Saturday, April 04, 2009

Last word on #agentfail (I think!)

I read through the comments on BookEnds #agentfail last night and wrote a post about it.

One thing I forgot to mention were the two instances where a writer said an agent had shopped a book before they represented it.

I've done that. Sort of.

Hear me out, ok?

What I didn't do was write a pitch letter and go out on a wide submission. That's beyond unethical. I haven't even sent a manuscript out before clients have sent me a signed letter of agreement (but I have been standing by the fax machine to receive it, and then dashed to the phone to pitch, damn right I have!)

What I have done is talk about projects I don't actually represent-yet. I know I shouldn't, I do. Lambast me if you must, but know this: when an agent literally cannot stop talking about how great a book is, you've got something really special.

Take Alysia Sofios. I met her at the Writers Digest Pitch Slam at BEA last year in LA.

She came over to the line of people waiting to talk to me (and I've never adhered to a three minute time limit in my life, so the line was lonnnnng since we were taking five minutes or more.)

She sat down. She pitched her book idea. She's a reporter who'd covered the story of one of the worst mass murders in California history and then the trial of the man who was convicted of those murders: Marcus Wesson.

At this point, I thought it was just another true crime and I'd lifted my pen to write "probably not for me" in my notes.

Then she told me the next part of the story. And the next.

I put down my pen. I said "holy moly."

I was KICKING myself for failing to bring an agency agreement with me. I whipped out my cell phone, called the godsend in New York, asked Alysia for her email address and said "send now!"

Of course, I did suggest she not sign quite that fast. I wanted her to review the agreement, talk to some of my clients, all that usual stuff. I also wanted to take a look at the proposal she'd worked on.

We agreed to meet the next day.

(As a side note: Alysia lives north and east of Los Angeles. She drove home that night to work, then back to LA the next day just to meet with me for maybe 30 minutes. She is one of the most focused and dedicated and hard working people I've ever met and that was clear to me from the second I met her. I value that kind of focus and dedication enormously)

So, there's a period now of maybe six days when I don't represent her, and I shouldn't be talking about her book. I'm also right smack dab in the middle of twelve thousand people involved in publishing. There's no WAY I could not talk about that book I was so jazzed up about it.
I always said "I don't represent her yet so I'm not pitching, but holy moly, isn't this terrific?"

And right down the line, every single person said "holy moly." If they were my boon companion competitors they said it while looking rather pea green with envy which just added to the fun.

I came home, ripped the representation agreement out of the FedEx envelope and called Abby Zidle.

Abby loved it too. A lot.

In case you missed the deal announcement here it is:

Alysia Sofios's WHERE HOPE BEGINS, memoir of the author's investigation of the 2004 Wesson Murders in Fresno, California in which she risked her reporting career and safety to help free the remaining members of the Wesson family from the psychological clutches of their murderous father and husband, to Abby Zidle at Pocket, in a significant deal, for publication in September 2009, by Janet Reid at FinePrint Literary Management (world).

I've done every single one of the things that people complained about at #agentfail, a lot of them more than once. And some of them, I'd do again.


DebraLSchubert said...

Janet, I hope you've noticed all the kudos you've received amongst the muck of Agentfail. That's no accident. People appreciate being treated with respect.

Speaking of respect, I have to respectfully disagree with you regarding your being guilty of "shopping" a book before you represented it. I don't think the scenario you depict with Alysia Sofios's story is what folks are complaining about. (And, congrats, by the way!) I think they're upset with agents who are merely "considering" representation and are trying to get a sense if there might be interest before they take the plunge. In this instance, you had already walked down the aisle and were simply waiting to say, "I do!"

Hopefully the Agentfail exercise will have the industry as a whole (agents, editors, publishers and yes, even writers) take an honest look in the mirror and tweak as necessary. After all, we're each on this journey called "life" learning as we go. Thanks, again, for being gracious and open-minded. You continue to set a great example for us all.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I think this is slightly different than what people were complaining about in the #agentfail thread. You were already wanting to represent this woman, and it sounds like even if she didn't sign with you, you'd still be hyping up her book. The complaints in the thread were about agents basically shopping a book to see if it was saleable in order to help them decide if they wanted to represent it. When you did it, it was for the client. When those agents did it, it was for themselves.

B.E. Sanderson said...

I guess I'm naive. I just assumed agents did this with books they were thinking about representing. Sort of a conversational 'hey, what would you think of a book about x with a y kind of twist?'. And I've never had a problem with thinking agents did that. To me, seems like just part of doing business. *shrug*

Great story. Here's hoping someday I get an agent who's that excited about my work. =o)

Anonymous said...

But a great thing you did for me was that you sent me a rejection letter for my query. I don't recall now if it was a form letter or had any personal comments, but you took the time to send it to me. I knew then that you had indeed received it and weren't interested, so I could close that entry in my submission log. It might seem like a small thing, but it's a pretty big thing for me.

Just_Me said...

Did you read AgentPass? Not everyone was complaining, there are some nice kudos and thank yous for agents there.

Fawn Neun said...

I have to admit that this was one complaint I didn't really understand. On one hand, if I've gone through all the trouble of writing a book and researching you as an agent, why shouldn't you do a bit of research on my behalf before I agree to pay you 15%. Just like getting a pub agreement and then finding an agent, it's more likely to make me want to do business.

On the other hand - ouch, yes, if you've already shopped it and I don't know, and I get another agent...

Publishing is weird.

Sharon A. Lavy said...

I can feel the excitement you must have felt.

Thanks for sharing

Julie Weathers said...

Janet, I don't think your scenario qualifies as shopping it around.

I think the danger of these agentfail things is agents try too hard to remedy all these ills. Many of the complaints come from simply not knowing what the real world is like. Oddly enough, the ones complaining about agents blogging and twittering would have a clue if they listened.

What worries me is agents will now back off the blogging and twittering to satisfy the complainers. I learn a lot from both of these venues and would hate to miss my fix of publishing wisdom or even my publishing laugh.

Just keep doing what you're doing.

When I first went to work for Speedhorse, I couldn't imagine anyone ever getting tired of such an exciting job. Seventeen years later, I understood the reality of how exciting it was. You just don't know until you actually walk the road.

Rick Daley said...

..and you know why you are doing it when you do it, and you have the chutzpah to admit it.

I'm still going to query you again when I'm done with my re-write (consider yourself forewarned).

T. Anne said...

Ah yes, the BEA in L.A. last year. I was there and now I'm kicking myself for not pitching you. Who knew you were prone to moments of author hysteria? Honestly, that story blew me away.

Sooki Scott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anthony said...

That story made me smile, because it was dipped in awesomesauce.

Mags said...

What they (^^^) said- apples and oranges. You could do nothing but generate interest in Alysia Sofios's book by describing it to editors in such a manner, regardless of who she ended up signing with. Pre-submission-hype. Wow and awesome.

The agent that commenter was referring to (please let me believe there's only one of him) has a practice of sending full manuscripts to an editor for opinion of saleability before deciding whether or not to offer representation. Needless to say, his sales ratio is extrememly high because he never gambles--just "uses up" the book in question at that house if he passes.

The silly rabbit did it to Gerard Jones, so it's been documented for posterity. You know, ver batim and such.

No Holy Moly was involved. Holy Moly could never be anything but a good thing, right? Rock on!

Steve Stubbs said...

Holy moly, did you do that? Holy moly.

At least Alicia is in good hands.

fellow-ette said...

Thanks for this post!

So is it acceptable protocol to ask a prospective agent who has expressed interest in signing you if you can talk to his/her other clients? I've been wondering this in the abstract for a while and you seem to suggest it's okay!

freddie said...

I'm with Julie. I hope that agents don't stop twittering and blogging. Too much good info.

RobinR said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I actually don;t really understand why it's unethical to talk to other publishing ppl about a book before deciding to represent it..

Anonymous said...

This is a classic example of the metaphysical truism: A is always wrong, except for when it is right; and B is always right, except for when it is wrong.

Paradox! It's what's for dinner!!


December/Stacia said...

Dittoing Mags. The agent in question isn't just talking up a book; he's submitting it without a signed agreement, thus either forcing the author to go with him or making it impossible for them to sign with another agent.

Anonymous said...

Take Alysia Sofios...

Sigh. The only time I snoozed and lost...and even while sitting at the same damn table with you! If I had to lose Alysia, I'm glad I lost her to you. Now, let me turn around so you may kick my ass just one more time, eh?

Beth said...

Holy moly. Now I want to read that book.

Colorado Writer said...

One can only wish for this awesome scenario!

MeganRebekah said...

I would gladly allow an agent to talk about my book if that she showed that type of love and enthusiasm for it!

Jolie said...

Oh, hell YES I want to read that. Gimme gimme!

Anonymous said...

I live in Fresno, and was here during the time when that story broke. Bravo, absolutely, bravo to the reporter. That man made me reconsider my position on the death penalty and that's saying a lot.

Also, you wanted to sign this woman on the spot, different thing all together.

I have to admit that this was one complaint I didn't really understand.So, lets say you are querying an agent. They reject you. You end up with the agent of your dreams. She/He calls you up and says, "You're book has already been shopped. No one wants to touch it."

Um, I'd have a problem with that.