Thursday, May 26, 2011

How to find out if your agent is an idiot-part trois

Subscribe to their newsletter.

If you see "should any manuscript peak your interest" you know your agent is doing a couple things wrong:

1. confusing peak and pique -- which makes editors cringe;

2. submitting multiple manuscript ideas in a newsletter -- in other words, spamming editors.

When editors send me these examples and ask me if I can spot ALL the mistakes in the first paragraph, it's pretty much a sign they don't take the agent, or the proposed projects, seriously.

Of course I surfed to the agent's website. Four immediate red flags:

1. no sales;
2. no authors;
3. no agent bio indicating his/her experience in publishing;
4. Clunky writing misusing industry terms.

Make sure you know how your agent is pitching your work.
Ask for the pitch letter; you're entitled.

Ask for the newsletter; you're entitled.

Your agent represents YOUR work; you're absolutely entitled to see how it's positioned.


Buffra said...

Can you subscribe to a potential agent's newsletter to see how they handle things before you sign with them? Or is that Not Done?

Josin L. McQuein said...



Jonathan Dalar said...

Those are things that anyone involved in these lines of work should know.

I wonder how prevalent this sort of thing is among those viewed as experts. Hopefully it's rather rare.

Trisha said...

I'd see red flags in any mispellings in email etc., too. Being a grammar Nazi and all, I cringe to see anything like that. ;)

funny in the 'hood said...

Confusing peak and pique is a huge personal pet peeve of mine. Makes me stabby.

Janet Reid said...

Buffra, you can if there's a sign up on their webpage...and you should.

Anonymous said...

I love these kinds of posts. They make me giggle. Plus, now I can expand my list of warning signs and red flags.

johnny ray said...

Attempting to obtain hard facts on agents is not easy. I subscribe to Publishers weekly,etc. and have found many times sales are not reported. Why is that?

Going to an agent's web site is sometimes less informative. When you see a list of 50 authors and only 4 or 5 sales in a year, you wonder what happen to the other 45 or 46 authors who made no sales. What is a good ratio of sales to authors?

Another point concerns who the agent sells to. If it is places an author can sell on his own, the agent is not as valuable as an agent who can get you into the large high paying publishers.

What I would love for you to share sometime is what goes into a package you send to editors. Also what should an author should expect from a top agent.

Thanks for sharing this post.

Sir John

Janet Reid said...

John, you might want to subscribe to publishers marketplace. Thats where the bulk of the deals are reported.

And making the sale is NOT the most valuable thing an agent does.

JES said...

Thank you, Janet!

Just out of curiosity, is there ALWAYS a "pitch letter" involved? Do agents occasionally (or often?) query editors via phone, or in a mixed context (like an email partially about the project in question, and partially about other stuff -- other clients in common, when can we meet for drinks?, etc.)?

Unknown said...

Oh, the poor soul that had his manuscript rejected by this agent.

The Number Zero: perched on the macrobian Taxus.

johnny ray said...

Thanks Janet, I do subscribe to publishers marketplace and find it very helpful but not complete.

Yes, I agree an agent does many great things for an author.

If the roles were reversed, what are some of the major questions you would want answered from an agent and how would you verify on your own?

Sir John

Anonymous said...

John raises a point I'd like to riff off of.

When you're looking for a dentist, an auto mechanic, or any other professional you might need to employ, you can find online reviews to help you make your choice. Reviews that tell how well this person actually does his or her job.

But when you're looking for an agent, you can't. You can find sales info if you look really hard, and if the agent's chosen to publicize it. (And even then, you can't verify the truth of it: I've seen agents claim sales I knew were not theirs.)

You can also find lots of stuff about how nice or how mean their rejections are. And how long their rejections take to arrive. And whether their rejections contain useful advice.

But the middle ground, between rejections and sales-- stuff like what percentage of manuscripts the agent succeeds in selling-- that stuff you can't find out until the agent actually makes you an offer and you get to interview her.

Daisy Bateman said...

Taking a step back into doofus-dom, I had no idea there was such a thing as an "agent newsletter." Would someone mind filling me in on what it is-- its purpose and what should be in it? Do all agents have them? Do they include hilarious cat videos you just had to share?

Kristin Laughtin said...

@John: Another thing to consider when looking at authors-to-sales ratios is what kind of authors the agent represents. If they're all writing in genres where authors typically put out at least one and usually more books a year, but the agent has few sales, that may be a warning sign (unless they'd all gotten multiyear contracts the year before or something, and then you have to ask yourself at which point too much research is too much). But if they're all literary authors that put out one book every few years, low sales numbers might be normal. Numbers aren't the only thing you can judge by, although I'm sure you know that.

Nicole Nelson said...

Is it appropriate for a client to intervene and alert an agent about a typo in a pitch letter (or a newsletter)?

Thank you for the informative post.

Simon Hay said...

If you find an agent that you respect and has good sales, and they're on twitter, check out who they follow and you'll find other agents and editors they probably sell to. Successful professionals befriend and work with other successful professionals. You can learn a lot by being observant and patient. Thanks Janet :)