Monday, December 13, 2010

Stranger Danger

When I first started agenting, I had no idea how common it was for agents to be approached by authors with deals already on the table. Be it from the outcropping of small presses who accept unsolicited submissions, new e-presses, or conference networking, it’s something that does, indeed, happen frequently.
I’ve spoken to fellow agents on the topic and witnessed several relationships forged out of such a circumstance with grim results; it seems that both sides often neglect to be as cautious as they should in light of temptation.

Here are a few things authors in this position should keep in mind to hopefully prevent these grim results:
An agent with a background in your genre will know what the acceptable standards are when negotiating the contract. But this is important not just for that book; make sure the agent is a good fit for your CAREER. If an agent doesn’t have a track record, i.e., he or she is newer, at least pay attention to what the agency has represented in the past, and what the agent says he or she is looking for in his or her bio. Just because the agency has represented your kind of work in the past isn’t a guarantee that agent does. A newer agent may be more willing to jump on ANY sure thing, but come time for the next project, they’ll be completely stumped on both any editorial feedback, and who to submit to.
I think what authors forget is that they WILL have to keep working with that agent for the lifespan of that book, NOT just for the contract. An agent’s job is to be your advocate; it’s difficult for an agent to be the best advocate for your book if they don’t love it!
More importantly, however:
An agent may not think to ask for more samples; however, YOU should. Why? Because sometimes, the book you’re writing may be an anomaly in the grand scope of your writing, or, as often happens with category romance authors, the main purpose of getting an agent when you already have an offer is to transition into a successful career. If you’ve published 15 category romance novels but want to write single title, make sure the agent likes your single title style!

Finally, have a chat with the agent. Make sure you jive with him or her personality-wise as well; ask the questions you would have asked sans deal on the table, such as response time, editorial style, communication preference, submission style, favorite 80’s hairstyle (that last one’s a deal breaker, I know).

Even with all these things in mind, there’s no guarantee that the relationship will work out; sometimes, things change and you may no longer click. Just don’t be afraid to sever ties if that happens – as respectfully and graciously as possible. No need to burn bridges, after all.
Just don't feel pressured into picking an agent fast. Be upfront with your editor about wanting to try and find an agent and, worst-case scenario, you DON'T find the perfect agent for you, and you find a publishing lawyer (note: PUBLISHING lawyer; publishing law is VERY different from other law, and lawyers not in this field tend to make the process a headache for everyone - take a look at Paul S. Levine; he is a great example of what to look for in a publishing lawyer) or send your contract off to the Author's Guild.

It's not impossible to strike agent-client relationship gold without all these cautionary measures, but hey, it's also not impossible to find the love of your life via a mail-ordered bride.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Growing Pains

One of my biggest pet peeves as an agent is dealing with an author with an ego problem. This is the author who gripes about everything, never has time to spare for an interview, let alone a question from a peon, and treats those who “work” for him or her like they should be worshipping the ground that he or she walks on, because clearly, he or she is THE only author who matters.
For a long time now, this is all I’ve been focusing on. And then, this week, it hit me: I am becoming that AGENT.
No, not the agent of the author with the ego problem; the AGENT with the ego problem.
I’ve seen the signs: tweeting snarky comments about queries, secretly relishing the ability to hit “delete” due to our agency’s “no response if not interested” policy, avoiding interaction with authors as much as possible at conferences, and my personal rejections getting more and more vague.
All in the name of “time-saving,” I convinced myself. I’m not a “new” agent anymore; I have SO many more responsibilities.
Yeah, right.
There ARE many things going on in my life right now; I’m recently engaged and dealing with a transition (to be announced…). And part of these “signs” ARE indeed part of seasoning; after all, if I can find a seat at a conference dinner next to someone who isn’t going to pitch me the whole time, and rather let me eat and enjoy conversation, then yeah, I’m going to opt for that.
But part of me is also forgetting what it feels like to be the author. What it feels like to be humiliated by a mistake.
It took a mistake of my own to realize it, and I sincerely thank the author who called me out on it (I read a submission quickly, and, long story short, rejected her manuscript based on the competition of other Nazi occupation books when her book has zero to do with that. Doh.)
That, to me, is unacceptable. A rushed response is NOT better than a delayed, helpful one. In fact, it’s worse: I’ve HARMED myself by rushing that response. It was a waste of both my time, and the author’s.
Yes, there are bitter people who will respond to me angrily no matter WHAT I say or do; but that’s not my problem. Forgetting to be as helpful as possible and as gracious and professional as I can IS.
So I am challenging myself. I am challenging myself to NOT forget where I came from. To keep my heart and ears open to criticism, and change. And to respect the restraints of growth with dignity, rather than scrambling to find excuses or ways around them.

Who knows…maybe my post will inspire one of you to take this challenge, and not become the angry self-centered author, too.
Or so this peon can only hope. ;)