Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Why "I Never Give Up" is NOT the plus you think it might be from an agent

Recently a colleague tweeted about an agency that charges their clients a monthly fee for representation.  In case you've just joined us from outer space: this is not how real agents work, and you should avoid agents who do this.

I always like to see what the non-competition is up to so I sidled over to their website.  After I stumbled past the terrible writing, the illogical reasoning, and the list of things they do that are actually what everyone else does, I found this gem:

With an extensive database, LLA will continue submitting until all avenues are exhausted. We never give up. It only takes submitting to the right editor.

I realized that "we never give up" might sound attractive to an author. We've all heard the horror stories about writers who got dumped by their agents after five or ten submissions. (Yes, that makes my blood boil too.)

But unless this merry band of agents knows everything about everyone in publishing (which I doubt, since I'd never heard of them) there are going to be some projects they won't be able to sell properly. And if they "never give up" that means they're going to sell to a publisher that is a whole lot lower on the desirability list than you'd hope.

The truth is a good agent will freely tell you s/he's not good at every category or every kind of book. It's the reason we list what we're looking for. We like to hit to our strengths.

And a really good agent will know when she's the wrong agent for a project.

Case in point: Kari Dell.

I had the pleasure of lunching with Kari today in New York City. She skedaddled out of Montana ahead of her rabid fans wanting autographs I'm sure, but she's also here to do a reading as part of the Lady Jane Salon.

I repped Kari Dell for a long long time. She started out writing crime fiction. I loved her voice, I loved her books. I was the only one who did for a while: I couldn't sell them.  Gradually she started writing less crime-focused books and more romance-focused books.

It dawned on me that I didn't know much about selling romance. I didn't read much of it. I didn't know the players. AND I KNEW THAT.

So, I called hotshot agent to the stars Holly Root and said "boy do I have a deal for you" and yes indeed she agreed.

I called Kari and said "you've been traded for a crime writer and a poet to be named later."

Fast forward not all that long and Kari has a deal with Sourcebooks, and some pretty damn fine blurbs and reviews.



In other words the RIGHT agent got her to the RIGHT editor and the SMART agent knew her limits.

There are lots of other times when "giving up" is the smart choice. Not all books (even good ones) get picked up.  A smart agent knows when to pull the plug and get her client working on the next project.  A smart agent doesn't sell your work for peanuts to a monkeyshine publisher simply to get a deal. A bad deal is worse than no deal.

Bottom line: like much of what's on this website "we never give up" sounds good until you know how agenting actually works. You want an agent who knows how to get advances, and when to sound retreat.

Any questions?

44 comments:

Theresa said...

This is great information!

It reminds me of a conversation I once had with one of my close friends who is also a writer. We'd been talking about our various struggles with getting published, and she said, "But good books get published, right?" We tried to reassure each other that this was the case, but deep down I knew. No. Lots of good books don't get published.

Amy Schaefer said...

This is a good reminder that it is all about finding the right agent and the right editor, not just any old person who throws a contract your way. Value your work - find a good fit, or no fit at all.

Matt Adams said...

Of course they never give up. Giving up would mean also giving up the monthly fee. And while they may be nice people, as long as they keep trying, the client keeps buying.

I know the word doesn't exactly work, but it rhymed.

While Janet's right, it does suck when your agent says they've got nothing left to try. It's one thing to trunk a novel that never got repped, but it's a whole 'nother level of depression when you have to trunk a book that got close enough for you to start picturing covers and book signings. And sometimes you have to be the one to say enough and look at other options on your own. Not a fun realization to have, but one I reckon every author has to have at one point or another.

kathy joyce said...

My husband's grandma used to say, "There are worse things than not being married. Like being married to the wrong person." That's good advice for agents too.

Amy Johnson said...

"I always like to see what the non-competition is up to" got a laugh out of me. Thanks, Janet, for the humor and the info.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Whew, gotta love a cowboy in a black hat. Be still my aging heart.

Anyway:
When my daughters’ approached dating age I told them, “...being alone is better than having a man in your life who is abusive.”
When they went to college and were deciding on employment futures I told them, “...the only thing worse than a mediocre job that doesn’t pay enough (do any?) is working in a place you HATE but stay is BECAUSE of the money.”
So to quote you, “A bad deal is worse than no deal.” I couldn’t agree more.

So, if your husband knocks you around, you clean bathrooms for a buck over minimum wage, and your memoir, ,Me, a Muslin in Milwaukee is being published by Breitbart Publishing, your life sucks.

Colin Smith said...

So, Be Tenacious... but know when to quit. And that applies to both writers and agents. This is a valuable reminder, Janet. Of course, if your agent comes back and says, "I've done all I can do," you always have the option of going on your own and self-publishing. But you need to be very sure of your novel. And I hope a good agent will give you sound counsel.

Question: If your agent draws a blank with your first novel, and you want to try self-publishing, would that necessitate breaking ties with your agent, or could you offer them a second novel to try the traditional route while you pursue the non-traditional route with that first novel?

RachelErin said...

This is reminiscent of some comfort my critique group handed out last week. One of my writer friends lost their agent - agent simply said she wasn't in love with the new MSs and couldn't sell the first one, and they were better off parting. Writer Friend was understandably upset.

The experienced authors in the critique group said it was too bad, but not as bad as an agent who went dark. At least agent was honest and he knew where he stood, without waiting around for a year (or more) trying to figure out what was going on. Most of the published authors in the group have worked with more than one agent.

Janet's advice hits the same chord. It's impossible to strategize effectively if you don't know where you stand.

Donnaeve said...

Colin I will date to answer your question, although I'm not the example of fact...but I'd say yes, that's possible. If I'm not mistaken, isn't that a hybrid author,?

Also, what Matt Adams said is very true too. I put DIXIE aside to write something else - two something elses as a matter of fact because the right editor hadn't been found.

Speaking of editors...John Scognamiglio is getting his own imprint at Kensington! He's going to have 4-6 commercial titles per year - and from the sound of it - although I'm not 100% sure, I think the focus is on debut authors. Very exciting times for him!

Donnaeve said...

Date. How about dare? That's better...yeah, dare. :)

Colin Smith said...

Donna: Usually, we talk about hybrid authors as authors who have already published traditionally branching out into the indie world. I'm talking about an author's debut being self-pubbed with the blessing of their agent, while their agent continues to pursue trad publishing for their next novel. Might this be an option for the author who loves their agent and wants to continue to work with them, even though their agent has had to "give up" on the novel under submission?

Colin Smith said...

Edit to my last comment, just to make sure I'm being as lucid as possible:

"Might this be an option for the debut author who loves their newly-acquired agent..."

Would, say, Janet even consider this option with an author she just signed?

Susan said...

Since we're going down the self-publishing rabbit hole, I'm going to toss my thoughts in...

I think if authors want to be a hybrid author, they need to discuss that with their agent from the get-go, particularly in the discussion about what happens if/when their book doesn't sell. I imagine the agent might instruct them to try for a traditional debut with another book, after which they can self-publish their backlist as a hybrid author. There are a number of self-published authors who reversed course--their success with self-publishing meant they were then picked up by traditional publishers--but this is much harder than already having an established relationship with your agent and publisher and venturing out on your own for a specific book or series.

Though I hate to see authors choosing the self-publishing route--even as a hybrid author--only because their books didn't sell to a traditional publisher, especially if they want that traditional publishing career. Like anything, self-publishing should be a conscious choice and should be done with the best of intentions--because this is indeed a career path that one chooses, not an option of last resort.

I'd just say set your intentions from the start and communicate with all players involved--you need to know what you want and have a vision for your career. Sometimes that vision doesn't work out the way we want, but that's where communication comes in--like Janet did, your agent might be able to point you in the best direction for your career.

Colin Smith said...

To your point, Susan, I agree self-pubbing shouldn't be the option of last resort for the desperate. It should be a conscious choice. In the scenario I painted above, the debut author might choose self-pubbing not out of desperation to be published, but because they strongly believe in that debut novel, and are convinced there's an audience for it. However, they would also like to keep their agent, and have a career in the traditional world. That non-trad novel might be a one-off, and the rest of the author's books might publish traditionally. Or, the author might find they enjoyed the indie experience and decide to switch course (at which point they will probably lose their agent). I'm just curious whether an agent would even consider the possibility that a newly-signed author's debut may do better in the indie world, while the agent concentrates on selling novel #2.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I'll be the first to admit that I don't know much about self-publishing, but I do have a couple friends who found success with it. In my (again, very limited) experience, self-published books are more likely to be successful if they're A) good and B) published regularly and quickly. Kind of like a blog.

If that is a fair picture of most successful self-pubbed authors, then I imagine a lot of agents would be hesitant to rep a second novel when the debut is being simultaneously self-pubbed. It's more likely the debut self-published novel would be successful if successive novels were also self-published. So you're kind of shooting yourself in both feet.

Of course, like I said, I may be totally and completely off the mark.

Susan said...

Colin: That's what I mean...I'm just thinking out-loud here, but if the author wants a traditional publishing career, I'd think they would remain with the agent for their debut with another book, then self-publish their original book as part of their backlist (or try again, depending on the success of their first book). The reason I say this is because we know publishers want that debut author, and it's much more difficult to go from self-pubbed to traditional than vice-versa. This would also benefit the author if/when they self-publish because they would already have a built-in audience/platform.

I'm all for believing in your book and not wanting to give up on it. But I think more has to be considered here: namely your goals and long-term projection. If someone truly wants a traditional career, I would think they'd pursue that with their agent as much as possible and then return to their original book once those goals are met.

Colin Smith said...

Susan: Yes, yes, yes... but still... ;)

Seriously, I totally agree that the self-pub/trad-pub should be a career decision, and if a trad-pubbed author wants to self-pub, it should be considered once the author is established in the trad world, and it should be with a specific goal in mind (e.g., as a vehicle for backlist titles, or for titles that are too niche to be profitable for the author's trad publisher). I'm just speculating on a possible situation that might arise with an author's debut--if self-pubbing that novel while pursuing trad publication for the second novel would even be something an agent would entertain. Again, just musing... :)

Colin Smith said...

Note to the Keeper of the Blog Glossary: Can we add "But still..."? Definition: British phrase used to indicate that the speaker has no rational, coherent response to the argument presented, but wishes to insist on his or her original point despite having been refuted. :)

Sherry Howard said...

I'm hearing Kenny Rogers: know when to hold 'me, know when to fold 'me. Sage life advice!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Yes Colin, do.

Great discussion. My day job is demanding I do the actual thing they pay me for so, as often happens, can't properly contribute. But why do I need to? You guys have it covered.

I always like to see what the non-competition is up too Bless you, your Majesty, that is worth a day's snickering.

Casey Karp said...

Am I the only one who saw Colin's "Be Tenacious" line and had a flashback to high school football and that cheer every school's cheerleaders did? "Be. Tenacious. B. E. Tenacious. Go, [insert name of team]!"

Anyway...

Colin, count me as one of the people who thinks self-pubbing the first novel if the agent can't place it would be premature. As I understand these things (not much), you could well be better off holding onto that first novel to use as lagniappe when the agent sells the second novel.

OK, maybe not lagniappe. But if book two sells and does well, there could be more interest in book one.

Beth said...

Question for Janet: If Kari Dell were to return to crime fiction, while still writing romance, how would that work? Assuming Holly Root doesn't rep crime, would you consider repping Kari's crime fiction while Holly continued to rep her romance?

Colin, I've been told that once an author is published, the publisher is often open to reconsidering a revised version of a rejected book. This is in category romance, however, which churns out lots of books and probably has different conventions than other publishers.

Amy Johnson said...

Am I the only one who just had to look up lagniappe?

Thanks, Casey. Looking up a new word is like making a new friend. Corny?

Elissa M said...

Sometimes when I think of agents, I think of talent agents, the kind that represent actors. Then I think about actors and their careers (mostly because they're so highly visible, making it easy to speculate about them). Ignoring for the moment differences in ability as well as those actors who self-destruct through substance abuse and other issues, I often ponder what makes one person more successful than another. Some actors seem to make no wrong steps on their way to super-stardom. Others find their way into bomb after bomb until they've fallen into obscurity. Most, of course, are somewhere in the middle.

The take-away for me is: An agent can make or break one's career, and not every "opportunity" may be worth pursuing. Something writers as well as actors should keep in mind.

Lennon Faris said...

I do love how Janet is never afraid to call someone out (by name) if she thinks they're doing something wrong (esp. with wrong intentions).

Colin - lol. Although, I am not British and many times growing up, used the indisputable logic of "but still..."!

Colin Smith said...

BTW, I think Janet is the Keeper of the Blog Glossary, since it's a page on the blog. My natural aversion to Carkoon, however, prevents me from asking her directly about adding an entry... :)

Karen McCoy said...

Yup. Work smarter, not harder. Volume never trumps quality, despite society's constant need to quantify things. Our current information age already feels like drinking from a fire hydrant. So let's turn down the water, shall we?

This post also epitomizes the importance of pacing yourself. We might think that our attempts should be infinite, but the laws of nature insist that we take a much needed breath of fresh air once in a while. Agents, as well as writers, should come out of the trenches--if only to see the flowers blooming beside them.

Karen McCoy said...

I also like how Elissa M put "opportunity" in quotes. Good lesson, there.

Colin Smith said...

Given the current political atmosphere, and in an effort to keep this area as much a politics-free zone as possible, can I suggest we refrain from using the verb "to t-r-u-m-p."? In its place, I suggest we look to our blue-skinned, white-hatted Dutch friends, and make use of their favorite verb: to Smurf.

In light of this suggestion, here's how Karen's comment now begins:


Yup. Work smarter, not harder. Volume never Smurfs quality, despite society's constant need to quantify things. Our current information age already feels like drinking from a fire hydrant. So let's turn down the water, shall we?


I think it's a winner. Don't you? ;)

Joseph Snoe said...

Kari Lynn Dell in her "Reckless in Texas" acknowledgments page let her readers know Janet Reid contributed more to the novel than merely shifting it over to Holly Root.

When I read the novel, I noticed the similarity between me and the cowboy on the cover. Some differences, of course. I haven’t worn a cowboy hat or boots since I was six years old. I’ve never been on a horse. He has six-pack abs while I carry the whole keg. And of course, I’m a true Texan and I seriously doubt he is.

Craig F said...

Ah, I had been beginning to think that I would rather have an agent that sees dollar signs than one who says she loves me and my work. Quite often when I hear that word, love, I am reminded of the first wife. That is something I would rather not be reminded of.

I really don't want an agent that sux up, fawns or fan-girls over my stuff. I want an agent that tells me it is worth more than I, and friends, think my works are worth. Again, I write to be entertaining.

OT: I knew that line about football yesterday was hooey. Verification today in 'traded her for a crime writer and a poet to be named later'. Would you be so kind as to tell us who that crime writer is/was?

MA Hudson said...

I've always thought Janet's 'query widely' advice made a lot of sense but it wasn't until I read a recent post on Writer Unboxed that I truly understood why. It really illustrates why a 'no' doesn't necessarily mean you suck.

http://writerunboxed.com/2017/02/05/how-ten-years-producing-car-talk-helped-me-deal-with-rejection/

Colin Smith said...

MA's link: http://writerunboxed.com/2017/02/05/how-ten-years-producing-car-talk-helped-me-deal-with-rejection/

Matt Adams said...

Susan and Colin, while I appreciate your views about self publishing being a choice and not a last resort, I have to throw another viewpoint out there. If you've written a book you think is good but New York doesn't want for any myriad of reasons (including it's not good enough) then I don't see any fault in deciding to self publish after attempts at traditional have failed. At some point you want your work out to the world -- you want the chance at validation for your efforts -- and self publishing may be the only way some writers get that chance.

I know the popular mantra is "just write another book and sell that one," but that doesn't always work either. Sometimes (and I'm speaking from recent and painful experience) your agent doesn't want to present the new book, even if they love the first one. Sometimes they want to wait for another year before trying again. But another year's a long time for a book to sit on a shelf in hopes someone might like it this time. To me -- and I'm fully aware I may be self justifying here -- deciding that you just want it out there is allowed to tru ... over-rule the previous dream of traditional publishing. Sometimes, the prudent decision is to change course, even if it takes you to a different destination.

Danae McB said...

I decided to check out Janet's non-competition, too. Scrolling down the "represented authors" page, I noticed a trend of books being published by Black Opal Press, Argus Publishing, and Limitless Publishing. I looked up the websites of each of these. Black Opal's website would not load any pages. I found a thread about them on Absolute Write that did not inspire confidence. Argus had a poorly-designed website with even worse-designed book covers. Limitless was, by comparison, not terrible, but not a place I'd jump to work with.

Those book deals definitely seem worse than no book deal.

Colin Smith said...

Matt: Likewise, I see nothing wrong with someone pursuing self-publishing if their work has been resoundingly rejected by the traditional industry (which assumes you have--or had--an agent, maybe even multiple agents, who tried to sell you work, which in turn assumes your work has been edited and reviewed to where it is deemed "good enough" and publishable). I would caution against mere frustration as a reason to self-publish, though. You have to believe your book is good and worth the investment of time and money (yours as well as your readers'). You have to ask the hard questions of your work: Why is the industry rejecting it? Are we deluded and it's really not that good? Or is the industry not ready for it? Or does it not fit the current trends or publishing schedules? If the answer is any but the first (i.e., it's not a good novel), I think you can make a case for switching gears and self-publishing. But it's not merely about seeing your name in lights. You have to have to have to believe in the book you're wanting to see published. That Smurfs everything. :)

Joseph Snoe said...

MA Hudson

I didn't get my first job out of college because of my major, my university, my resume, or my winning personality.

I got it because the company had been interviewing people for the position for six months and I walked in when they needed someone who could go on the road in one week. Thus began a career.

Susan said...

Matt: That's a valid reason for wanting to self-publish, but it still has to be a conscious choice as opposed to, like Colin cautions, a frustrated reaction. I say this because of the time, effort, and money that goes into self-publishing. It has to be treated like a business if there's going to be any chance of success--and success can be however you define it, either financial or just getting it out in the world, in the hands of readers.

When I decided to self-publish my first book, I'd been researching the industry for a number of years and wanted to be published. But then I was diagnosed with illness and didn't think I was going to make it, so I had to re-evaluate those dreams. I decided to self-publish because I wanted to see my dream of holding my book in my hands come true, and I wanted to leave something of myself behind, just in case. I discovered that I loved self-publishing--I loved the fact that I had complete control over every aspect, and I loved that I could build a business for it.

When I wrote my newest book, I tried my hand at querying. I believed in this book more than I've believed in anything, and I knew I had an audience for it--knew this book was needed. I had some positive responses from agents, but it never felt right. As I think I've said here before, my ego wanted the glory, but my heart just wanted to get the book into the right hands. So I decided to pull the queries and self-publish again. I'm thrilled with this path because it's brought other opportunities I couldn't have dreamed into my life.

I'm a huge proponent of self-publishing, as you can see. In fact, I would encourage more people to self-publish if I could. But I think people have to be really honest with themselves with what their goals are because I don't want them to go down a path that either isn't suited for them or that doesn't make them happy just out of frustration or impatience--even though that frustration and impatience is entirely justified. Publishing takes a lot of work...self-publishing maybe even a little more so.

MA Hudson said...

Success is all about being in the right place at the right time... and looking like the cowboy on the front of 'Restless in Texas'!
;)

Colin Smith said...

Success is all about being in the right place at the right time... and looking like the cowboy on the front of 'Restless in Texas'!

Well, one out of two ain't bad. After all, we can't all be in the right place at the right time... ;)

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

I want a rabid weasel for an agent, albeit a cuddly one.

As for going hybrid, I believe the better option when one is agented is to put the first novel aside for now and try to debut commercially with #2 or even #3 before going indie.

Commercial-going-indie is much easier than indie-going-commercial, though not unheard of.

You think getting an agent is hard and takes a long time? So is marketing an indie novel. The better the novel, the better your odds for either scenario.

MA Hudson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MA Hudson said...

Colin - Haha. Surely it's always the right time and place for a cockney cowboy story!

Thanks for linking the URL in my comment by the way.

Traci Bold said...

Sound advice Janet. I have it filed with other agent research tips. 😊