Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Prioritizing your query list



I wonder about those agents on Publisher's Marketplace at smaller or moderately reputable agencies but with limited or no sales: Do I or don't I give them a go? I understand junior/new agents inside big houses are (hopefully) mentored and therefore under the umbrella of the agency at large. I'm referring more to the "boutique" agencies. 


Because signing on with an agent is meant to be a business partnership, long term, and fantastically successful for both parties; one does not want to hitch one's wagon to a three-legged mule half-way through Oklahoma with their patched up petticoats and grand illusions on reaching Oregon. But one is also desperate to get out of the dust-bowl they're in. (Too far into the metaphor? Possibly. Ought to start writing the next novel. My emails are getting entirely out of hand.)


For starters if you're going to Oregon in a covered wagon, and you find yourself in Oklahoma, you took a wrong turn out of Missouri.




But, you raise a very good question, and one that merits a fresh look since the pandemic. Quite a few agents ditched their overhead and set up solo practices in the last thee years. I'm one of them.


So my agency is new but I'm still old and grumpy, with 20+ years of experience to draw on.


Thus first thing to ascertain is whether this is a new agent or just a new agency.


The second is to look at their job history. Limited or no sales means one thing if the agent has been in publishing for a while. Editors who took the leap to the dark side know a lot of people in publishing, and know how publishing works. They may not have posted any sales yet (for a variety of reasons) or maybe they're just building a client list.


The third category is agents who don't have much (or any) experience in publishing but have set up shop. Those folks don't have contacts, and they're going to find it damn hard to make them now that publishing has decentralized so much and the social scene has largely dried up.


So, I advise querying widely but being careful who you sign with.


Here are some things to watch for:

1. The term of the author agency agreement is anything other than "at will."

If you are unhappy or dissatisfied, you should be able to terminate your representation with written notice. Often there's an interim period (30-90 days) specified, but that's for the agent to withdraw all submissions and tidy up.  It's NOT time for a last ditch hurrah trying to sell the book.


2. The agency website has weird stuff on it like posted cease-and-desist orders. That' a sign of crazy, and that's not the kind of crazy you want.


3. The agent presses you too hard to sign. That sounds like exactly what you want but it isn't. High pressure tactics are ineffective sales techniques which bodes poorly for submissions.


4. Make sure you understand the terms of representation. Is it just for one book? Is it just for one year?  As we saw recently, this can create some problems down the road.


But, to the overall picture: Query widely and prioritize when the offers roll in.

The idea of limiting your submissions at the outset means you might miss out on the agent who is best suited for your work.


You don't know who you want to work with until you talk to the agent.




Craig F said...

I would like to be a big fish in a small pond, but I have to earn my gills first. So, first get an agent, Big firm, small firm; doesn't matter.

Make the real decision after you get a following, most times it is to stand pat because of the relationship you built.

S.D.King said...

Thanks for this needed update. Publishing has changed so much so fast!

Timothy Lowe said...

Disclaimer: this comment was written by AI technology.

Be sure your agent is a real person, not some algorithm. Ok, I'm being facetious. Listen to the agent's feedback about your book. It should be specific, and you should be able to understand where they're coming from. Hopefully you even agree, even if it takes some moments of deep thought first. A good agent will put your book through its paces before making a submission.

Karen McCoy said...

This is excellent info. Treasure Chest worthy, even (Colin?)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

To echo Craig F...
"Big fish, small pond?"

I had a chance to be a BIG fish in a BIG pond (or so they promised) 50 years ago. I blew it. No agent. No one to guide me. No such thing as Google search, no such things as computers.

Now I am a minnow in a mud puddle and I love whenever other local minnows recognize me or compliment my columns.

To all bipedal mammals keep your eyes open, use what's out there, like (shark-wisdom) along with common sense, and you will be swimming with the big fishes.

KAClaytor said...

Did someone say fish idioms?

Alas, I am aquatic adjacent, my query pool resembling The Deschutes in a dry August. (I have flung fuchsia pens, and will now stay in her good graces with Oregon references)

Thanks to the Shark for this post; seems I've got some damp rocks to overturn in my quest for lurking agents. They do lurk, you know. Some even skitter.

AJ Blythe said...

The pandemic has made things so different. you think you know the "rules" and then BAM, it all changes. So much to get your head around.