3.08.2006

Pinching

Dear Miss Snark,

Have you ever taken on a client without a query, without a proposal, without a book, just because you liked some of his other published work and felt, between the two of you, that you could come up with a great idea? Or, that this writer might be a perfect fit for a project a certain editor of your acquaintance has in mind? If so, how would you find such a writer--and vice/versa.


Such a Writer



Well I haven't. I tend to find my clients the old fashioned way -- prison work release programs and waterfront dive bars.

I'm sure there's someone somewhere with a story about how they got picked up by Agent Hot Stuff with out ever writing a word, but those kinds of stories make me slightly ill cause they inevitably lead people to think they too can do that.

When you say you're "such a writer" do you mean this happened to you and you want Miss Snark to pinch you so you aren't dreaming? Miss Snark stands ready and willing to pinch as needed (thus her familiarity with waterfront dive bars).

And if you've not secured representation, are you really seriously hoping someone will just call you up and say "let's dance?". Think again. At some point, writing will be involved. Might as well be now.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

It happened to a friend of mine, actually. She had an article published in a national magazine. An agent read it, saw the potential for a massively marketable and good book (she could tell the writer was off the charts), and contacted the author. That being said, they spent over 6 months putting together the proposal. The author subsequently got a veeeeerrrrry nice deal, and the book sold a ton of copies.

But like the Snark-meister said, this is not really the most efficient - or likely - way to get an agent or a deal. It's the exception, not the rule.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I believe the question here was whether Miss Snark had ever picked up a client by contcting a published writer. So writing is already involved.

I don't know about Miss Snark's case, but agents contacting writers on the basis of their published stories has a long history--dating back to Eudora Welty (who didn't know what an agent was when one called her to offer representation). And there are plenty of tales about writers who got their agents by the agents contacting them on the basis of short stories and asking "Are you thinking about a novel?"

Both published and unpublished writers have been offered representation without queries, book proposals, or finished books, on the basis of their writing. Most often this is on the basis of published stories the agent came across, but there are also many tales of workshop professors tugging the sleeve of an agent and drawing their attention to the work of a student: Stephen King got his first agent this way.

So, the answer to you question is--when this happens it is either the result of published stories so outstanding that they cause an agent to say, "who IS this writer?" or through outstanding writing and a personal connection. The common denominator: outstanding writing.

Still, sitting around and waiting for lightning to strike doesn't seem like the best strategy...

Mark said...

I don't know about the King story since his first book Carrie was sold unagented. One would think that would be quite an attraction unlike the odd article in a monthly publication, but these tales tend to get conflated, or left out in online discourse.

Anonymous said...

I think part of this question is also whether agents ever look for writers for specific book ideas they know a certain editor is trying to develop. Let's say no one in their current stable is able or available to take on the idea, and it just so happens a writer with three published books on the subject sends a note that he's between agents....

Anonymous said...

The question was also, do agents ever look for writers to fulfill certain book ideas that they know an editor is looking for. If no one in their current stable can or wants the assignment, what happens if some writer with three books on the subject just happens to write in saying they're between agents....

Anonymous said...

Hi, Mark.

No, the Stephen King story is not a tall tale nor a publishing legend. Nor is it part of conflated online discourse.

King's college professor (sophmore year)--who was an established writer(Edwin M. Holmes)--recommended that agent Maurice Crain look at King's (unpublished) stories, and Crain was impressed enough to offer King representation.

This was long before Carrie, and even before the 3 unpublished novels King wrote prior to Carrie.

Crain died before he sold any of King's work, and King was, as it were, back on the street again. His stories managed to interest Doubleday editor William Thompson enough that the editor was willing to look at King's novels over the transom. He didn't buy anything until Carrie. (Incidentally, Thompson is also generally credited with discovering John Grisham.)

At least that's how Stephen King tells it in interviews (not on the web) and in his book. I don't see any reason to doubt him--especially since he names names.

So, back to the point of my original post: yes, people occasionally do land agents on the basis of existing writings, published or unpublished, without going through the query process. But I wouldn't count on it, and, in any case, Maurice Crain didn't do King much good.

Anonymous said...

Do you think Miss Snark needs to unmask to get other agents to contribute? I'm imagining an elaborate venetian style mask, the kind held up on a stick ...

How ever its done, this access to varied viewpoints is great. Thanks!