Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Planning on hanging up your dancing shoes any time soon?

I am in the throes of querying and have been corresponding with an agent who is in the process of reading my novel. They are very positive about it and have asked me questions which indicate we might be moving towards an offer. They asked if I have any questions for them - which of course I do, having done my homework on this and other blogs - but there's one essential question I'm not sure how to approach.

It's clear from the dates on this agent's LinkedIn page that they are already past the age of retirement. Of course no one should be sent off to the glue farm to play bridge against their will, but the agent's intentions in this area would affect me. Could you please suggest a way for me to gather information about their plans over the next 3-5 years without asking for their Social Security statement?

I understand your trepidation here but let me just say that the biggest discombobulation about agents leaving the biz has, in my experience, come from younger agents.

When an agent retires, it's generally not abruptly. They slow down, stop taking new clients, wind up deals, make arrangements.

That said, you want to know his/her plans, and in fact, are entitled to know if you're being asked to sign on the dotted line.

So, ask!  "I envision a long term relationship with an agent and agency. Do you plan to remain active for the next few years. If not, would someone else at the agency be stepping in?"

This is not a question you're going to ask before you're offered representation though. It's a difficult enough question to get without the burden of being seen as presumptuous.

Many agents keep working long past traditional retirement age.

37 comments:

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

This is like fearing to commit to a long-term gym membership because it might close in a month and become a ice cream parlor. Actually it's not exactly like that but assumptions regarding age creep into our lives like forgetfulness and stiff joints.
An older agent - huge benefits regarding experience. Inquiry and honestly are your best bet.

Someday that coin will flip and once you reach the age of other people's assumptions regarding your abilities, I hope you are able to dispel doubts by action and honesty.

Jason Magnason said...

Good morning OP and everyone else. Well congrats on getting this far in the process! I hope it all works out, and you get a deal.

Okay folks, back to the grind stone; two jobs and college is really taking its toll on me.

Good luck OP!

Thanks again Janet.

Janet, I heard your name in Starbucks the other day. Guess who was saying it? An eighth grade English teacher. When I asked her about how she knew about you, she said that she was teaching her students the value of traditional publishing and why patience in writing isn't always just in the writing; sometimes its in the process of getting your writing published. She said she stumbled across your blog looking for the do's and don'ts of publishing.
Go figure.

Janet Reid: "Her advice is contagious, follow it, and you might find yourself holding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow."
-Jason Magnason

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Glue farm? Well, that's one I've not heard yet.

Janet's statement "Many agents keep working long past traditional retirement age." is inspiring. Why, you ask? Because my assumption isn't that they need the money. (Well, maybe that might be it for some?) But I'm assuming that agents keep working beyond retirement age because they enjoy reading and the hunt for the next fresh voice and/or that this is a sense of call. To cull through all of the words, all of the stories that are out there, and put their weight behind the stories that our world needs to hear. Hm. Guess I'm a bit of a philosopher this morning.

Opie-thank you for asking the question and good luck! And it's always good to know about the timing of when to ask potentially sensitive questions.

Karen McCoy said...

Yup. This is true of librarians too. Many surveys cut the retirement age off at 65, and say that lots in the profession will be retiring "soon"--but it just means that people will be turning 65, which is just a number. Many are surpassing that now, and remaining. I even read an article about a librarian who was 100 years old and still going to work on Sundays.

As always, a wonderful post about nuanced timing in the query process. And I love what Jason said. A pot of gold indeed.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I have zero intention of retiring ever. A lot of writers write until their dying breath. I wager the same is true for a lot of agents. Sounds like an ideal situation for OP- all that experience, decades of contacts in publishing- great representation if you can get it. I would be far more wary of the young guns, ones still looking for that hill to plant their flag and may just be passing through. OP, you are in a wonderful place I think. Good luck. I hope it works out for you.

Donnaeve said...

OP mentions the agent is past retirement age, but not by how much. First off, retirement age depends on when you were born, so it's not the standard 65 anymore. More importantly, doesn't OP know 60 is the new 40???

In all seriousness, the back and forth with this seasoned agent sounds very positive and what QOTKU suggests about when to ask the question is key.

Good luck!

Karen McCoy said...

Indeed, Donnaeve! You said it even better than I did.

AJ Blythe said...

"discombobulation" - one of my favourite words. It is such a pleasure to say. For this alone, thanks, JR.

OP, how wonderful for you to be getting close. All the best for things moving ahead. Another question to add to the list, just in case!

Janet, I would have assumed others in the agency would take on any clients from a retiring agent, but what happens if the potentially retiring agent is the sole agent? Or are most in an agency with other agents (the ones on my 'to query' list all seem to be)?

Lisa, the term glue farm comes from the saying 'sent to the glue factory' (in relation to horses originally because they used to make glue from connective tissue and hooves). I'm assuming it is British in origin because I've read it in UK publications and it's used here in Oz.

Claudette Hoffmann said...

T! Top Ten reasons SINGER FROM MEMPHIS a must read – 10) It’s Memorial Day Weekend 9) Learn how to keep your book in print for 2,500 years by reading/watching how Herodotus researched his book THE HISTORIES 8) Great TimeLine for helping kid’s with history HW 7) Life and death battle at sea with real triremes 6) Historical people as essential characters - what they were really like 5) Clarifies today’s geopolitical nightmares 4) Snarky parts make treadmill activity dangerous 3) Compare with Book #1 THE PERICLES COMMISION to learn how writing a series develops 2) A treat for the intellect and heart!
AND
****1) Our most esteemed QOTKU as DJanet!! [See hard cover pp. 66, 79-80, 104-106 for starters]

OT-Failure to comment on previous days’ postings due to state of denial; you mean after I master moving figurative furniture to get to the lamps and pictures there are more things to worry about?

And now, aging out? Is there some formula for writing years? Like one dog year = seven human years, so one full writing year =… wait, you need a full year’s worth of writing not when you can catch the time or …this is going beyond the math I had in college. Where’s Watson or the Go Computer?

OP- Sounds like you are in a great place and looking for wise advice. For sure, you are on your way!

Robert Ceres said...

I think going with an older, longer established agent makes a huge amount of sense. I'm guessing their list is just about full, and that they are only taking clients that they really like (which is probably why they are asking you about your questions, they want to know if you are a shmuck.) I am sure that publishers would know this (if the agent is well established,) giving you a leg up when they get the agent's query. Imagine the reaction. "Holy crap. Agent old has taken a new client. Better read this."

DLM said...

This has been my week to remember: ANY of us could die, any day. (See also, yesterday's post about literary executors.) A coworker's daughter just died in her 30s, in the middle of a divorce, leaving her children behind. Meanwhile, my stepfather, aching and literally begging to die for YEARS now lives on.

We're not actuarials, we're authors.

If you receive a response from an agent you respect and trust, that and their enthusiasm for your work are what matters. You have to believe, if an agent wants to take you on - they MEAN it.

Julie Weathers said...

First off, congratulations on getting to this point. It's an exciting place to be.

I'd be much more concerned about new agents leaving the field than a war horse. In the previous life when I had two agents, one was an old war horse who had been in the business many years and the pair Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum were bright, shiny, and new. They'd last forever.

Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum closed up shop a year or so after my debacle with them. No, I'm sure the agent dolls with the hat pins in them had nothing to do with it. War horse was still going strong in the business until she died. She never did retire.

I would, as Janet says, wait until you have an offer before asking what the agent's plans are and how they handle situations where a client is released for some reason other than being an ass.

My dad was 80 and still going up to the mine every year to work, crawling lookout towers to spot for fires, scrambling around the mountain to hunt deer and elk. When he had his stroke I kept holding his hand and telling him he had to pull through because he just got his new elk permit.

This nurse is ninety and still going strong.

So, there are other things in the writer world to worry about. Make your list and check it twice. Understand that it's all right to ask questions. Realize that sometimes if you ask, "Do these pants make my butt look big?" Someone is going to answer, "Honey, it's not the pants that make your butt look big."

Be prepared for honest answers.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Congrats to OP for getting this far! Personally, I would be thrilled to be talking with an agent with so much experience in the industry. Even if the agent is retiring in the next couple of years, what an educational and beneficial couple of years that would be!

DLM said...

After 9/11, I was still in the financial services/securities world, and a huge emphasis was placed on disaster recovery and succession planning. It was a focus everywhere I worked for years, and then I came out into a distribution firm ... and have been kind of astonished at the lack of awareness around succession planning. We have lost personnel since I've been here (one, indeed, to a completely unexpected demise) and in one case, a key position has gone un-filled for over a year and a half now.

Janet, is succession planning - or legacy representation or inheritance of clients - widely strategized among literary agents/agencies, or is it different with different agencies? What do you call this, if it is a general consideration? I'm curious both from the perspective we discussed yesterday - when a client dies, does representation continue, with the literary executor - and from the perspective of an agent's retirement/death.

Robert Ceres said...

Another thing to consider in guessing the staying power of agent old is their overall track record of sales. Long sales records with existing clients, sales with big advances, and big, or at least good sellers equals good revenue for the agent. And while pay isn't everything, a poorly paying job is often a great motivator for leaving a job.

Slightly off topic, and a bit of non sequitur, but thank God teachers seem to mostly ignor this particular motivation. That said, they almost always deserve more.

Megan V said...

Ah, age. The age old question. There's a lot to be said for war horses that are considered past their prime. For one thing, don't put them out to pasture...

There's an age old saying too. Trust the voice of experience.

I've known farmers and who worked the land well into their 90s. My own father still bales hay and straw on his own and he's in his 60s. If I want to talk to someone about how to fix a baler or toss a bale, or work the land, I talk to them.

I know fellow attorneys who are in their 80s. When I have questions, I often talk to them.

An agent who's been doing this for years and years, you bet I'll want them on my side. But I can understand your concerns OP.

I think Janet's advice here is sound. Wait for the offer and then talk about your relationship expectations. You don't want to get hitched when the other party plans on ditching marriage altogether after the honeymoon.

Panda in Chief said...

Would it be foolish to presume that said agent plans to continue working if they are vetting prospective clients? Especially one who has been in the business for a while. I agree with the idea that it is the newer/ younger agents you would want to wonder about.

Personally, not only do I not have the resources to retire, I can't imagine doing anything more fun than what I am doing now. Maybe retiring means I don't work weekends. And I would go out to lunch more.

Colin Smith said...

Late to the comments, and, as usual, everyone's already said what I would have said. So I guess I really don't need to comment. But, you know... :)

Even Claudette beat me to the post with her review of THE SINGER FROM MEMPHIS! My review went live on my blog today. You know where to find me, and if you don't, check my profile or the List of Blog Readers on the top right.

Opie: It sounds like you're in a good place, with an experienced agent who likes your work. Congrats!! All the best to you. :)

John Davis Frain said...

Age is only important if your prospective agent is a cheese.

Donnaeve said...

I sure do love that my sub-header lived to see another week, but I have to suggest John's for next week's. TOO FUNNY!

Claudette Hoffmann said...

Colin - Such profuse apologies!!! My comment was hardly a real review and was driven by major guilt for not commenting much and not sharing about the book received and being so behind in getting a good review up and I don't even have a blog.

As usual you are too kind and gracious and forgiving and I am still (always) learning from my betters.

Eager to read your real review.

Lennon Faris said...

Ooh, this sounds like a good problem. Thanks for the tips, Janet!

John and Donna - let's add wine to that list.

Colin Smith said...

Claudette!! No, not at all!! I wasn't complaining. You've done no wrong and caused no offense. Yours is a great review! Can't have too many good reviews about THE SINGER FROM MEMPHIS. :)

Janet Reid said...

Claudette, don't worry. Colin is being funny. Your post on SINGER is utterly charming, and in no way out of order.

And aren't you all kale green to know that right now, this very minute, I am reading Book #7, Death on Delos. I love Gary Corby!!

Colin Smith said...

*Flies to NY with some of FirstBorn's baked goodies...*

BTW: I just copied my review to Amazon. If you have an Amazon account, don't forget to post your reviews there, whether of Gary's amazing novels, or of other books you've read and loved. Word-of-mouth and book reviews are the primary ways people find out about great books. Think: How did you find out about your favorite novel?

Colin Smith said...

Janet: My wife says since you undoubtedly have way too many books, we'll be glad to relieve you of DEATH ON DELOS when you're finished with it. It's the least we can do for you. :)

Craig said...

Listen up dearie, I will retire when they peel my cold, dead fingers from this pencil.

BJ Muntain said...

Age is relative, isn't it?

When my Great-great Aunt Pearl went into a home at the age of 104 (yes, she lived in her own home until she was 104), she looked at the people around her and asked, "Why are there so many old people here?"

She lived there about 9 years. She became the unofficial oldest person in the country when she was 112 (unofficial because, despite having other evidence to it, the church where her birth records were had burned down during one of the wars). Well, then someone else's granddaughter decided her grandma was the oldest person by about a week (also unofficially, based solely on her passport). Both women were interviewed by the same national news outlet.

The other woman was interviewed in bed, hardly having the energy to speak, often having to rest between questions. She was, after all, 112.

Aunt Pearl, also 112, was alert and seated when she talked to the press. She answered questions - slowly, because she did speak slowly - and her son was there to help. Then, during the interview, someone stopped by the room: "Pearl, bingo's starting." Aunt Pearl said, "I'm done here," got up on her walker, and left to play bingo.

Age is relative. No matter the age.

Personally, I'd trust an older agent to know when she can take on another client or when that might stretch her limits. She wouldn't have been in the business as long as she had if she didn't know her limits and her strengths. Definitely ask her (when she proposes representation) about her intentions, but I wouldn't see her age as a problem. She could be selling best-sellers for a very long time yet.

Colin Smith said...

The only retiring I plan to do is on my car. :D

(Apologies to those who use British English--the double-meaning doesn't really work with "retyring.")

OK, so I might end up retiring from the day job, but it would be nice if I eventually need to quit in order to make more time for my writing career. But that can only happen if I make enough money writing to pay the bills. And that can only happen if I get published. And following the traditional model (as I plan to do), that can only happen if I get an agent. And that can only happen if I have something worthwhile to submit to an agent. And that can only happen if I... okay... 'nuff said. :)

Elissa M said...

This question is interesting because older writers often worry that agents might not take them on if their ages were known. It never occurred to me there might be any concern about an agent's age.

I believe few creative people ever "retire". They may slow down and perhaps switch tracks (a dancer becoming an instructor or choreographer, for instance), but they rarely stop altogether. I like to think agents are driven by the same impulses and few would even want to retire if they're still physically and mentally able to do the job. I know this is a Pollyanna-ish view, but I think we'd all rather have an older agent than a burned-out one.

AJ Blythe said...

I second Donna's nom for John's cheese comment as subheader.

Colin - glad you explained I'd need a dictionary for 'retiring'... thought you meant you were going to get rid of your car, lol.

Elissa - it's not only creative types who never retire. My Dad was forced to retire from his job about 10 years ago. My Mum said she's never been so busy in her life since (and that's saying something, they worked 2 different businesses full time most of my life, working 20+ hour days 363 days a year). Dad had been working in finance, and has nothing to do with that anymore, but he's managed to find ways to keep going. He firmly believes if you slow down you just might stop.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Ditto John's gouda witticism for sub header.

Hahahaha.

Panda in Chief said...

Anothervote for subheader nomination to John's comment about age and cheese. Huzzah!

Also in total agreement about the idea of retirement, (or complete lack of interest in it). Age is a state of mind, unless your body gives out on you. But for those who do not get sideswiped by illness or accidents, well, keeping moving is the best way to stay active, interested and engaged.
Taking weekends off would be nice. I could do that...maybe.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Yeah- John and his cheese- definite sub-header material.

Kae Ridwyn said...

Morning, all! (Although it's probably 'evening' over there by now!)

Janet, you wrote that retiring agents "make arrangements" - I'm guessing this refers to, among other things, passing their current clients to another literary agent.
I was wondering how this process actually works? I'm guessing from your link the other week, to the post written by your former client, that this would be organised on a client-by-client basis.
But the woodland creature in me is screaming that there's something else in here to freak out about - what if my incredibly awesome agent-to-be is trying to retire, and has managed to re-home all of her clients, except me?! (Because, my woodland creature brain says, "There's no chance of lightning striking twice.") What happens then? I'm guessing - I'd be back in the query trenches?

John Davis Frain said...

It's morning in half of the states, Kae. Folks west of the Rockies are still battling Wednesday, but the rest of us have moved forward and begun to take on Thursday. Just the barely though.

I have good news for you. It's my considered opinion that if you're having to look that far into your future to find something to worry about, you must be in a pretty good position in your present. And that's a good thing. So enjoy your present for a while and know that if your agent wants to retire -- hey! That means you'll have an agent. Yet another good thing.

You're swimming in good stuff, Kae, no wonder you fit in so well here at the reef.

Stephanie said...

Actually... I signed with my agent and then 2 months later, the agency owner abruptly retired, closing the company and forcing my agent and others to find homes elsewhere. 18 months later, my agent is MIA. CANT FIND HER. She's dropped off the face of the earth just when the book should be going on sub.