11.07.2006

Comparison Shopping

I've been in a critique group for three years. One member is a retired editor, which has certainly helped.

The group hadn't read my query before I sent it out though, and that was the problem.
The query sounded as though I had grown up as Oliver Twist, and the ms sounded as though I was Mary Poppins.

Egads!
I solved the problem, mailed more queries by email, and suddenly everyone I send it to replies in ten to fifteen minutes wanting a partial of fifty or so pages.

What shall I do if I get an offer for representation (wish!) but I really, really want to go with an agency that turned my partial down (before I corrected it)?
Would it be rude, annoying, presumptuous, to go back to them in an email and say, "You rejected my partial, but now I have an offer for representation on my manuscript. I would much prefer to be represented by you. Would you reconsider?"?


You've got an offer from Miss Snark in your hot little paw, and you want to use it as leverage to get someone you want MORE?

No. You can't do that.

First, you don't know if Agent Snark and Agent Bark know each other. You want to find out the hard way that we're on the same roller derby team and talk to each other?

Second, you guys are getting all caught up in this lunacy of "dream agents". This is akin to breaking up with your boyfriend (who likes your mom, walks your pink tammed, cigar chomping poodle without complaint, and cooks!) because you want to marry George Clooney.

The only question you need to answer when you get an offer of representation is: is this agent a good match for my book and me.

25 comments:

Existential Man said...

You can't be serious on this one.
I disagree with you on both points. There is no good reason in the world why offers from one or more agents should not be "played off" against each other! Johnny Appleseed wrote a detailed article on Backspace (www.bksp.org) in the articles section about how to use the "Blitzkrieg" tactic to play offers off against each other. Read it and reap.

Yes, there are "dream" agents, and yes, they can be influenced by knowing that other agents have already sanctioned a proposal or manuscript. It happens every week.

What you are saying is tantamont to being locked in to the first agent who happens to say "yes" to your work. This is a foolish and short-sighted move and is often regretted when further interest is shown.

As I'm sure you know, it is standard procedure to inform other agents that you have an offer and for them to be given a chance to respond.

I would much rather have 5 agents clamoring for my work than one. This is a dog-eat-dog competitive agenting world--and savvy writers need to use it to their advantage.
The last thing any writer should be concered about when trying to get an agent is who is talking to whom about both wanting the same author.

Agents say "No" to writers every day of the week without batting an eyelash--you think writers shouldn't do the same just because agents may talk? Come on, Snarky, you are like, so pre-cyber-space on this one.

Like I said, you can't be serious. I hope it's a case of waking up on the wrong side of the gin pail

Miss Snark said...

Yo, X-man, you're missing the key piece of information: this "dream agent" already said no.

If you have five agents who've made you offers that's one thing (and sure, I've seen that).

If you get an offer, you don't go back to everyone who said no. That's "see someone does want me, do I look better now". Not the same thing.

And who said I was awake.

Existential Man said...

You're right, I did overlook that piece of info.But even if I had been rejected and then accepted by another agent on an "improved" version, I might very well go ahead and at least ask my "dream" agent if he/she might reconsider--before saying yes to the offer.

I don't have to tell you (of all people) that agents are susceptible
to flattery...and to come back pleading after receiving an offer with the old "Oh, Miss Snark, you're the agent of my dreams, pleeeezze reconsider!" plea might do the trick.

I mean, as you have clearly shown in your brazen and unrelenting stalking of Mr. Hollywood Big-Shot, sometimes it pays to have a little Madonna in your blood and be devoid of any semblance of shame!

Melanie Lynne Hauser said...

I'm curious. How do authors know who their "dream agents" are unless they've talked with them, and also talked with authors who are represented by them? Most of the time these "dream agents" are big name agents, but that's the only thing authors know about them. They don't know how communicative they are, or how supportive they're going to be if your book doesn't sell, or how involved in publicity or promotion they're going to be if (when) your publisher drops the ball....

There's so much more to the agent/author relationship than just a big sale - which is what I suspect most authors are thinking of when they talk about their "dream agents." You have to think about what happens after the sale or if the sale doesn't occur at all. Editors change houses all the time, contracts get cancelled, books get ignored by publishers - your agent, though, will hopefully be the one stable relationship you have in your publishing career, your rock, your constant. Big name agents may indeed wonderful - particularly for big name clients. But I know too many authors who have found themselves wondering where the love has gone when the book hasn't sold, or isn't a big success.

Ben W in PDX said...

Why do so many writers remind me of high-school cheerleaders? "I want my DREAM AGENT." Don't be a spoiled brat - be professional.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about others, but to me a "dream agent" is one who has "highly recommended" by their agency name in Preditors and Editors, or some other high percentage rate of books represented to those actually sold. It means someone who will represent your work with enthusiasm and has a good success rate. I don't know ANY agents, so that's all I have to go on. Is there anything else to go on?

If you, Miss Snark, requested my ms and offered representation, you can be sure I would gleefully accept, that is if I knew your non-cyber space identity.

In the morning, my writing sounds irresistibly inspired, but when I read it at night, I could cry with shame for thinking anyone would be remotely interested in reading it. I'd like to know what the rested, unbiased truth is. Perhaps my critique group likes me too well to be totally honest.

Kim Stagliano said...

"Is the agent a good match for my book and me." Ah, therein lies the rub. Publishing is somewhat the inverse of usual "sales." Can you imagine Coca Cola allowing the first sales person to say "Yeah, I'll try to sell it" hiring that person? Or Steve Jobs asking someone he barely knew, who sold typewriters, to try to sell his Mac computer in 1986? And yet, that seems to me to be how this process is designed for our books. My MS is my product and I am courting sales people (agents)who will sell it through to editors with very little knowledge about the potential "fit." Agents are names on paper, on websites, whispered about in quiet conversations. I can see their history but nothing replaces an in person meeting, or at least a chance to see them speak. That became perfectly clear to me at Backspace where I had more than one image completely shattered and a few others built from scratch to something terrific. I'll work within the parameters of the industry, but I do believe the writer bears more risk, at least at the start of the process of finding an agent.

I know that agents can take on writers and discover they have a horror show on their hands too. It just all seems so "blind date'ish" to me, no matter how much homework I do.

I still love the process though and feel a thrill every time I send a query. Seeing a SASE? Not so much! :)

(Should I duck and cover now?)

KIM

Melanie Lynne Hauser said...

Exactly my point, Anonymous - you won't know who your "dream agent" is until you're in the position to start talking with agents. And usually that doesn't happen until you have an offer of representation, and you start talking to all the agents currently reading your manuscript. To define this dream agent prior to this seems shortsighted to me, possibly blinding yourself to the excellent qualities of an agent not on that dream list. Plus, you know - you never truly know what the relationship is going to be until you've been in it for a while (just like any relationship). Some authors have had to kiss an ugly frog or two they found the dreamy handsome prince of an agent.

Anonymous said...

As far as a Dream Agent dropping you or losing interest if your book isn't an immediate breakout, I've found this to be the case with non-Dream Agents as well.

To me, it's always been a "What have you done for me lately" relationship. So you may as well go for your dream.

If you're good enough to get an offer from Philip Roth's agent, say, you can at least feel good about that for the rest of your life, even if your book sells two hundred copies.

I mean, you have several other sources of income, right?

Another thing I've found when reading agents' lists of writers they represent: there are an awful lot of writers I've never heard of. Whenever I try to match an agent with one of my favorite current books, it's invariably a biggie.

GutterBall said...

Miss Snark does roller derby? Wow.

Anonymous said...

"But I know too many authors who have found themselves wondering where the love has gone when the book hasn't sold, or isn't a big success. "

This is so, so true. Dream Agents are exactly that -- a dream. So many writers are afflicted with a kind of "Cinderella complex." If they get their dream agent, he will make all their dreams come true.

Hate to tell you, but those big guys are ruthless. They're in this to make a living, not only for the art of it. If a writer doesn't produce, you might not be dropped, but you ain't the flavor of the month, either, and it might be a long wait for your phone calls and e-mails to be answered.

Miss Snark nailed it when she said it has to be the right agent for you. That may not be the same agent who handles John Grisham or Janet Evanovich, or Nora Roberts.

WitLiz Today said...

So you sacrifice personal integrity, not to mention piss off half the agenting world because, dognabbit this is an eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth kinda world. And by golly I gotta look out for numero uno.

We may well be living in this kind of world. But that doesn't mean you should join the carnival.

There are immutable laws of decent human behavior that every person should be intimately acquainted with and abide by. And you don't base adherence to these laws on whether Agent Johnny, Editor Mikey, or Publisher Stan abides by them.

You adhere to these laws because you know it will in the end make you a better person, a better writer, and a better mentor.

And the people around you, whether they are family, friends or members of the publishing world, will want to be around you, will want you to succeed because they like you, and not because you are a commercial hit waiting to happen.

Yes, there will always be people around willing to exploit your talent for their personal gain, but the solution to that is clear; stay away from them and don't become them.



"There was a time when a fool and his money were soon parted. But now it happens to everyone." Adlai Stevenson

Anonymous said...

Aha, I wasn't talking "big" agency when I spoke of "dream" agent. The agency I was thinking of is actually a small, successful agency and seemed to me to be a good match for my work, but obviously not to her. Well, I can dream, can't I?

Robin L. said...

The problem with the coca cola analogy is supply and demand. If there are lots of people looking for jobs, Coca Cola can chose whoever they want. If it's a crazy market like it was in high tech a few years ago, employers will hire anyone with a pulse that thinks they might be able to do the job.

Agents have a wealth of manuscripts and offers to choose from so the balance of power swings their way. Unless you have a sure sale to bring to the table ie Janet needs a new agent...

Nick said...

They're only a dream agent after they've secured the six-figure advance.

-Nick

Anonymous said...

Existential Man's comment is making me think that he believes agents are dogs-in-the-manger. I mean, here we have Dream Agent, who has said "no thanks" to the ms, presumably because he didn't like it enough to represent it passionately, or he didn't think it would make money. Fair enough. Then non-Dream Agent comes along and says "yes. I like it." Why should the fact that non-Dream Agent liked it and wants it have any bearing on Dream Agent? Is he supposed to snap it up just so the other guy can't have it? Somehow, I think not.

shelby said...

If you've already chosen the agent you want to be represented by, then why are you querying other agents? If you know that you're not going to accept any other offer unless you get a 100% no from Dream Agent, then shouldn't you pursue Dream Agent until you get that 100% no, and then query other agents. Otherwise you're just wasting people's time.

I think the real question to Miss Snark here is if you've rejected a partial and that author comes back to you and says they've revised and gotten an offer on it, is that going to motivate you to read the full ms and compete for the project? (I'm asking this in earnestness)

Miss Snark said...

If I've read a partial and said no, I'm not going to say oh sure send it again. I'm REALLy not going to say so if you've got an offer from someone else.

Mostly when I hear "someone else is interested" I'm relieved I don't have to feel bad for saying no to you if it was a project with merit.

And of course I'm never going to take on a project that I didn't think had merit, even if Binky, Kinky, Slinky and Meow think it's the cat pjs.

Anonymous said...

hey witliz, why the moral sermon?
calling it a dog eat dog business doesn't mean volating moral code.
I think you may have missed the point--agents at all levels of the food chain drop clients without so much as a phone call--they just call it "business." What is the crime for a writer to try and secure representation by the best agent she can find? There is nothing unethical or immoral about putting off an agent who wants to represent you until you find out if someone you like better is interested.

Ex-man's point was that this is just business. You're not looking for your best friend.

Yes, the well-known big-shots will definitely drop you (by e-mail, no less) fast and with little or no real explanation. Having been represented by some of the biggest "names" in the business, I've had it happen more than once. But I still think these top-tier agents will have more clout when it comes to deal terms and their influence on editors.

To answer the question post by anon: "Why should non-dream agent's acceptance have any bearing on dream agent?" Because all agents are affected by the thinking of all other agents, especially those in the same ballpark. A "yes" by another agent after one's work has been revised may very well be enough to get dream agent to look at it again.

I can only tell you that the more agents I had in line wanting to represent a project, the more top agents stepped forward to want to see it when they were appraised of this fact. The circumstances were not the same in having had someone say no and then coming back to them. But what I learned was that the taste and judgement of one's coleagues is paid attention to and may work to sanction or disconfirm one's own judgement.

So, for example, If 6 agents want your action, you can go to Binky and ask her to take a look and you are more likely to get her attention. Very simple.

Melanie makes a good point about how we define "dream" agents without really knowing them. But it is not difficult to do your research, talk to others, read sales records, etc, and get a good idea of those whose longevity and sales put them at the top of the heap. Whether you are compatible with them personality-wise is a different issue.

Elektra said...

Witliz, we've gotten the point already. You are morally superior to everone else here. And possibly everyone else in the world, too. Mother Theresa could have learned a thing or two from you.

Stop telling us. We get it.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to know the outcome should the author of this question go back to his/her 'dream agent'with the revised version. Should this person ever get back to you with an update Miss Snark, please let us know what happened.

Minty Fresh

Kiskadee said...

In my first round of querying, starting at the very top, three "dream agents" - ie, power agents - requested fulls or partials - and rejected them.

Several other top agents had fulls and partials, but were taking their time. So, after a couple of revisions, I started on my second round of querying: again, big agents and agencies. Among these was a young agent at a top agency who sounded just right, She requested the ms on the same day as a William Morris top dog; in fact, THE WMA top dog here in the UK.

Young agent got back to after a week: she loved it, and she wanted to rep me. We spoke for some time about the ms and I realised that here was someone who was rooting for me all the way. Who "knew" my story almost as well as I did.

But then again, there was that WMA agent - surely, surely I couldn't let that chance drift by?

Finally, I let my heart speak. I said yes to the offer.

A few weeks down the road, I haven't regretted it. This young agent has made me revise the ms twice, and her suggestions and requests were so totally on the mark, her care and nourishment of me so wonderful, that I just know I am in the best hands.

Anonymous said...

Who wants an agent who will take you on only if someone else has made an offer?

That agent doesn't like your voice, or your work. Just the possibility of a quick sale.

You have, in effect, used other agents as readers for this "super" agent for no other reason except to get a reason to go back to someone who told you no.

Kinda like the difference between marriage and a hot sheet motel tryst. Hmm. You kinda deserve each other.

It's a small literary world.

Anonymous said...

yes, agent marriage-affair analogy is a good
one: http://www.bksp.org/secondarypages/hendlin/007.htm

Anonymous said...

Gads, all this talk about wanting this "Dream Agent" over another is depressing. I'd just like to have a reputable agent say yes. I let life take precedence over my dream for years. Now that I have time and space for me, all I get are "No thanks, this doesn't excite me."