Pub Rants

Category: agents

Website Calling Card

STATUS: I watched the best movie this weekend. It’s been out for years. I had heard good things and it finally queued up in my Netflix list. It’s rare that I get excited about a film (which is why I rarely see them in movie theaters since I never think the money I spent to see it was worth it). But for this movie, I would have paid $20.00 to see. It’s so easy for filmmakers to make a heart-warming film over-the-top and cheesy. Not so with THE STATION AGENT. If you haven’t seen it, I’d add it to you queue.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THE ONE THING by INXS

I’d like to spotlight here that the only thing I really want writers to take away from my last blog entry and that is this: the agent/agency’s track record of sales is most important. (And yes, new agents at really effective agencies are just fine. They have a built-in mentor to guide them and as long as the agency’s reputation is solid, it’s fine.)

All you need to know about whether an agent is effective or ineffective can be answered by research that will give you the sales information. And if it’s hard to find, well, that’s an answer all in itself as well.

But an agent/agency’s website is simply one tool in the research process.

For me, I wanted to embrace the 21st Century in a big way. I figured lots of aspiring writers might also be great readers and if they are visiting my website to find out about me and what I’m looking for, they might just get interested in one of my clients’ books and buy it. (Anything that sells books let me tell you!)

Besides, I figure it’s just easier to keep a website up-to-date about what I do than any paper publication that pretty much goes out of date the minute it’s published. So for me personally, my website is a pretty important tool—my calling card so to speak.

For other agents that’s not always the case.

So remember a few things about agent/agency websites.

1. Some scammers and ineffective agents have very pretty websites.

2. Some excellent and very effective agents have websites that make me cringe
(Somebody get them a copy of Dreamweaver or a web designer pronto!)

3. Some agents/agencies literally refuse to have one. I have an agent friend at a very established and well-known agency who is always bemoaning the fact that her agency doesn’t have one and it hinders her ability to build her list. Perhaps their client list is full. Maybe they want to fly under the radar. Maybe they just don’t think it’s worth the bother. Maybe they have a policy about it. Who knows.

Doesn’t matter. Only the track record of sales matters.

Not A Good Resource

STATUS: Had a slightly annoying afternoon when I couldn’t send out emails. Receiving them just fine. I know my website hoster is probably the culprit. The server must have gone down briefly.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ALL BY MYSELF by Eric Carmen
(Come on. Admit it. You totally belted out this song in front of a mirror when you were a tween. Wait. That dates me doesn’t it?)

Something must be in the air (or on the blog circuit) because I’ve been getting a lot of emails lately where writers ask me what I think about so-and-so agent.

I know I blog and seem approachable and all, but I’m really not a good resource concerning whether an agent might be a good fit for you or not. And generally, I find it sort of unfathomable why somebody would want to ask me. I know some agents personally but I certainly don’t know more than 25 or so. Hardly a dent really in the number of agents out there.

However, I can point you in the right direction for how you can find out.

First off, check the agent’s recent sales. You can do a Google search. You can go to Publishers Marketplace and sign up to receive deal lunch (and do a deal search via their search engine). Agent Query doesn’t have a bad database (and it’s somewhat up-to-date).

I do think that checking an agent’s recent sales history is a big deal and to note types of sales as well because not all agents are equal. And they certainly aren’t considered equal in editors’ eyes. It’s the truth that proposals/submissions from certain agents are going to be read and considered more seriously than others. There is a hierarchy but if you’ve done your sales research homework, I think you’ll get a very good sense of an agent’s standing.

You can check out Writer Beware and Preditors & Editors. Those folks are tops and keep track of the really nasty folks and scammers.

If you want to know how the agent will match with you personally, I have to say that information will probably only be revealed once you have a conversation with the agent and also interview some of that agent’s clients. (And trust me, you don’t need to worry about this aspect unless you have an offer of representation on the table.)

Even then you may not end up with your permanent agent. I’ve heard lots of author stories about how the agent gave up after one book or wasn’t in love with the second book and the author had to move on.

When you sign with an agent, you hope it’s love forever but if it’s not, you’ll need courage and support to move on to find that perfect match.

You—As Agent Journalist

STATUS: Doing lots of editing for client material this week (and trying to read sample pages/fulls at night). Also putting the finishing touches on the February eNewsletter. It’s going out this week.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BACK WATER BLUES by Dinah Washington

I promised I would talk about Qs to ask an agent if you get THE CALL. I think you can pick and choose what’s most important to you but here are some questions I received recently when I offered representation.

First off, I think you should always ask for a copy of the agency agreement. Most of your questions will probably be answered in that document. If an agent operates without one, you’ll want to ask about termination, whether the agency holds rights into perpetuity, how they handle expenses etc. Otherwise, your conversation is more than likely going to encompass how the relationship will operate.

And Blog readers, if you want to add suggestions in the comments, go for it. And I’m not going to state obvious Qs like how long have you been in the biz, recent sales, and if you are an AAR member. That’s all stuff you SHOULD know before querying the agent.

1. If it’s a big agency, ask who will be handling your work. Assistants are great but they should be assisting, not doing all the work.

2. How do you communicate with your clients?

3. How will I be kept informed of the status of my work?

4. How long does it take you to edit a project and how involved are you in the editing process?

5. Do you have co-agents for foreign rights and Hollywood?

6. Do you consult with clients on any and all offers?

7. How do you prefer to handle future projects? Should I run ideas by you first or can I simply write?

8. What if you don’t want to handle a project? What happens then?

9. What kind of career guidance do you offer?

And then you might want to track other indicators. For example, does the agent suggest that you talk with his/her current clients? What’s your gut feeling during the call? Do you feel you connected with the agent–and in whatever way you define “connection.” For some people, it’s a business so does this person feel like he/she will take care of business? For other writers who want more hand-holding, do you feel that needed emotional connectivity that makes you comfortable?

That about covers it—until I remember a prime question I should have included!

The Agent Call—Take 2

STATUS: I had a great week and I’m ending early. It’s only right around 5 p.m. Yahoo.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ACCIDENTALLY IN LOVE by Counting Crows

The most delightful thing has happened. An agent has called to offer representation. Now what?

First off, unless the agent is absolutely your first choice and you have no reservations, you won’t accept the offer during that phone call. You’ve got some work to do. One, you want to have your list of agent questions ready and you want to ask those questions. If you don’t have them ready, you might want to schedule a phone conference with the offering agent for when you do (but just have them ready).

It’s not presumptuous. You’re setting up a business partnership. You want to know what you are getting into. Ask about the agent’s agency agreement (if they have one), so you can read it (and ask questions) before making a decision.

Hiring your agent should be an informed decision. Maybe on Monday I’ll tackle what you ask during “the call.”

But for now, you have one offer on the table. Now what?

1. While on the phone, you tell the agent that you have several other agents interested (if you do—don’t lie if you don’t obviously) and that you will need to contact them before making a decision. All the agents I know fully respect this. And if you don’t have any other interest, you can ask for a short period to contemplate the offer before accepting. That’s reasonable too.

2. Then you contact all the agents who have your full manuscript and inform them. I’d start with email and then if you don’t receive a reply from some of the agents, I would follow up with a phone call to make sure they know.

3. Give those still reading agents a deadline. You need to make a decision by XYZ date so please get back to me by such-n-such a date if interested.

You now might end up with more than one “the call.” How exciting is that?

If other calls come, ask questions, review the agency agreement beforehand (all the stuff I mention above), and now you might also want to chat with current clients.

And it’s okay to have more than one conversation with the offering agents if you are undecided and you like more than one. You’re now in the driver’s seat because agents want to land you as a client. It’s our time to woo you.

In the end though, you can only choose one.

Too Many Agents!

STATUS: Office move. Chaos. Sneezing from way too much dust. Slightly crabby.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? Well, I found my iPod stereo but didn’t have my iPod with me. Knocks hand against forehead.

Last week I did an email interview for Finn Harvor’s blog Conversations in the Book Trade (I don’t think it has posted yet). He asked me an interesting question. He wanted to know if I thought there were too many literary agents working currently in the field.

Jokingly I replied that when I’m vying against several other agents for the same client, then yes, I’d have to say there are way too many agents.

Guess what happens today? I read a fab project that I must have. I have a great conversation with the author. And yep, you know it. Five other agents also want to sign her.

Five good agents. Five agents that are tough competition (I grumble to myself). I’m happy to be one of the five but lol, too many agents!

But if you’re reading (and you know who you are), pick me. Hehe

(hey, do you think this blog gives me an edge on the competition?)

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.

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.