Hustle and Flow

Dear Miss Snark,

I had some good news recently--an agent offered to represent my novel. The agent and I had a longish chat about my writing, and I liked him and felt we could work well together. However, he is just starting out (at a well-reputed agency) and has few sales to his credit. Some of my published friends, who have read my novel and are optimistic about its prospects, have advised me to shop the manuscript around, and try for a more prestigious, well-established agent. (yea, mother in law friends...'you can do better, sooo much better.')

My question is this: what sort of benefit might I expect from having a more established agent? I would like someone who has time for me, and for whom I am not their least important writer. Yet, I don't want to give up potential access to better editors, bigger houses, and more lucrative publishing deals. Agent #1 acted as if he expected I would be showing it to other agents, but I also don't want to delay the process any longer than necessary, and perhaps cause his enthusiasm for me to wane.

So, he was ok to ask out but now that he wants to dance you want to check for better looking dates? Oh wait, middle school flashback, sorry.

Your agent knows he's new. He knows you want Binky to phone you and throw herself at you, followed by Flip, Esther and Andrew Wylie.

If that happens, take good notes, you can dine out on that story for years.

You have an agent who likes your work. You can query till the cows come home but you simply may not get any other offers. Binky et al are busy with very very high powered clients who have lots of deals going, and agents like that don't take on a lot of new talent every year.

When I offer someone representation, I give them my best pitch and then I give them a month. If they haven't gotten back to me, I email them once, ask if they've made a decision, and if the answer is anything but "yes Im on the Snark Tobaggon team" I figure it's no, and move on.

And I do move on. I need to sell stuff to keep my sled greased and Killer Yapp looking better than Kate Moss. That means if you aren't on the team now, I'm going to go find the next guy who will be. If you come back in a month, I may very well have room, but maybe not. I can only run a certain number of active projects at a time, and I've learned the hard way that no one is happy when I'm feeling like I've got too much to do and clients aren't getting all the attention they deserve.

A more established agent might, MIGHT, get you a better deal. There's no way to know. And you can't phrase your choice that way, cause that's not the choice you have. Your choice right now is: 1. sign with this guy now OR 2. hold off, query others, hope for another offer and failing that go back and hope guy #1 is still available.

Bottom line: if you think you can get higher up the food chain , have at it, but you better hustle your bustle cause no one is going to hold off the fiddler waiting for you to get in the dance line.


Anonymous said...

All writers, at some, point have been an agent ho - throwing ourselves at whatever agent will read our work then getting a bit high and mighty when the prospect of connecting ourselves to that person forever ad infinitum becomes a reality.

Finding an agent is hardly like securing other professional services - our attorney, dentist, and doctors don't get to turn us down.

But, with Publishers Weekly and Publishers Marketplace, not to mention a host of other resourcesful sites on the 'net out there - writers have no excuse for not doing their homework.

Only query an agent you will actually consider signing with.

It seems masochistic to stress over whether an agent will request a partial, then stress over if they'll ask for a full, then stress over if they'll offer representation - only to say..."hmmm, do I really want to sign with them?"

Ask yourself that BEFORE you query. Answer it based on what you want out of an agent and what you know about this agent.

Sure, some things you can't know for certain until you arrive at the point of a verbal conversation - but not most.

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering why your published friends are suggesting you could do better. What aren't they saying? You've indicated your published friends have read your novel, so they know what it's about. Do they think the agent is out of his depth or hasn't done well with the type of book you've written? If that's the case and there is good reason to be uncomfortable, then maybe it would be something to consider.

Another question I would ask is his newness to the well established agency mean he would not have access to the right publishers?

Or is there something else going on, like your gut telling you there's something rotten in Denmark?

A friend of mine who's a published and well respected author said about agents--it's better to have an agent who is passionate about your work but perhaps just getting established, than one who's indifferent but well established.

Anonymous said...

1st Anon:

That's what I did. I spent a loooonnnnggggg time doing my homework and researching agents.

Now I have fulls with three agents I greatly respect. I would be happy to sign with any of them, however I do have a first, second and third choice. And my first and second choice are very very close.

I'm hoping and praying that #1 and #2 both offer representation so I get to pick one, yet at the same time, I'm scared to death they'll both offer and I will HAVE to pick one! LOL

My quandry is, one agent is at the top of the totem pole. A very high powered agent that everyone in publishing and quite a few people not in publishing knows. I'ved wanted this person as an agent since I started researching agents. It would be a BIG feather in my cap to sign with this person. However, I'm worried I'll be the least important writer in this agents stable and I'll get overlooked.

My second choice for an agent is very well respected but not as much as the first agent. But I've heard lots of good things about this agent and know this agent will work for me. Though I'm sure the other agent will too.

Another problem is, I've met both agents and like and respect both. Who do I choose?

Heidi said...

My advice:

1. Go with this guy. Sure he's newly established, but he's at a well-respected agency. This means a. he's not alone, b. he's probably being mentored to some degree by an experienced agent and, c. he'll have connections, even if it's second degree, and that'll move up to first degree soon enough.

Remember, every agent had to start somewhere, even our esteemed Miss Snark.

2. Go with this guy. Either he'll work out well, or he won't. You do have the option of going your separate ways if he crashes and burns.

3. If you don't go with this guy, send him my way, especially if he reps SFF. I had my second-to-last agent die on my and my last agent reps only screenplays. I need a new agent. Being a newly established agent means he'll have space on his list.

4. If you go with this guy and he does well by you, definitely send him my way! :)

Anonymous said...

Just remember that YOU the writer are "just starting out" and have few (make that "no"?) book deals to your credit. Would you think it fair for every agent to whom you submit your work to say, "Yeah, I like the book you've written but come back to me when you're an established bestselling author. Until then, I won't have any confidence in your ability to impress the editors I deal with." Sounds pretty lame, right? Give this guy a chance. Everybody has to start somewhere. Even you.

Shadow said...

Finding an agent is hardly like securing other professional services - our attorney, dentist, and doctors don't get to turn us down.

Actually, they do. Granted it doesn't happen very often, but those professionals (of which I am one) do have the legal and ethical right to "choose" their patients/clients. Patients can be (and are) "fired" from a practice for things like being obnoxious in their dealings with the professional or abusive to the staff (in addition to things like refusing to pay or doctor-shopping for drugs.) Some insurance plans in this day and age of managed care make it a little trickier, but no professional is ever forced to take all comers unconditionally.

That said, though, I'm not disagreeing with the substance of the post or the discussion.

LJCohen said...

In terms of what the first anonymous poster said--I'm not sure any amount of research trumps actually talking to an agent in terms of assessing compatability. I didn't choose my primary care physician on the basis of her resume, but after a consulting visit when I got a sense of her style and personality.

I'm looking for a long term agent relationship and although I can narrow the field down with research, I hope I will have the opportunity to make a choice based on mutual compatability.


Anonymous said...

Anon said: Who do I choose?

Whom. :)

Choose number two. Number one may be at the top of the heap, but from what I've heard, agents of that caliber aren't there to build careers; they want instant cash cows, and will probably drop you like the proverbial hot spud if your book tanks. You want an agent who'll work with you to build your career.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the last anon. I did my homework, and got one of my dream agents. I was thrilled with my deal for two romance novels at a "second tier" house, along with less than stellar advance, until I learned that my esteemed agent had no desire to look elsewhere. Why mess with the bird in the hand, and keep me busy writing book #2?
I learned afterward I was supposed to consider myself lucky.
I now am with "Charlotte" Hustle, a newer yet more hungry agent, someone who really wants me to succeed, since my success is her best advertising.

Anonymous said...

"Consider yourself lucky" are the most annoying words in the publishing business. What arrogance! Glad you found someone better.

Anonymous said...

Ljcohn said: I hope I will have the opportunity to make a choice based on mutual compatability.

Here's the thing - if you reach the point of verbal contact with an agent that's a damn good thing.

The problem, you may not ever reach that point with some. You may never have the luxury of comparing one agent to another.

The one who is compatible, style wise, may reject you. You may never reach verbal contact with "the one."

So if you only reach verbal contact with one agent out of 12, he/she ends up being compatible by default. Right?

The original poster is indeed in a good place. Reached verbal contact and has two good agents to choose from.

But I've heard a fair share of accounts of authors going through multiple agents b/c it didnt' work out. Many felt, at some point, this person was the right choice for them.

But as Miss Snark has pointed out, you just can't know if a relationship will be successful until you're in the middle of it.

It seems to be an occupational hazard for both agents and writers.

qbb said...

I asked the original question. Thank you all for your answers.

However, I realize that I've been a nitwit, and have failed to make an important aspect of the whole situation clear. I did NOT query this agent. A friend of mine showed my manuscript to him mistakenly. The fracas has been cleared up now: a pail of gin, an apology, and the fact that the agent liked the manuscript all helped.

Since I was always the rejected party at the middle school dance, I would never ask someone and then reject them. In fact, my impulse is simply to accept Agent #1's kind offer. I don't relish the idea of querying (big surprise) and as I said, I liked the guy. I have nothing against him being new. I am only being influenced by a few writer friends who lust after Binky et al., and so I thought I'd ask you what advantages there might be to having a more well-established agent. (By the way, I never intended to query the Binkys and Esthers of the world, only some of the folks in between.)

Sorry not to have been more clear upfront.