3.20.2006

Junior Agents

Dear Miss Snark,

Though I am aware that Miss Snark, like Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, walks alone, I hope she might be able to answer a question about those agents who travel...in bunches, like bananas? In murders, like crows? (in devotions, like Snarklings?)

Consider a well-known, long-established, medium-sized agency, with 4-5 agents. A newbie agent there tells prospective clients that, although the newbie agent hasn't much of a track record, the newbie agent can use the connections of the agency and its esteemed founder to
help place books.

I'd like to believe this is true, but how realistic is it? Do Big Name agency owners really try and help place books for the juniors they add? Does the agency letterhead make much difference to the editors? Or is it Nature, red in tooth and claw inside the agencies themselves?


Miss Snark as we all knows has a one seater broom stick for swanning about town. Thus she called on one of her favorite people to answer this one. Herewith Ben Salmon of Rights Unlimited:


Answer: It's pretty realistic. We crows like to stick together. After all, if one of us finds a carcass to gormandize, we all feast... Or maybe that's buzzards. (No comment on the buzzard-agent comparison please.)

Sure, newbies get help. These are some of the reasons why:

1. The bottom line: More projects sold, more money comes into the agency. Why wouldn't the owner want to help a newbie place a project? More money in her pocket. The owner or another agent might make some suggestions of who to contact and the newbie will make some calls saying "Hello, Mr. Editor, Such-and-Such-Agent-who-I-Work-for/with took one look at this project, thought that you would love it and suggested I send it your way. She says such wonderful things about you, that I just had to call and introduce myself." The editor (especially if he's a slightly more junior editor) will be delighted his name was passed on, might thank the original agent who did the passing for expanding his network and will look at the project almost as if it was submitted by the agent he has a close relationship with. Editors usually don't complain about expanding their agent networks (established agent networks are one of the things an interviewer will look at and consider closely when editors are applying for a new job), as long as the agent isn't sending them crap. And then, yay, the project sells (hopefully)
and the owner didn't have to work as hard as if she represented it herself, but still sees some money and a possibly strengthened editor relationship or two. And an incredibly happy employee.

2. Employee retention: Face it, most assistants at agencies aren't career assistants (they're not paid nearly enough to be). They're suffering through the menial administrative duties because they desperately want to be the next Binky Urban (but most likely with not as cool a name). If the agency owner likes this assistant and wants to keep her and is invested in her, he'll want to grow her as well. And maybe she's restless, so it behooves him to help her out representing a couple projects.

3. Team spirit!: Some agencies are pretty team oriented and run almost more like an imprint at a publishing house than a traditional agency where in-house competition could be brutal. There, it might be good for an agent's career, even, to help out a newbie. In the name of being a
team player, all agents would help out others, especially juniors, which could be seen as an important commodity and help an agent move up the ranks.

4. Pay it forward: We were all new agents at some point. It's tough, especially tougher if you don't have a good mentor, someone to help you out. Agents who got help, or even kind words of encouragement, remember that and might try to do the same for someone else, a way to pay back to kind person who helped the agent get on her feet.

5. The teacher: Some agents just really love being teachers. They enjoy teaching the process, introducing newbies to editors and might even get a jolt of energy from seeing the spark in a newbie's eyes. And hey maybe that newbie will become the next Binky Urban and owe you one.

There are other reasons too, I'm sure. Heck, some agents are just nice and genuinely want to help others. (Miss Snark looks very startled at such an odd idea)

The structure of the agency also impacts how much help a young agent might receive (or that a young agent might even exist at the agency). You have your medium-sized agency (for these purposes, we've agreed that constitutes 4 or 5 agents or so) where each agent works entirely on
commission, part of the commission going to the company, part going to the agent. These folks act almost like freelancers who have a long-term, full-time agreement with one agency and might be a little less likely to help out a young agent, unless they see money from the transaction (such as the owner would). Or... There are agents who are kept on a small
salary accentuated by some kind of commission; those who receive only salaries (though most likely would receive bonuses for an incredibly successful project); agencies where profit-sharing is set up in order to encourage every agent to be responsive to the needs of the organization and work as a team; and any combination or other possible business
model.

And sure, the letterhead can make a difference. I mean, a crap project is a crap project, even if it's typed in gold leaf and on the White House's letterhead. But an agency with a strong client list has some power and might be able to get a project a faster read, depending on the
editor.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow. Hats off to Ben for a wonderful and comprehensive answer.

Eva said...

Miss Snark.

Please be sure to thank Ben Salmon on behalf of your snarklings for the time he took. I, for one, greatly appreciate this inside info.

Anonymous said...

How nice to hear...especially as a new agent is considering my book, and I was thinking it would be good to know the benefits of her enthusiasm and roomy client list.

McKoala said...

I'm thinking a smidgen of niceness must run in Miss Snark's veins, whatever she says about broomsticks and the power of Lancome, because she has all these lovely friends who offer solid contributions to her blog. Great info, thank you.

Anonymous said...

This is really interesting. While not absolute, it appears the greatest risk for the writer is when the new kid on the block at a medium agency is the one interested in the project. Then, it would help if we could drill down some in the organization and learn more about their structure and whether they have a mentoring policy.

Greta LaGarbeaux said...

LaGarbeaux is suddenly overcome by a desire to roast a lovely chicken for Ben. Does Ben like chicken? Would Ben prefer a nice cup of green tea? How about a peach daquiri? Does Ben need a cabana girl? Ben is our new best-friend's-best-friend -- right, writers?

Yeah, Ben is just all right by me.