Monday, December 09, 2019

Writes with agents but no books?

From time to time, while reading national publications (like GQ or the New Yorker or the NYT’s Modern Love column) I come across writers who are agented but don’t have a published book. Sometimes they are writers who have MFAs, sometimes they are writers with big online presences (100k+ followers on Twitter) and sometimes, as best I can figure, they’ve just been writing for a lot of national publications for a long time.

I’m wondering how that process works. Do most of these people have unpublished books that nabbed them agents? Is it a networking thing? Is there a term for the kind of agent who reps longform features reporters and essayists that might one day write books?

I have several clients who have unpublished books, but have had essays or other long form pieces published.

They secured representation with the book and the other stuff comes as a part of their inventory.

There are other ways this happens as well.
I know several agents who regularly scout prestigious MFA programs for talent.
They sign promising writers in hopes of a good novel, or a collection of short stories.
Often they'll have stories published in lit mags before a novel goes out on sub.

I regularly read lit journals, particularly those that focus on non-fiction, scouting for writers working on projects that I think would make good books.

The American Society of Journalists and Authors hosts an annual conference for writers and journalist to meet agents.  No book required since many of these writers are working on non-fiction.

Most agents are actively looking, not just waiting for something to turn up in the incoming queries. By nature we're an entrepreneurial bunch, and sniffing out new things is something we're collectively good at.

Does that answer the question? Let me know in the comments column if you're wondering about something.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

"...actively looking, not just waiting..."

Partner, spouse, job, wellness, peace, harmony, a book deal, a good book, sounds like life to me.

Colin Smith said...

I presume any conversation you initiate with a writer is based on the potential for a book. In other words, you would say to them, "I love your articles/stories. Are you writing a book/novel? If you are, can we talk representation? If not, think about it and give me a call if you change your mind." You aren't going to represent someone who only ever intends to write short stories or articles for the New Yorker, correct?

From a business perspective, I would think you're ultimately interested in books because the ROI (return on investment) is higher. Even though you could offer editorial services to a short story/article writer, and help them find markets for their pieces, your 15% wouldn't amount to as much. But, maybe the ROI isn't always that important...?

Enlighten us, O mighty QOTKU! :)

This is one of those areas of agenting that doesn't seem to come up a lot in interviews and podcasts.

Donnaeve said...

I fit this example for a while. I secured an agent for my debut, but then it didn't sell for years. So there I was, with an agent, but no book on the shelves.

If the OP had searched out my writing, they'd have been really puzzled. No MFA, no list of articles/essays/short stories to be found. An enigma. :)

Donnaeve said...

Oh, and I should add, my social media presence was low key too. I had Twitter, FB, and even Tumblr at one point - but followers? I had more social media accounts that followers.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Agentry is so perplexing to me. If a writer who would like to query a short story collection should also have a novel, why would agents scout writers for short story collections? And if a writer has a novel that is ready to go, why query the short story collection, which is a little odd and harder to do?

(not to mention novellas....poor only-sometimes-loved novellas....while even short story standalones get published if you're somebody like Gillian Flynn!)

Though also I just saw a writer on twitter say something along the lines of "Just finished a short story, sending it along to my agent!" that common? Do agents want to see their clients short stories? (I think this last question is the real one in my ramblings)

Colin Smith said...

Jen: I believe Janet has said in the past that she likes to see everything her clients write, and be involved in the contract/submission process even for articles and short stories. Not only can she use her editing skills to help make sure her people are putting out their very best, but she can use her agenting skills to make sure they don't get themselves into trouble over contracts and stuff.

Janet may not be typical. I mean, from the agenting perspective. We know she is her own breed of shark... ;)

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Addendum: "while even short story standalones get published as a hardcover if you're somebody like Gillian Flynn!" (and seriously, good for her. I love her stuff)

Colin: That is true, I hadn't considered that! What I was thinking about was my poor hypothetical agent's inbox if I sent them a new short story first, before I submitted it anywhere. For contracts, though, absolutely!