Saturday, June 21, 2014

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I got a comment on the blog that was important enough that I wanted to make a post about it.  Identifying info has been scrubbed for anonymity.
Dear Literaticat,

I got an agent several years ago at what is considered a really great NYC agency, but I'm not happy. My agent frankly scares me and is often not nice, and they want me to take my books in a direction I'm not comfortable with at all. . . So we're at a stand still.

I feel like a girl in bad relationship - afraid to break up in case no one else wants me, (everyone is always all, "Wow, you're with Fancy Pants agency?!") but I'm not really getting anything out of this relationship. I always envisioned an agent helping me build my career and that so isn't the case. They make me cry, and we're definitely not partners in this.

Signed, Should I Go Solo Again?


There are all kinds of things an agent might do for you. But here's what I think an agent MUST do: Be ethical, communicative, savvy about publishing, and work with you to help you achieve your career goals. That means giving advice - but also following your directions. After all, they are supposed to be acting on your behalf. That means, basically, as far as the publishing world, they are an extension of you. You don't have to LOVE your agent -- but I think you do have to respect them and trust that they have your back.

"Nice" is a personality attribute -- it actually isn't a basic requirement for an agent. It may be a requirement for YOU to work with a "nice" agent -- and that's fine! Now you'll know that for when you go agent-hunting again. Some people rub along best with those who are more like motherly nurturers, or excitable cheerleaders, or thoughtful therapists, or detail-oriented accountants. Some people really do want agents who are total unmitigated bastards . . . but even those total bastards still have to follow the base standard above with regard to their own clients.

[As an aside: I don't consider myself particularly "nice," in fact. I think I'm GENERALLY GOOD and KIND-HEARTED and COMMUNICATIVE and FUNNY (and also HUMBLE obviously haha just kidding not that) -- but "nice" is not a word I'd use to describe myself, and that's OK.]

Just like any long-term relationship of any kind, you aren't always going to love everything your agent tells you (and assuredly, vice-versa!) - and given enough time there WILL be weird communication breakdowns or confusions - but usually any issues like this can be worked out with a clarifying email or frank conversation.

If you simply can't have a frank conversation, though, that's a huge problem.  If they're doing things you don't want them to do, and not doing things you do want them to do, and not telling you things you need to be told, and making you cry and feel worthless, and you are actively afraid of them??? That's . . . not good, to say the least.

It sounds like you are in an extremely dysfunctional relationship with your agent. If I was in your shoes, I'd ask myself:

* Am I getting what I need from this relationship? * (Make sure what you need is within their power to give, too, obviously. "Timely communication" IS within their power. "Boatloads of cash" isn't - hopefully it will come as a result of both your work, but it is never guaranteed, of course!)

* If I'm not getting what I need, have I clearly articulated to this person what my needs are, that they are currently not being met, and what I need in order to continue the relationship? *  (If so, has the problem not resolved or gotten worse?)

* Would I be better off WITHOUT this person than with them? * (Hint - if you always get off the phone with them feeling like shit, or if you dread seeing their name in your inbox, the answer to this is probably yes.)

It sounds like the answers to these questions are No, No because I'm too afraid of her, and YES.

Even if this agent is REALLY SUCCESSFUL and GREAT for her other clients, it seems clear she is not a good agent-fit for you.  So, yep . . . time to move on, no matter how scary it is. Trapping yourself in a bad relationship is not going to help you move forward. Better to be flying solo and free than shackled to something that is holding you back. But you already knew that, probably.

Be brave! And good luck.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

All About the Offer Etiquette (And How to get a Fast Pass!)

You're querying, and you get an offer. NOW WHAT?

GOOD IDEA:  If you get an offer of representation, and it's an agent you would not be sad to work with*, you should absolutely let the other agents who have the full or partial** know, to see if they want to read quickly and maybe hop on board the Offer Train. You might phrase it something like: "Thanks so much for your interest in AWESOME MANUSCRIPT! I've had an offer of representation, and I've told the offering agent*** that I need a week**** to get my ducks in a row. So if you are also interested, could you please let me know by [a specific date a week or so from now]?"

PROBABLE RESULT:  This will always get me to take a look at the ms if I haven't already, or to read faster if I'm already reading. However, it will also have me reading toward NO. In other words, unless I absolutely flippin LOVE this book, I will pass rather than get into a beauty contest over it. I can't make somebody Revise and Resubmit if they already have offers, after all! The good news is, you can safely assume that anyone who DOES end up entering the fray at this point really is keenly interested in the book.

* BUT WHAT IF I DON'T WANT THE FIRST AGENT?  IF on the off-chance you query somebody, they offer, and then when you speak to them you realize that you don't share a vision for the book at all and you really would be sad to work with them -- I STRONGLY SUGGEST you simply and graciously decline their offer but DO NOT let the other agents know and make them rush. You are more likely to get a thorough read and a fair shot if the agents aren't being rushed.

** BUT WHAT ABOUT THE PEOPLE WHO ONLY HAVE QUERIES?  Say it's the same situation as above, but you also have a bunch of just-queries out there who haven't had time to even possibly request a full -- by all means, feel free to reach out to them as well and see if they'd like to see more. Something like: "I know you might not have even seen this query yet, but I wanted to reach out to you because I've had an offer of representation. If this query seems like something you'd be interested in, I can give you a week with the full. Otherwise, no worries, I understand you might not want to rush!

Again, I will probably glance at the query and decide in a split second if it seems worth my time to pursue. Usually I will step aside, but sometimes, rarely, I'll decide to get the full and then it is the same deal as above. Happy to read, reading fast, but reading toward No.

*** BUT WHAT IF THEY ASK WHO THE FIRST AGENT IS? Well then, you tell them, if you want to. It's not a trick question. I've said it before and I'll say it again -- I ask for three reasons: 1) I'm curious/nosy. 2) I'm interested in who my competition is -- I'm friends with a lot of agents, and if you've also queried a colleague and I honestly think they'll be better for you, I'd probably stand aside (or else offer myself but say something kind like "you really can't make a bad choice here" while inwardly seething at my frenemy. JUST KIDDING. Or am I?) and 3) I want to make sure it's not a schmagent or scamster. I like writers and I don't like people who dupe them!

**** BUT IS A WEEK ENOUGH TIME??  You can keep the first agent on the string for a week, even week and a half, no problem, totally normal. Two weeks, OK, if there's a major holiday or BEA or something involved, but they'll start to get a little antsy. Anything longer than that -- or if you have a "firm deadline" then extend it -- and they'll very likely feel like you are just out there using them as bait to fish for "better" offers. That's an ugly feeling. After all, they did everything right - they read quickly and had an offer for you with no fuss or muss -- why are they getting treated like a chump?

I've gotten an "I have another offer of rep, please let me know if you're interested" email at all kinds of inconvenient times: While on Hawaiian vacation. At an SCBWI conference. At the Bologna Book Fair. During Christmas break. Guess what? In all those cases, I was able to read and come to a decision within the given time. It's not rocket surgery. Believe me -- if these other agents really want to work with you and your book, they can figure it out in under two weeks.


I recently got a query from somebody. An hour later, I got a note saying, basically, "I have an offer of representation, but I really want to work with YOU! Can you read immediately?" AN HOUR? Well that's extremely odd, and a glance at the query told me it would have been a pass for me in any case, so I wrote back something like, "This is not a great fit for me, so I'll stand aside, but congrats on the super-speedy offer! Wow!"

I then immediately told a colleague on gchat about the odd exchange -- not naming names or anything, just "Hey, this really weird thing happened at work today."  She looked through her inbox and found the exact same situation, with the same hour-later update, from another day. We told another colleague via email. She found the same query, same update, but with a few key words changed, from the week before. Say what?! That went out to an agent list-serv. Within a half hour, we'd found twenty or so different agents who had had the virtually the same query from five different "aliases," each of whom "had an offer" an hour later and wanted a quick response. All of us passed. Some of us had asked the person "who made the offer?" and the response was nebulous.

WHAT THE. Is somebody telling people this is how to query? Is it a maddening new micro-trend, or just one person with a lot of email accounts trying to be clever? Either way, STOP IT. And YES, we talk to each other.

Yeah I know. I shouldn't really have to tell a bunch of grown-ass adults that LYING IS A NO-NO, and a bad way to start a relationship that is meant to be based on trust, but. Apparently somebody out there is giving the verrrrry bad advice that writers should try and game agents. I could give you a laundry list of reasons this is a super bad idea, but I am pretty sure the perpetrators of this piece of dubious "wisdom" will never read this, and all of YOU are smart enough to put it together on your own.

Now carry on, and may your offers of representation be plentiful!  :-)

Sunday, June 01, 2014

The Revise and Resubmit Shuffle

I get a lot of #AskAgent questions about the ol' "Revise and Resubmit" -- so I figure I'll tackle them all here, and if you have more you can put them in the comments.

Q: "I've heard "R+R" or "Revise and Resubmit" -  but what does it mean?" 
A: It means that an agent has read the author's full manuscript, and while they are not ready to commit to offering representation, they see potential in the author or the story and they are willing to provide notes and an opportunity to, well . . . Revise and Resubmit. ;-)

Q: "How can I tell if the agent is just giving general feedback as they might with any nice personalized rejection, or if they really want to see the book again?"
A: Every agent works differently, but to my mind there are three types of rejections:

*Impersonal - A form letter - might be long or short, but ultimately, there's no feedback, nothing personalized to you specifically, just a kind "not for me, thanks."
*Personalized - Notes you/the book by name - says a nice thing (or a few) about the manuscript, maybe notes a problem (or a few), but is a no all the same.
*R+R - clearly took some time to write, gives extensive notes on the strengths and problems with the manuscript, perhaps there is even a phone call to discuss, and there is an invitation to resubmit explicitly stated.

Q: "But what if I don't agree with their notes, or don't want to revise?!"
Then you say something nice like "thanks for taking the time to write this!"And then don't fret about it. That's fine. Nobody is forcing you to take the advice or to resubmit! (Though you might find that the advice gets better the more you let it settle in your brain... so don't burn the email or anything.)

Q: "How often do you give a "Revise and Resubmit"? 
A: They are pretty rare. Of the hundreds of queries I get, I reckon I request about 5% fulls. Then about 5% of the fulls I read will result in an R+R. Some of those people will choose to revise, some won't. Of the ones that do revise, I still might ultimately turn down for any number of reasons . . . but if they've taken the notes on board and done a great job, I'd say they are likely much closer to getting representation if not from me, then from somebody else.

Q: "I've heard writers call R+R's "The Slow No" -- they say this is just a nice way to reject somebody, and there is little chance the agent will change their mind once you revise."
A: This is quite wrong. I do not give extensive feedback unless I really do see great potential in the book, and I do NOT say that I want to read it again if I don't really want to read it again. I mean - no. Never. I just can't spend extra time thinking about or looking at things I don't like, and I wouldn't string anyone along in this way "to be nice" because I don't think it IS nice to string people along!

Q: "But come on, get real, have you ever actually SIGNED somebody after an R+R?"
A: I have signed several authors after an R+R, in fact. These are authors who took the feedback I gave and really ran with it -- not just giving a micro tweak here and there to their manuscripts, but really doing awesome full-on revisions that took their books from "promising" to "OMGAMAZING." I had no idea if these folks could really revise, or would want to revise -- but I am so glad they did, and so proud of them and their books!

Q: "OK but what if we decide to write a totally different book instead. Should we query you again, or avoid since we never did that R+R before?"
A: In my opinion, if I've ever had a full of yours in the past and given any personalized feedback (not just an R+R), and that feedback resonated with you, you should definitely try me again on your next book. I have offered authors rep on the second or even third book they've queried. Sometimes an author's earlier work was good but just not quite there -- but they get better and better, and I am always pleased to see these names again the next time! (That said, if you thought my advice was lousy or something on the first book - you might try another agent at my agency for the next one.)

Q: "You responded to my full two years ago and I still haven't finished the revision. Is there a time limit? How long should this take?"
A: There's no time limit. It takes as long as it takes, and I'd rather you take it slow and do a smashing job than rush and half-ass it. . . don't worry about me, I've got plenty to read. Of course I may check in from time to time to see how it's going -- no pressure, just sometimes it's hard for me to forget about a character! :-)  If you think it would help to give yourself a fake deadline, try 4 months. But don't break your neck over it.

Anything I forgot to ask myself on your behalf? Ask away!