Thursday, October 19, 2017

young agent/small agency

I've been lucky enough to get an offer of representation for my first novel. Unsurprisingly, various top agents had passed on it, and the person who offered rep is relatively inexperienced (a few years in the business) and works for a relatively small agency.

Are there any things to look out for in particular with inexperienced agents, or ways to help evaluate them given a shorter history of selling books? For example, how many sales (in PM) would you expect a good-but-young agent to have after 2-3 years of experience?
The most important thing to ask is "what have you sold?" And not just the young agent, the agency as a whole.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, takes the place of experience when problems arise on the path to publication. A youngish agent may not have the requisite experience, but someone at the agency should.

That means you look at what the entire agency has sold. If they haven't sold anything to a big publisher, you're going to be first. And we all know how I feel about being first, right?

The number of sales doesn't matter as much as where the books have sold (to my way of thinking.)

With a youngish agent, I'd also want to have a pretty straightforward discussion about what happens if the agent leaves. Agenting is a tough business and not everyone keeps at it.

Every agent starts small (well, ok a couple didn't but they are the exception, not the rule). Make sure they're surrounded by people who didn't stay small.

31 comments:

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Writer's math.

Young agent + debut novel = hungry + determined.

I flunked algebra, twice, so don't trust me.

Theresa said...

I love how 2Ns does math! Especially since it comes out in OP's favor. Good luck with The Call.

Amy Johnson said...

Yay! I won today's game of "Guess What Janet Will Say." I'm sure others here play it too. Game instructions: Read the O.P.'s question. Dig into the memory banks of all Janet has taught us. Try to figure out the answer. Read the queen's response.

I'm learning. This is good. Now back to writing my novel. With hope renewed.

Thank you, Janet.

Amy Johnson said...

And Congratulations, Opie! Such great news for you, and encouraging to others.

Colin Smith said...

Whoa whoa whoa... back up the wagon here a minute, Opie. You said (and I quote):

Unsurprisingly, various top agents had passed on it

Why is this "unsurprising"? And how do you define a "top" agent? Surely this should read, "Various agents with more experience made the biggest career blunder of their lives and passed on my novel..." or something to that effect. :) Like Janet said, nearly every agent starts out young and inexperienced. Some build their careers and reputation over time, some have a break-out success that catapults them to celebrity. Either way, your novel is, we hope, the one that will be the game-changer for this young agent and this agency.

For that to happen though, both you and your agent need to have confidence in your work. Your novel deserves to have an agent, and sell for seven figures. I assume if you didn't believe that, you wouldn't have bothered querying it...? :)

Of course, I concur with all the advice about making sure the agent's in it for the long haul, and is surrounded by wise-heads (as opposed to the wise-... y'know. Like us.)

All the best to you Opie! And remember us when you're famous. :)

Colin Smith said...

*taps microphone*

Is that it? No-one has anything else to say? C'mon now... or do I have to start posting song parodies and Carkoon jokes. Did you hear the one about the Carkoonian molecular scientist who crossed a flakka monster with a garbuloq? Hahahahaha! What do you mean you don't get it? The punchline's in the joke. Want to hear another? :D

Megan V said...

Some of us do not live on the east coast Colin. Be kind and please spare those of us just rising from the Carkoon yokes.

Back on topic though. 2Ns math sounds about right to me. As did Colin's comment on the "unsurprising." And as always the QOTKU has shared the most marvelous advice.

Where is the agency selling? This is especially important if you're young and hungry's first client (though you may not be). And having that plan in place if young and hungry finds themselves sick of hearing their stomach rumble will spare you a bit more anguish down the line. Make sure to ask all those questions that've been talked about here before. And do your research. Reputable agent? Reputable agency? Sales?" The key to good writing is research. The key to good querying? You guessed it, also research. (Though I'd generally advise doing the research first before querying because, among other things, declining an offer when you don't have other offers on the table always seems like kind of an awkward process to me.) Best wishes to you.

Craig F said...

I am not even sorry about being contrary anymore.

It is not about what they have sold, it is about how connected the young agent is.

Who taught them, what editors they have been introduced to and how many bridges they have burned. Tell me how you are going to get the most (read as money) from my book.

Everyone has a special place in their heart for their first. That would be a better place to be than as an afterthought for a big agent who liked your book but has their faith, and bank account, elsewhere.

I checked a few big agents and still don't know why. I guess it was to see if they would explain why I need rules and they don't. Conflicting messages all.

RosannaM said...

Weighing in from the West Coast, (where it is still early) just to reassure Colin that others out here have something to say....

....I'm thinking, I'm thinking. Oh, yeah. OP, do what Janet said.

Phew, glad I had something of value to add here!

cheerio

Susan said...

I would also say to OP: "what is your gut saying to you?" When you had the call with the agent, did you feel a professional connection? Did they understand your book and your vision? That said, do you think they understand you as a writer? Along with what Janet is saying (looking at what the agency has sold, etc), what is your gut feeling about establishing a working relationship with this agent, new or not? Sometimes our gut is already telling us what we need to hear.

Colin Smith said...

OK, OK, West-Coasters! Don't forget we also have Brits and Aussies who are already well into the day by the time us East-Coasters crawl into work. I'm just used to seeing a fair flurry of comments before 10 am (ET). Glad you're all awake now. :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

It’s not that I have nothing to say, but it is Thursday or as I have come to know it,” Day 4 of a hostage situation.” My obedience to the rules around here is purely accidental. My blasted day job sometimes makes me do work and I can’t say all I want to say. So many times I have not had time to reply to the witty and wonderful comments as I would like. Tragedy that.

To the matter at hand. In the query trenches, my first 75-100 queries will go to well-established agencies (although some newbie agents in the mix). When all of them cruelly reject me based on my less than stellar query skills, I will start down a list of smaller agencies and do as Janet advises here - check out sales records.

There have been too many horror stories here regarding small agencies/agents making sales to boutique/tiny/new publishers and then both disappearing and the writer being left in the lurch. So due diligence is necessary. Sadly, I have come to the impression that not just any agent will do.

So Colin, how is the weather in Carkoon? Has the plumbing situation improved. Asking for a friend :)

Joseph Snoe said...

Interesting post and one of current benefit to me, too. Lingering is the followup question, what if this is the only agent so far who has offered representation? The agent will sound enthusiastic enough. If nothing truly screams run, but the concern is there, do you take the chance or run?

Susan Yours may the best answer, but sometimes my gut goes into indecision mode.

Colin Smith said...

Joseph: I'd say... it depends. :) Imagine, if you will, you query 50 agents. Of those 50, 49 send form rejections. Not even a personalized note of encouragement, let alone a partial request. But one of the 50, a young and enthusiastic new agent, offers representation. The red flags would be waving for me.

My short story with the most number of rejections (so far) is one I am persisting to shop around. Why? Because a few of those rejections came with personalized "Loved the writing, but not for us" type of messages. This encourages me that the story's good enough to publish, I just need to find the right market.

Susan said...

Colin: I would flip that around and posit the same question to you. You've received rejections for your story (which is crazy to me, but ok), but what if the publication that says yes is a lesser known or new one? Would you take that chance?

I would say to you and to Joseph to trust your gut with a heavy dose of logic. I would even venture to say the reason why we're indecisive is because we're not trusting our gut, which oftentimes is screaming at us when we refuse to listen. Do your research. Use some logic and look at the agent/agency stats. Talk to the agent who wants to represent you. Then pull all of that information together and quietly say, "okay, now that my brain knows the necessary info, what's my heart saying?" Then imagine both scenarios--saying yes and saying no. Which feels like the sigh of relief (a true sigh of relief, excitement aside). Your answer will typically be there.

Colin Smith said...

Susan: My reasoning is, if I'm throwing a story around and it's just hitting a brick wall, maybe I need to take another look at the story. But if at least a few editors are telling me, "This is great stuff, just not right for our mag," then I'm a lot more confident with my story.

Of course, there are big differences between shopping shorts and querying novels. But the common thread is feedback. It seems to me, if your novel is good enough for representation, you'll at least get some kind of vibe from other agents, even if they reject you. "Loved the premise, just didn't quite love it enough..." "Thanks for sending the chapters I requested. Loved the writing, it's just not quite right for me..."

Colin Smith said...

Susan: ... oh, that's what I was going to say... One of the differences between shopping shorts and querying is I'm more likely to say yes to a small publication. If the mag ends up going under, it's not a hit to my career. As long as I retain rights to the story, I can dust off and move on.

Susan said...

Colin: Ah, you answered my question!

kathy joyce said...

OP, listen to Janet. I'd say more but Windows 10 did an automatic update yesterday and now nothing works. I've spent the whole f'ing day trying to fix it. Oh, how I hate Windows! OP, listen to Janet, not me. All I'm doing is grumbling and swearing.

Colin Smith said...

kathy: With every software upgrade, there's a 1 in 1000 chance someone will have problems. And invariably, that one is YOU! ;)

kathy joyce said...

Colin, last Windows update I lost a PC! All, a friendly reminder: Back. Up. Your. Files. Regularly!

Colin Smith said...

kathy: What did I say? It's you! Thank you, on behalf of the other 999. ;) Seriously, backing up is sound advice. You never know...

C M said...

I would ask which editors she knows, and which ones she thinks are a good fit for your book. If she's vague, then maybe she's not the best for you. If she rattles of 3 or 4 names, then she might be able to help you.

Lynne Main said...

Ooh, I see either a spectacular breakthrough or a nervous breakdown for the OP. What if the young agent throws in the towel? What if the agency is still inexperienced (I'm not saying they are, just being hypothetical)? As usual, Janet's advice is stellar.

As Colin mentioned, the OP doesn't seem confident about their work. You (the OP) want your agent to be over the moon about your book, but you need to be over the moon about it too. And sometimes it's hard to be after you've done a gazillion revisions and had a gazillion rejections (and revised some more). When you finally get that validation, the doubts still creep in because of that long hard road you've been on.

Of course, I'm still querying (this is my third novel, by the way), so I could be off the mark about this (wouldn't be the first time!).

Anyway, OP, go with your gut and Janet's advice.

Gypmar said...

This is so timely! My sister sent out a picture book query yesterday and heard back from a new agent in 15 minutes! This agent is with a small but established agency. My sister got an offer of representation today! I looked up the agent's sales, and she's already sold 5 books this year (her first as an agent), so that seems promising.

And yes, I'm very happy for my sister and also a little green with envy. :)

Lynne Main said...

Congrats to your sister, Gypmar!

Gypmar said...

Thanks, Lynne! It will be fun to get the inside scoop from her. :)

MA Hudson said...

Wow, that’s amazing Gypmar. Fifteen minutes must be a world record!!
Picture books are in a different league to novels though. I heard a publisher talking at a SCBWI event and she said if it’s a new author, then they’ll try to pair them with a well known illustrator, and vice versa. So, the risk is mitigated a bit. With a debut novel, the publisher is putting a lot of eggs in an untried basket.

Liz Penney said...

I just signed with a new agent but she's a former editor and works for an established agency. Happily, she loves my book!

MA Hudson said...

Liz - congratulations!! That’s very exciting news.
Must be sooooo nice to have an industry professional love your book. Well done.

Liz Penney said...

Thank you! It's been quite a path to this point, believe me.