Wednesday, October 20, 2010

You say pushy like it's a bad thing

I was recently pointed toward  a blog post written by an agent who describes herself as The Gatekeeper.  I swallowed my annoyance at that designation (ask me why I refuse that label if you don't know) and read on.

The question posed to her was:
What's the best way to handle the, "Who offered representation?" inquiry?

Her reply starts this way:

First of all--not that I think you should say so--but if any agent says, "Oh yeah? Another agent offered you representation? Well, WHO? Who are they??"--or even a gentle, "Oh, that's interesting. Who?"--I would consider it pushy, rude, and a breach of etiquette.

What a crock of shit.

Competition is not an insult.  If you don't know who your competition is, how are you supposed to know how to hone your pitch?  This "we can't compete cause we know each other" sounds like junior high girls, and if you want a 12-year-old as your agent, well, ok.

She goes on further:

There's a reason you're supposed to write "An agent" versus "[Name of agent]." We exist in a small world; in many cases we know each other--and just as all New Yorkers would go crazy if they were expected to talk to everyone on the subway, there are times we have to pretend we have more space and territory. We really, truly don't want to know that we're competing with friends for the same project. That's like finding out you're both writing a piece for the same publication--and comparing how much you got paid. No good can come of it.

What the fuck?  We don't want to know if our friends are competing for a project? How do you know it's a friend and not a fly-by-night scumbag if you don't ask. 

The idea that a professional agent wouldn't avail herself/himself of every single piece of information to make a deal  (exactly what signing a desired client is) is crazy.

I bring the same intent to win to a sales pitch for signing a client as I do to making a deal.

You certainly don't  have to answer the question if you don't want to, but if you think I'm rude for asking, well, you do need to sign with someone else. 

The trouble with agent blogs that make blanket statements using  "We" is that often they aren't We but wee. 

This is one of the best examples of why you want to read many blogs and balance the opinions you hear.  One agent, even the amazing me, is not the All Powerful All Knowing.


Kristin Laughtin said...

Agents might be friends in their personal lives, but where writers are concerned, they're professionals. And why discourage a little professional competition? I'd think that if I were an agent, I'd want to know who's snapping up all the writers whose work I want, so I could figure out how to make myself more attractive. (I know, I know, you get so many queries that maybe you don't need to worry about attracting people--they'll come anyway--but I'm sure you all want to attract the best writers you can.)

Suzan Harden said...

And this is the reason I read your blog. You're not Oz hiding behind the curtain. You're Dorothy--tough, practical, and handy with a bucket.

Bill said...

And this is why I love your blog, Ms. Reid. There's so much information out there, and it's really nice to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff whenever possible.

Beyond that, your answer makes more sense. There's no other agency model that I'm aware of (i.e., sports, acting, travel), where it would be considered improper to say, "I'm talking to X agent" in the context of representation.

Like it was in Jerry Maguire, no? ;-)

Anonymous said...

Oh wow. Miss Post?

Here's what I sent in an email to my brother tonight, in response to a political rant he sent to a wide distribution list: "A lifestyle modeling the 1950’s or 1980’s is not appropriate today any more than the pollution practices of those decades is either. (Or the objectives of a revolutionary society from 1776.)"

So for that reason I will avoid any agents that quote a 1940's etiquette book.

I also drive a shark. (Tiberon)

Rigel Kent said...

Why do you refuse that label (gatekeeper)?

Stacey Nelson said...

As always, Janet, you rock.

Personally, I want to learn from the people interested in opening up and explaining the world of publishing. And despite your many sharp teeth, you make it safe to step in to the shallow end and test the waters. :)

So many thanks to you and screw The Gatekeeper.

Josin L. McQuein said...

I can't see anyone taking offense at such a benign question. It's a logical inquiry when someone says "I've been offered _________" be it representation or anything else.

I know one of the agents who used to participate in Ask the Agent on AbsoluteWrite said she'd ask for the "who" if for no other reason than to make sure someone with a marketable MS got sucked in by the promises of a known scammer. By asking the name, she could at least inform a few would be victims that they needed to do a little more checking on their "dream" agent.

Stephen Parrish said...

One agent, even the amazing me, is not the All Powerful All Knowing.

Now you tell me.

Buffy Andrews said...

So tell me how you really feel. (Smiles) I love your competitive spirit and tenacity. If I faced you in a sport you better believe I would be working to kick your butt. Competition is a good thing. It makes everyone better. Anyway, have a super day and now I'm wondering if there is anything I can beat you in. Maybe running? My luck you're probably a marathoner.

Sarah W said...

I'd read the Gatekeeper post and wondered about it.

It seemed to me that asking about the competition would be the professional thing for an agent to do. If the writer hasn't signed with anyone, yet, why would it be wrong to try to get that writer to sign with you?

There's no rule that says you have to sign with the first agent who offers, either---this isn't the prom.

I've not been in this situation, but I think I'd only have a problem with this if the agent goes beyond modifying his or her pitch and starts insulting the other agents.

That, I think, would be unprofessional.

Debra L Martin said...

I agree with you Janet. Competition is healthy no matter what profession you're in and being an agent is no exception.

I don't want someone else to lump me in with their own opinion. Thank you, I have my own opinions.


Janet Reid said...

Received via email:

I wanted you to know that I really enjoy your Blog, and it's one of the ones I frequent. However; I found this post disappointing in that it called out the Gatekeeper, whose posts I also enjoy. It's one thing to disagree, but I don't think it was necessary to do so in such a crass and arrogant way.

I greatly respect agents, like yourself, who take the time to publish Blogs which are so helpful to those of us who are writer newbies. I hope you'll return back to providing content which offers positive value.

Michael K. Reynolds

Sandra Cormier said...

I'd forgotten where I'd written that comment. Thanks for flushing it out for me!

To expand what I said on The Gatekeeper's blog, it's important to be open and honest with a potential agent, even if it means risking losing that agent over something so petty.

In the last few years I've read a lot of agent blogs, and I think I have a basic idea of who might be easy to work with and who might not. Responding in such a manner to the news of an offer from another agent would send alarm bells off in my head.

Do agents regret letting an author off the hook only to see them have success with another agent? Sure they do. They're only human. We can't all be a perfect match because we're all different.

But if they try to use underhanded tactics to punish the author and other agent, they're not as valuable as they think.

Mr. Reynolds, maybe you know Janet, but I suspect you don't. I don't know her either (in person, anyway) but I think I know her well enough to understand how she uses her own unique tone to get her point across, and it sits just fine with me.

Creepy Query Girl said...

woah- you give it to 'em! I personally love the phrase 'crock of shit'. People in my generation just don't know how to use it to right effect but here it really shines. LOL. Thanks for cracking me up today and all while giving a great piece of advice- read ALOT of agent blogs and don't rely on one person's opinion but educate yourself as much as you can.

Laurel said...

I'm glad you posted this. For those of us trying so hard not to make a mistake, we stumble across something like this and might take it as Gospel.

Wouldn't it be a shame for someone to miss an opportunity signing with a professional who has a competitive drive because they decided to be all coy during the negotiation process?

Knowing your competition is a basic step in the discovery part of the sales process. Sales 101. I'd be concerned about trusting my MS to a salesperson who does not even show an interest in finding out what they are up against.

Margaret Yang said...

I don't know of any writer who reads only one agent blog. We're all trying to learn as much as we can. I like hearing different opinions and practices. Over time, I am starting to learn what is the norm for this industry and what is crazypants.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

The only Gatekeeper I know who really counts is St Peter.
Then there's the other guy, at the gates of hell
The Walmart Greeter. At least they smile.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this post feels just like schoolyard bullying to me.

I tend to be a very blunt person and am all for saying what you mean, but I do believe there’s a difference between being honest and being nasty. This post doesn’t read as though you’re offering a different opinion (which I would have appreciated). It reads like an attack.

And yes, I am the person who had originally asked the question of The Gatekeeper and am grateful she took the time to offer her perspective

Janet Reid said...

Oh I'm sorry. My opinion wasn't clear? Here it is: The Gatekeeper is wrong. Asking someone who the other offers for representation are from isn't rude, pushy or a breach of etiquette.

Further, saying "WE" implies this opinion is shared by many if not all agents. That is also wrong.

Is that clear enough?

Caroline said...

Good post. As you said, agents have different styles, but I'd rather be with someone that isn't afraid of a little competition.

I'm looking for jobs now, and if I get an offer, I'd certainly contact other companies I've interviewed with. In that case, I'd expect them to ask, "Who has made you an offer?" It allows them to decide if they want to counter-offer.

Anyway, thanks for the post. Very useful.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Janet - You rock!

I might have to start writing about crime or one of your other particular likes just so I can say I queried you.


College Boy said...

I remember my first job with a Silicon Valley company. They wouldn't mail or fax me the offer. I had to go to their office and sign it in front of them before I got a copy because they were afraid that I would shop it around to other companies for a better salary. I considered that insulting.

Lisa Stenzel said...

Oh, Janet. This is truly why I read your blog. I can count on you to be blunt, to the point and not wishy washy to spare feelings. Its business. LOVE IT!

ryan field said...

I've honestly never read The Gatekeeper, so I have no idea the tone of the blog.

But I have been reading Janet's blog for a long time and I've never read any bad advice here.

And there is plenty of bad advice going around these days. There's one blog that makes me cringe, because I know better and there's nothing I can do.

I always hope authors or potential authors look at it this way: "This is one of the best examples of why you want to read many blogs and balance the opinions you hear."

CourtneyC said...

Agree with the above: "Wouldn't it be a shame for someone to miss an opportunity signing with a professional who has a competitive drive because they decided to be all coy during the negotiation process?"

The last comment on the Gatekeeper's blog also rang true...what is to stop every single aspiring writing from telling an agent, "this has been requested by someone else." That sentence implies the agent better make a move if they want to and put this at the top of their priority list. In fact, this advance notice is appreciated etiquette so all agents who have the MS can respond accordingly. But, if this is a lie (which now can't be found out easily since the "interested agent" is un-named), then this approach loses all power. Which is a lose-lose for all involved, I think.

Plus, if jblynn thinks the shark is a bully then he must not be the reader of this blog he claims to be. She is true to form, and she always, always is first and foremost trying to HELP US get it right...and the truth is that someone would read Gatekeeper and take her advice as gospel. Let the differing opinions be heard.

Amy Sue Nathan said...

I recently (YAY) signed with an agent and it never occurred to me NOT to share the name of the agent with the others who were still considering my mss. It was a no-brainer. A totally different kind of no-brainer (the good kind) than that post.

Unknown said...

This post is precisely why I plan to query you when I reach that stage of readiness. I think we would get along smashingly.

Rebecca T. Little

Phoebe North said...

Is the identity of AGK really a secret anymore? I started reading her blog when she requested my MS; it's posted on her querytracker profile and in various places online . . .

Anyway, this seems like such a weird question to split hairs about to me. I don't think authors should feel obligated to share that information if, say, the agent who is asking has come across as a creep, but if they want to share it, who cares?

JVRC said...

Perhaps wrong to YOU. But that's how the Gatekeeper does her thing. And that's up to her clientele.

Sorry, but I have to agree with Mr. Reynolds. You can disagree with someone but do it in such a way that doesn't demean. After reading the rant, I wonder if you could have done that in a more professional way.

Julie Hedlund said...

I'm glad you took this up because I was perplexed by that post too. Anyone who has ever conducted any type of job search knows that if you get an offer from one, you tell the others. I don't see why an agent search would be any different.

Sandra Cormier said...

I like reading The Gatekeeper's blog. Sometimes a subject comes up that piques my interest and I read all the comments.

I'm all for healthy discussions and differences of opinion and perspective. What I don't like is the "My way or the highway" point of view.

I don't know who the Gatekeeper is, but I detect youth, enthusiasm and passion in her (or his?) posts. I take every piece of advice with a grain of salt and don't necessarily take any agent's proclamations as gospel. That's the joy of the internet. An author has infinite sources of information, but really must take the bits that are useful to the author, and the author alone.

Loretta Ross said...

If she's The Gatekeeper, does that mean she wants to have sex with Rick Moranis and then turn into a hellhound? Is Zeuhl coming soon? Will she bring cookies this time? When toasted bits of the Staypuft Marshmallow Man start falling all over New York, will you save me some?

The Novel Road said...

First, let me say I am a huge admirer of your site and insights.

Second, you are spot on, in that the agents I have spoken to recently have asked the "Question". All of them asked, in different, polite ways. I answered with an agency name, two asked "who" specifically, which I answered. I found no rancor, far from it. The responses were of congratulations and endorsement of my choice.

I have no idea who "gatekeeper" is, but I have serious doubts about his/her credibility. Using the link you provided, I read a number of the posts, all spoke in a tone of personal preference, lacking the scope of knowledge I find here.

Long live the Shark, and my thanks for all you have done to help me through the GATE... :-)


Rane Anderson said...

I'm on the fence with this. That's all I'll say.

Jennifer Welborn said...

I get nervous when agents seem wary of competition. If an agent cannot handle competition with other agents, then how is that agent supposed to get someone to buy my book? This is a competitive business and if you can't handle the heat then get out of the kitchen! I always look for agent blogs/twitter accounts. I'm not ready to submit my final ms yet, but when I am I want to know the agent has what I (personally and professionally) need. I don't know about other people but I really pay attention to agent blogs.

Sandra Cormier said...

"I don't think authors should feel obligated to share that information if, say, the agent who is asking has come across as a creep, but if they want to share it, who cares?"

Phoebe, if the agent comes across as a creep, say no and walk away.

Phoebe North said...

Phoebe, if the agent comes across as a creep, say no and walk away.

Yes, that's exactly what I was saying--that if pushing for information on, say, who you signed instead falls in line with a whole host of creepy behavior, trust your instincts and don't feel obligated to say no.

Sasha Summers said...

Wow. Thanks for the honesty, cut and dry. I read a post on a different blog about the use of obscenities 'effectively'. I think this post should be cross-referenced - perfect example!

Phoebe North said...

(Don't feel obligated to say, rather.)

Julie Weathers said...

I'm really getting so tired of these anon experts, and even some of the non-anons, who don't know sic 'em from come here.

A few days ago, I listen to a writer's chat where an "expert" is telling every writer in there they have to hire an editor before they submit. He/she, incidentally, is a freelance editor and here is the link to the site to get prices.

I commented many agents really don't want professionally edited manuscripts because they want to know the writer knows how to write, edit and revise, not an editor.

You would have thought I said their granny was appearing as the next Playboy scratch-and-sniff centerfold.

I've been following agents for a while, long enough to have my bona fide secret agent agent stealth card.

Most want to be notified immediately if you get an offer.

Most will ask who offered for various reasons.

One agent last week even commented on twitter about how nervous she was because a project she really wanted was also being sought by a number of other agents. She also said how exciting it was to her to be in the hunt.

I've never seen an agent badmouth another agent to get a client.

I have seen agents offer advice to someone to be very careful and check out an agent or refer them to Pred and Ed.

Finally, I wasn't aware of the Gatekeeper, but I wouldn't read solely because of the name of the blog. I don't want advice from Zhul.

Taymalin said...

The Gatekeeper also recommends letting agents know when your stories are good enough that another agent, who didn't offer representation, liked it enough to do edits.

So, now I'm confused, because I thought a no was a no and not for putting in a query, no matter how helpful. I know when I was in sales I would never tell a potential client about how much the person who almost bought my product loved it, only about how much the person who did buy the product loved it.

Am I wrong?

Anonymous said...

Well, I see you're getting the usual hand wringing manner nazis. Christ. Thank god someone is willing to say fuck around here. If that's wrong, well I don't want to be right, and I sure don't want to hang out with anyone who is right.

Thanks for taking this on. Sometimes I feel like the writing world is a little too nice, a little too willing to be and let be, even when calling someone out might be more helpful.


Back in 2006 when I was agent hunting, I was lucky enough to end up with four offers of representation. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I can say that I wish all four HAD asked me who the competition was. How valuable it would have been to hear the contenders say, "Agent A is great, but here are some things I can offer that she doesn't."

Incidentally, I ended up picking an agent who just wasn't the right fit for me. When I realized it a year later, I was lucky the right agent was still willing to take me on when I approached her a second time. It all worked out great in the end, and I'm thrilled with my current agent.

Still, I can't help but wonder if I might have picked differently to start with if I hadn't been so terrified of pitting them against one another. Certainly it would have provided valuable information to help me make a more well-informed decision.


Douglas L. Perry said...

Having worked in sales, and negotiated contracts, I couldn't agree more. The author, or in this case, the buyer, definitely needs to hear all sides or they won't be able to make an informed decision.

And if you don't make an informed decision, well, you going to get something, but it might not be what you wanted.

JD Horn said...

"You would have thought I said their granny was appearing as the next Playboy scratch-and-sniff centerfold."

This is one of the funniest lines I have ever heard (read) and I plan to pepper it into my conversations at EVERY possible opportunity.

Rebecca Gillan said...

Very nicely put. It isn't rude to ask that question in any venue. By day, I'm a purchasing agent for bus parts and I get this question all the time. My answer is "here's who you are competing against, but I won't tell you what their bid is. But I will tell you who wins and and why if you also bid." A lack of curiosity about other competitors is a pretty clear sign of what kind of service you would get if you went with them.

Sandra Cormier said...

Sorry, Phoebe. I misunderstood. As you were. :)

CNU said...

I think it's fine for an agent to ask an author who is representing them. You know then who your competition is, what type of authors they are looking for, etc. You can compare your business model to others.

It's really all in the asking, it's more like "Can I ask who's representing you?" Perhaps they'll tell you, perhaps not, but asking isn't the problem it's the delivery.

(I.E. Don't ask the writer "who's representing you" like a stalker ex lover who's been *wronged* and is enraged that they've found another...)

That's about as stupid as saying if one were a real estate agent they couldn't ask which realtor the customer went with. Of course you're in competition, but guess what- life at times is!

(You happened to be the 'fastest little swimmer' that's why you're reading this very sentence... ;) )

An agent shouldn't take this personally. Besides what if the writer gets a crappy agent and is searching for another for their next project? They're not married to the first agent necessarily.

This is like asking if someone is single. No more no less. It's nothing ugly. I find this blogger a bit bizarre.

I could go into the whole "Gatekeeper" title, but I'm not going to touch that one... ;) I'll spare ya.

(Insert evil grin)

Not a very well thought out argument, the Gatekeeper has here.


PS- No I don't have an agent. But according to Dante the bottom level of Hell is frozen so anything is possible I suppose.

Literaticat said...

Weird. I always ask. It wouldn't occur to me not to ask. I ask because I am curious about what my colleagues are up to, and because I want to know if I honestly have a shot, and I want to make sure the author is going with somebody awesome (and not a scammer!) if they don't end up with me.

I wouldn't be mad if somebody didn't want to tell me... but it isn't a trick question.

Veronika said...

"This is one of the best examples of why you want to read many blogs and balance the opinions you hear."

I agree. I do occasionally read "The Gatekeeper's" blog. The name itself is meant to intimidate, naturally and to fill us outside the gate with awe. Nice to have someone put it all into perspective.

Anonymous said...

Phoebe, nobody here said once you have to ANSWER the question, just that the Gatekeeper is extremely wrong in saying it's rude to even ASK the question. It's rude to ask someone for personal information. It isn't rude to ask who else is viewing the work. It's rude to demand an answer if you politely decline.

Phoebe North said...

Riiight . . . well, what I was saying is that, generally, I think this is a fairly trifling matter consider the level of fervor and hooplah about it--but honestly, considering the fact that AG was asked directly about it, I don't think her stance (that asking is rude) is quite as offensive as anyone here seems to believe--I would just hope that most writers would feel okay trusting their instincts. Extremely wrong? In stating what's clearly a personal (note the phrasing--"I would consider it . . .") opinion on a question of business etiquette that she was directly asked about? Sheesh.

Also, I find the level of defensiveness about things like her blog's name a little silly, too. For what it's worth, as a querying writer (who was rejected by her, incidentally), I've found her blogs to be one of the more approachable and sensible-seeming in the business. But, meh, whatever.

Renee Miller said...

I agree with Tiger's comment. Honestly, you'd think we were all a bunch of sissies, who wouldn't say shit if our mouths were full of it. I say shit, fuck and asshole with the write provocation and sometimes without it. Depends on the day and the position of the moon.

Publishing is a tough business with a lot of crooks and liars. Im more comfortable trusting someone who says what they think, in a way that is honest and real instead of someone who tries to sugarcoat it with "I feel" this and "Not fair" that.

It's a shame my work doesn't fit what Janet represents because this is a person who makes sense to me and reflects the way I present myself to the world. This is me, like it or fuck off.

As for AG's post being blown out of proportion, it's not the actual words that are the issue here but their intent and possible result. The title of the blog serves a purpose and if that needs to be spelled out for you, then you should stay there and stop reading other agent blogs. That single post, as innocent as it seems, might make new writers hesitate on naming other agents interested in their work. It will make them question a perfectly legitimate agent needlessly. It might even make them turn down an agent that is perfect for their work and sign with one that is not. It might steer them to an agent that is a dirty lying snake. That's what is wrong with that post.

I don't follow AG, nor do I intend to. I try not to pay attention to advice offered by anonymous sources.

June G said...

Well, I do know who The Agency Gatekeeper is, but since she's chosen to use a pseudonym, I guess she doesn't want to be identified and I'll keep my mouth shut.

I read her blog and she's a young, relatively new agent compared to the indomitable Ms. Reid. I never expected her to raise this level of controversy. Yikes.

I guess writers have to go with their gut and what they're comfortable with. I do appreciate the debate. It's a lively one!