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)%

Getting info on agents from their clients

Q: 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!

A: Heck yes it's ok. In fact, if any agent suggests otherwise, head for the hills while thanking your lucky stars for avoiding that little disaster.

When a prospective client is poised to embark on the SS FinePrint I tell them to contact any client of mine they want. No cherry picking, no "here's the list." I hope my clients are happy with me the day people email, but if they're not, that's my problem!

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.

Thank you Olen Steinhauer

It's been a brutal week.

I don't want dwell on the details but let's just say it's truly been a week I never want to repeat. And one of the worst things was that my usual way to deal with stress-- saying "it will be better tomorrow" -- didn't work because each day I knew what was coming the next and it was worse.

This week well and truly sucked.

By Thursday night I couldn't even think about work. I was tired, and dispirited and just plumb out of gas. I didn't want to be where I was and I couldn't leave.

I was desperate to get outside myself. This was beyond the medicinal power of scotch. I needed an intervention.

The only thing that works for truly dire straits such as these is a totally captivating novel.

So, I bought The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer. I'd heard about him from Sarah Weinman; I'd seen an ad for this book in The New Yorker. I'd meant to read it, I just hadn't.

Clearly the Universe was waiting to remind me to buy it when it wasn't categorized as "book purchase" but as "emergency medicine."

For just a few hours last night and today, I wasn't here. I wasn't thinking about the stuff going on, I wasn't thinking about much of anything, I was just inside a wonderful, all-consuming story.

I was able to do that because Olen Steinhauer knows how to spin a damn fine tale.
Thanks to his amazing writing, I feel much much better. Nothing much has changed; it was still a week of raw suckage, but now I can move ahead sans firearms.

I just needed a short break from reality in the hands of a master craftsman.

Thank you, Olen Steinhauer. I really really needed that.

Friday, April 03, 2009

How much time would you save by only responding if you were interested?

Janet, I'm curious. If you only had to respond to queries that weren't rejections, the requests for more pages and such, how much time would it free up for you to do other things, like catching up on partials or whatever?

Twenty minutes a day. Max.

Let me elaborate. There are a couple levels of the incoming queries.

The first and easiest are books that I know aren't for me. It can be for any of the automatic rejections I have listed; it can be that I don't really want to read the book (no matter how well written) which means another agent is a much better choice for this querier; or, perhaps it just doesn't engage my interest (not bad writing but not energetic).

Those are very fast decisions. I do those twice a day, once in the morning, once at night.
Even when I type in the querier's name (I was listening to #agentfail!) it doesn't take more than ten minutes.

Then there are the queries to which I give more longer attention. That takes maybe another two hours over the course of a week. This includes reading pages, thinking about the book, doing some research maybe.

So, sum total, maybe three hours a week? I guess that's a lot of time if you think I work a 40 hour week. I don't. Not even close. (no hyena yelps from the peanut gallery suggesting it's LESS than 40!!)

The other reason I don't ever want to do "no response means no interest" is that I know most people are hoping to hear yes. I have to disappoint a lot of people every week. I don't need to be rude to them on top of it. I don't have to imply my time is more valuable than their hopes. It's not.

I'm glad to receive every single query. I don't care if you misspell my name, call me someone else, or insinuate that my Herpet-American asssssistant is too slithery for her own good: if you write well, and it's a book I want to read, I will read it. I may not offer to represent it, but I will read it.

Fuck all that other crapola about do this /do that. Write well. The end.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

#agent fail at Bookends--glad I had my brolly up!

Whew! That was a tsunami of comments over at Bookends yesterday. It took a while to read through the comments but I finally finished tonight.

Several people remarked about the depth of anger revealed by commenters. I wasn't surprised at all. Anyone who's been to a conference lately and spent any informal time in the bar with writers has heard this kind of thing. It's not news.

What it is though is instructive. For example: the number one thing that pains your asterisks is the "no response means no interest" policy that's becoming common. Many who commented about how much they loathed that policy also added that they would not query an agency who said that. Others said if that's the policy, at least establish a time limit and put an auto-responder up so the writer knew the query had been received.

I loath no-response. I think it's rude and unprofessional and a short sighted business strategy. I've said all that before, and at length.

What was REALLY interesting though was the commenter who said "if your policy is no response means no, and I see an email from you, I think it's a yes. When it's not, I'm disappointed".

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh boy. A LOT of agents salve their consciences by saying that even though the agency policy is a no response means no, they still try to respond to every query.

It's clear to me we can't have it both ways.

Uniform guidelines was another complaint. Frankly this one never occurred to me. I don't keep track of where my guidelines are posted, and I only update Pub Mkt, my website and AgentQuery. Since I'll read just about anything though, I'm not worried about people sending me the wrong stuff.

The other big complaint is lack of communication in all its permutations: lack of replies to status updates on queries; lack of responses to clients; slow responses to everything.

That one hit home. It's my worst fault. I've been trying to work on it for awhile, and it doesn't seem to be getting much better. Maybe one of the things I can do in the next blog post is talk about WHY that kind of thing happens. Despite all evidence to the contrary it's not cause I'm twittering or blogging all day. I wish it was cause then I could just stop doing that and solve the problem.

I had to laugh when a couple people mentioned an agent looked or sounded disorganized and that was a negative. Look at the picture of the pink octopus on the blog post below this. See that MESS of a desk? Yup that's mine! I actually shuddered a bit when I realized how messy it looks in the picture. I knew someone would notice and sure enough I heard about it on twitter!

I blame the octopus for that though. When you've got eight arms you need to have a lot of things nearby to keep them occupied!

Red-Headed Stepchild!

Red-Headed Stepchild by Jaye Wells arrived from Amazon! Hurray indeed, I've been looking forward to reading it.

I check the acknowledgments section. Not that I'll be in it, Jaye is ably represented elsewhere.

Holy Pantsers! There's Sean Ferrell (yes, THAT Sean Ferrell)

Aha! I'm NOT crazy!

Several nights ago my phone rang. Caller ID revealed "Sean Ferrell."
Well, I know Sean Ferrell, he's a client with a book on submission so I figured he was calling in the evening for a reason.

As is my habit with hilarious clients such as Sean, I answered the phone thus:

"Sean Ferrell Fan Club, Brooklyn New York Chapter, Janet speaking"


Background noise of a sort.

Figuring I'd shocked the caller with my rapier wit, I tried again, less cleverly:


More silence. Then some burbling cheerful noises, somewhat like..wait...somewhat like a three year old boy?? Aha! Sean Ferrell has one of those. He has a very darling son who apparently wants to be friends with ME!

Well, that's just fine by me, but I had visions of Sean (or Mrs Sean!!) getting the cell phone bill and hitting the roof.

I hung up and called back.

Here's what happened at the Ferrell residence end of things

I'm still laughing.

And I'm still the president of the Ferrell pere et fils fan club!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

#agent fail at Bookends!

Here's your chance to really let us know what sticks in your craw.

I will be paying VERY close attention to the comments because this is a golden opportunity to hear valuable feedback.

And you can comment anonymously; you don't have to use your real name or your normal posting name.

I STRONGLY encourage you to use this chance.

(it's not an April's Fools Day joke, honest)

I'm feeling your pain...and I don't much like it!

This email address thing is making me nutso!

First, I pull all my email into an inbox on my computer with a mail management program called Entourage. If your email arrives in my Entourage in box, I read it. I don't inspect every email address to make sure it's not spam. Entourage does that for me.

The inspection happens when I log on to gmail directly at the website and look at those emails left in the spam folder. That's Priscilla's domain. That's when I inspect email addresses and try not to open email that's sent by someone who's email name doesn't seem to match their email address.

The reason I bring this up is not to add a new rule, or a new hurdle. It's to illuminate that if you do NOT hear back, it may be that your email didn't survive Priscilla.

Honest to helvetica I'm not trying to make your life or the query process more difficult.

I'm simply trying to tell you what happens on THIS side of the query process so you can avoid the Desert of No Response (particularly from those of us who do respond to every email query)

more on email addresses

My evil plan to cause consternation in the world of writers appears to be taking shape nicely. Yet again, I've posted something that I thought was clear only to read the comment section and hear "bzzzzt! wrong-o!"

Back to email addresses for a moment.

When your queries come to me I see your email address: "" or I see "amanda"

That looks pretty normal to me, and if it's in my in-box, Priscilla Queen of the Desert of no-response spam filter said it was ok too.

Good. That's what we want.

The trouble is when Priscilla has pursed her pruny lips and said "not so fast bucko."

Those emails stay in the spam filter until I wade in with a hook.

I don't open the emails. What I do is move my mouse over the address.

If I see "Amanda" but my mouse reveals "" is the real sender I leave it IN the spam filter.

That seems obvious.

Where it gets tricky is if I see "Amanda" as the sender but the address is ""

I don't open those either.

So, here's what you do. When you set up your email account and it asks for your name, put the name you want to use. Use that name consistently. And have it match the email that you're using. No "John Smith" name using "" for an email address.

For most of you this isn't a problem at all. And if you're smart of course, you've got your own email account; you aren't sharing it with people. But if I see "MummyTheLush" as your name and your email address is "" rest assured Priscilla and I have both sent you packing.

The account name, your name and the email name should all be reasonably identical. The key here is identical. They don't have to match your "real name;" they need to match EACH other.

So if you are one of ten thousand Annes in your family, maybe your email address is not Maybe it's The key is that the account name, the email name and the from name all say "AnneTheBaker" or something reasonably close so that when I'm looking at it, I intuit that yes, you are Anne the Baker.

You don't need your own domain name; I open email from gmail, hotmail, aol, comcast, verizon and a host of others.

What I don't open is email that looks like someone is trying to conceal the true name of the sender.

I'm not trying to be difficult here.

In the era of "no reply means no" you want to make damn sure your email didn't get waylaid by Priscilla or others of her ilk.