Pub Rants

Category: agents

How Not To Land An Agent

STATUS: TGIF and I’m leaving the office before 6 p.m. Almost unheard of. But you guessed it, I’m still behind so plan to work this weekend.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? NOBODY DOES IT BETTER by Carly Simon

Today was crazy. The phone was ringing off the hook. Sara & I were trying to finish up letters to authors whose fulls we had read. We were trying to organize the author dinner at RWA and just generally running around like chickens with their heads cut off.

So when the buzzer rang, and while Sara was on the phone, I just popped over there to hit the door open button thinking it was Fedex or UPS or whoever.

No, it’s this woman who has come to drop off a package. The dog is barking (as it’s the highlight of her day—after her morning walk that is) and Sara is telling me the agency lawyer is on the phone and do I want to take it, so without thinking, I just say “is this a delivery for me.” The woman smiles and says “yes” so I take it, set it down, and dash back to the phone (as my lawyer and I have been playing phone tag for a couple days).

I don’t think anything more about it until an hour later when I remember the package so I go over to check it out.

I had just closed a deal for a client recently and often clients will send thank you gifts for a first time sale (which isn’t necessary but we never say no!) so I just assumed that was what it was (and from a local Denver place and hence the hand delivery). One of my favorite gifts was designer cupcakes from a local Denver Bakery that a client in Oklahoma had sent us. Yum!

Guess what? It wasn’t. It was an author delivering a personal query letter, a copy of her book, and a lovely package—which we can’t accept.

So Monday, Sara is going to have to ring her up and ask her to come and retrieve it as it’s just not appropriate. As an agent, I have a lot of integrity and I don’t want to be “bribed” to review a project (however nice the gesture is on her part). This is not how you land an agent.

And we really don’t want to accept the gift. Had I been less frantic at the moment, I would have asked her the nature of the delivery and would have refused it there and then but alas, there was just too much going on.

So don’t do this folks. We do read all our queries and every author we have taken as a client sold us on their project via a query letter and then their sample pages. No bribe needed.


STATUS: It’s been a busy day so far and I still have one meeting scheduled for this afternoon and then dinner with another Hollywood co-agent tonight.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BLUES BEFORE AND AFTER by The Smithereens

Got back to my hotel around midnight last night. I couldn’t quite make myself blog so late; sorry about that.

I flew into LA yesterday for Book Expo. I came early to meet with a variety of Hollywood co-agents. Some I’ve worked with for years and quite a few whom I am meeting for the very first time (even though I’ve worked with them on projects). Some are brand, brand new as I’ve heard good things from other agents and producers and I want to be on their radars and vice versa.

Meetings with Hollywood co-agents are not unlike meetings with editors in New York. The film agents talk about their current clients and what they are working on and I talk about my clients and what books I’ve recently sold. Most of my meetings have been located in the zipcode area of 90210—otherwise known as Beverly Hills.

Now I’m definitely getting the scoop on what is currently selling in the film world but I’m weighing whether it’s all that valuable to share with blog readers. Why? Because Hollywood changes its mind every 4 to 6 months. So whatever is considered “hot” right now will change when a new film releases and either “breaks out” or doesn’t. Even though Hollywood moves at a glacial pace in terms of production, it still bases its buying decisions on what currently has done well.

I know. Doesn’t make sense to me either. So, there isn’t much point in sharing the info really. Not to mention, it’s not what I base my decision on when taking a on a project for representation. I just take on what I really love etc.

But I know you readers would want to know anyway despite the fact it really can have no bearing on any work-in-progress as only a very small percentage of books published actually get optioned for film.

You gluttons for punishment! Okay, I’ll tell you. Every single film agent has asked me whether I have any projects that would fit the bill for the all-encompassing family entertainment segment (in other words, projects with enough appeal to hit the four quadrants outlined by the family—mom-friendly, enough action for dad, and something that will appeal to both teens and kids. If you have the next Shrek, they are all over it.

Right now no one is willing to risk a women-driven historical (that is until the next independent film maker has a wild success in that field which could happen at any time.)

And I found out who the real life person the character of Ari Gold on my fav show Entourage is “loosely” based off of. But perhaps Hollywood gossip should stay in Hollywood. Or 90210 as the case might be…

Know Your Options

STATUS: Foiled by technical difficulties on my home wireless last night. Serves me right for saving the blog until late…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? GET THE PARTY STARTED by Pink

Here’s a memo for authors who are looking for a new agent after being previously represented (or are currently represented).

You need to know your options—literally.

What do I mean? You need to know where your current/former agent stands on your option material for your current contracts. Per your agency agreement, do they have the right to shop your next project regardless of whether you have formally severed the relationship?

I think it’s important to have the answer to this question before you start looking for a new agent. It is going to be one of the questions you’re going to be asked and you might as well have all your ducks in a row.

Although why one would need to put ducks in a row is a mystery to me but it’s a great phrase and I assume it has something to do with the Mama duck leading her chicks but I digress.

Once you’ve got that understanding, pull your current contract(s) and make a copy of your option clause(s) for any new possible representative as well as creating an outline of where you are in the process. As in, still in option, must submit proposal soon. Out of option, feel free to shop anew. Previously shopped, here is who saw it. Here is what else I have.

The whole shebang as an agent will want that info as well. You’ll come across as prepared and professional which can only make you a better prospective client to anyone who is considering taking you on.

It will allow you to answer questions in a knowledgeable way and make you ready for a good and productive conversation when that time comes.

TGIF! Have a great weekend.

Talking Websites

STATUS: I’m working on contracts. Need I say more?

What’s playing on the iPod right now? STICKSHIFTS AND SAFETYBELTS by Cake

I had many interesting chats with editors while I was in New York City this past month but I just remembered one that I had meant to blog about. And then I received an email survey about this very question and that reminded me that I hadn’t yet blogged about it.

The editor and I were talking about not-yet-published writer websites and whether we look at them when we’ve requested sample pages and might be contemplating asking for a full. (The URL is often included in the cover letter.)

For both of us, the answer was “yes.” When reviewing sample pages where we like the writing, we’ll often give the writer website a glance and see what’s there. I don’t bother if the sample pages haven’t caught my interest.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a good website, with solid content, if you are going to have one at all. More on this in a minute.

If you don’t have a website, that’s fine too. I’ll still ask for a full manuscript if I like the sample pages enough. There are pros and cons to footing the bill of a website before you are even published so don’t stress about it or run out and get one right now because I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary.

But if you do have a website or blog and you are currently looking for an agent, or to make your first sale, or what have you, I can offer a couple of words of advice.

Don’t have a website/blog unless it can be a professional one. The homemade sites look it and just make me cringe. It won’t keep me from asking for your full (or if I like the novel, offering representation) but it’s not putting your best foot forward and that’s never a benefit.

What content should it have? Well the standard. About you, what you are working on, any cool interests you have that might inspire your writing, workshops you are doing, critique partners or anything about the writing process.

What you might not want to include is a whole play-by-play of your current editor, agent, or publisher search. This could backfire. I have seen sites where an author has clearly outlined all the rejections (sometimes the letters are posted there verbatim!). It would make me think twice about asking for the full (although the one time I encountered it, I did end up requesting the full as opinions can vary widely) but think of the psychology impact of that. If lots of people are saying NO, maybe I’ll think twice about saying YES.

Now once you have that book deal or agent or editor, I think it’s okay to write about it after the fact.

For blogs, remember that the writing you have there needs to be representative of you and your good work. It doesn’t have to be perfect but you shouldn’t blog if the writing doesn’t represent your “usual” quality—if you know what I mean.

In short, if it shows you off to an advantage, then have a website. If it can’t at this point in time, I wouldn’t worry about it.

AAR Night

STATUS: 10 weeks on the NYT bestseller list and counting…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FREE FALLIN’ by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Last night I attended the Association of Authors’ Representatives monthly meeting. It was meet the editors of FSG night (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux). An aspiring writers dream I imagine as there were easily 40 agents all in one place—not to mention 8 terrific editors at the front of the room.

Yes, these meetings are top secret…

Here’s what I found interesting. One editor pleaded with agents in the room not to “clean out their drawers” so to speak and send everything they have. This editor was quite blunt and said she couldn’t imagine that agents who do that really thought each book was really that good and deserved a spot on the rather small and intimate FSG list.

Personally, I was appalled that there were any agents doing that at all! I mean why? There can’t possibly be an upside to that. After all, our most important asset is our reputations. Or perhaps I just feel that way.

You’re looking at an agent who might take 5 projects out on submission in a year and that’s pretty much it. (I’m not counting new sales for current clients in that total.) I haven’t got any drawers to empty—metaphorically speaking.

Also, the editors all said they really preferred a phone call rather than an email before a submission. If I don’t know the editor, or don’t know him or her well, then I always call first but I must confess that all the editors I know super well I almost never do. Seems to me that people are so busy, it’s just easier to respond to an email when you have quiet moment to. So, that was good to know. FSG editors like a phone call.

In good news, I convinced an agent friend who is rather a Luddite that the Kindle really was worth its weight in gold. She’s going to buy it,

And the most fun? I went to lunch with Kathy Dawson at Harcourt Children’s and when I popped open my bag to show her my palm treo (she asked), she noticed my kindle and said she had one too!

The first editor I’ve lunched with who has had the Kindle two months longer that I have. Tomorrow, I’ll report how the Kindle reading is going so far.

A Tale Of Reimbursed Expenses

STATUS: This week has been about meeting with editors and my authors who have come to town so no “this is what editors are looking for” stories to regale you with. Although I did have coffee with a children’s editor who is looking for anything multicultural. What a refreshing change as I love multicultural stories as well. And rumor has it that Grand Central is going to be starting a Latino/Latina line over there.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SELF CONTROL by Laura Brannigan

I’m not sure why people think that agenting is a way to get rich quick.

Snort. I can barely type that with a straight face but there seems to be this misperception.

I opened my own agency in August of 2002. I had a small business loan and a five-year plan in place when I embarked on what is a risky proposition. (Actually, starting any small business is risky not just agenting).

When I launched, I truly believed it would take 5 years for the agency to be profitable (and if it weren’t by then, I was in trouble). I hit profitable (as in not operating in the red—salary plus all expenses) in year three by a slim margin. Still, I was quite proud. I was definitely ahead of schedule.

So in those early years, I tracked reimbursable expenses (such as photocopies, postage, the basic stuff) and was reimbursed by the client. But here’s the kicker. The reimbursement ALWAYS happened after the sale of the project to a publisher. If the project didn’t sell, I ate the cost. I repeat. The author was not responsible for anything if the project didn’t sell. Was not recuperating those costs hard to swing in those early years? You betcha but I was unwilling to do otherwise despite my red bottom line.

I have heard of perfectly legitimate agencies (with trackable sales) billing their clients for reimbursable costs at the end of each year regardless of whether a project has sold or not. It’s not against AAR regulations. It’s certainly not sketchy per se but for me personally, I don’t agree with that practice.

For me, the billing for “costs” before any sale has the potential of being abused by agents and agencies that are either ineffectual or operating pretty close to the margin of actually not being legitimate. For my agency, I wanted to make sure the boundaries where absolutely clear.

Now I’m in year five and enjoying solid success, so what did I decide to do (and I actually did this two Januaries ago when I was becoming profitable in year three). I did away with reimbursed expenses.

Yep, you heard that right. I don’t track expenses and expect the client to reimburse—before or after a sale now. The agency foots the bill as the cost of doing business.

There are two exceptions though. The agency does track costs associated with International postage or wire transfers (as those are unusual) and we also do track book purchases used in selling subsidiary rights (because that can get expensive very quickly). We always email the clients first to find out if they want to provide the copies and if not, to check if the cost incurred is okay with them before we proceed.

Perhaps we’re crazy but I find that ultimately it’s not worth the time and effort to track it.

Why do I bring this up? Well, I haven’t talked about fees or reimbursable costs in a long time and I think it’s wise to keep talking about this issue. As I mentioned, legitimate agencies might have this practice and as long as they have a long list of documented sales (where it’s obvious their reputation is impeccable), it’s probably not a worry.

However, I would ALWAYS approach it with caution as there are many marginal agents/agencies that are happy to be reimbursed for submission expenses but don’t have the corresponding sales. And if you are going to be billed for those expenses, it should ALWAYS be accompanied and documented by receipts.

Research Is Free

STATUS: I can’t believe it is already 5 o’clock. Do you ever have those days where you start working and then realize you’ve missed lunch by a long shot? Sigh. All good stuff though.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? EAT FOR TWO by 10,000 Maniacs

Here’s an axiom to live by. Don’t pay a service to do your agent research when you can find out most of that information for free just by spending some time on the internet.

Or at the very least, pay the $20 fee for one month’s subscription to Publishers Marketplace and truly get the insider scoop on what is selling, by whom, to whom, and generally for how much. It will only cost you twenty bucks and you can rest assured that the info is fairly accurate (or close enough for your purposes).

Here’s why I feel like ranting. There is a research service out there that prides itself on offering accurate reports that they will then share with paying customers. Now I like the entrepreneurial spirit and pretty much commend that in anyone but according to this company representative, they will only accept/verify information by talking with the agent directly.

In a way, that makes sense. After all, the source would know the best but I don’t think that’s the ONLY way to gather accurate information—especially when the conversations go along like this.

First Call from Research Service
This was actually several years ago but it stands out clearly in my mind and here’s why. The owner of this business rang up to tell me about the company and then to ask me about my current client list. All information I’m happy to share.

Until he asked me when Diana Gabaldon had left my agency.


I know this will come as a big shock to my blog readers but I’m not, and have never been, the agent for Diana Gabaldon. I do have delusions of grandeur but I don’t ever ask anyone but Chutney to share in them.

Not to mention, Diana’s agent is a guy—and she’s been with him for years and years—long before I was even agenting. Makes you wonder to whom the thought he was talking.

That’s okay. Mistakes happen. When I asked to see my report and to verify the information contained therein, I was told that was not company policy. So, what I’m saying is that my report from this service might say that Diana is a former client of mine. Goodness, I hope not.

Second call
This happened a year or so later. Same person called to get information about my current sales. Most of which is public knowledge on my website and on Publishers Marketplace—the general info anyway.

For this call, this person insisted that I reveal the dollar amounts associated with my deals. A little surprised, I said I couldn’t divulge that info—that it was confidential (except in the general terms outlined in deal lunch and approved by the author before announcing). I was then subjected to tirade about how all the other agencies share that info (which I rather doubt but whatever). I politely suggested that he simply contact those authors and ask them about the deal as it is their info to share as they please.

I was hung up on.

Third Call
Happened quite recently. This time the call came in on a Saturday. I wasn’t at the office. What in the world would I’d be doing at the office on a Saturday (besides doing my accounting upgrade but we won’t go there). If this person would like to speak to me, why not call during business hours when I’m actually around?

To this day, I have no idea what my agency report from this service looks like. Let’s hope it’s accurate but I’m not feeling overly confident about it. This leads me back to my original point.

Why pay for something that you can find out for yourself, fairly accurately, and in most instances, for free?

All By Myself….

STATUS: Beside myself with all the good news. Seriously, how can next January compete? I just found out today that my debut author Sherry Thomas is going to have a starred Publishers Weekly review for Private Arrangements in the January 14th issue. That’s almost unheard of for a debut. Congrats Sherry!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MAGIC MAN by Heart

But not anymore. I’ve got really fun news to share. Denver, Colorado is going to get another terrific literary agent and no, this agent isn’t coming aboard here at Nelson Agency (although I wouldn’t have minded that!). It’s Kate Schafer—formerly of the Janklow & Nesbit Agency of New York.

She’s opening up her own show as KT Literary in South Denver.

Together, we are going to put Denver on the map for literary agents! No more “and where are you located” by the publishing world.

Okay, so we might have a few more years until that happens but welcome Kate.

Blog Should Come With A Warning Label

STATUS: It’s been a great week but I’m still glad it’s Friday!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? PROUD MARY by Tina Turner

This might go without saying but just in case, I want to point out here that my blog should come with a warning. Even though I do my best to share information that allows writers to get a good understanding of what happens in the agenting process (because I believe that writers should be as knowledgeable as possible), by no means is my blog a substitute for real expertise.

In other words, don’t use the information learned here in lieu of an agent. Or, god forbid, feel ready to take on agenting yourself. The very thought frightens me!

Seriously. There are some rare exceptions but for the most part, agents learned this biz from other agents who have been in the biz for longer (or was a former editor who learned the ropes from the other side of the fence). Even though I went on my own fairly early in my agenting career, I freely admit that I wouldn’t be where I am now without the incredible selfless mentorship by several powerful agents who, just out of the goodness of their hearts and because we had connected on a personal level, guided me through many a hairy situation where I needed more expertise than I had at that moment in time.

Even though I share a lot on this blog, it’s not even half of what you would need to know to be a good agent.

So please, keep that in mind!

Now on a lighter note, I just couldn’t resist sharing pictures of Chutney in her new holiday hoodie. Just add bling!

Number One Interview Question

STATUS: Gorgeous day here in Denver. Sara and I just had to have lunch out on a sidewalk café. You got to do it while the weather is nice.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? CLOSER TO FINE by Indigo Girls

With every interview I do, I invariably get asked whether it matters whether an agent is located in New York or not.

This question always makes me chuckle. Since I’m in Denver, I’m probably the last person to say so if it were true. But in my experience, it really hasn’t been a factor.

Editors care less about where I’m located and more about whether they are on my submission list when I’ve got a hot project to sell. Now that matters to them.

Those of us working outside the Big Apple travel there often enough. We do lots of lunches. We do the face time.

And here’s the big secret. When an issue arises, guess what New York Agents do? They pick up the phone to talk to the editor just like I do in Denver. They aren’t hopping on the subway to Random House on Broadway or wherever.

If something is crucial and important that I handle in person, well I’m going to hop on a plane. That’s still cheaper than office rent in Manhattan. (And yes, I’ve done that for several important meetings.)

I think where an agent is located matters more to writers and their perception of how the publishing business works. And that’s fine. If that’s a high on your criteria list of what you need your agent to have, then it is. For me, I think it’s more important to look at what the agent is doing in terms of a sales etc.

So does it matter where the agent is located? Don’t ask me because you know what my answer will be!