Thank your for posting about auctions and pre-empts on your blog - it seems to be a less-often talked about issue (as far as I can tell when I researched all that stuff in the past). It brought to mind a post that Kristin Nelson had a week or so ago about how some agents exaggerate their reporting in the Publisher's Marketplace venue.
It also reminded me of seeing a post by another agency that said they don't post in PM because it feels like bragging. (This one made me both laugh and also think, "hmm" about their success rate, neither of which I believe they were going for as they are a Christian-based agency.) They then asked about how much querying writers rely on PM.
For my part, I liked PM to help me with kinds of sales and frequency (and not necessarily about the $ end of it, which is where I feel like the agency worrying about bragging is actually considering). I know not all agents or editors report sales, but it gave me an extra piece of information to work with. I also just enjoy seeing what's coming down the pike in various genres.
My question (finally): If a querying writer is to spend the money on PM, do you believe that is a valuable asset for him/her? How reliable is the information?
I think it's an amazing trove of information, but mostly about what's NOT there. If you are considering an agent who has ZERO sales posted at Publishers Marketplace, you'll want to ask some pretty precise questions:
1. What have you sold this year?
2. What books are being published this year that you sold?
3. How do you handle foreign rights?
4. How do you handle film rights?
The answers you're looking for here are:
1. List of books with author names and publishing houses. Preferably houses you've heard of. If you haven't heard of the publisher, fire up the google machine.
2. List of titles that you can look up on Amazon, or B&N.
3. A specific answer. It's perfectly fine if an agency lets the publisher retain translation rights. If the agency tries to retain those rights, who handles foreign rights at the agency? What kind of track record do they have. (See #1 and #2 above)
4. Just make sure they don't leave your film and performance rights with the publisher.
If you find an agent with just a few deals posted, ASK why that is. I'm woefully behind on posting deals on a bunch of books for a lot of reasons that I won't go in to in public, but will mention to a prospective client [under the cone of silence of course.]
If you find an agent with a lot of deals, I think you're able to trust the reporting. Sure a few agents bump up their sale to the next category, but really who cares.
The purpose of making a book sound enticing on PubMkt is to attract foreign, audio, and film deals. It's not to hoodwink authors.
If a book sells in a "pre-empt" an agent thinks it's more likely to get noticed. I don't particularly care if an agent is fast and loose with terms in order to attract attention for his/her clients.
I will say that I insist on accurate reporting here at The Reef. It's always easier to report correctly, so you don't have to remember what you said.
You should be MUCH more interested in the agents who have clients on the lists of books that sell well. That's where you see the folks who know how to sell books to the right editor at the right publisher and get sales and marketing excited.