Monday, November 17, 2008

A writer and his agent are like. . .

Friends, business partners, ballroom dancers?

Some writers say that writers should not be friends with their agent and editor. Not me. I think that's crazy. Personally, I don't want an agent or editor who isn't also my friend. That's what has worked best for me. Your Mileage May Vary.

But here's the question that really puzzles me: when you're trying to find an agent, is it okay to send out multiple and simultaneous submissions? Honestly? I don't know and never have known if there's a right answer to that. The longer I'm in this business, the more I tend to come down on the side of whatever answer to any question most benefits the writer, because baby, it's tough out there. But the answer to this particular question can go either way. Submit to one agent at a time and you will satisfy the ones who think that's the only ethical way to go, but then they may take a year to get back to you! Or submit to a lot of agents at the same time and some of them will accept that easily, but others will be jerks about it. And if you do submit your work to more than one agent at a time, do you let all of them know? Arrrghh.

Do any of you have any opinions/information about these tricky questions?

Photo by Andif


Lisa M said...

Morning All.
Nancy, you bring up my future.
Getting an agent.
I can break out in a cold sweat just thinking about that.
The idea of sending my work out to strangers that I HOPE will be interested is terrifying. Doesn't sound like a recipe for finding a friend/agent.

My solution has been to sign up for a workshop in March sponsored in part by a literary agency. There, I will get to work with published authors, editors, and agents. Get an opportunity to meet one on one. Similar to WRW in KY but more tailored to Young Adult writing. In KY there were no agents representing YA so I had no real shot at interest.

WRW gave me a new way of looking at my story. I've spent the months since putting that knowledge into the story. I'm closing in on THE end, but this is a not a sprinting process for me. Tortoise be me, plugging away. The terrifying idea of that whole query process to get an agent batters my confidence.
Still, I write.

AndiF said...

And the answer to all those tricky questions is ... huh?

This has been another edition of simple answers to questions you know nothing about.

Farf, I think I can smell that sourdough bread cooking already. Yum.

Morning all.

Lisa M said...

Andi--Without you readers, why would we write? So don't feel left out. Feel a part of the process.
Wonderful pups pic. Pats for Giddy too.

Farf--Andi reminded me about the sour dough. Love it. My dad went through a sour dough phase. Great bread and pancakes, but never could perfect his biscuits.

AndiF said...

Not to worry, Lisa. I never feel left out -- I just barge in so everyone can have benefit of my judiciously considered non-answers. ;)

Maria Lima said...

Morning, gang! I think one *must* be friendly with one's agent. That said, one day, I'll get me one of those. I was lucky enough to get my current contract without one, and with the help of a great attorney to review said contract, but in the future, I must find an agent.

Now, it's off to the daily grind, with thoughts of Far's sourdough bread to sustain me.

Hope everyone has a great day!

FARfetched said...

Hey all!

Yup, I'm looking forward to that first loaf of sourdough bread this weekend.

Agents… to me, still on the unpublished side of the canyon, this is foremost a business relationship. You can do business with a friend, but if the agent is an @$$h0le who drives me nutz but makes my work better and gets me a better deal with the publisher, I'd take it. 'Course, I'd rather have a friend who makes my work better & gets me a cushy contract, but business is business. Unfortunately, professional writing is where the creative heart meets the cold calculators. said...

Dang it, Lisa m, I was just in Frankfort KY over the weekend at the Ky Book Fair (where are you in KY?) and met a bunch of KY authors and a few publishers, a 3rd-term city councilperson, and a state supreme court justice (you never know who's going to be hanging out at the bar). The only agent I noticed was Rick Pitino's.

Lisa, what workshop are you signed up for (if you don't mind my asking)? I think this is a terrific way to become familiar with the, uh, "society" of publishing.

Nancy, does anyone still query agents through the mail? I mean, are we supposed to? The last person I talked to who had just had his first book published had, in fact, submitted his query and sample through email. And then, when the other party expressed interest (the next day), sent the whole thing to them on disc. This was nonfiction, though.

Far, I do believe that publishers and authors work together under a flag of truce. I think agents get along better with publishers than most writers do.

Nancy, someone shold write a book to answer the rest of your questions. :-) Much to consider. It is certainly okay to send out agent queries as multiple submissions without comment upon that fact. The trouble is when they ask for exclusivity to see and consider your entire work. I know it sounds dumb, and it may be, but at this point I would try to get them on the phone, if I hadn't previouisly met them in person. Just to get a feel for how the personalities of you and potential agent intersect.

Nancy P said...

Lisa, that sounds like a great opportunity. Maybe the agents will address these questions, although I've gotta say I've heard agents do that for almost 30 years now and it's still a mystery to me.

Nancy P said...

Andi, I counted on you this morning. I needed at least one person who understands this subject even less well than I do. :p & hee.

Nancy P said...

far, the only problem with that is if the agent truly is an *ssh*le, he or she can make your life and your editor's life miserable. Of course, that's at the extreme end of the scale. Someplace along the continuum is the agent who is not your friend, but not an *ssh*le, either. What happens there frequently is a kind of cold relationship that leaves the writer constantly feeling as if s/he's doing or saying the wrong thing, and confused about decisions. And that's not helpful for the writing process. Can be paralyzing, in fact. If I can't "read" an agent, I don't want to work with her. If she's not warm to me, I figure editors won't like her, either.

On the other hand, one of the most successful agents in the business truly is an *ssh*le. Editors loathe him. I don't know how his writers feel about him, but some of them sure do sell a lot of books.

Would I take that, if I had to put up with a person like that? Honestly, I doubt it. But maybe I'm fooling myself.

I have no such doubt abut sourdough, however. Want. Some.

Nancy P said...

Hi, Invisible One! If I were just starting out to find an agent I would be excruciatingly careful to study exactly how they want to be approached. The only way I know how to find that out is to check their websites--and they don't all have websites--and the various books that list agents and their requirements.
Anybody know of a really trustworthy source of that information?

I would try to find out on my own and if that didn't work, I would find out the agent's email address and briefly email to ask how to approach them.

If it's a big agency, I'd think phone is okay cause the writer might talk to a receptionist who could tell what to do. At a small agency, I'd be leery of phone in case they don't want to be approached that way. But then, I hate the phone, so my neurosis is probably showing.

Am I the only one who currently has an agent? I got mine years ago in this fashion. . .I had started a poetrywriting group stemming from a poetrywriting class I attended. At a meeting, two of the women whom I barely knew announced they had found an agent for their romance novel and if anybody wanted the agent's contact info, here it was. . .

I took it. Finished my first book. Sent it to the agent. Agent happened to come to KC to speak at a conference. I signed up to meet her. She had brought my ms. with her to read, which she did that weekend.

She wasn't able to sell that first one, thank god, but we've been together ever since then. Conferences and personal contacts are GREAT ways to meet agents.

Nancy P said...

And lisa, you said the subject makes you break out in a cold sweat? I think the 10 minutes I spent talking to that agent at that conference were the scariest 10 minutes of my whole life. Really. I mean nothing rides on it except your whole future and all of your hopes and dreams.

Janet said...

I'm with Andif, agents? and editors? and bears? oh my!

I can only summon up a quote from a Mel Brooks flick...

"With the birth of the artist came the inevitable afterbirth - the critic."

Kelly McCullough said...

Hi all. On treadmill, can't type much. Have agent and strong opinions on same. Miss Snark blog best thing ever to happen to online discussion of agents. Will be back later with links and said opinions.

Anonymous said...

Morning, all! And thanks, Nancy, for the timely discussion. I'm not scared of trying to find an agent - just know it's going to take a while, and I'll be rejected lots. But I believe at some point I'll find someone interested in my work. There IS a lot of info on the web re queries and who accepts them in what form. I just can't afford to attend tons of conferences and subject myself to numerous pitch slams - now THAT is nerve-wracking. I read tons of agent/editor blogs and learn, learn, learn.

Ghostie, Lisa is in TX - she was talking about WRW, which was in KY. And hi and welcome home!

Waiting to hear what Kelly says - and wishing Planet GA was close enough to stop in for some bread!

maryb said...

Well, I wrote a magnificent comment comparing picking an agent to picking a lawyer - another kind of agency relationship. But blogger ate it and I don't have the energy to recreate it.

Short story. I sympathize. said...

Yuppers, Nancy. It would likely be wrong to call an agent if you haven't published yet. I was thinking of myself and what I want in an agency, besides a sale. Especially if I had never met or talked to the agent before. Whoever answers the phone is fine with me, btw. I just like to say hi "off paper." My peccadillo (is that a word?): if they don't wanna, then I don't wanna.

And, if all else fails, I'll just change my name and start over. What do you think of Stephen or Thomas?

Thanks for the clarificaton, Beth, on Lisa m's whereabouts. Gee, I'm dumb. Your current blog post is fascinating, btw. said...

What I meant to say (hey, I need a writer!) is that I want/need human contact in any business relationship. I can't buy shirts at Sears without finding out if the sales clerk has grandchildren and what their names might be. It keeps my world warm and this is the only world I get. And, shit, it's half over now. :-)

Nicola Slade said...

I acquired my agent through word-of-mouth. Met someone at literary 'do' and heard that his agent liked historical crime; asked 'who he?' and approached the agent by letter plus 3 chapters. Luckily she loved it. Mind you it probably helped that I already had a book out, did the deal for that myself but it's much nicer having an agent cope with the initial rejections for you! I don't see her often but we get on fine and she has a reputation for being fierce with publishers, which is fine by me, as I'm a total wimp!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Ghostie - if you like train wrecks!! :-)

Kelly McCullough said...

Okay, back now.

I think you absolutely must be friendly with your agent. I think that it also is a great thing to make friends with them over time, but I'm leery of starting off the relationship as friends because then if it doesn't work out* then you have a major problem.

Ooh, I should probably back up one from that, I really believe that having an agent is a huge asset in this business both to sell your work so that you don't have to do what is a really big job, but also because a good agent will do wonders for you in contract negotiations and long term improvement of both your revenue stream and flexibility**. This is doubly true as more and more publishers stop looking at unagented works.

Multiply submitting...I'm with Miss Snark on this, exclusives suck and should only be entered into when there is no reasonable alternative. Submit to a bunch of agents (though you've got to read guidelines and tailor the pitch). Only agree to an exclusive if it's an agent high on your list and for a finite window and for a full. If you've got stuff out with multiple agents and someone asks for exclusive on the full, be honest, tell them you've got the partial out elsewhere and that you're willing to give them an exclusive on the full for a finite period--probably not less than three weeks and certainly not more than a couple of months. Don't submit multiply to several agents at the same house, but other than that, go for it.

I will say that I think it's best to send in waves. Maybe five at a time in the first couple so that you can get a sense of the response to your initial query and synopsis and adjust as necessary.

Finally, as I said, Miss Snark is the best thing ever to happen to online agency discussions, and I am eternally bummed that she no longer updates her blog. However, the archives are still there and a while back I went through and read and indexed the whole thing by topic: Miss Snark index. The vast majority of basic and even advanced agent questions have answers in her files that are both smart and funny.

Okay, going to stop now since I've already grabbed a huge chunk of Nancy's comment real estate. Hope it's useful.

Oops, I lied. Two last things, I have my doubts about the average value of in-person pitches, but for anyone who's interested, I've sunk some time into talking about pitches and synopses: Pitching and Synopses parts 1, 2, and 3. Plus, what a synopsis should do.

*possible reasons for not working out, they don't sell your work, you don't agree on the way your career should go, you change genres into something they don't/won't represent, major life changing events knock them out of business for a significant time, etc.

**Mine has a standard contract with all the house he works with that is much better than the intro contract and which is the starting point for negotiation so that we don't have to fight over all kinds of things that unrepped authors do. Also, his negotiations for me have a lot of impact on options and no competing works clauses, very important in my case since I write fast.

Kelly McCullough said...

Hellooo! Did I scare everybody away?

Anonymous said...

Nope, great post, Kelly, as expected. Lots of good information and links. Thanks for chiming in - gives me something to chew on as I research agents. And thank goodness for archives - I wish I hadn't discovered Miss Snark after she was already gone.

Thanks Kelly!!!

Jen said...

Kelly, fwiw, I've really appreciated the links to Miss Snark's place as I have not yet seriously considered representation, and I generally like to amass information a while before I do a thing I care a lot about.

And Maryb, I'm bummed that comment got eaten because I'd bet enough to pay for everyone's lunch that you have a decent list of valuable tips about how to approach this kind of professional representative relationship. :)

Kelly McCullough said...

Oh good, whenever I have one of my periodic attacks of loggorhea I always worry that I've delivered a conversation killer.

Janet said...

Not about sourdough bread, Andi, but I wanted to share: :)

And... it took 40 years to realize why I put off going to regular gynecological exams!!!!!

I never can decide just what pair of panties I should wear to these examinations.

I know the doctor isn't even going to see them. Those will be removed long before they arrive to shake my hand.

I know it doesn't matter if I'm even wearing any or if they are silk, printed or polk-a-dotted.

I know it doesn't matter more if they are worn with a matching bra. (Yes, I'm one of those types that even if wearing dirty jeans, at least I have very feminine underthings on)

I know it doesn't matter at all that I have argued with myself this morning over my final decision to wear cotten undies. But do I go for the French cut or just with the High cut? I know it doesn't matter but.... I'm pondering types, styles, colors of underpants for cripesake... and it doesn't really matter except that for some inane, unreasonable thought process - I'm thinking my choice in underpants (although I have SEVERAL) will symbolize to who I don't know - me as a woman. As a patient. That somehow it might alter my entire test result. My life. My future. As Bill the Cat said, "ACK" I'm driving myself nuts.
I'm leaning on a nice, "safe", cotton from VS. Plain or striped? Either will match the pale pink bra that I bought with them. But should I wear colored undergarments? ACK! Black is right the eff out. I do know that much.

At least this is stopping me from thinking of silly things like gynecological biopsies and scrapings and freezes oh my.


Anonymous said...

Nah, just lots to chew on. And I guess most folks are at their "real" jobs this time of day. And there aren't a lot of newbie writers who comment here - probably lurkers, though, who are frantically scribbling notes to themselves from your info-laden post.

Never too long of a comment, says the verbose one.. :-)

Nicola Slade said...

Janet, pity you don't live over here, there is no question about what knickers to wear - it's Marks & Spencers every time! (Purveyor of underwear to about 90% of UK population!) Do hope today has gone well and everything is fine.

I had an agent in the early nineties who dumped me (having not sold anything) because she was so depressed about the state of publishing!! I think she's retired now or she'd be even more depressed!
As for multiple submissions, I can't help feeling it's dodgy and that you might upset an agent who felt he/she deserved a personal approach. As for 'choosing an agent high on the list' - well! Fine for the potential best sellers but most of us are only too happy to be the chosen ones.

FARfetched said...

LOL, Janet! I guess for guys, the equivalent would be the yearly bend-over ordeal. Fortunately, I don't have to agonize over my choice of underwear… I don't know that it's coming until the doc puts on The Glove. Surprise! At least I won't have to worry about it Thursday, 'cause she got me last time.

Kelly, thanks for the info-dump. I'll have a closer look tonight.

Maybe the agents will address these questions, although I've gotta say I've heard agents do that for almost 30 years now and it's still a mystery to me.

Good thing you're a mystery writer, Nancy! [g/d/r]

Mary, that's probably a good comparison, agent or lawyer. Both of them are going to represent you in a venue that you are best off not familiar with, where the results could potentially affect the rest of your life.

On the whole @$$h0le thing… I once had a boss who was abrasive and expected you to back up what you said you'd do. OTOH, if he said he'd do something, he would do it and would fight to make sure we had what we needed to do our job. In that vein, I could see where an effective agent might inspire fear & loathing in editors, because he's representing you and fighting on your behalf. But I'll bet if one of his writers doesn't deliver on his promise(s), he'll demand to know why.

Paul Lamb said...

I have absolutely no reluctance with submitting to multiple agents at one time. Most agent sites I've visited say this is not a problem.

Maria Lima said...

On being a jerk: Frankly, I find it hard to believe that a asshole agent can be effective in the long run. To me (and this is total conjecture on my part), the relationship between agent and client and conversely, between agent and editors/publishers must be nourished and fed for growth and mutual benefit. Being an asshole doesn't do that.

As far as "friend", there is personal friend and business friend. I have fewer of the former and tons of the latter, especially in my day job as Director of Client Services. I need to nurture my partnerships with my clients and with my staff, but I rarely socialize outside of work. I'm effective in my job because I treat them in a friendly manner, but I am also extremely professional and never forget it's business. I think perhaps that's what I'm looking for in an agent: a friendly, professional relationship that is the opposite of, someone who will work with and for me.

Make sense? Of course, this is all my own interpretation. YMMV.

maryb said...

Ok Jen - I'll try to recreate my how to enter into a relationship with a legal representative and does that correspond to literary representative.

The primary thing is always to pick someone who is competent and can be effective in helping you reach your goal. Why waste your time (and money) with someone who doesn't have a reputation for accomplishing what YOU want to accomplish? And remember that what you want to accomplish may change as you move through life. Someone who is fine when you only need someone to do your will and fix your parking tickets might not be the best person to help you buy a company. Likewise I imagine that someone who might be fine to get you started in a literary career might not be the person who can move you to John Gresham level.

So the second lesson is to ALWAYS be prepared to move to someone else when the time is right.

Second, personality is important but in my experience has more to do with the client than the lawyer (agent). Some clients NEED an asshole. Why? Lots of reasons. They are assholes themselves and only another asshole can stand up to them. OR. They are convinced that they need the opposite of themselves, that together they will balance each other out. OR They really need someone to COMMAND them what to do or they never get anything done. OR They are really nonassertive and hate that about themselves and they live through the assholishness of their representative (even when it is directed at them).

The thing is - you and I might not be able to imagine hiring an asshole but that doesn't meant the asshole isn't exactly what that client needs. And that client might get nowhere without the asshole - not because of the other non-assholish agent they choose but because of THEMSELVES and their own personality.

Other clients need a lot of reassurance - they need a father/mother figure. Everything is explained in a touchy/feely way - displays of emotions from the client are welcome.

Other clients need a no nonsense intellectual type who is polite but always logical and rational and emotion has no place in the relationship.

What's best for you? Whatever you need. As long as the person is also competent and effective in what they do. And there are competent and effective persons of ALL types.

Don't ever let anyone stereotype you based on externalities and tell you what type of person you need - YOU figure it out and go with someone who suits you. Even if what you need is an asshole.

On the key question of multiple inquiries - I got nuthin.

Lisa M said...

Wow! Nancy, you know how to start a conversation.
Dang it, I had to work and couldn't check in during the day.
Thanks guys/gals for all the different views. Fascinating stuff.
Nancy, you talking about your panicked meeting with agent calmed my---WAIT. HELL NO. Sweat breaking out at the thought. Misery at least loves company.

Ghostie--Beth was right. I'm a Dallas girl. Girl, now that made me feel young. I met both Nancy and Beth at WRW, KY last May. Ghost--I looked at your tour and the closest you got was Louisiana or we would have met. You sound like my husband. I keep waiting for people to think he's a stalker as he goes up to people with babies to oooh and aaahhh.

The link to website for conference I'm going to.
Big Sur Writing Workshop
for Middle-Grade, YA and
Crossover YA/adult/chicklit.
March 6 - 8, 2009

It will actually be in Monterey since the fires in Big Sur.
The Andrea Brown Agency is involved with it.

Thanks for links, and MaryB thanks for the lawyer insight.

I learn so much here.
What kind of underwear the Brits wear.
To match or not to match.
That is the question.

Jen said...

Aw, thanks Maryb. I knew it would be good stuff. :)

bono said...

Interesting stuff. I guess writers don't have it so easy after all. Is there such a thing as farm teams for writers like there is for baseball - you know a place to hone your skills until you move into the big leagues like Nancy? Would that be like short story anthologies? Don't pay any attention to me, I have no idea what this is all about. lol

I am pleased to tell you that the second lake effect snow warning didn't produce anything overnight so no shoveling today. Yahoo!

boran2 said...

Hi all. I'm very late tonight. Is it time to roll up the sidewalks?

JimF said...

I know those two.

Their editorial comment would be, "Scribble, scrible, scribble, Ms Pickard. Another damned thick book without a biscuit or rawhide chew in it."

Nancy P said...

Eeek! My day turned really busy and I never got back to this thread. I'll start a new one for tomorrow, but I'll come back and read here, too. Thanks everybody for all the conversation. I'll bet it was valuable for some folks, maybe even some lurkers.

Nancy P said...

Oh, I love you guys. You're so generous in sharing your experience and knowledge and so forthright about your fears/hopes/et al.

Kelly, that's about the best comment on agents I've ever read, mainly because you gave me a light bulb moment in regard to the business about balancing "exclusive" with "for a finite time." BIG HUGE DUH! SLAPS FOREHEAD SO HARD SHE FALLS OVER BACKWARD! Of course. Brilliant compromise.

Much of the problem with a lot of us writer types is that we are shy about asserting what other people might naturally think of as our rights.

Maryb, thank you for that wonderful discussion of matching agent/lawyer to writer/client. Really good stuff!

Kelly McCullough said...

Thanks Nancy, though I can't take too much of the credit since much of my opinion on that subject is just a synthesis of other people's work, mostly Miss Snark's, but also a couple of other agent-bloggers, the group mind at Making Light, and a couple of authors' lists I'm on.