Representatives web page right now (of which I am a member). Give it a good look.

Now click on the Canon of Ethics. A set of ethical guidelines agents must adhere to in order to be a member.

See item 8? It clearly states that charging clients is subject to serious abuse that reflects adversely on our profession. Now, the problem is that the AAR only highlights fees for reading and evaluating literary works.

Scammers and pseudo-agents are manipulating language by now calling it a retainer. See it’s not really a reading or evaluation fee (even though we don’t seem to have a sales record), honest.

Folks. A fee is a fee is a fee is a fee.

Although Your Work Sounds Intriguing…

STATUS: This Monday was crazy but productive. We had to play catch up from the power outage on Friday. I did call and offer representation to an author for her really awesome YA project. She has a couple of other agent’s interested so now I have to wait and see if she chooses me. Choose me!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BAD, BAD LEROY BROWN by Jim Croce

For those of you who love agent blogs, I’ve stumbled on a couple of more that might be worth a read.

The Rejecter is an anonymous blog from an assistant at an agency. Definitely somebody with a perspective from the query trenches.

The other is from, in their own words, “the opinionated folks” at the Dystel & Goderich Agency.

Might be worth checking out.

Now on to my rant. Agents take a lot of drubbing for their standard query rejection letters. We have to say something and as y’all know, I prefer to be polite.

So what does it mean when I say, in my form query rejection letter, “although your work sounds intriguing…”

In means exactly that. It very well might be intriguing but it’s not right for me. Queries fall into five basic categories:

1. The obvious NOs because the query is for genres we don’t represent or something similar.
2. The other obvious NOs for well-done queries for projects we don’t represent.
3. The NOs for queries for projects we do represent but the query itself is poorly written
4. the NOs for well-done queries for projects that could fit for my agency, are intriguing, but I would never pick up that book in a bookstore so it’s not right for me. I can totally see another agent digging it.

For the most part, it’s for the Queries of number 4 that we include the standard phrase of “although your work sounds intriguing…” because this biz is so subjective. It really might sound intriguing for another agent who will then ask for sample pages, maybe a full, and then go on to rep this writer. Commenters on this blog alone have mentioned being rejected by me in the query phase but have then landed representation elsewhere.

It means their work was intriguing—but just not to me.

5. Well-done queries that knock our socks off so we ask for sample pages. These folks get the “request for pages” email letter.
To sum up? One agent’s “so intriguing I must see sample pages” is another agent’s “ho-hum and not right for me.”

So don’t get in a stew about the wording. It’s a NO. Tweak if you need to (especially if all your responses are NOs—that could signal the query letter/pitch hook being at fault) and then move on. Your agent might be around the next email query corner.

Technology Woes

STATUS: Network nightmares. You don’t want to talk to me right now. Despite being nice, I might actually snap at you.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? Ray Charles piped in over the speaker. Can’t tell you the title of the song though. He’s awesome regardless of which song.

Sorry folks. It’s not going to be a real blog today. My office computer network went down this morning and it’s still not fixed. Of course that drives me insane since everything happens by email. Almost everything. I did actually pick up the phone today. Gasp. How old-fashioned.

Just kidding.

So you’re probably wondering how I’m making this entry happen? Via my happy local Starbucks. I actually wanted to use the free wifi on the 16th street mall in downtown Denver but my computer was being ornery and wouldn’t connect to that network.

As to what happens to editors over the age of 35? Lots of things.

Publishing is tough. Long hours. Low pay. Tons of reading, which can strain the eyes. Editors really have to be passionate to stick with it.

Lots leave after a couple of years in the trenches. Many are promoted to positions where acquiring still happens (such as an Editorial Director) but mostly the job entails management.

Some editors leave to flip over to the dark side known as agenting.

Big smile here.

Some become editors-at-large so they can take more control over their projects and their lives.

Some move into other aspects of publishing.

Some actually retire after many fab years in the business.

Don’t worry. We don’t put them down after 35.

Young Turks

STATUS: I’m super excited about a new submission that’s going out this week.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? DECEMBER 1963 (OH WHAT A NIGHT) by Frankie Vallie and the Four Seasons

I wanted to do a shout-out to a new, non-anonymous blogger in the agenting world. I probably should amend that. She’s probably not new but I’ve newly discovered her and that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The new blog is Lit Soup by Jenny Rappaport at the L. Perkins agency.

And from what I can tell, she’s taking a lot of drubbing for being honest on her blog. I can see the lure of being anonymous…

One of her comments struck me though. I haven’t read the whole string of commentary (simply out of time today) but she does take a moment to highlight that being young in this industry is not necessarily a liability.

Ah, the age factor must have come up and that made me want to share a little fact with my blog readers. I’m not sure if writers realize just how young the workers in this industry are. I certainly don’t have hard statistics at my fingertips (so take this with some grains of salt) but I wouldn’t be amiss by suggesting that over 60% of the editors who work in publishing (and are actively acquiring and buying books) are under the age of 35.

It’s an industry of young’uns. Brash, intelligent, and savvy Young Turks.

In fact, Jason Kaufman, the editor of that little known book called THE DA VINCI CODE, wasn’t even 30 when he acquired that novel.

And this isn’t unusual.

And as much as it pains me to not be included in those young ranks (ahem, cough, sigh), it did make me want to bring up that fact. There’s a saying that with age comes wisdom. True. Sometimes. But there are lots of folks who have age but somehow missed out on that second part.

So, in the world of publishing, it’s better to not practice ageism.

(I know; I’ll get a whole slew of comments on maturity vs. age etc. Big smile here.)