Wednesday, November 08, 2017

RANT: AND the horse** you rode in on, AgentEgo

Yesterday's blog post about Agent lollygagging elicited a comment from Craig F:

Once upon a time, in a galaxy all the way down the block, I heard a story. A writer thought he had finally gotten his stars in line. An agent was knocking. Being an excitable boy, he nudged a couple of times.

The agent responded by asking to see the novel in first person. A year later he felt it was ready and sent it off. The only response was a post on a social media feed by the agent. In that post she said that if you really wanted to piss her off, nudge her.

If you are a writer, and you see an agent tweet something so rude, arrogant, and egomaniacal, my ONLY advice is strike that agent off your list and know you've made the right choice.

*applies ice cold compress to singed hair*

First, let's all remember that of course the agent must prioritize her reading, and her workload, and may not be able to read your manuscript (even when requested) as soon as you'd like.  That's an industry norm and we all need to live with it.  (You don't have to like it, just know it's there.)

BUT to say that you get "pissed off" when an author asks for a status report is indicative of an agent who has a very skewed idea of how to conduct business.

And for all you know, the manuscript got lost in the ether. Or in a mail management program meltdown. Or got discarded accidentally.

All three of those things have happened to me within the last year.

I've been damn grateful more than once that an author dropped me a line asking for a status update, cause I didn't have their work.  Fervent apologies, resent, bobs your uncle.

But on a more cosmic level, if this agent doesn't like getting nudged, how is she nudging editors who have her client's work? An agent who thinks that nudging is rude is an agent who is most likely not nudging herself.

And that is just plain old stupid. Well maybe not stupid. Insensitive and inexperienced. When I first started my practice I didn't have a clue about how writers felt. Fortunately, I learned. Perhaps Ego hasn't spent enough time with actual writers to have learned the lesson yet.

Editors (like all of us) prioritize their work. They read the stuff that needs an answer first. They read things from their pals first. I know editors who read only when someone else has offered.  In other words, they read based on communication AFTER the initial pitch.

Bad manners is bad business.
Don't work with someone who makes you feel like you're a disruption in their day.
YOU are the fuel line to the publishing engine. Without you, this industry grinds to a halt. Never forget that.

**remembering the words of Meredith Barnes, publicist extraordinaire,
 when I first used this phrase in her company 
"why do you have to bring the horse into this?? What did that horse ever do to you?"


Timothy Lowe said...

Funny, the postscript about horses. I used to hear people mindlessly singing that awful country lyric, "save a horse, ride a cowboy."

My tongue-in-cheek response: What are they saving the horse from?

I'll bet Julie Weathers has a few opinions...

Kitty said...

I'd like to think that Ego was suffering from burn-out.
Or maybe her husband served her with divorce papers
because he's having a fling
with Ego's assistant.

I'd cross her off my list, but I'd like to think that's what happened.
Or maybe she's simply an ass.

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

great post!

My mother (86) to a man who applied to join her co-op gallery.
"Well, I don't know if you're going to be an asset or an asshole."

Kathy Joyce said...

A year or so ago, an agent twitter-lamented, "Writers, we don't get paid to read queries!" I told her that we don't get paid to write them either, and crossed her off my list.

My bigger issue isn't about, "Don't nudge me." It's about, "Rewrite it in first person." That's just hubris and ego at lightspeed. I could understand asking for thirty pages in first person, or wanting a full rewrite after you've signed. But, expecting a rewrite of the whole book for something so random? "Hmm, I might like it, but something's off. I can't bother to figure out what that is. So, spend the next year of your life rewriting it in first person. Then, I might or might not bother to look at is again. Oh, and don't forget that selection for representation is completely at an agent's whim. So the next one might tell you to change it back."

That's just horsesh*t.

Dena Pawling said...

This reminds me of that time, probably a year or more ago, when an agent tweeted that when she made an offer of rep, she expected the writer to give her an answer immediately. A writer replied, very professionally I thought, with the reasons why writers request a week or so to think about it and notify other agents etc. This writer was not successful in swaying that agent to her way of thinking.

Does anyone else remember that? I don't remember that agent's name, but I wonder if she's still agenting.

We all have our hot buttons. But if they make us incompatible, better to learn that BEFORE the relationship officially begins. Especially when they might jeopardize a career [the agent's AND the writer's].

Craig F said...

The story was related to me because I had considered querying this agent. I was also on a rant because of anomalies I found while researching her. Her company line is that they respond in two weeks. She has said she responds if she wants to. Other things like that too.

I still considered querying because she has some truly seminal sci-fi under her belt. She really doesn't need new clients and makes it hard on them. She opens to queries something like one day a month. If your query doesn't have that date stamp it is deleted.

There are still people that query her. Hundreds line up to try to wedge a query into her inbox during the time allowed. Those she represents love her.

She has power and uses it to her advantage, but she is still human and humans have foibles. They get out of bed on the wrong side, have bad hair days and so on. As a writer you have to decide what you want in an agent. Sometimes the dwellers they place on their threshold will eat most queriers up and spit out the pieces. If you get past that they might be truly great at their jobs.

The guy who told me the story is not a patient beast either, so maybe he overstepped his bounds. I find him slightly abrasive, but he is published and I am not. Many might find me to also be somewhat abrasive too. I have a certain standing in my field and it is a lot like fans who offer ideas about stories.

Writers have to make up their own minds on who and how to query. One man's ceiling is another man's floor and all that. Do your due diligence and be prepared for some unpleasantly at times.

Megan V said...

As someone with the worst e-mail luck in the world, I can't express how many times I've nudged approx. 90 days after I've sent material, particularly because I didn't receive confirmation of receipt. In a frighteningly excessive number, agents came back with nope, didn't get it. I never did figure out exactly what was happening, but my e-mail for some reason was re-directing itself into the ether. Emails to agents. Emails to competitions. Chomp! Poof! GONE!

The agents I sent a nudge to were either very understanding, or just plain didn't respond. For the latter, I nudged a second time at a much later date. Again, some responded but most in that category did not. It's pretty easy to figure out who stayed on my query list and who didn't. Now, some might never have received the materials, but it's hard to confirm that when a handful of those agents have a track record of being a NORMAN on fulls. And anyways, I figure it's better to move on to the next project after a year or so passes with no response.

Julie Weathers said...

Ah, Timothy Now I have Save A Horse Ride A cowboy looping. I love that stupid song. That saying is older than the hills. I've had more than one grinning Rodeo Romeo use it on me back in my younger days.

I love Meredith's response to that.

I was irked yesterday when I read this and I'm still irked. It was a chicken crap thing to do. I think sometimes people get an inflated opinion of their power and themselves. Unfortunately, agents and editors do wield a lot of power and a writer can't afford to irritate them. On the flip side, most mistakes are quickly forgotten from what many of them say. They've got more important things to do than nurse grudges.

Anyway, it's sad and frustrating and I hope that agent doesn't handle anything I write.

Bryan Fagan said...

Here's a thought: Lets say I am the writer who the agent told to rewrite it in first person. The agent is not the writer, I am. The story was written the way I saw it. If I am forced to write it in a different way there's a good chance my enthusiasm and quality of the writing will go down. If I was that writer I'd say thanks but no thanks. Sometimes a writer has to draw a line.

Laura said...

Thank you, Janet, for standing up for the woodland creatures! I am so grateful for this post -- and this blog!

Colin Smith said...

Thanks, Craig, for the follow-up on the story. Sounds like this is a "celebrity" agent who is clearly happy with her elite set of clients, and maybe picks up a few other writers on a whim, but is doing well enough from her list she doesn't feel she needs to.

Which of course brings us to Janet's statement that I think we all need to have pinned to our desks. Maybe the motto of the blog:

YOU are the fuel line to the publishing engine. Without you, this industry grinds to a halt. Never forget that.

Jen said...

I love everything about this post.

Amy Schaefer said...

Bad manners isn't just bad business - it's bad living.

As the Germans say: Wie man in den Wald hineinruft, so schallt es heraus. Literally, the way you shout into the woods is the way it echoes back.

Sherry Howard said...

I'm looking at the waves of the Florida panhandle swoosh in and out, reminding me of all the beauty around us. So, agent, smagent. Like Scarlet, I'll think about that tomorrow!

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

In my query-weary state of mind, I'm envisioning that meme of the horse resting his cheek on a fence post along with the caption: "I love this post."

Your final sentence, Janet, is heartening.

I also agree with Kathy Joyce about the agent in Craig's comment asking for a rewrite in first person before you've signed.

Terrific response from Meredith Barnes. When anyone refers to someone as a pig in a derogatory manner, I always say, "Why are you insulting pigs?" I live with pigs. As pets. They rock.

CynthiaMc said...

This is why I look to see what agents tweet. I'm always asking (internally) "Is this someone I might like to work with?"

Craig F said...

Bryan and Kathy: This is one of the crux points of writing and publishing. Every writer need to get other eyes on their work. If you, and you can see this in query writing the best, trod your horse cart back and forth on a path you will make ruts.

There are numerous ways to get out of those ruts but sometimes you need help. You have to weigh the value of that help. Sometimes you can agree and sometimes not. This writer was under no obligation to make such a large revision. If it sounded too ominous he could have queried some others agents. I don't know.

You should set your sites high but don't put all of your ducks in one basket. Always remember that good manners go both ways too.

Joseph Snoe said...

So Agents may not have received my query email? I thought my query letter somehow magically had turn agents who have a policy of responding within 4 to 8 weeks into NORMANS.

Lennon Faris said...

Hopefully agent was referring to query nudges, or something less reasonable (and more general), and the timing was just a coincidence. Still... Not super professional. And I love Janet's rants!

I am with Cynthia - I look at agents' Twitter to see what they are like. I once deleted an entire agency off my list because their junior agent (also listed as one of the first readers) tweeted sarcastic, derogatory things about the queries he received.

Joseph, if the website gives a timeline for a guaranteed response, and you didn't hear back, I would definitely check in with them.

Julie Weathers said...

I don't know how many of you follow the Miss Snark's First Victim blog, but she has big news today. It's worth reading for those of you who are feeling down.

Theresa said...

Thanks for this post, Janet. Yesterday's comment about the punishment for nudging stuck with me, and I'm glad you addressed it.

Amy Johnson said...

Thanks for the post, Janet. Especially the last part.

I had a pleasant email exchange with an agent several months ago. After I queried, she requested a partial and sent confirmation that she'd received it. She passed on the story, and I wrote an email thanking her for considering it. I also said I appreciated that she'd sent confirmation--because of that I knew she had my partial and would get to it when she had the time. She wrote back saying she appreciated my saying so. She couldn't have been nicer.

Thanks to the brief confirmation, I didn't need to be concerned about whether my material had reached the agent, and she didn't need to receive (and possibly spend time addressing) a nudge.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Ya know, people astound me.
They want to lose weight and yet they don’t diet. Everybody wants a job but few want to work. Writers want to publish books but fail to put forth the effort. Agents want to sell books and yet they show contempt for the process.
Me...I want it all.
Nap time.

Adele said...

I'm sure I read a once that some famous writer's (Pat Conroy?) agent - or was it editor? - asked him to re-write a book in the first person. He did, and then the agent-or-editor said something like "Great! Now you're in touch with the character's emotions, so you can go back and re-write it in third person." Which he did and which worked.

So what I'm saying is, maybe there's method in the agent's madness.

RachelErin said...

Kathy, there's a chance the agent who made that lament had had authors offering to pay her to read them. Sometimes when a writer's first encounter is with scammers, they have skewed ideas about how the query system works (i.e. that there's a reading fee for queries).

I've seen inexperienced writers rant about the "industry" after being scammed, and sometimes agents try to defend themselves/educate the public.

Tricky thing with Twitter is there's often no context. Just a thought.

Steve Stubbs said...

You wrote: "I've been damn grateful more than once that an author dropped me a line asking for a status update, cause I didn't have their work."

I've been damn grateful you wrote that. Had I not seen this, I would have thought No Response Means You Sent In a Crapuscript, Not a Manuscript (NORMYSIACSNAM). Say that backward three times.

Reading Craig's comments, I notice he nudged and nudged and nudged and THEN got a request for MS (or CS as the case may be.) So the nudging worked.

He also did not say how much time elapsed before no response.

Finally, if an agent asked to see a CS "in first person" I would have asked what kind of booze I should bring with it. Should I make us a reservation at Per Se? (I am assuming the agent is in NY.) Instead he "sent it off" and waited a year.

I would not rewrite ANYTHING in first person. If the agent told me to re-write THE LAST VOYAGE ON THE GOOD SHIP LOLLYPOP as a horror story featuring rabid werewolves who were high on PCP, I would say no problem-o. But only in Third Person - Limited.

For persons who don't have any luck, there is a new and thoughtful post about high concept on the Pub Rants blog. Highly recommended. The post made me realize what I think of as high concept is actually stratospheric concept. But Kristen is right that high concept is the ticket. Much better than Low Concept, No Concept, or - worst of all - Concept? What is that, anyway?

Ginger Mollymarilyn said...

Congratulations, Jill!!

Ellen said...

Hold the phone. Am I misreading this? Did the agent ask for the massive rewrite as vengeance against a writer she felt was nudging her?

If this is really the case, her name should be made public. It's beyond vile.

Cordia Pearson said...

Ellen, if you're right, totally agree!

Miles O'Neal said...

Steve Stubbs: I really hope you are going to write that, because I really want to read it.