Saturday, January 24, 2015

Agent question: agents for agents?

Some literary agents are also authors, but they have another literary agent to represent their books. Why they don't represent their own books directly?

Agents understand the value of an agent. You can't agent your own work if you want a good agent, even if you're a good agent for everyone else.

Agenting requires distance and perspective that aren't possible if you're also the writer.

Agents who agent themselves will tell you I'm wrong. Their editors will tell you I'm right.


Unknown said...

Agent-writers give pause. If it's true that selling + marketing your book takes time + agents are insanely busy...then where do agents find time to do both well? (For them or the writer represented?)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Wouldn't that be like being your own doctor, or horror of horrors your own dentist or even worse, your own hair dresser.

S.D.King said...

I recently met one of children's book publishing's legends and had the good fortune to be seated next to him at a dinner.
His phone beeped and he looked at it, read an email and put it away. A few minutes later, he turned to me and said, "That was xxxx publishing house. They just turned down a book I submitted. A book I had written."

He had a look of great discouragement on his face, and said, "I really hoped they would take it."

His transparency taught me volumes. I no longer look at the agent/publisher as sword-wielding angels guarding the entrance to Eden, but as people doing their jobs.
(an interesting note - the publisher was one I hadn't considered because I thought of them as a minor publisher)

Anonymous said...

In a different life, I was a very successful Realtor. I needed to sell my home. So...I listed it.

I knew I was too close to it to deal with people objectively. We had an old house moved to our land, completely gutted it, added on and rebuilt it. I worked on it all through my first and second pregnancies. I finished the bathroom first and even decorated it so when I was totally frustrated I could go cry there and be reminded the rest of the house would be that pretty someday.

I knew very well if a prospective buyer walked in and started ridiculing my decorating choices or the lay out or any of a hundred other things like they do, I would be hurt and offended.

I needed a professional who could distance themselves from the emotion.

It does bring up the question about agents as authors, though. Some years ago Agent001 was doing well as an agent and was also becoming a successful author. I saw a notice sometime later, Agent001 has closed due to focusing on his/her writing career. Recently, I see Agent001 is back to being an agent.

Agent002, who I have submitted to a while back tweets an apology for being late on responses, but his/her editor wants them to focus on their own deadline.

I think I now have a new rule.

Rule number 1. Top prospective agents wear blue shirts. 'Tis true. I think it's a sign. Besides the Sharque who wears Sharque Gray, of course.

Rule number 2. No agents who are also authors. They are all wonderful and successful, but it's a cosmic sign for me, like blue shirts.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I wonder if it's not more editors than agents who decide to write. Probably no way to tell, really. The book that always comes to mind when I think of an editor turned author is The Age Of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, who was a book editor at S&S. It initially made headlines for earning a seven figure deal for the first time author. Of course, then it made headlines b/c it was such an incredible story. One of the best "what if" concepts I've ever read.

I think agents/editors are no different than the rest of us who leave regular jobs to see if we can write something worthy of publication. And, I'm sure they would want to partner up with someone they feel will rep them adequately - just like us.

Dena Pawling said...

Lawyers who represent themselves have a fool for a client, for pretty much the exact reason Janet lists in this blog post.

Colin Smith said...

I share others' hesitancy over agents who also have an active writing career. I don't see how you can effectively take care of all your clients' needs and have time to write and promote your novels, unless you keep a VERY short client list. I'll admit, if I see "author" on an agent's profile, I'll either put them at the bottom of the list or skip them altogether.

DLM said...

I don't have any particular preferences or opinions about agents who are also published, but reading this does impel me to realize - I don't generally end up querying them. Usually it's just that those who are published don't have anything quite like my work, and they tend to be well ensconsed in the modern world, too removed from a historical set 1500 years ago.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

OMG Donna I LOVED that book, loved, loved, loved it.
Thank You Averil. I miss that girl.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

I wonder if an agent selling her own book would be considered self- published? Tongue in cheek, a little.

No really.

Like those artists who don't want to pay galleries the hefty percentage. They end up having their own exhibition spaces and then usually become vanity galleries for other artists.

Those artists who can't explain why one painting the same size costs double. Emotional attachment doesn't mean it's worth more and definitely does not mean it will be first to sell.

I'll note this point in my ledger when I start querying, very soon.

Bonnie Shaljean said...

I would be very worried about conflict of interests - not just regarding the time she spends writing instead of agenting, but also:

What happens if the agent writes in the same genre you do? We all know that publishers only have a finite amount of vacancies for new projects, and a category can get filled up. What if you've written a great mystery or historical or whatever, and so has she? Is she *really* going to give you her best efforts, if it means she could be diminishing her own chances?

I. Don't. Think. So. That doesn't make her a baddie, just human.

But writers are up against horrible enough odds without adding competition from one's own agent to the mix. And how objective can she even be as a judge of your literary merits if you're treading on "her" turf?

Jenz said...

I'm pretty sure at least a few people here have a job in addition to writing. Is it truly that different for agents, or is this a case of holding others to a standard you don't meet yourself? (That's actually a real question, maybe it is truly different for agents.)

Bonnie brings up a good point about conflict of interest. Now I'm very curious what Janet thinks about the value of agents who are also authors.

Unknown said...

Like others, I avoided querying agents who were also authors, but I recognize there's a certain hypocrisy (at least, to my way of thinking) in that choice.

For instance.

I'm a teacher and my primary course load comes from science fiction and fantasy lit classes and creative writing classes. I write creatively, and I write sf/f, so no surprises there. I could make an argument for how my experiences writing in these genres and seeking publication has made me better equipped to teach them well, and to teach people how to write creatively. That seems pretty logical. But at least three quarters of my work happens OUTSIDE the classroom in the form of reading and assessing student writing (not wildly different than reading subs or doing edits for clients, I imagine), and so in that sense, I take probably as much of my work home with me as some agents do. When I write creatively, I do it in stolen hours, time I set aside for the purpose -- time that, therefore, doesn't go toward my students directly. You could make the argument that I tend to get backed up on grading and might focus less carefully on my students' work than I would if I wasn't also writing.

I have to admit, I wrestle with this issue. And so, while I know agent-writers aren't the representatives I would want for my work, how could I really, honestly claim that what they're doing for themselves is any more a disservice to their clients than what I do is a disservice to my students? I guess I'm with Jenz here: these agents aren't that different from most of the rest of us.

JEN Garrett said...

This answer is so encouraging for me. I'm looking for an agent, but I have on occasion edited other writer's works. I was a little worried that an agent would notice the work I've edited and think that I wouldn't be open to edits myself - which couldn't be farther than the truth. I know that I need input from someone who has distance from my work and the expertise in the business to help me go from promising to published.