Pub Rants

Category: Agents/Agenting

Remember, Editors Work For The Man

STATUS: I’m a little frazzled. But things are good. I did have lunch today with Kate Schafer, a YA agent at Janklow & Nesbit. She’s in town. Ends up we both have copies of Opal Mehta (of the big plagiarism scandal) because we had lunches with editors involved right before that story broke. Isn’t that weird? A little synchronicity in the world.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THIS IS IT by Kenny Loggins

One of the great reasons, as an author, to have an agent is the fact that your agent gets to handle any of the nasty stuff and you, as the author, get to maintain a terrific, stress-free relationship with your editor. In fact, some authors end up being good friends with their editors and will often attend parties, weddings, and other events with or for their editor friend.

A great relationship with your editor is a powerful thing. I’m all for it but I always want to remind authors that editors work for the man. In other words, they work for the publishing house and even though they might adore you personally, it is their job to protect their employer’s best interest. Not yours.

That’s why you have an agent.

So when I hear that authors either knowingly or unwittingly circumvent their agent and jeopardize the author/agent partnership, I feel the need to rant. I guess this has been a big discussion on some of the chat forums lately—authors who have agents but go directly to their editor with a new, uncontracted proposal or work without consulting with the agent first.

Oh boy. Regardless of how good your relationship is with your editor, this is business; not personal and a submission (in whatever format) is truly the first step in a negotiation and is serious business. Not to mention your agent’s job. I have heard so many horror stories of authors misstepping at this stage because they knowingly or unwittingly circumvented the agent and chaos ensued.

Or even better, I love the stories where authors have submitted a project themselves and contracted it without the agent’s knowledge and then landed themselves in a whole heap of trouble in terms of not honoring option clauses or current contract conditions etc.

Guess what the agent does when he or she finds out? You bet. Drops you. In this instant, the author has purposely negated the agent/author relationship and as far as the agent is concerned, you are not her problem anymore.

Any gray areas here? For example, are you allowed to share ideas with your editor? Sure… (but it’s better to share with me first) and as soon as the idea morphs into pen on paper, a real project that can be sold, I’d better be in the loop.

It’s After 10 p.m.?

STATUS: Holy cow did this day ever get away from me. It’s late and I’m still working. Of course I’m thinking do I have any brain cells left to blog today? Not many so I’m going to skimp. I should be hail and hearty tomorrow.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I’D REALLY LOVE TO SEE YOU TONIGHT by England Dan and John Ford Coley

My good friend Jason is tired of the incessant whining over books that didn’t match or bother to exceed expectation. Instead, let’s celebrate the little engines that could.

Jane Dystel thinks you are nutso [my interpretation because Jane is very elegant would never say something like “nutso”] if you think all an agent does is sell books. Agenting is so much more…

My good bud agent Jennifer Jackson discusses how bad books get published and good books don’t (and all variations in between).

Jessica over at Bookends tackles when an agent gives up.

And of course, one of my favorites, Bookseller (Can-I-convince-you-to-handsell-all-my-clients’-books?) Chick talks about the most kick-a** topic of all, books as a gateway drug. Does it get any better than that?

Enjoy. Off to sleep. Back tomorrow.

Myth Buster #4—Anybody Say Launch Party?

STATUS: Tomorrow I have an auction happening and late on last Friday, I got a first offer for a different submission I currently have out. Deals are in the fall, crisp air!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? CHURCH OF THE POISON MIND by Culture Club

What about all those publishing parties, say you? Surely that’s yet another advantage to being an agent located in New York. There are all those extra networking opportunities at launch parties, book store events, and whatnot, to make business happen.

Snort.

Do you know what agents, editors, and other industry folks do at launch parties and other publishing events? They have fun. They drink. They eat and generally talk about all sorts of things that have nothing to do with publishing.

And there are all kinds of other secrets I could share about what goes down at those parties and who might have partied too much but alas, to paraphrase a line from ALMOST FAMOUS again, there are some things that’s good for a few people to know rather than millions. This would be one of them.

(And I know I don’t have a million-person readership. I just wanted to use the line!)

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.

Generic YA First POV

STATUS: Today was a non-day for work. My tech person came to boot up the new network so I pretty much had no access to the computer for most of the day. In good news, I did stand in line for an hour to early vote (and good news for the voting part—not the standing in line part). Don’t forget to vote on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2006.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HEY JEALOUSY by Gin Blossoms

I’ve been noticing something in the Teen Chick Lit submissions I’ve been receiving so I’m finally going to talk about it. It’s tough though because taste can be so subjective and what one agent dislikes, another agent loves.

Same with editors for that matter.

But I think there have been enough examples of late to merit a blog entry and this pretty much applies to what I call Teen Chick Lit, which, as many of you know, is mainly done in a young girl’s first person point-of-view.

Now don’t worry. I don’t think there is anything wrong with first pov; I like it just fine. What’s bothering me is what I’m calling a rash of generic first person narratives (despite good hooks or an original story line). The main narrator ends up sounding just like the main narrators of the 30 plus Teen Chick Lits I’ve read in the last 3 months. There’s no differentiating.

Now the tricky part. What’s generic for me? A couple of things.

1. A Valley-girlish type narrative voice

This is for lack of a better description. I don’t mean strict Valley Girl like, oh my gosh, from the 80s. I know YA writers are trying to capture that teen speak, slang, and quick dialogue so true to life. But what I’m seeing is this narrative voice and the absence of crucial things like character development. A narrator’s voice should be instrumental to showing character depth and complexity. Lately, it seems to be missing. Not to mention, not all teens speak that way. Surely we can have some variety. I have two teenage nieces and they don’t talk in this same rhythm that I seem to be seeing over and over in sample pages I’ve been reading.

2. A dialogue-heavy scenes

This in itself is not necessarily bad. Most YA novels tend to be pretty dialogue-oriented. It picks up the pace etc. I have a problem with it when scenes are dialogue-heavy to the exclusion of everything else, like setting the scene. I’m seeing this often.

3. Misconception that a good hook can carry average writing

Yes, a good hook in Teen chick lit goes a long way but I have to say that I’m an even harder judge when reading YA. I really want the writing to be top-notch, literary commercial, can hold up even on an adult level but has the right pace for YA.

It’s one of the reasons why I had not taken on a YA-only writer until just last week. I’m looking for something that can really hold its own in the market. It’s not generic in any way.

Whatever that means, right?

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.