Searching for an Agent asked:
Karin, agents are crucial if one wants to break into the NYC market, right? Not crucial to break in but crucial to stay in and more importantly to thrive. That said, your chances of breaking in, in this tight-ass market are highly more likely with an agent submitting your work.
My agent’s response to this question is this, “It is important too that someone have an agent to break into the business THE RIGHT WAY.”
Also, my agent strongly suggests, “It’s important that authors try and learn the business for themselves so their expectations are based on some form of reality. There are plenty of agents who get fired by clients who they have done an amazing job for because the client doesn’t understand the realities of the business. Author’s should be open-minded and learn the business by talking to a variety of agents, talking to editors from all over, and going to conferences.”
This brings up another point: There is a lot of chatter on loops about what this agent did or that agent didn’t, and why didn’t I get that deal? Here’s the thing, every agent author relationship is different, in that, we as writers were not all created equal and therefore it is completely understandable and reasonable that not all deals and careers are created the same.
But what happens after the agent is landed? You do a happy dance, a few air punches, then calm down and get down to the business at hand: Your career. Some people will disagree with me on this, but to me an agent’s true value is lost if you just expect him or her to sell your books. It’s a partnership. You are both in the business to make money now, but what about long term goals? Positioning? What happens when the bottom falls out of the genre you write, does your agent love you long time or just some of the time? There are a lot of fair-weathered agents out there, and while that stings, I understand it. If an author loses appeal and cannot break into another genre, why lug around the dead weight? A good agent can steer you in and out of the turbulent seas of this crazy business. A good agent will tell you while the money is very important there are other things, like guaranteed lead slots, retaining foreign rights, audio rights or film rights. She will know where your book is the best fit, she will most definitely know where not to go. My agent handles all of the business side of my writing, I just, write. She tells me when she doesn’t like something, she tells me when she does, she reads everything I send her and gives input. There are one agent agencies, boutique agencies, and big agencies. IMHO the perfect scenario is signing with an agent who has a small list, (but not a preponderance of authors who write what I write) in a powerhouse agency. I like having the department store behind me. They have everything. A one-stop shop. Legal, foreign, Hollywierd. Assistants aren’t newbie acquiring agents but actual assistants to the agents. Though bigger doesn’t always mean better, with a big agency you get all the bells and whistles.
How long, on the average, does it take for the agent to sell your ms? It can be hours, days or months. I have a very good friend who is with a top notch agent and she has not been able to sell her for over a year now. But neither has lost hope. They keep writing and submitting, my friend is a great writer, and her agent has complete confidence she will sell.
Is there any rule of thumb for how long an author should hang onto an agent if, perhaps, said agent fails to sell your ms? For me it would not be about the time it’s taking but ask if in that time the agent hasn’t sold me is she still enthusiastic? Is she giving you the rejection letters, and discussing a different strategy or a different project? It’s the agent who does not respond and who doesn’t give you the actual information on why you’re being rejected that you want to steer clear of. It means they have lost interest in you. Move on. And for what it’s worth, they all do it on some level. Even the best agent who has confidence in a writer can lose interest when New York repeatedly comes back with, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Sad but true and we the author need to listen to our gut at times like these. If the agent has lost that loving feeling you’ll know it.
What time frame would you suggest before giving the agent the boot? Again if the agent is working hard, why dump her? I have a writer friend who was with her agent for 5 years until she sold her to NY, then she took off. They are still very happy together. Another acquaintance of mine was with a boutique agency for three years, and during that time the agent could not sell her, the author dumped the agent went with another agent and bam, sold. Personally I think the original agent got lazy and the author knew long before she dumped the agent she should have moved on. Listen, this business will pass you by in the blink of an eye, we all deserve an agent who works for a living. So that said, I think you really, really need to pay attention to your agent’s actions, words, and energy regarding you if you haven’t sold. If your gut tells you to move on, what are you waiting for?
I’ve always wondered how one knows if the agent is really pounding the pavement to make that first sale. How long did it take for yours? Ask for the rejection letters. Ask about the conversations your agent is having with the editors she is submitting to, if that info is not forthcoming it’s because there is no info, and in that, the job is not getting done. I came to my agent with a sale in hand (a novella). She then turned around and submitted a proposal to Pocket on a Thursday afternoon and we had an offer for two single titles the following Monday afternoon.
One other thing I’d like to mention here: Even the uberest agents out there do not fit with everyone. It’s chemistry. I know of super agents who have been dumped by authors because they couldn’t get their career jump started, while that same agent was performing miracles on someone else. I think at the end of the day we have to remember, the agent works for us, we are paying them to be our advocate. If they are not doing their job there is no reason to stick around and make yourself and your agent miserable. You know when an agent looses interest, it’s like that book titled I’M JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU. Take the hint and find someone who will love you.
Also, DO YOUR RESEARCH! ASK QUESTIONS. Don’t be afraid to ask lot’s and lot’s of questions. This is YOUR career. And if the agent you’re interested in won’t give answers or her author contact info for you to chat with them or a list of sales, she is doing that for a reason. And that reason is? She has something to hide. This goes both ways. Don’t hold back. Think of it like this: You need to be wide open, kind of like when you go see the gyno, let it all hang out so there are no surprises, on either end of the speculum. 🙂
I hope that answered your questions, Searching. Anyone feel free to ask more, and I will answer as best as I can.
PS. If you do have questions you’d like me to answer on another business topic email me at Karin@KarinTabke.com
Also, Thursday is going to be fun fun fun! My new friend Bobbie Faye (who has been known to have a few very, very, very, very bad days) will be offering Bobbie Faye’s very bad advice. And my good friend, Toni McGee Causey, will be standing by to keep BF from giving really, really, really, bad Bobbie Faye advice. I heard Toni or maybe it’s BF will have some prezzies for a couple of vera lucky commenters. So come on by and have some fun! 🙂