Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

So, your agent IS a dunce!

I roared with laughter when I read Moonrat's post here about an agent who pitched a book that was "kind of part memoir, part history, part travel guide, part novel. It's very poetic, but just really good readable nonfiction."

This is the week for idiot agents.

Another editor friend of mine happened to mention an email received from an "agent" that was essentially an email blast to 50 "editors and assistants" asking them to set up an appointment with her "apprentice" who would be coming to town, over the Labor Day weekend no less, to give her an idea of what they were looking for.

Since the TO list was available for everyone to read, you can bet there were some laughs around town about the editor listed as working for "Hatchet" and the "editor" who got laid off, and the "assistant" who isn't since s/he works in the PR department.

How do you avoid having a dunce for an agent?

That's a really good question. I don't have an answer. Maybe you do?


Suzan Harden said...

I have a slight suspicion the person querying in both cases in not an agent at all. You see this kind of BS in the legal field -- a lot.

Alissa said...

Well, you could insist they take the wunderlich test, but they might be offended.

bingol said...

Track record. As an editor once told me, if an agent's been making a living at this for more than a few years, they still might not be the right agent for you, but at least they're a real professional.

I'd never work with a new agent. I know that's not fair, but screw 'em. Fair isn't my job.

Gilbert J. Avila said...

Ask for their client list and check it against what's available at Amazon, Borders, B&N, Baker & Taylor, and make sure they are commercial publishers, not POD people.

Casey McCormick said...

I look at an agent's track record, who their clients are, what people are saying around the net, and whether or not they work for a respectable agency with other established agents (if it's a new agent, for example). I don't think it's hard, honestly, if you're doing your homework.

And if you've burned through all the agents that are easy to spot as credible, I say it's time to write another book or rewrite. No need to play that guessing game with questionable characters.

Rick Daley said...

How do you avoid having a dunce for an agent?

Form rejection.

Tena Russ said...

"kind of part memoir, part history, part travel guide, part novel. It's very poetic, but just really good readable nonfiction."

A little bit country and a little bit rock and roll.

BJ said...

Research, research, research. And get references -- authors represented, other industry professionals who have worked with them. Oh, and check through Preditors and Editors and Publishers Lunch.

I'd work with a new agent -- fair or not. Having that enthusiasm and freshness on your side can be as useful as having a more seasoned but cynical or overburdened agent. That said, this new agent would have to work with an agency and agents I trust. A certain new Fine Lit agent comes to mind comes to mind...

Anthony said...

Due diligence.

And, as I say in the consulting biz, professionalism attracts professionalism.

T. Anne said...

I had a dunce about seven years ago. At that time I knew nothing about Predators and editors, or the absolute write water cooler. Once the dunce and I parted company, I became much more aggressive in my pursuit of an agent and went to the aforementioned sites before querying.BTW she is listed as a Predator on P&E (not of my doing) she is still to my knowledge in the biz. Go figure.

NotAnotherExit said...

I love the Water Cooler for getting the dish on agents. It's not infallible, but personal anecdotes that confirm what research already says make it easier to trust that the information is right.

It also makes avoiding dunces a sneeze easier, I'm sure.

lilywhite said...

No Answers, but ocngratulations Janet!

Robin Becker's BRAINS: a zombie memoir, the first-person account of a college professor-turned-zombie who retains his sentience and recruits others like him on a heroic quest to fend off the living while searching for the meaning of un-life, to Gabe Robinson at Harper, in a nice deal, for publication in Summer 2010, by Janet Reid at FinePrint Literary Management (NA).

laughingwolf said...

check to see if their car is a rolls-royce? ;)

Reesha said...

Ugh. Now I not only have to worry about getting an agent but I have to worry about not getting a dunce for an agent?

Of course. What did I think this was, hard? It's excruciatingly...challenging.

I must say though, I expect every industry and every demographic group has idiots and brilliants. With any business, you have to be a good judge of character and skill.

isabeljoelyblack said...

That's a tough question. I've relied on recommendations from friends in the business, as I'm growing more and more aware that it isn't just about having an agent, but the right agent.

inthewritemind said...

I'm not quite at the querying stage, but I know I'll be doing hours of research, as well as getting recommendations from other writers.

Jason Crawford said...

I know it sounds cold, but the only thing that matters is what they've sold (truly didn't mean to rhyme there).

If the agent has been in the game for a few months or less, I'd want to know how they came to be an agent...what publishing houses or other agents have they worked with...that's the only way to be sure.

Rebecca Knight said...

Scary stuff! O_o

After the aforementioned research and do-diligence, I think the only last hope for weeding out dunces would be on The Call.

When you finally talk to the agent offering representation, make sure you ask about the track record, how they know they can sell your book, what editors they know who might like it, and always what they think your book is about!

If they're idiots, I'm sure their true colors will show. There are no crib notes for your book available yet.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Good agents like goats.

Great agents like goats AND pixies.

simple, huh?

Amber Argyle-Smith said...

Finding predatory agents isn't hard. It's trying to differentiate between the good, fair, and poor (but completely legit) that's hard.

talshannon said...

How do you avoid having a dunce for an agent?

Simple. Research.

Marian said...

The email blast to 50 agents sounds like the kind of thing one of those query submission services would do.

If your agent is targeting 50 editors at a time, your agent could be a dunce.

Or a bot.

Either way, bad for your career.

Kim Rossi Stagliano said...

Hatchet? A "phonetical" agent? Eggzellent. I can only imagine there's a package on the tracks at Grand Central containing a submission that has yet to be read. I mean, come on, she was told to send the submission to Grand Central, wasn't she?

We all start somewhere - and I think you need to be pretty Internet savvy to really learn the ins and out these days - and to read a lot of blogs. That's not easy for every writer to do. I feel for poeople who lose precious time with inadequate agents. It's got to sting badly. Now, about that submission thrown at a random house in New Jersey - did it sell yet?

Furious D said...

Good points about agents. I'm trying to do as much research as possible, in order to prevent any further disasters.

Jen said...

I'm not at all against a new (or youngish) agent at all. My only questions on that score would be: how did they get into the biz? Were they an editor first? Did they work for an agent, learn the ropes? If the latter is the case, I'd be checking out their mentor's track record and reputation.

Overall, though, I agree. Do you due diligence. Research the agent on the web. Check Preditors and Editors, find out what their track record and reputation is. If they've got a blog, read it. (I've cut a couple of agents from my to-query list as a result of reading their blogs. Not because I thought they were bad agents, but because I could tell we wouldn't mesh...ignoring that would be a dunce move on MY part).

I also agree that The Call is a good place for that last-minute gut-check. If the agent doesn't have ideas (or even better, specific houses and/or editors) where they plan to submit my work to, red flag. If they make nonsensical revision requests (not things I might disagree with, I mean WTF type of suggestions) red flag. That type of thing tells you a lot, and you ignore it at your peril, I think. Better to put your business hat on during that call, rather than your Writer Hat. Agents are sussing you out during calls like that, and you'd best be doing the same to them.

Terri said...

Oh that is TOO-freaking-funny! I'd have to say check the track record. If a newbie, check the track record of their credentials (as in was the newbie a former Janet Reid godsend?).

I was agent surfing on the net one evening and came across a newly hung agenting shingle who boasted of having made deals right out of the box. Yes, she'd placed three books in three months. One with a notorious subsidy publisher and two with . . . drum roll . . . Publish America.

Like Rick said - form rejection!


Ricky Bush said...

I'd just ask them who their fourth grade teacher was and then find out if they were put in a corner at some point during the day. With a pointy little cap. Anyway--

Jack Roberts, Annabelle's scribe said...

Just proves the reason why we authors research agents.

PurpleClover said...

I lost my wireless connection when clicking submit so I apologize if this double posts.

My original comment was along the lines of feeling I'm being pulled in multiple directions. Agents have mentioned using new agents and then I read about how some agents (if they really are agents) are acting this way. I know the key is to do research. However, other than seeing sales with major publishing companies and seeing they worked with large firms previously, how would we know they're professional? Reading their own website and their own agent description or resume seems a little naive right?

I've seen resumes blow experience out of proportion (and reality). In the banking industry I've seen bankers use "account reconciliation" to describe reading a balance and explaining where the customer's last $5 went. I've seen bankers describe matching a statement balance to their actual balance as "correlating data". Lying on a resume may be a federal offense but what about lying on your own website or stretching the truth? Where else can we look if we decide to go with a new agent? I'm sure asking another agent what they think of them would be crude and unacceptable. Absolute Writer's Cooler is a good place but if they're new it will have limited info and for those that get rejected it may tarnish their opinion.

Anyone have any ideas? Or plan to blog on it?

JS said... is another helpful resource.

New agents who have been assistants to agents, or who have worked as editors or publicists in publishing companies you've heard of, are certainly worth taking a chance on.

I would avoid all other new agents, because it's not an entry-level profession. Run like the wind from the "agents" who tell you that they're authors themselves and that's why they've started their agency. Run faster than the wind from the "agents" who rant about how stupid the publishing industry is on their websites.

PurpleClover said...

Ooh, I have to admit I have a hard time wanting to query an agent that openly admits to writing their own manuscript. I think it's fantastic they are doing what they love. However, I know agents are busy enough as it is so when you add in their own ms it makes you a little concerned they'll have time to push everyone elses' work.

Some seem to be juggling a lot of balls but I would be worried that at some point something has to drop or there will be burnout and then you're back at the beginning.

PurpleClover said...

Oh and Janet - I saw your pink octopus in the Godiva bag. Hilarious. My hubby just came home with some chocolates and apparently they now have a frequent buyer card. If you sign up for the Godiva card you get one free chocolate a month! woohoo!

tsrosenberg said...

Wait, NO ONE answered that the way to avoid having a dunce for an agent is to be represented by Janet?? ;)

ryan field said...

If writers base their decisions on the info given to them, which is all they can do, there is no way of knowing how their agents pitch and where they are sending mass e-mails.

In other words, how would a writer know the agent is doing this? We don't have this inside info and there are no editor friends passing this on to us.

Jamagan said...

Found your site through this hilarious post

Great stuff here, I love it all. Thanks for doing this.

Steph Damore said...

Thanks for the reminder. Unrepresented authors (like myself) have a tendency to get so wrapped up in needing an agent that they forget to wait for the right agent.

Leona said...

I resent, a little, the implication that it's "easy" if you do a little research. I literally spent hours a day researching, and still got burned.

I don't know if there was a lull regarding the info of writers beware and other helpful sites, but many in the industry assume all the newbies can easily find it with no help at all.

I'm not an idiot and I can do research, but sometimes, the information isn't where you see and understand it. I have since found some of these other sites that are purported to be helpful in spotting bad agents. I'm a writer, and I wrote many stories before deciding to learn how to get published.

Literally, I found writers beware about a month after I found an agent. Go figure.

Hopefully, those in the industry who've had years of experience will help those newbies find these sites without the assumed attitude that "everyone knows that."

BJ said...

I don't think anyone said it was 'easy' to spot an ineffective agent through research, but it is the only way.

ryan field said "In other words, how would a writer know the agent is doing this?"

PurpleClover said "However, other than seeing sales with major publishing companies and seeing they worked with large firms previously, how would we know they're professional?"

You can get this information at Publishers Marketplace. Yes, it costs $20/month, but if you really can't afford that, I'm sure you can find someone who has an account to look it up for you.

If a writer doesn't find the tools they're looking for, they need to ask. They need to ask a lot, until they find what they're looking for. Writers groups can often help here, especially online writers groups. Industry or genre groups, like SFWA or RWA for instance, are also important places to check out. I found out about AAR at SFWA, and about Preditors and Editors at the Critters writers group. Networking, too, is important.

tsrosenberg said...

Wait, NO ONE answered that the way to avoid having a dunce for an agent is to be represented by Janet?? ;)

Well, that only works if you write her kind of work. She doesn't rep SF, unfortunately, which is why I'm considering other agents at FinePrint. I'd trust them simply because Janet works with them. And because any research I've done shows them to be pretty darn good.

Lena said...

found your site through one of blogs I read today... really love what i get to read here.

But are these people really agents? Then I pity the writers who trusted them with the dearest possession of theirs... their manuscripts..

Dan Krause said...

Speaking of dunce agents...

I just got a letter today from a non-Janet entity, requesting a full, but the letter began, "Dear Da."

My name consists of three letters. Three! Without the "n," it's worth decreases by 33%.

If a potential client gets your name wrong, you still have some options.

You could go with the ubiquitous, " Jane," the nickname, "Jan." If Rastafarian deities tickle your fancy, try on "Ja" for size. Hell, Even "J" works!

But, take off an "n," and, well, ta "da!"