Sunday, November 27, 2011

And the Debate Goes On...

I am very glad for the responses to my last post, and I can appreciate where everyone is coming from.

But I want to add some more things to chew on, as I'm curious what the responses will be to them:

1. Are people taking into consideration the sheer volume of submissions agents receive now, in comparison to when agents first started? Our agency receives up to 150-200 per DAY via email; four years ago, paper only, my old agency received up to 100 per WEEK.

2. Are people also taking into consideration that agents are paid on commission? Which means that to answer all those submissions, roughly 1,000-1,400 per week, is unpaid time?

3. AND, that of those 1,400 submissions...almost half aren't even things we'd represent, i.e., things sent without reading our guidelines and interests?

I know how much time I spend per week answering unsolicited queries - about 5 hours, and personally, I don't mind. I'm a younger agent; I have the time to do it, and I believe in our agency's policy to do it. But...does everybody?


4. Many agents are working two, if not THREE jobs, to be able to keep agenting - because commission takes a few years to start paying any bills. We work 24 hours a day - no joke. Reading, reading, reading at night - pitching, editing, negotiating, taking calls back and forth, smoothing bumps and feathers and possibly even stuffing a Happy Meal or two during the day.

Some agents just may not HAVE that extra 5 hours. Doesn't seem like much, I know...except, keep in mind that that is the time spent ANSWERING only - not including all the reading. Life as an agent isn't really all that glamorous. It's full of rejection, stress, and lack of sleep.

But...I posted this, and my last post, because I'm honestly curious to know the responses to these things (and I should add: I'm directly debating the no response=no policy to unsolicited submissions; I do think requested submissions deserve a response).

Do any of these points justify the action? At least make it more understandable? Enough not to throw insults, at least, while entering the debate?

And, whether they do or not: IS there a happy medium to be made...or is there just no pleasing everybody? (Because trust me, even though we respond, THAT is not even enough for some people).

Like I said before: I'm an agent. I'm biased. I'm going to defend the agent side. None of this will change our current policy at the Bradford Agency; this is all on me, not representative of my agency or employer at all.

The reason I'm still prodding this snarling beast of an argument is the same reason I blog: to provide more dimension to this side of the fence. And if I'm going to do that, only fair to open up the floor for others to provide more dimension for me as well.

So: thoughts?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

No Response=No Debate

I'm sure many of you have heard more than enough on the no response=no policy and SCBWI's open letter to the industry causing all the hullabaloo lately.

I’m disturbed by this debate, but not because of the topic – rather, because I don’t feel like it’s stemming from the issue itself. I feel like people are frustrated in general with the industry, and blowing a lot of that frustration into this steamy argument.

We currently live in a time where there is already doubt on NEEDING an agent OR publisher; not responding is seen as an act of selfish authority, when authors are questioning if agents and editors should even HAVE a leg to stand on to enforce such authority.

Additionally, though SCBWI’s open letter addresses both agents and editors – most blogs I see seem focused on the AGENY side. I would argue that only shows more that this debate is being used as a front to express frustration with the industry – because, since more and more publishers are closing to unsolicited submissions, agents have become the ultimate “bad guys” who “make or break” a career.

Writers are focusing on the “guilty” party, in other words, who is the “most” responsible for not getting what he or she wants - which is a publishing deal.

Now hold on – before you explode at me that it’s the morality of it all, an issue of respecting everyone’s time and that, even if everyone got offers, it’s still not right to leave people hanging - let's put it all into perspective:

When people submit job applications - do they always get a response to let them know the application has been received?

When called in for an interview – is there a guarantee the potential employer will call back, regardless of the decision made?

Does that mean we should enforce regulations on employers to provide auto-responses to applications, and form letters to interviewees, so potential candidates aren’t left sitting around for months and months agonizing on whether or not they’ll get The Call?

In truth: submitting a manuscript is EXACTLY this process. I know it’s hard to hear, because writing is so very personal, but the process of publishing is business, not personal. And just as a “sorry, we went with someone else” is absolutely no help in the rest of the job hunt process, except to assume there was someone better - are we REALLY helping by sending that form letter? Or are we justified in thinking that, with all the writing resources out there, these people we don’t respond to should really be moving on and searching elsewhere, while at the same time looking at how to improve their WORK, not the rejection process?

In other words: should people spend less time worrying about those not responding...and more time trying to help those not being responded to?

Easy to lay blame, after all, rather than take responsibility.

I’m biased; and I can understand that people don’t like being left with loose ends. To be honest, if the shoe were reversed, and publishers started saying no response=no to AGENTS…boy, would I not be happy.

I am personally in favor of auto-responders for agents who have a no response=no policy, so writers at least know their work has been received - but that doesn’t mean I’m going to vilify an agent who disagrees.

We live in a time of change in the publishing industry; there are more ways to be published and submit than ever – which makes the competition steeper than ever – which makes the frustration higher than ever.

But maybe we should stop focusing on ways to fix others...and focus on how to make our work impossible to ignore.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Giving Up

I did an #askagent recently, and someone asked: at what point do we (agents) "give up" on a project that’s been on submission and just isn’t selling?

My immediate response was: never. I will never give up. I may pull a project based on poor market timing or to go with a new book, but always with the thought that the original book could work down the road.

Ahem. I want to take a moment to retract and amend that statement – because I was wrong.

It’s tempting for me to want to be fierce and loyal and beat my chest and say NEVEEER!!! But really, the actual answer is that sometimes, you just have to. But giving up on one book does not mean we're giving up on the author.

Yes, sometimes, there is enough solid feedback from editors that we can re-work the manuscript or the pitch and go for another round. Sometimes the response is: we LOVE it…but we’re just not looking for this right now. Sometimes there are tons of nibbles, but no bites…sometimes we get SO CLOSE…

And sometimes…it’s just time to put a project to bed.

To quote agent extraordinaire Jennifer Laughran:

“There are only so many editors. I am not going to sell work to a shady or bad editor, or to a house that I think is not reputable, just so I can say "we sold it." My goal is to sell the project WELL, not just sell it.

Not every single thing that every writer writes is going to find an awesome home - it just isn't, especially if they are prolific. So, sometimes projects end up going on the back burner for a while. If you do go forward with a new project and it sells, you might very well realize that the first one was flawed. People TEND to get better with each book -- I've found that I'm generally better off looking forward, not backward.”

To expand on this, I’ll quote the fantastic Mandy Hubbard – who brings to the table an agent AND author perspective:

“I saw the difference in rejections between my first agented project (The Jetsetter's Social Club) and my second (Prada & Prejudice). I wrote them just months apart. My agent thought the first would be the easier sell. It was obvious immediately that P&P was stronger. We went from vague/quick rejections to revision requests. Now, I would never want to see the first project on submission. It's not as good. I'm the same writer, and wrote them the same year. But sometimes you have to give up on a project-- just not the writer.”

So yes – sometimes, I will have to give up on a project – most often, because the only responses I’m getting are vague, or I’ve exhausted the list of editors to send to (if one editor at an imprint passes, that’s typically a pass for all at that imprint. And even two different imprints may have the same publisher, or boss – which means, the same boss says yes or no for both, and so it would be silly to get a no from one imprint and send to the other next when the same boss would see it again at the next), or I think a newer work will be much stronger and I want to focus on that one.

Sending something out endlessly, even to lots of smaller presses, might indeed land a sale - but if I think my client can do better…I’d rather wait and send out a new project for a chance at a better deal (and by better deal, no, I’m not just talking money; distribution, editing, marketing, cover art, communication, contract terms, etc. Some small presses are fabulous, but not all are created equal, and no way would I want my client's NEXT work tied up in an option with a non-reputable press!).

But I don’t sign clients because I think that ONE book is it – I sign them because I think I can sell their work, period.

So authors: don’t give up on yourselves – don’t let rejection bother you. Just keep writing and developing – because that’s what we’re counting on you to do. We can only help you succeed if you continue to write!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

My NaNo Post

I’ll be perfectly blunt: as an agent, I hate NaNo. But - ONLY because it means that December…will be full of projects that I really, really should not be seeing until MARCH.

So side from that agent aversion, I do think it’s a fabulous event in the writing community and a fabulous tool for writers to really get on track and feel accomplished.

That all said, I know that everyone and their mother is going to have (er, ALREADY has) a post with tips and motivators and all sorts of amazing links to help with NaNo…so I’ll keep this short and simple.


I promise if you send a query letter before January that says it’s a NaNo book, you’ll be shooting yourself in the foot. And no, that does not mean you just shouldn’t put it in your query (although really, you shouldn’t) – it means you really WILL be shooting yourself in the foot because there’s no WAY you’ve had the time to make sure it is ABSOLUTELY ready for agent eyes!

The worst thing you can EVER do in a submission: send it out before it’s ready.

Now GO ON – stop procrastinating by reading blog posts and write already!