Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Not Just Any Agent

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Remember last week there was a hot mess going on in the publishing blogosphere over whether or not authors should give bad reviews or even review at all? YA highway had a great collection of the linksies.

It all started when a blogger asked about book reviews. Agent Jill Corcoran said,

"for book review bloggers...if you diss one of my clients' books, I probably will not want to sign you. Editors feel similarly."

I completely agree.

"But Claire," you wail, "didn't you say- just yesterday- that you have to be you and say what you have to say?"

Yes, I did.

But if I don't like a book by one of Jill's clients, and agents always acquire books they LURVE, then there's a decent chance her vision and mine are different. (Before I go on, let me say I have nothing against Jill Corcoran, who happens to represent one of the bloggers I most admire.)

But let's take a minute to examine the flip side of the coin.

If I dislike/hate a book an agent represents, why on Earth would I want that agent representing me?

The law of supply and demand gives agents power over unsigned authors. We, as aspiring authors are so eager to have an agent, that we're eager for ANY agent. And in our haste, we forget two things.

1. Your Agent is Your Employee.

I'm not saying this because I think authors should be making agents jump through the hoops some bosses have their employees jump through. Definitely not. But I just wish authors would remember this before they are signed. Author produces a product. Author then pays somebody to refine and sell that product. That somebody is called an agent.

It doesn't make sense querying any and every agent. And really it's not enough to just look at the genres an agent represents to make the decision. The fact that an agent reps YA or horror or romance or literary doesn't mean they rep your niche of the market. The books an agent has repped are a part of their resumé/CV. So is their blog, and the interviews they’ve done, and anything their clients have said.

Would you hire an employee if they didn't have anything good on their resumé? Or the more likely case: would you hire someone whose qualifications were excellent, but more suited to a different position? You wouldn't want a Cessna pilot flying your Boeing 777, even if he was the best Cessna pilot in the whole world.

If you are sure you want an editorial agent, don’t query those whose clients say they’re hands-off. If you want an agent that’s 999% ALL-BUSINESS, then don’t query the one with unicorns on her blog. If an agent reps a book you despise, then you’ve got different tastes. And you probably want your tastes to gel with your agent, because

2. An Agent is a Partner

But how can an agent be both an employee and a partner?

Quick analogy:
Let's say there are two small grocery stores near your house. One is on your way to work, and one is 7 minutes drive in the wrong direction. At the one near your house, there's a horrible dude working the counter in the store. He stares at you the whole time like you're a criminal. He never opens his mouth. Unless he's saying something incredibly rude.

The guy at the out-of-the way store is the polar opposite. He greets you as soon as you walk in the store. He makes friendly chitchat while he tallies your items and tells you to have a nice day. And you find yourself driving an extra 14 minutes to go to nice guy's store.

There's a decent chance that neither Nice Guy nor Rude Guy owns the store they work at. But they are more than just employees. They are partners. Because the owner wants you to get the sort of service that keeps you coming back. But he can't be there to give it to you himself. So he hopes that the guy he lives in his place will.

Your agent is your partner. You're working together to achieve an objective. Which means you need to have the same objective. The fact that the agent repped a book you don’t like does not guarantee they will be on a different page, but it means there’s a chance. Why would you take that risk when there are so many other agents who rep books you love?

Also, like the store employee, your agent is the face/email that takes your product to others. Once again, do your research. Getting an agent is hard work. Why go through all that for someone who won’t work for you?



Natalie Aguirre said...

Yes, finding an agent that will be a good fit for you takes work and research. Not only are they your employee, but a partner. Both careers will hopefully benefit.

Personally, I don't want to give bad reviews of books. I'd prefer to say nothing. And you never know if an agent that doesn't seem right for you suddenly falls in love with your genre or you switch genres. So you don't want to burn your bridges. Just like in life.

Aleeza said...

yessss. i couldnt have put it better myself. it kind of surprises me when writers get so desperate for agents they'll take whatever they can get. it aint right, dude. like you said, Your agent is your partner. You're working together to achieve an objective. Which means you need to have the same objective.
i also think if your a writer who reviews books, you shouldnt be dissing books. its all about constructive critcism, like you said before.
loved this post!:)

E.J. Wesley said...

Incredibly well stated as always, Claire. It's nothing personal, but if an agent reps several books that you don't necessarily enjoy, it is probably a red flag about the agents ability to relate to/enjoy your work. (And I do think that's where many agents come from on this argument, although they aren't articulating it very well.)

I'll continue to make the argument that if you only review things you love, then you're not reviewing at all. You're advertising or listing things you love. There's a difference.

Marsha Sigman said...

Love the post and you are absolutely correct. We need to be more concerned about who is the best fit for us. And I also think we should give honest opinions about what we read and choose to review.

Colene Murphy said...

Great info and perspective! I so agree!!