Pub Rants

Category: new clients

A Few Good Men And Then Some

STATUS: I wasn’t in the office yesterday so today is catch-up.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? STRONG ENOUGH by Sheryl Crow

Our eNewsletter goes out on the 1st of every month (unless the 1st is over the weekend, then we wait for the first Monday after the month begins) but you get the picture.

And I guess I need to assume that some newsletter readers are not also blog readers because every month, I get an email asking me why we don’t rep male writers.

I imagine Stefan Bachmann, Jamie Ford, Jason Hough, and Micheal Planck would be slightly offended by this question.

What do they need to do? Don wife beaters and have a Harley in their author photos to stand out?

And that doesn’t count all the new guys we’ve just signed on but haven’t sold yet.

Enough already. We’ve got plenty of testosterone on the client roster.

A Story The Editor Will Never Know

STATUS: Doing all the crazy wrap-up before the three-day holiday weekend. Yes!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? LEAVING LAS VEGAS by Sheryl Crow

I’ve mentioned before what I call The Curse Of The Sophomore Novel. For whatever reason, authors invariably trip when it comes to writing the next novel after their debut.

My hypothesis is that the first novel took many years to write, had lots of feedback and many drafts. Then novel 2 needs to be written on deadline and usually in under a year’s time. With that crunch, a lot of talented authors kind of blank on all the great tools they used in the debut novel that made it so good. By the way, it doesn’t matter how talented the author, what genre the author writes in, or how many previous novels he/she has under her bed. More often than not, a new author will whiff on book 2.

Good agents anticipate and prepare for this—which leads me to a terrific article my author Kristina Riggle just sent me from Poets & Writers. Editor Jofie Ferrari-Adler has been doing a series of articles on editors and agents and every one of them is a gem. If you haven’t seen them before, I suggest tracking all of them down.

What this month’s article tackles is best described in Jofie’s own words. He says: “This is a story about literary agents. It’s a story about good literary agents and bad literary agents and, more specifically, it’s a story about the tireless, often intangible work that good literary agents perform for their clients during the period after the contract is signed but before the book is published.”

Interestingly enough, none of the agents in the article tackled the curse of the sophomore novel so I thought I would in today’s post.

As I mentioned, good agents anticipate the curse. I always strongly recommend that I see the sophomore novel before it’s delivered to the editor. In fact, I encourage our authors to send it to me (if at all possible) 2 months before the delivery deadline to the editor. Just in case. Occasionally, the author does just fine and the sophomore novel is great. No intervention necessary. More often than not, the curse has reared its ugly head.

For the story I want to share, the editor (to this day) does not know—and this is why details will remain anonymous. In fact, I should say “stories” and “editors to this day don’t know” because it’s happened more than once and none of the editors know.

Author delivered the cursed sophomore novel. I read and said “good heaven! This won’t do. The poor overworked editor will blow a coronary if we send this on.”

Called author and delivered the bad news. Then buckled down with the author to, literally, rewrite the entire novel in 6 weeks. (The author sent me 2 chapters every 2 or 3 days. I would edit and turnaround in 2 days to shoot it back. Author would send next batch and while I had that, author reworked already edited chapters until entire novel was revised.)

Author delivered wonderful “first draft” of novel to editor on deadline.

Couple weeks later, editor called just to tell me what a pleasure reading the novel was and how the editor has never had such a clean sophomore novel delivered to her before.

I responded with “I know. Isn’t the author amazing?”

And I’m positive I’m not the only agent to have ever done this.

By the way, this only ever happens to an author once. After the sophomore curse, the author never missteps again.

Happy 4th of July! See y’all back here on Tuesday.

Hot Commodity

STATUS: This week is all about royalty statements reviews. Getting reconciliation to prints, following up with questions, fixing errors spotted. The usual.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? OPPORTUNITIES by Pet Shop Boys

I’m sure that those of you who have struggled to find an agent as of late won’t believe me but writers are a hot commodity at the moment.

More so then I’ve seen in my whole career.

For the last six months, any project Sara or I have wanted, we’ve had to fight for. In other words, when we offered rep, the author already had, bare minimum, five other agent offers on the table in addition to ours.

Ack. What is up? Talk about stiff competition. Every time I see the sale on Deal Lunch for one of those projects we wanted, I can’t help but groan aloud. Grin.

I thought it was just me but then an agent friend emailed me this morning to literally to say the same thing and had I noticed the increased competition for any project. We ended up in round robin email groan fest on the topic with another agent for most of the morning.

But seriously, I’ve noticed it. In 8 years it hasn’t been as tough as I’ve seen these last 6 months.

Things You Don’t Want to Learn While In New York!

STATUS: Back at the hotel for 30 minutes before I need to run out again.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? COME BACK TO ME by David Cook

I mentioned in our November newsletter a couple of weeks ago that Sara and I just absolutely loved a submission that came our way, offered rep, but alas the author went with another agent (as there were many agents interested).

I heard today that the project sold at auction for some money–with tons of houses bidding on it.

Ack. Hate that. But you know what? We tried for it; we were in the game. We loved it. Obviously lots of people agreed.

And for all of you, this is good news. This means Publishers are willing to step up to the plate for projects—something I was rather worried about as of late.

But truthfully, I wish editors hadn’t told me about it. Ignorance can be bliss…


Exploding The “Must Have Connections Myth”—Guest Blogger Megan Crewe

STATUS: For a Monday, it was actually fairly quiet. Only one major issue to solve.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? RASPBERRY BERET by Prince

I thought this a pertinent and timely entry in light of a lot of recent discussions I’ve seen in the comment section of agent blogs lately.

Megan’s debut hits shelves this week—all done with nary a networked connection.

I think every aspiring writer hears this message at least once: You don’t have a hope of getting published unless you’ve got connections. I saw it pop up on message boards and websites as I was preparing GIVE UP THE GHOST for submission to agents, and couldn’t help feeling nervous. After all, I’d never talked to an editor or an agent in my life. I didn’t even live in the same country as most of them! And my close writer friends were currently unagented, so I didn’t have a referral, either.

But I’d also read posts by authors talking about getting picked out of the slush pile, and agents mentioning their excitement at finding a gem in their inboxes, and that gave me hope. So instead of digging into my savings to fly off to every conference I could manage, I simply wrote a query letter, revised it, and started sending it out.

Three and a half years later, I have an agent, a publishing deal, and a book that just hit the shelves. I met Kristin in person for the first time this past May, two and a half years after we started working together.

I know now that there’s nothing to worry about–people receive offers of representation and book deals without any prior connections all the time. I did, many of my writer friends did, and I’ve happily told this to writers who’ve said they’re afraid they won’t be able to find an agent or get published because they don’t know anyone.

Unfortunately, I realized offering my experience isn’t enough. Why should anyone believe me over those claiming that it’s impossible? Maybe my case was just the exception.

Which is why, last month, I set out to collect solid data. 270 fiction authors from a variety of genres filled out a poll asking them about their experiences selling their first published novel. With the results now in, I say with assurance that the idea that you need connections to get published is nothing more than a myth.

62% of the agented authors who responded got the agent who sold their first book through cold querying–no prior meeting, no referral.

72% of the authors sold their first book to an editor they had no connection to (either by cold querying themselves, or submitting via their agent).

You can find my full discussion of the poll results here.

Can connections help you out? Of course! But if you don’t have them, don’t sweat it. I’m a Canadian author who signed with a Denver agent who sold to a New York editor without my having any prior connection to either of them, and that novel can be found right now in stores across both countries. If I can do it (along with more than a hundred other authors who answered the poll), there’s no reason you can’t, too.

Agents Get Rejected Too

STATUS: I’m ready for an exciting new project to come my way.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? POEMS, PRAYERS, AND PROMISES by John Denver

I know that writers don’t necessarily think of this but agents get rejected as well. Last week I offered representation to an author for a novel that was really really good.

Alas, I wasn’t the only agent who thought so. The author had several offers of representation and in the end, the writer didn’t go with me.

So how does an agent feel when this happens?

Does the agent feel disappointed? Of course! If you really like something, it’s hard when you don’t get a chance to go out with it.

Does the agent feel angry? Not really. You can’t win them all. At least I was seriously in the running.

Does the agent feel validated? Absolutely. It’s always nice to know that my taste isn’t off. If other agents are fighting for the same project, then I was right on how I felt about the manuscript.

Does the agent feel regret? Only when we see the “good” or “significant” or “major” moniker on the deal posting on deal lunch. Grin.

And what might be surprising to writers is that most agents wish the author well. Strange as that may sound it’s actually true. This may sound a little woo-woo but I do think that karma plays a big part in what projects come your way and what is meant to be.

Otherwise this biz could drive you nuts…

No Prize For An Unblemished Record

STATUS: Tomorrow I head to Hawaii for the Hawaii Writers Conference. It’s a tough job and somebody has to do it and I’m always happier doing it in Hawaii. Grin.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FAMILY AFFAIR by Mary J. Blige (now that I’ve learned how to code it down to a small playbox, I’m going to try putting it right under the iPod song–just in case you want to listen while reading.)

I’ve actually been mulling in my head how to write this entry. The reason? I don’t agent the same as all other agents so it’s hard to talk about percentage.

For example, in comparison to a lot of other agents, I don’t sell a lot of books in any given year. I’ve never have—even when I started seven years ago. I’m very selective about the projects I take on.

Earlier in my career when I was still feeling out my tastes and what I really wanted to represent, I had a much higher percentage of books that didn’t sell (especially when I was doing nonfiction titles—which I’m hopeless at and hence why I just rep fiction).

When I became more comfortable in the fiction realm and knew exactly what works for me and what works for the editors, my percentage of projects sold drastically increased. I’m going to assume that what is of most interest to blog readers is the percentage of projects sold for new clients (or debut authors) who haven’t been previously published.

For me, I’m looking back on the last two years and my percentage is almost 100% of what I took on sold. Now this sounds like I’m tooting my horn and other agents aren’t good as I am but that’s not what I’m trying to say (although it could be true, I really don’t know). There may be another way to look at this. Maybe I’m not taking as many risks. I don’t perceive it that way as I only take on the stuff I love but maybe that’s it.

Maybe other agents take on a higher percentage of projects because they are at bigger agencies and have to meet sales quotas. Maybe other agents take on more because they get paid on commission only and bills need to be paid (so the higher percentage they take on, the more likelihood that % number of projects will sell). Maybe other agents take on more simply because they love more stuff then I do (have a broader range in their tastes) and not all of it can sell. Maybe other agents are newer to agenting and still feeling out their tastes and what works best for them to sell.

I haven’t got a definitive answer here.

But what I can say because of yesterday’s entry, my record is not a 100% this year!

Now what’s interesting is that when I took on this author, I knew it wasn’t going to be a slam dunk sale. It’s a work that genre blends so didn’t fit squarely into one place or the other (always harder to sell). Also, this work was something very different for me to rep; it was going outside my “box” so to speak (although I like to think I don’t have a box and I’m open to anything as long as the voice is there). And, to top it off, an earlier version of this work had been shopped previously by another agent. We did a major revision and took it out again. Both the author and I knew what we were up against. If I don’t challenge myself now and again, what’s the point? This work is good; it deserves to sell. This week, we were “this close” to selling it before getting shot down in the agony of defeat.

And if I can’t sell this one, chances are really good I’m going to be selling a future work from this client. The author has a great way of nailing characters who are gray-area bad guys but end up being perversely likable. That’s mastery. I’m patient—as is the author.

So no unblemished record for me this year. C’est la vie!

Snooze We Lose

STATUS: It’s really too late to be blogging but there you have it.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SHE’S LEAVING ME BECAUSE SHE REALLY WANTS TO by Lyle Lovett

Now I have to say that I really don’t consider 10 days as snoozing but the reality is that another agent was faster. It really is as simple as that.

And what most of my blog readers know (or are learning), every situation is different. Perhaps we were not the dream agent for this particular person and another agent was. I know so many wonderful agents; it wouldn’t surprise me if I actually knew who ended up landing this project (Now I don’t because the writer didn’t offer that info and we didn’t ask.)

Do I think a writer is obligated to tell other parties that have partials that an offer of representation has been made?

Nope. Not if we only have a partial. Now I’d love it if they did, but we don’t expect it.

When we request a full, however, we always ask in our request letter that the writer keep us apprised of any other interest. There’s nothing worse than spending a weekend reading a full, getting excited about it, then finding out on Monday that the project is no longer available. Ack. I could have spent those 8 hours on a different manuscript.

But it’s not like we are going to send out the agent police after the writer if they don’t inform us of an offer. It is the writer’s prerogative after all. But boy, I really do think it’s helpful when a writer does give us that heads up.

Despite best efforts to read in a timely fashion, I always feel like I’m 2 or 3 weeks behind on my reading than where I should be.

Ain’t That Fast Enough?

STATUS: Just a note to let you know that on Friday, I’m off to New York for my month-long corporate rental and Book Expo. I’ll be giving y’all the inside scoop on everything I hear from editors.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ARE YOU GONNA GO MY WAY by Lenny Kravitz

Sara and I went to lunch today as it was 80 degrees and just lovely. We popped over to Green Salad Company to get some leafy lunches and then sat outside soaking up the sunshine. We try to have lunch together at least once a month so we can touch base on both work related things but just personal stuff too. Reconnect so we aren’t always about work.

Today Sara suffered her first disappointment on this lovely road to agenting. A project she was really excited about and interested in taking on landed an agent before she could request the full. Ack. I hate that feeling.

So we were talking about the timeline over lunch.

On May 1, we received the query regarding the project. On May 2, Sara responded asking for sample pages. The author didn’t actually upload to our database until four days later on May 6. Today is May 12 and yesterday (so May 11) Sara read the sample pages. Today she eagerly opened the email program to send off a request for a full but noticed that the author had emailed us.

Yep, that email was to tell us that the writer had already accepted representation. Sara was hugely bummed. Now maybe the manuscript wouldn’t have lived up to her expectation upon reading the full but she doesn’t think so. She really liked the voice and the writing.

So from query to asking for full—10 days. Ain’t that fast enough? Guess not!

Get Specific Names

STATUS: I totally forgot to blog last night.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LONG HOT SUMMER by Style Council

It sometimes happens that a writer lands an agent, goes on submit, but then the agent gives up after just a short time or a few submissions.

Personally, I can’t figure out what the agent was thinking. Why bother taking on someone if you don’t think you can commit for the long haul? Besides, every agent I know has a story of getting 30+ rejections and finally selling the book. It only takes one! Such a cliché but often true. I’ve even heard of agents taking up to 2 years and 5 years to sell a project.

But that’s an aside. Let’s say this has happened to you (as awful as that would be). Here’s the info you need to be an animal about getting from that former agent. Bug that person with emails and phone calls (politely of course—I always advocate being professional and polite) but do annoy them until you get the exact names of the editors who saw the work and the imprints/houses. And if you can get the responses, that’s even better!


Because if a new agent is going to take you on, it’s imperative to have that info. (And just about every agent I know has taken on at least one client who has been previously submitted so it happens.)

Here are a couple of reasons why we need the info:

1. If I have the submit list in hand while contemplating offering representation, I can clearly see if I think the former agent sent the work to the right editors or not. If they haven’t, heck, I’ve got a clear field and can probably sell the work by getting the project into the right hands.

2. Having the info allows me to weigh my decision on whether I think there are enough viable other places to take it to.

3. The editor list lets me see if an editor has left publishing or has moved to another house and suddenly, I’ve got a clear shot at that imprint again. It’s musical chairs in publishing.

4. The editor list allows me to pinpoint an editor who has already seen it (maybe a year or more ago) and I can sway him or her to look at it again if we’ve done a big enough revision on it that I can pitch it like new.

5. Some editors are notoriously bad at never responding and if that’s the case and I see that on the list (and the responses you have—or lack thereof), I can target a different editor at that imprint and it’s like submitting fresh.

6. There’s nothing worse than not knowing that a project you took on was previously shopped and you, the agent, now have egg on your face when an editor writes and tells you that they’ve seen it before and it was NO then and it’s still NO now. Ouch. That pisses me off and so if you have the editor list, then you can give it to me before this can happen.

Not to mention, it’s your right to know who has seen your manuscript, who turned it down, and what they said about it so even if you are parting ways, get that info. Most agents (I hope) are good people and happy to give you that info as a matter of course but if the agent isn’t doing it, be wonderfully annoying and politely make it clear that you will continue your inquiry until they do. They may just send it your way to make you go away!