Saturday, April 04, 2009

What to Expect from an agent

Rochelle (egad Janet, it's not like you don't KNOW and LIKE her!!) Rachelle Gardner's list of ten things to expect from an agent.

I agree (10x10)%


CNU said...

How many agents actually adhere to that list? I'm not being rhetorical nor pithy- I really do want to know. Because most seem more interested in their 15%, just as most writers seem more interested in their egos as opposed to marketing and hard work.

Second question: How can an industry (publishing in general) survive when it's based on demographics and fads as opposed to substance? Given the current state of the economy wouldn't the consumer want a book that they'll actually reread perhaps and oh I don't know pass on to someone else? Would one do that with a guilty pleasure paperback?

I'd rather see a list of this:

"Given that we agents receive 15% of something we had little if any input into, (*besides saying the magic words 'yes I'll represent you') how can we improve our industry as a whole in order to better serve the writers we are representing while making a living and balancing clients"

Instead of being seen as steroid ridden bouncers, agents could serve themselves better by:

Streamlining their queries and being clear in their guidelines/protocol, searching for marketable AND substantive work (*on some level this is slipping*) and treating authors who do query with respect (unless they're giving you otherwise, then you can politely say "I"m filing a restraining order*) Also having a better relationship with the authors represented wouldn't be too shabby either. Have any 'agented' authors come to the defense of the onslaught of detractors?

Point is this: agents recently have been blogging about how they're being beaten worse than General Custer out there and currently there are some glaring reasons.

Also I take issue with the blog's statement that an agent should be expected to do ZERO marketing for your book should it get placed. I'm not saying they should open up a new religion dedicated to your one manuscript, but at least do something otherwise that's counter intuitive.

You might not post this, but I don't really care either way, because I send this for agents everywhere to see that perhaps there is some action that they can take which isn't strenuous to improve their 'PR' after all isn't that what being a marketing guru is?

Lastly I'd say this to writers everywhere:

Writing is like singing- half of it is voice lessons, practice, that 'oh so great' month of band camp, etc. The other half is genetics, charisma, natural talent, luck whatever you want to call it. Not everyone can sing and not everyone can write well.

In closing, I have a riddle: There are two female applicants for the same job: One has an impeccable resume and is rather homely looking, the other has a mediocre resume, but is a bombshell. The employer is a typical male.

The two applicants are like queries and the male is like the agent in this case. I don't need to tell you the outcome, because the world is full of unfairness as you know, that doesn't make it right though.

I hate to fill your blog with actual devil's advocate type of stuff, but I'm not the type to just roll over here. I think there needs to be some rational debate over the animosity between queriers/writers and the agent community sans the bitterness and ivory tower approaches.

But if I'm wrong, I'm all ears. But do back up statements with cogent arguments. I don't mind pithy responses, as long as they're civil. Pardon the typo's it's late.


Adam Heine said...

CNU, I disagree that writing (or singing, or most things, for that matter) is 50% natural talent. Everything that I'm good at, I'm good at because I've been working hard at it for years and years.

The appeal to "talent" is something I usually only hear from people who wish they could be good at something (that's why I used to believe in talent, actually). But if you talk to people who are very good at what they do, they will talk to you about hard work.

I'm sure you didn't mean it this way, but to suggest that someone's success is based on anything but the hard work they've put into it is insulting. There may be some natural talent or affinity involved, but I would put it closer to 2%, at most.

Jenn Johansson said...

CNU, I think you are off base on your idea of what agents should promote to be published. Most good agents do strive for the substantive, but they also have an obligation to the public to give them something they will enjoy. There have been more than a few authors who have complained that Stephenie Meyer isn't a great writer, but clearly the public loves her work.

It's a fine line that agents walk and my personal opinion is that it is a very difficult place to be. You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. I applaud any agent who even tries to stick by that list on Rachelle's website.

Thanks for posting the link Janet! :)

Eric said...

So far as I'm concerned, the only obligation that a literary agent has is to his/her clients. (And to their own bank account, which in turn only fills up if they serve their clients well.) Their job is to sell books, to the best possible publisher, for the best possible deal with an eye on the future career development of their client. Period, full stop.

If they feel any further responsibility to the world of literature, that's their right, but it isn't really their business. No good agent would permit their love of literature to get in the way of making the best possible deal. And they shouldn't. If they feel a book that is submitted to them is a lousy book, even if they think it has a market, and they can't at least fake the enthusiasm to do a good job of selling it, then they should reject it.

If an agent gets a reputation for only representing really crappy writing that, for whatever reason, still sells, even if everyone involved hates themselves for it, editors and publishers will still take their calls. They can't afford it any other way.

Publishers are in business. They, with a few tiny little exceptions, are not literary charities. if they could sell the moronic babble of a chimp between leather bound covers for a profit, they'd be happy to do it. And the agent who brought them "Moronic Chimp Speaks - Volumes 1, 2, & 3," is an agent they'd be happy to hear from again. And who can blame them?

Sometimes an agent gets really lucky and has a chance to represent a book that they regard as great literature, at the same time as they think it has a good potential market. Plenty of times, they don't, but they need to be, or at least seem, enthusiastic about all the projects they take on regardless of literary or other merit.

Anonymous said...

I probably have more reason to give up on editors, agents and the publishing industry in general as of late. I lost a contract and agent within a week of one another and I've written more than twenty-five published novels.

But I learned a hard lesson. This is a business, like any other, and while its very existence might seem despicable and grotesque to us at times that doesn't abnegate our responsibilities to build good business sense and people skills.

The good agent ultimately protects us from the ugliest faces of the publishing industry. They stare down competition and enormous odds on a daily basis. They accept rejection on our behalf. They drudge through the worst of the worst manuscripts to find the cream of the crop. And big surprise that they want to make a living at it. And why complain about 15%? For pity's sake, the publishers and retailers are taking us for a lot more than that!

Every agent doesn't do everything on this list. What I think Ms. Reid's trying to say here is that when you're looking for an agent these are some of the things to consider. In other words, she's trying to help.

I don't know if you're represented or not. But this business is just that: business. It's nothing personal. Take your verve and passion, put it into your writing and don't give up.

CNU said...

I didn't say writing isn't hard work, I'm saying one's ability to write is similar to one's ability to sing. Watch American Idol and think of all those people who were absolutely dreadful that said, "But I'm an AMAZING singer!" to which most people watching were either sympathetic to their delusional state of mind or harshly critical. (*If you're an honest individual you'll prefer the latter.*)

Hard work IS part of writing- coming up with the concept, a million and one rough drafts, editors (*or in my case a copyright attorney/writing professor who acted as editor*) and many other aesthetic choices. Having said that there is a point in which the subjective choices are placed against the following: what the public wants, the use of language, grammar, metaphor and a whole host of 'objective' angles. (*Which of course our agents whine about incessantly, but then again can one complain when the work is being brought to you? But that's a whole separate discussion...*)

The point is this, yes there is a lot of work in writing and then there's the point of personal tastes and stylistic choices which are in a way out of a person's control and if it is 'entirely' in your control then you're thinking about it way too much and thus the process becomes contrived and trite.

That's what I meant Mr. Heine.


DeadlyAccurate said...

"Given that we agents receive 15% of something we had little if any input into, (*besides saying the magic words 'yes I'll represent you')[...]"

This makes it sound like you think all agents do is hand our manuscripts over to editors and wait for their paychecks. If that's what you think, I suggest reading more agent blogs to get a feel for why we would gladly spend years searching for someone to represent our work. Go read Kristin Nelson's archive posts about contractual clauses; read Miss Snark's "Day In The Life" series about what a typical day is like in her office. Ask agented writers how much editing help their agents offer them. I've grown as a writer thanks to Janet's keen eye.

If, god forbid, she was run over by a herd of camels and decided to give up agenting to dedicate her life to ungulate eradication, I would still search out another agent to handle the stuff between me and the publishing house.

Adam Heine said...

(Response to CNU) This is kind of tangential from your main point, so I'll try to be brief.

I think we're agreed that there are writers (and singers and everything) that think they are amazing when they're really, really not. What I disagree with is the idea that they can never be good because of some elusive, uncontrollable thing called "talent".

It's true that whether a writer is published or not is largely out of their control, but I think whether a writer is good or not is entirely in their control. It is a matter of putting in the work and practice. Talent be damned.

laughingwolf said...

15% of nothing, is... right!

agents don't get a nickle til they SELL a manuscript... few houses buy crap

Julie Weathers said...


"Because most seem more interested in their 15%, just as most writers seem more interested in their egos as opposed to marketing and hard work."

I looked up all your books you have written and notice they are all published by

Let's take this bass ackwards and start with the ego thing. I'd be interested to know how your sales are doing on your self-published books. Did you decide to go this route because you couldn't get an agent, you don't want to share the 15% or you don't care about the money and just want to see your name in print? If it's the last, I suppose you may have some first hand experience with writer egos.

As for the 15% agent fee. I really would suggest you do a little reading and research. Several authors have posted about how their agent garnered them far more than the 15% just in ancillary sales. Part of their asset is to know who is buying what, who is inundated with what, who is an ass to work with and won't fit with that client at all and myriad other things people who are outside the industry don't even have a clue about. That's before you get into the contract knowledge and negotiations and the actually sales process.

Having been in real estate for years, I'm well-versed in the attitude. "What, you get 6%? You didn't even do anything?" Yeah, right. My 1.5% breaks down to a few hundred dollars a month for working on your sale for months. That's if everything goes right and it actually sells. If it doesn't, I spent months working for nothing.

"Given the current state of the economy wouldn't the consumer want a book that they'll actually reread perhaps and oh I don't know pass on to someone else? Would one do that with a guilty pleasure paperback?"

While I collect a lot of historical and reference books, I also invest in my guilty pleasure paperbacks.

I would venture a guess you view your writing as the quality material that stands the test of time and is read over and over again, instead of being guilty pleasure.

Forgive me if I detect a pattern here. I'm guessing the publishing world just doesn't understand your greatness. The agents didn't recognize it. The editors didn't recognize it, but you are a classic in the making.

"Have any 'agented' authors come to the defense of the onslaught of detractors?"

I've had two agents in the past. One not so good and one was fantastic. I've been asked to submit to a top editor and I can tell you from past experience I wouldn't even dream of doing so without an agent. Agents are worth their weight in gold.

"Also I take issue with the blog's statement that an agent should be expected to do ZERO marketing for your book should it get placed."

Agents are not publicists. Everyone has their job. If you want to be a writer, it's good if you take the time to figure out what everyone does.

"The two applicants are like queries and the male is like the agent in this case. I don't need to tell you the outcome, because the world is full of unfairness as you know, that doesn't make it right though."

That's about the most moronic thing I have ever read. Someone sends in a query with a fascinating premise, they're talented and they follow directions. That's their resume. Someone else sends in a query for something the agents doesn't rep, they can't write and the query is addressed to, "To Whom It May Concern," and cc to twenty other agents. That's their resume. Who do you think the agent is going to look at twice? The one who had their act together or the person who thinks they don't need to follow the rules because they're special?

You think all you have to have is a cute butt to succeed? I've been turned down for plenty of jobs because I'm a woman. I got fired from one job as a horse wrangler because "that isn't the image we want to project." That even after the owners of the resident horses commented on how much they appreciated the care their show horses got. I was offered a job as a maid, which was much more appropriate. And, just in case you are wondering, my butt was plenty cute.

Surrey conference last year. Idol workshop. They read four lines from the beginning of a story and at least three agents put their hands in the air with cards. The "bombshell" was a middle-aged man with glasses who looked somewhat like Mr. Wiffle.

Another, never published, middle-aged writer goes to a blue pencil cafe and the author hands the sample pages back to him and tells him she can't help him. She says he needs to set up an appointment with an agent asap. He does and the agent tells him to send it to her as soon as he finishes.

All the talent in the world won't do a bit of good if it isn't backed up with a tremendous amount of hard work. These men took great stories and then worked their butts off to make them something that shines.

Adam Heine said...

While we're talking about whether agents are worth their 15%, I'm reminded of this post by Tobias Buckell. It's a survey he did of author's advances on their first novel.

Here's the part that made me begin seeking an agent. Out of 108 authors - 58% agented, 42% unagented at the time they sold their first novel - those with an agent received nearly double the advance of unagented authors, on average.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

I want an agent that puts out... editorially speaking. Ya know, helps shape the clay, renders thoughts and ideas, contrbutes to the birthin' of my word baby!

Haste yee back ;-)

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