Pub Rants

Category: agents

It’s Good To Eat Humble Pie

STATUS: What a day! Got a film offer for a project that I’ve been shopping for three years. Kid you not. I made the author sit down before I revealed the details.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? OPERATOR by Jim Croce

Sometimes I need to laugh at myself. When I first started my own agency back in 2002, I think I was more surprised when an author said they would come on board than when they said they wouldn’t. After all, I was pretty unknown back then and hadn’t established nearly the track record I have now. It made sense to me that if it were a choice between me and a more established agent, I’d lose.

But here’s where I get to eat humble pie. As most of you may or may not know, I take on only 3 or 4 new clients a year—if that. (I’m not a take-on-everything-and-see-what-sells kind of agent.) I don’t offer representation often and when I do, most authors are ready to say “yes” because they have already done their research and would know if they really wanted me as an agent or not. It’s not to say they don’t ask questions or don’t contemplate other agent offers seriously. They do and I have lost possible clients to some mighty fine fellow agents (and you know who you are!) But as of late, I’ve always known that I was a serious contender.

But it’s been a while since I’ve gotten a flat-out NO from an author.

And I was so surprised. And then I had to laugh at myself because goodness, why should I be surprised? I’m not the be-all, end-all. If I think so, that means I’m getting too big for my britches!

Agents, Agents, Agents!

STATUS: Rainy days and Mondays. Kind of sums it up.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BIG LOG by Robert Plant

Kind of reads like Girls, Girls, Girls! on an Adult entertainment site billboard.

But seriously, if you want to attend a conference with a serious agent list, take a look at this line up for Backspace’s Agent-Author Conference on Nov. 6 & 7 in New York City.

There are a couple of mighty fine editors thrown in there for good measure but Agents, Agents, Agents! just sounded better.

I’m just sorry I won’t be there. I imagine you could ask about any question your heart desires at this conference and then you wouldn’t need to read my blog anymore. Look at this program!

Speaking of reading my blog, boy did I cause some consternation on Friday.

And y’all are so smart. You figured out right away it wasn’t about me since I only do submissions electronically (and can you tell that to all those folks who keep snail mailing me stuff). Next year we are going to have to stop responding. It’s eating up to much letterhead and time. I hate to just recycle without replying but desperate measures may call for desperate action.

But back to Friday’s post.

The problem was not with the request to email it. Some agents might not be fine with that but then they’ll simply tell you so and then you can choose whether to snail mail it or not.

The problem was not in letting this agent know that the full manuscript was out with other agents. To me, that’s just professional.

The problem was in detailing that 30 other agents (or pick some other high number) had already requested the full by email.

Why? Because of the subtext of what is implied. Look at me agent. My manuscript is hot. You’d better get on board and let me email it to you because so many other agents have asked to see it right away and I’ve emailed it to them. (By the way, this author could be lying. It’s happened before…)

Yuck. I’m not sure I care how good this manuscript might be and the reason why I shared this story is that many of the agents I knew felt the same.

Unreasonable? Maybe. I don’t know. I’m just telling it like it is and if it’s helpful, great. If not, it’s not.

Don’t Worry, Agent Unhappy

STATUS: I’m making headway in my client reading. It really is strange how clients all seem to submit stuff within days of each other. How do they do it?

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BLACK COFFEE IN BED by Squeeze

All agents will tell you that our time is valuable but here’s what is interesting. It’s not valuable in the way that most writers probably think.

It has nothing to do with ego—as in “I’m such a big shot agent you’d better not waste my time.” (Although I imagine some agents might feel that way!)

When I say my time is valuable, I mean it in the sense that there is never enough time to accomplish all that needs to be done to be a good literary agent. There are only so many hours in the day to give clients good service, to respond to queries and sample pages promptly, to address contract or royalty statement issues, or to simply negotiate a new deal with an editor, or to ______ And then fill in the blank with a hundred different possibilities.

Nope. There’s never enough—even when I find myself working 12 or 13-hour days (not unusual by the way).

So when I say my time is valuable, that’s what I mean. And I’ll tell you what agents appreciate. If I have your full manuscript and you’ve decided (or are about to decide) to sign with somebody else, please tell me right away.

I can either read immediately or if the decision has already been made, I can wish you Godspeed and a quick sale.

But if I read quickly, and let’s say I took the weekend to do so, because I don’t know that your decision has already been made and I find out on Monday that I took 6 hours to read your full but you’ve already signed with someone else…

Hum…I don’t have happy feelings because of the problem with time; there is never enough. All I can think about is what I could have gotten accomplished in those 6 hours (or whatever) that I spent reading a-no-longer-available manuscript.

Let’s just say it doesn’t have me whistling “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

Agent Shopping

STATUS: So crazy today and it’s so late at night for blogging…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BIG LOG by Robert Plant

When you have a deal on the table, don’t get in the mindset of “one stop shopping.”

I think it’s terrific to have your dream agent on the top of your list and by all means, be sure to contact him or her. But don’t stop there. A deal on the table is no guarantee that an agent will sign a writer.

Now it certainly helps the process along but an agent might still pass and as a writer, you don’t want to get caught without a back-up plan.

Now why in the world would an agent pass up easy money with a deal already on the table? Simple. Client lists are either full or the agent is really particular about what he or she takes on.

For me, I can like a project and see the merit but still not offer representation. I have to LOVE a project to take on a new client—especially if the project being offered on is a debut.

I often pass on projects with an editor offer already on the table if the project simply isn’t right for me.

But that doesn’t mean it won’t be right for other agents. So contact the dreams first but then have your secondary list fired up and ready to go.

It’s like applying for college. You pinpoint the dream schools but always have the “fail-safe entry” school as a fall back.

What I Always Counsel

STATUS: Today was as exciting as a root canal. Accounting. Need I say more? Still, even if there is a bookkeeper involved, one must balance the books and ensure everything is in order.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MONEY by Pink Floyd
(Funny how this works sometimes. I swear; it’s really what is playing right now.)

When I was at the RWA conference last week, an author came up to me and disclosed that she wanted to leave her agent and would I give her some advice.

And I’ll tell you that when an author contacts me with this thought in the mind, I always ask this question first: “Have you spoken to your agent about your desire to leave?”

Why do I ask this? Because the answer has always been NO and I always counsel that an author thinking of jumping should have a heart-to-heart talk with the agent before doing so.

Now, this is working on the assumption that the agent has done his/her job. In other words, the author hasn’t just discovered that the agent is a scammer. This also rules out any agents who might have acted illegally or fraudulently. Obviously if this is the case, a heart-to-heart, to put it simply, is rather unnecessary. High tail it on out of there.

But I operate in the world in the same way that I would want to be treated. Karma and all that. If one of my clients were thinking of leaving, I would certainly hope that they would give me the opportunity to hear what the problem is and allow me time to fix it, which is why I always counsel the author to talk with his/her agent first.

I’ve not landed new (and very desirable) clients by providing this type of counsel, but I sleep well at night. And who knows, ultimately the break between that author and agent might be unavoidable and they can certainly come knocking on my door again.

But they have to know that I’m going to ask them if they had that heart-to-heart first…

Now if the author has already formally made the break, that’s a different story. They aren’t asking for counsel. They’ve already made a decision.

Etiquette: Talking About Your Former Agent

STATUS: My hubby has been out of town all week but is finally back tonight. That puts me in a great mood.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SHE’S LIKE THE WIND by Patrick Swayze

These blog postings might have several facets. We’ll see.

A recent letter I received got me thinking about this topic. In the letter, the writer was looking to switch agents because her project hadn’t sold. That in itself isn’t a problem. I can understand the frustration. The problem rested in how the issue was presented in the letter. The writer had incautiously written that the agent had only submitted the work to a few junior editors and then had promptly lost interest.

This may be true but it’s not in a writer’s best interest to present it that way. Maybe these are some up-and-coming young editors. Maybe X number of houses for the submission was appropriate. Maybe the Agent did his/her job. Ultimately, the inquiry letter ended up sounding more like sour grapes from disappointed hopes rather than a professional statement of the circumstances.

In other words, the writer sounded like a potential problem client, and I’m sure that wasn’t the writer’s intent.

Now I can totally sympathize with the disappointed hopes part and feeling abandoned by the agent. What I’m recommending here is that if this is the case, you feel it privately, but that’s not what you share in your new cover letter to prospective agents.

Keep it professional. Simply state, “I am currently looking for a new agent. I do have a project that was previously submitted to XYZ editors. I have revised it significantly and would like to go back on submission to some new venues for the work.”

And that’s if you really need to disclose this information at all in the first round of contact to agents. I always recommend just sending out a general query letter first so as to get agent interest. Then if sample pages or a full is requested, then ‘fess up to the prior representation and submission—sticking only to the facts (as in it was sent to “XYZ editors at XYZ houses).

Keep all other opinions to yourself. Once established with the new agent and you feel comfortable sharing the more personal perspective, then go for it. But in the query letter, just the facts ma’am.

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.