Tuesday, September 14, 2010


There are a lot of ways to get left out in the cold these days. Some can't be avoided; this one can.

A post over at Pimp My Novel asked writers to list their dream agents.

On the face of it, a harmless question.

But let's think a bit.

There are two ways I'm going to see my name: on it or not on it.

Will it do you any good if I'm not on it? What if your dream agent refers you to me. And I love your writing? Am I suddenly worthy of your love?

Or worse, I am on it, and I wonder what other kinds of TMI things you're going to post during your career, so pass on working with you cause I don't want to supervise your social networking.

I know there are agents you want to work with. Agents you'd rip out your liver, hell you'd rip out MINE, to offer up to the gods as a sacrifice for the chance to work with. These are conversations best left where they will do some good: your daily prayers.

Leave them out of Cyberia and its unforgiving, unrelenting, un-erasable cold sneer.


~Jamie said...

THANK YOU for saying this! I LOVE PMN and read it religiously, but that seems like pretty much the worst idea EVER to put out there who you'd like to work with... you're right--either way it turns out bad.

Aimee L Salter said...

Duly noted. Thanks for the tip.

Miriam S. Forster said...

"Cyberia and it's unforgiving, unrelenting, un-erasable cold sneer."

Best description of the Internet EVER. *grin*

Joseph L. Selby said...

Every unpublished writer has a list of dream agents. If he or she doesn't, she should. We are, time and again, told to research, and in so doing will find what we feel is the best fit both for our work, our professional goals, and our personalities.

How an agent reacts to being on or off that list is a measure of the agent and not the person making the list. One agent may see his/her name left off it and look to those names included to see what they are doing that they ranked higher. Another may see the list and be offended that he/she wasn't included to begin with. I know which agent I'd rather work with.

As for TMI, this topic doesn't even rate. There are far more divisive topics (the holy trinity: sex, religion, and politics) that are blogged on far more frequently and perhaps shouldn't. As a measure of scale, the hopes and dreams of unpublished authors and the industry they want to be a part of--including which agents they hope with which to work someday--is not unreasonable and something we share with each other.

Janet Reid said...

All I can tell you is what it looks like from this side of the desk. What you choose to do with or interpret that information is up to you.

Simon C. Larter said...

You know I'm just ornery enough to list you and all my top agent picks over on PMN, then write a novel and query that are just so damn good you can't help but ignore the social media faux pas and offer rep anyway, right?

And in other news, apparently Oppositional Defiance Disorder isn't just for children anymore.

Leona said...

Rest assured that you are getting my query after it's been torn to shreds and put together again, reborn and made to look so shiny and beautiful you beg to see it. *Wakes up*

Oh yeah. Well, I have a list of dream agents. I can't even imagine making a public list like that. I hate even listing my favorite authors. I'm always forgetting someone because I read so voraciously in a variety of genres. You can't possibly list everybody :) An agent list could mean you just haven't found THE ONE, and have a whole list you'd like. Seems like a good way of burning bridges by calling it that. Why not, list of agents that sell my type of work and are active? :D

Tracy Loewer said...

It's nice to know that sharks are people too. :)

I've kept a list of agents who I thought would best fit my work and my personality - so a "dream list" of sorts. It's not something I've announced or anything, because my list is evolving (and at best, incomplete). I wouldn't want an agent to feel left out simply because I hadn't yet discovered them.

Tara Maya said...

Aw man, I was about to put together a You Tube "Dream Cast" video where I not only suggested who should be my agent, but also my publisher, editor, cover artist and foreign rights rep.

Anjali said...

It's high school all over again.

My dream agent is the agent who believes so much in my work, she will tirelessly shop it around, advocate hard when it sells, and help craft it into the best work it can possibly be.

Dan Krokos said...

"One agent may see his/her name left off it and look to those names included to see what they are doing that they ranked higher."

I sincerely hope this is a joke.

No one said you shouldn't have a list. Just keep it to yourself.

Piedmont Writer said...

Well, there's no way to make my comment anonymous but I would just like to say --

If you repped my genre, you would have been on my list. I think you are the fucking coolest agent on the planet and it just sucks for me that I don't write what you read. or rep.

I'm sorry if I offended you by not having you on my list but if you were, you would have been in fantastic company.

Furthermore, that list is just a dream. I also dream about a 7-figure 4 book deal but that's just not going to happen.

And yes, you are right about not doing that on the web, it's lousy social etiquette so I'm sorry. I see your point.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

My agent is my dream because she gets my work. I had never heard of her before reading a post at GLA. So glad I didn't pass over her because she wasn't on some sort of list.

It's best to stay open to a variety of opportunities.

lora96 said...

My dream agent is the one who will read my partial and ask for a full, read the full and like it enough to pursue it.

I may not be anyone's dream writer. Not YET anyway.

Ariana Richards said...

I can't fathom making a list of my dream agents, not with actual names. No offense, but I don't know any of you people, only the face you present to the public.

The agent who likes my work, whom I get along with, and possibly has the same appreciation for flavored coffee...that's my dream agent.

jdh said...

I choose the handsome muscular guy in the brown shorts. Oh, wait, that was the other post.

Tawna Fenske said...

I think a lot of people get wrapped up in the idea of "dream agents," and this can be so very toxic.

I'll freely admit I had a fuzzy mental list like this when I was querying back in 2006, and I'm eternally grateful I did not make this list public. Why? Because with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I realize what a huge difference there is between admiring an agent from his/her blog posts, tweets, and conference appearances and ACTUALLY WORKING WITH THAT AGENT.

I fall to my knees at least three times a day in supreme gratitude that Michelle Wolfson is my agent, and I know without a doubt she's the very best agent for me (and yes, I learned this the hard way by originally signing with an agent who turned out NOT to be the right agent for me, but who probably would have been on my "dream agent" list).

No matter how much you research agents and THINK you know exactly who you want, you will only have a tiny inkling of what it's like to actually work with that agent. Period.

Narrowing your focus to a small list of "dream agents" (and worse, making that list public) only closes your mind to other possibilities.

Great post, BTW!


Catherine Blakeney said...

My dream agent is one that says they'll represent me and manages to sell my book. That's it.

michael said...

I listed you and one other. If my book was actually ready I would never had posted. But it will be some time before I am even ready to query any agent. How long will any agent (named or not) remember that post? How many seeing my query in the countless queries they receive will realize that I am that michael. Would you remember?

My comment was more about what I look for in an agent. I want someone who is successful selling books similar to the one I have written. I am sure many children book agents cried themselves to sleep last night thinking I don't like them as much as other agents.

What I wrote about you still stands. You have helped make me a better writer. It is a shame if you don't profit from that help.

Lucy Woodhull said...

Well, my ideal agent is James McAvoy, because I want to look at his pretty blue eyes and I'd get to do that a lot if he were my agent, right? Boy, will I be embarrassed by this when we're totes BFFs because he's starring in the hit movie version of my book. What was the question?

donna d. said...

is it my imagination or did you mis-spell "its?"

Janet Reid said...

Donna, yes! yes it is! Of course I didn't spell it's wrong.

I mean its.

Oh hell.

I fixed it.


Annalee said...

That topic came up fairly frequently on a writing forum I used to hang out on, and I never understood it.

I hadn't even considered the "potential agents might google you and see this" angle. My concern is, how can I tell if someone is going to be the right fit for me from a bio on the internet and a list of sales? Even blogs aren't going to tell you much about what an agent's relationship with their clients looks like.

So no, I don't think it's fair to generalize that every unpublished/unagented writer has a secret list of dream agents. There's lots of advice out there about what questions authors should ask if they get an offer. If end up in that boat, I'd rather listen to the answers to those questions and go from there than presume to know what the agent's like ahead of time and end up getting surprised later.

Anonymous said...


Impressed that this debate got so much attention.

Silly, really. I'm sure all writers, at one point, develop some kind of list upon researching aggressively whom to submit to. I know I did. I kept it to myself, but that's besides the point.

I thought agents had more to do in their day then to concern themselves with lists made by writers. Wouldn't a query letter and sample pages be where a relationship started?

Either way, I'm my own publisher and agent because I go directly to e-book and sales have been great.

Morgan Ives said...

I feel like the slow kid here. Based on everyone's replies, this is massively obvious, so I apologize in advance for the dumb questions.

What's wrong with posting a list of your dream agents? Why would an agent be offended if they weren't (or were) on the list?

I can't speak for all writers, but my dream agent list isn't based on who is worthy of my love, it's based on who has good success rate and who represents what I write. If I later discover that an agent whom I hadn't considered is willing to represent my work, I'll be thrilled! My list is a starting place of the agents I deem best fit my work. That's all.

I talk about my writing hopes and dreams all time on my blog and Twitter account. I'm pretty sure I understand the TMI line (for instance, I don't discuss my sex life). Discussing agents never even came up on my radar as TMI. I am seriously confused.

Eileen said...

I agree that anyone who bashes agents/posts their rejections etc isn't being smart. (and by not smart I mean unbelievable moron)

I don't see an issue is saying person X is my dream agent. Anymore than I would expect my husband to find out that before I met him George Clooney was my dream man. A dream is one thing, reality is another.

It isn't until you have an agent who has read your book and offered you representation that you get into the real issues (why did they like your book, what is their working style, where do they see your writing career going) that's how you end up deciding if you want them as your business partner. You won't know these things from blogs or a conference because the missing ingredient is how that agent fits with you. You leave dreams behind and focus on what really matters.

And let me be clear- no agent slamming is intended. I adore my agent (as I should because she is smart, savvy and all around fab). She may or may not be someone else's dream agent, but I know I'm grateful to have her in my corner.

SundaySoup said...

Everything Tawna Fenske said. Right down to having had my first agent not work out. Oh, everything except that I have a different (but much adored) agent than she does.

It's kind of like making a public list of your dream dates and then expecting someone else to be thrilled to go out with you. You might really screw up a great possibility. And if you do get a date with your dream date, they probably can't live up to your expectations because it's not a DREAM, it's reality.

I am not saying I haven't put things on the internet that maybe I wished I hadn't, but for the most part, if you ask yourself, "Does this sound professional?" and you answer yourself honestly...well, you can't really go wrong.

Harley May said...

I'm positive all of the unrepresented have a list of agents they admire. My heart won't be broken if one of these don't sign me. I agree completely, keep that list close and to yourself.

The best agent for me is the one who loves my manuscript and will fight for it. Period.

L. Bowser said...


Think for a minute about a significant other (now or in the past.) Do you ever want to believe that they are settling for you? No! A person never wants to hear they weren't first choice. Or worse yet, you didn't make the list of dreams. Janet and others have made this point before, but it bears repeating. Your dream agent should be the one that feels as passionate about your work as you do and feels they can sell your work.

The list you described, though, isn't a dream agent list. It's a list of people who might be good matches. This is based on your tireless research into sales and genre representation. You're not saying that you have to have one of these. Just that these are strong matches for your work based on what you think you know. Any agent should appreciate the thoughfulness, as long as you have presented your list that way and not as a dream agent list.

When you think about it, there's a not so subtle difference between your "These are the agents I know about that may be right for me" list and the one that says "Anyone not on this list, is someone I'm settling for."

Anonymous said...

I have a dream agent.
S/he will accept my manuscript, and together we'll get it published.

And, that person will manage not to laugh / cry / gag when my headshot that's supposed to be on the back cover arrives in their inbox.

Fanfreakingtastic Flower said...

This reminds me of a story I think is hilarious. A good friend of mine is a nurse. An ER nurse in Memphis(!). Suffice it to say, she is one tough chick. Her daughter turned 13, and not too many days after, had a fit and declared, "I hate you!" to her mother. My friend let her have it. In telling me this story, my friend said, "She can hate me all she wants, but she better keep that sh*t to herself."

God, I love that line. :D

Anyway, one of the very first and very best things I learned from Janet Reid: I can think what I want, but it's best for me to keep that sh*t to myself.

(Of course, here I am referring to things like listing one's dream agents, etc.)

I know I am glad I have left a light cyber-footprint on this interweb world. :)

Morgan Ives said...

Mr. Bowser,

Thanks for taking time to address my confusion. I see now that I have a different definition of "dream agent" than some other people, which is what caused my confusion.

Well, that, and I don't consider an agent equivalent to a significant other. My husband and I have an emotional relationship, whereas working with an agent is a business relationship. Yes, we may hit it off (I hope we do!), but even if I love an agent, if they aren't working to sell my book, I won't stick around.

Thank you again for your explanation. I think I understand better where some people are coming from. I just don't agree with it :)

Julie Weathers said...

I very much believe in having a list of dream agents. Of course, I am a list maker.

However, I wouldn't post it publicly, for several reasons. In a past life as a writer, I discovered some agents I thought were perfect really weren't perfect for me. That list of ten dream agents? Yeah, the chances are quite good you may be down to your tenth list of ten dream agents before you find one who loves your work.

I think it's a very bad idea to post your dream agents, a blow-by-blow account of your querying experience or your rejection journey.

Diamonds aren't the only thing that's forever.

L. Bowser said...


Just to be clear. I was not trying to put a spousal relationship on the same level as an agent. Rather I was using a common example of how people don't want to know they were second choice (or worse, not originally an option.)

At work, would you want to find out that you received a promotion because someone else passed it up? Do you want to find out that the person you consider your best friend considers you just a friend? Do you want to find out that your boss hired you after five others turned him down because they had better options? These are all similar to what you are doing when you leave someone off the list.

So while you may not see it the same --and you're right, it's not identical -- a person's need to feel wanted as the first choice does not only extend to a love relationship. It may be different, but the need is still the same.

Anonymous said...

I wish you were looking for my genre, Janet. You would be on my list, if I kept such a thing. All I want is someone who loves my work and will fight for it, who isn't afraid of the subjects I choose and who is willing to tell me when I need to pull my head out of my ass and make edits.

I do my best to be very careful of what I say about the business and how I say it, because at the end of the day we're all trying to make connections and no one wants to deal with someone who has made them feel like they're the last picked in high school gym class.

Matthew Rush said...

For me the point here isn't about the list. Obviously every aspiring writer has a "list" of dream agents they would love to work with. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact if you don't have any idea who you like or what kind of agent might be a fit for your personality, that might be a problem.

The issue here is making such a thing public. It's just not very tactful and could easily be misunderstood.