Pub Rants

Category: agents

Agents Who Should Be On Your Radar

STATUS: Oh yeah baby! Entourage is back on!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? AIN’T NO SUNSHINE by Bill Withers

Back from the Maui Writers conference and facing mounds of emails (something like 300 in my inbox) and lots of fun tasks to do. Vacation is great but the first week back is almost always a challenge.

Still, it’s fun to be home where fall has decided to visit Denver. It was 55 degrees when I got off the plane this weekend. Who knew?

When I was in Honolulu for the conference, I got to catch up with many good colleagues so I think I want to highlight a few folks I had a chance to hang with. If they aren’t on your radar, maybe they should be.

And blog readers, don’t make me look bad! Don’t just query these fine folks blindly. Make sure your work might actually fit what they are looking for.

Jeff Kleinman, Folio Literary Management

Cathy Fowler, Redwood Agency

Holly Root, Waxman Literary Agency

Robert Guinsler, Sterling Lord Literistic

Dena Fischer, Manus & Associates

Jacqueline Hackett, Literary Works

Elizabeth Evans, Reese Halsey North

Something Learned In 6 Years In The Biz

STATUS: It’s ten minutes to midnight and I’m now going to leave the office. Needless to say, there were quite a few things that needed to be taken care of before I left town. Normally it’s not quite so silly that I’m here until midnight. Just one of those flukes.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? nothing at the moment

So reading Molly’s interview got me thinking about what will I know in another 23 years from now. Since I’ll be in my 60s, I guess I might have my fingers crossed for retirement. Big smile there.

But I do know one thing I’ve learned over the course of the 6 years I’ve been running my agency and that is this. Life is too short to deal with crazy editors.

Early in my career, I did a negotiation with an editor who thought that the best way to get her way was to simply yell at me–loudly. So loud I had to hold the phone at arm’s length.

Since this was early on, I didn’t hang up on her although I should have. After that bit of nastiness where I did finally get the editor to talk like an normal person the very next day and the deal concluded, I decided that I would never put up with that again—nor would I ever submit to that editor again (which I haven’t).

And I haven’t had to deal with anything similar until just this year and even then, I still can’t believe it. This time I didn’t put up with it.

Because as Molly points out (although she was talking in the context of problematic author clients and not editors), the deal is ultimately not worth the drain on your energy nor does it remotely create a sense that as an agent, you’ve done the best by that book—either in the negotiation or placing the author with the right editor if you know what I mean.

Life is just too short.

I’m on a plane all tomorrow and honestly, with the Maui Writers Conference going on, I’m not sure I’ll be blogging for the rest of the week but we’ll see.

Thirty Years In the Biz

STATUS: Downtown Denver is a zoo with the Democratic National Convention starting today. On the walk this morning to my office, I counted at least 10 people standing on the street with at least 5 cameras strapped to their persons.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? (DARLIN’) YOU KNOW I LOVE YOU by Tina Turner

I’m just a baby in this industry if you think about it. I worked for another agency before going out on my own in 2002 but even if I count up all the years, it’s certainly under 10. So just imagine what an agent who has been doing this biz for thirty years might know.

Well, you don’t have to imagine as editor Jofie Ferrari-Adler from Grove has been doing a series of interviews for Poets&Writers and this month he interviewed Molly Friedrich—who started agenting back in 1977 when I was all of 9 years old.

I took a lot of good things away from this interview but here are some points that stand out in my mind:

1. Credibility and respect are built over time. Honesty and integrity, for agents, may very well be our greatest asset.

2. That writing is often about original voice rather than labels. (Amen!)

3. That loyalty can mean a lot in this biz—loyalty to an agent, loyalty to a publishing house, loyalty to an author’s vision and career.

4. Selling a novel for a ton of money may not necessarily be the best thing that could happen to the book or to the author. And it’s a myth that all writers will be seduced by the big money. Some don’t necessarily want lots of dollar signs if it ends up being a detriment to a long term career.

5. As publishing gets reduced to fewer houses, there’s a sameness to the type of books that get published and become popular. Could an Annie Proulx be published today as a debut? (There’s a frightening thought!)

6. Some authors, no matter how much they are earning, aren’t worth keeping if they drain your energy as an agent.

7. Whining. There’s too much of it. From authors, from agents, from editors.

8. That we, as agents, know when we’ve done well by a book (and she’s not talking about large advance) and when we’ve messed up. (yep.)

And to me, these seem like good words for agents to live by: “If you’re just going along like a hamster in a wheel, then you’ve lost the pure white heat that makes this business so much fun. And it should be challenging. That’s what separates the great agents from the good agents.”

Publishers Behaving Badly

STATUS: Cuddling with Chutney. What finer way to spend an evening?

What’s playing on the iPod right now? DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC? By The Lovin’ Spoonful
(Yep, I haven’t been able to get that song out of my head since Friday!)

There is definitely something in the water. Usually August is a slow time in publishing but heck, you couldn’t tell from the news as of late.

I heard a story from a publicist today about an agent who had some poor women’s manuscript for a year and a half and still hadn’t put it out on submission before the author fired the person (and I’m not talking about an author spending quality time with a manuscript via the revision process either). This was simply an inexcusable lapse. Bad, bad behavior.

But they aren’t the only ones getting into trouble lately. Publishers are getting into the game as well.

First there’s the whole “Random House is afraid of terrorism so we are canceling THE JEWEL OF MEDINA” story. It was enough to get Salman Rushdie (who is published by RH) to come out and admonish them. I’m thinking that this is an author who knows a thing or two about censorship sponsored by fear.

And then I read another article about F+W Publications, a big enough company that should know better than to mishandle reporting of foreign sales royalties. Yep folks, that’s what accounting systems are for and from this article, sounds like they need an update to say the very least. I imagine this story will inspire some close scrutiny of F+W royalty statements.

Sheesh, this biz is often madness. Sure you want to be a published author?

Agents Behaving Badly

STATUS: Sliding this blog entry just in under the wire.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MADE by Dinah Washington

I was struck by one of the comments in the comment section of yesterday’s blog. A blog reader had mentioned that most reputable agents will not speak with an author until that author has severed the relationship with the current agent.

Actually, I think that is a misperception. I would like to think that would be true but I’d say for the most part, it isn’t. If an agent being queried really wants the author who is looking, many don’t care whether the author is free of the former agent or not. In fact, some of these agents have encouraged an author’s bad behavior to see if the former agent could be bullied into releasing rights etc.

And funny enough, certain agent names reappear again and again in these instances so when I hear about authors behaving badly, it often comes as no surprise when I find out who is the new agent taking them on. Certain agents (and no, I’m not going to name names) have a history of displaying equally bad behavior.

Perhaps these authors and these agents might actually deserve each other.

Authors Behaving Badly

STATUS: Just finished watching the Walsh-May recent set domination in Women’s Beach volleyball.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TV is on and will probably be for the next week.

Something must be in the water but I’ve heard three stories just this week of authors behaving badly. Gee whiz.

Obviously it’s time for me to blog about this topic again. If you are an established author looking to change agents (for whatever reason), there is a professional way to do this. There is an etiquette that should be followed or you are in danger of burning some bridges and if there’s anything I’ve learned in this biz, burning bridges, in general, does not help your career.

There is a way of severing a relationship professionally and there are many authors I’m hearing about lately who should have kept this in mind.

1. An established, already agented author should not be shopping for a new agent without formally ending the current representation.

Folks, publishing is a small world and no matter how discreet you think you are being, word often filters back to the agent in one way or another.

2. If an author is planning to leave and has already made that decision but has not told the current agent, he/she should not be career planning with the agent he/she is planning to leave nor should that author be availing him/herself of the current agent’s hospitality by attending agency functions at RWA or Worldcon. That’s just bad behavior.

3. If an author is planning to leave his or her agent, expect to be held to the letter of the agency agreement the author originally signed—especially if you behave badly before severing the relationship.

Most agents I know aren’t interested in standing in the way of an author’s career. Most are reasonable and would probably come to some sort of agreement or compromise on certain points (such as projects currently on submission) if the author behaved ethically in the severing of the relationship. If you didn’t, well, what can I say. An agent is not going to be in the mind frame to be conciliatory. Nor do they have to be legally if an agency agreement is in place.

And my last point is just something I want y’all to keep in mind. Whenever an already agented author comes to me looking for new representation, I always ask the question, “Does your current agent know you are looking?” My second question is always “have you had a conversation with your agent about your desire to leave? If you haven’t, you should.”

Now I realize that sometimes an agent/author relationship has gone so far south that any communication isn’t possible and this is not an option. Fine. Then your path is clear to sever that relationship before seeking new representation.

So make that clean break. Make sure your behavior is beyond reproach. At the very least, that gives you the ability to say you held the moral high ground regardless of anybody else’s behavior.

In the end, that strikes me as the most important aspect.

Good To Great?

STATUS: TGIT! I think it’s going to be a lovely weekend in Denver. I’m looking forward to it. Yes, I’ll probably work some but hopefully not until Sunday night.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THIN LINE by Indigo Girls

Last night I was reading GOOD TO GREAT by Jim Collins. It’s a nonfiction work on why some companies make the leap and others don’t. I’m only into chapter 2 so I can’t relay a lot of info about what I’m learning yet but it did put me in a philosophical mood.

As I see the world, it’s not enough to simply be a good agent with an eye for good material. Well, that’s not exactly true. If you are an agent working for an already well established agency, that’s probably accurate as the agent only needs to find good material, work with individual clients, etc. He or she isn’t also running the company.

But if you are an agent who also runs the show, then having a good eye for excellent material is not the only factor on what will make the agency successful. You also have to know how to run a company well.

And therein is the reason why I’m reading two “business” books currently: GOOD TO GREAT and THE 10-DAY MBA.

Because guess what? I don’t have an MBA. In fact, I only have one agent friend who has an MBA. I also know a few agents who are also attorneys (which is a nice combo) but doesn’t really teach you how to run a company. To be successful, I not only have to be a good agent, I have to be a good CEO of the company.

So what have I learned so far from Jim Collins? CEOs that have taken companies from good to great where not flashy, celebrity-type leaders a la Lee Ioccoca. In fact, they were people that held the good of company over their own personal success—be it in wealth or in reputation.

They were soft spoken, self-effacing, and often had great humility—but not one of them was weak in character, drive, or determination. Collins called these folks Level 5 leaders.

Dang. I might have already failed the first step to becoming good to great. We’ll see. The second thing I’ve learned, and I’m pretty sure he’s going to talk about this more in the book, is that it’s not enough to have all the people on the same bus. What’s important is having the right people on the bus and those people are the key to implementing good to great elements beyond the CEO.

Now I’m feeling pretty confident that I’ve got the right people on the bus with Sara, my contracts manager, my attorney, my accountant, my bookkeeper, and my co-agents.

That’s a start!

Collins also mentioned that it was a conscious choice on the company’s part to make the leap. One reason why I’m reading the book. He also says that being a “good” company is also the biggest obstacle to becoming great. Interesting, isn’t it? I consider Nelson Literary Agency to be a good company—so in a sense, according to Collins theory, we are our own worst enemy. We could be keeping ourselves from making the leap.

Have other agencies thought of this? Have specific agencies gone from good to great? If so, I wonder what agencies I’d name that have made the leap. Could that be measured? In GOOD TO GREAT, Collins only looks at public companies where data could be measured in sales/stock growth over a 15 year period. That rules out private companies—of which most agencies are.

I haven’t any answers folks but I do have a lot of questions.

Day In The Life

STATUS: Tomorrow will be TGIT. Hey, don’t get to say that often.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ROUTE 66 by Natalie Cole

I imagine blog readers wonder what agents do all day besides sitting around eating bon-bons and looking glamorous (which is something I’m still trying to achieve).

It’s almost 5 in the afternoon and that in itself has me scratching my head. What did I do all day?

Well, here it is in a nutshell.

1. Answered emails that didn’t get handled yesterday. This took about 2 hours.

2. RWA is fast approaching so although the NLA dinner party is all organized (thanks to Sara), I’m working on my appointments to schedule with clients, editors, etc.

3. I’m attending the Maui Writers Conference in August so this morning I worked with their travel coordinator to set up the travel.

4. At 11:30 a.m., I had a phone conference with two Hollywood producers who happen to like my books and wanted to get to know me better.

1. Started review of a Hollywood film contract for one of my clients. Got interrupted numerous times so I’m going to have to start anew tomorrow. That’s what I plan to achieve in the morning as I think most publishing folks are taking the long weekend so I probably won’t have a lot of interruptions.

2. Answered some rather urgent emails that had come in.

3. Did a phone conference between a client and the editor to discuss marketing/promotion plans for a 2009 spring release.

4. For a different client, reviewed the marketing/promo plan that I had discussed with the author’s editor earlier in the week but the editor was finally sending me the outline. Thrilled with the big plans the publisher has in mind. This title will be the hardcover lead for this publisher in spring 2009 in the adult trade market.

5. Reviewed a client payment that Sara had processed.

6. Started reading through queries that are marked for me to review (which I have neglected horribly for the last 4 weeks). I’ve read through about 70 of them but have another 100 to go. Have to leave the office soon but I’m hoping to tackle some more for the next 20 minutes.

7. Took 15 minutes to write this blog entry.

Agent Matchmaker

STATUS: I’ve been working on queries tonight. Honestly, that’s what I’ve been reading for the past hour. I’m going to need another 2 hours at least to complete what’s in my inbox but haven’t you ever notice that sometimes it’s the thought of starting the task that keeps you from diving in? Once started, it never seems as bad…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? IT HAD TO BE YOU by Harry Connick, Jr.

Writers often want to know if agents ever recommend other agents for a project they might be passing on.

The answer is an unequivocal yes. Just this week I played matchmaker for a well-established author who had amicably parted with her agent of many years (like 18—it was a long time). She was going in a new direction and hadn’t felt supported so it was time to move on.

One of my authors actually sent her my way so of course I read her sample pages with alacrity.

And it was obvious by page four that she was a fabulous author but I was so not the right agent for her. The genre she was working in was a bit of a stretch for me but sometimes that can be invigorating. I like to take on projects that stretch the boundaries but this was just a mis-fit.

So, I asked her permission to share her query with several agent friends who I thought would be a good fit. Of those agents who responded with a “yes, would love for her to contact me,” I compiled a list and sent to her.

And today I found out she signed with a very dear friend of mine. So fun! I’m thrilled that she kept me in the loop and as she was so lovely to work with, I had begun to wonder if I was a bit daft to not be snatching up this talent. Still, I find that it rarely works out when agents take on projects that aren’t a good fit but they try anyway.

So yes, agents do recommend other agents. I must admit that this doesn’t happen as often for projects I pass on from unpublished authors but it does occasionally happen there as well.

Stats And A Few More Thoughts

STATUS: I’ve got an auction happening tomorrow. That just makes the day crazy busy.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? A CHANGE WOULD DO YOU GOOD by Sheryl Crow

Basically last night was nothing but whining—at least I thought so until I started to really think about it. It’s actually extremely important for an agent to read for pleasure (and yes, sometimes reading sample pages is fun but ultimately it’s still working so it’s not quite the same thing as reading a book solely for pleasure). Do you know why? Because that’s when an agent feels the joy of the printed page and the written word. That’s when we remember how much we enjoy just reading like normal people do.

It also keeps us in touch with what’s out there, what’s selling or catching people’s attention. I love to read and when you work too hard, sometimes you forget that passion because all you want is to tick off one more item from your long list of TO DOs. So not only is it imperative (work-wise) to read for pleasure but it’s also wise for our sanity in general.

And finally, I have the stats for you from our poll on Tuesday, June 16, 2008. Some comments came in after the cut off and we’re sorry to not include you if your answer came late but we had to create a cut-off somewhere to compile.

Responses: 195
(not everyone answered every question which is why a few of the totals do not add up to 195)

Do you prefer hard copy or electronic?
Hard Copy: 185Electronic: 10
95% hard copy

When going into a store to buy a book, have you then bought a second title?
Yes: 187
No: 8
96% Yes

Have you bought a book based on the cover alone?
Yes: 63No: 131
68% No

Have you ever bought a book based on the back cover copy?
Yes: 155
No: 39
80% Yes

Kristin comment: If you ever needed proof that it was worthwhile to make your query pitch paragraph mirror back cover copy, here it is I think. Agents are just like readers. We can be swayed by good back cover copy.

How often have you bought a book based on a friend or family member’s recommendation?
Always: 5 = 2%
Almost all the time: 19 = 10%
Frequently (much of the time/ around 50% of the time): 75 = 39%
Rarely: 72 = 37%
Never: 23 = 12%

Have you ever bought a book because I mentioned it on this blog? If so, which book(s).
Yes: 63
No: 128
67% No

Which ones:
Ally Carter (23)
Sherry Thomas (13)
Linnea Sinclair (7)
Lisa Shearin (5)
Shanna Swendson (5)
Hank Phillippi Ryan (3)
Jana DeLeon (2)
Kelly Parra (2)
Marianne Mancusi (2)
Cheryl Hingley (1)
Leslie Langtry (1)
Kim Reid (1)
Jennifer O’Connell (1)

Kristin comment: Most interesting point about this question is that I actually mention quite a few non-client books on my blog and nobody mentioned whether that has swayed him/her to buy some other non-Nelson Agency Client book.

How many books do you buy in a year?
0: 01-10: 29 = 15%
11-50: 82 = 44%
51-100: 42 = 22%
100+: 35 = 19%
With several responses of 300+ and even 500+

Kristin comment: Holy cow you blog readers buy books. I love you!

How many books do you check out of the library per year?
0: 87 = 47%
1-10: 16 = 8%
11-50: 45 = 24%
51-100: 23 = 12%
100+: 16 = 9%
Again with several responses in the hundreds

Kristin comment: We love libraries and librarians so it’s perfectly okay with us if you check out from the library. Libraries often buy lots of copies of each book and that makes us happy!