11.02.2006

Rookie agents

Hi Miss Snark,

How do you know whether to put your faith in an up-and-coming agent? For example, you have a link to Jenny Rappaport on your blog, so you must think she is a good agent. (Actually it means I think she has a good blog-I don't actually know her yet)

Obtaining representation by a young agent could be easier than with most, given the fact they're keen to build their client list. But how is one to know whether they will turn out to be stellar... or mediocre?


First, Jenny Rappaport works for the L.Perkins agency. She's not standing in a phone booth in Dragoon Arizona madly dialing the 212.

I have no idea if she'll turn out to be a boon or a loon. I know I like what she says on her blog.

However, your question really is: how can I tell if someone without a track record is someone I want to sign with. Much like the question below:



Hi Miss Snark,

Thank you for your website. It is very informative. I recently submitted my manuscript to an agent out of Florida and have been in correspondence with this person via email only. This agent then sent me a contract for me to sign and I asked for this agent's office phone number as I have never spoken to her on the phone. This agent responded by stating that she does NOT like to give out her number.

Should I be cautious and worried that an agent wants me to sign a contract yet won't give me her office phone number? I personally find this very strange. We are in different States so I cannot show up at the address that she provided for me.

I have googled her and have not found much on her or any sales that she may have made nor details on her agency.

Thank you so very much for your advice


You're both asking about agents (different ones in case you're reading this before you've had coffee) who don't have much of a track record. Here's how to get a bead on whether you should take some risk by signing with a person who doesn't have much to answer for "what have you sold"?

1. The agency has a web presence at Publishers Marketplace. Not just their own site (hottalkagency.comma) but a separate listing at PM. No site, no dice. The reason this is crucial is cause that's one of the ways to get your name out to editors, and editors look at that before they call you back if you're cold calling them. Trust me. They do.


2. The person, if embarking on a career, has some sort of confidence inducing background in publishing. This is where "I work at L.Perkins agency" comes in.

This is where you flee like the furies from someone who has never worked in publishing, and "just wants to help people". People who want to "help" should donate money to their library.


3. My phone number is on my website, it's on Publishers Marketplace, and surprise surprise, it's listed in the damn phone book. I don't want you to call me if you're querying, but if I'm signing you up, it's an ENTIRELY different matter. Clients have carte blanche until they prove annoying. Then they still have it. An agent who won't give a client her phone number is a HUGE RED FLAG.

If you have any doubts about a person's ability to represent your work well because they are new to the game here's what to ask: which editors and which houses would be good fit for this and why. I can't cough up that list in five seconds but I can in five minutes if I'm staring at my data base of 2000 names. ANY agent who is actively working can do this.

You are not a begger at the banquet of books. Don't confuse "yay someone likes my work" and "yay it's not my mom" with "yes, I'll sign with you".

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am in a similar situation where I have found a local agent willing to represent me, but she has little track record as she just opened. Where I live you don't really have the option of working your way up through the ranks of an acredited agency. She has made one bonafide sale (open a little under a year) and willing to copyedit with no fees to ensure quality.

What did I do? I arranged a meeting. We interviewed each other. I figured she might have the time and she did. I would assume that an agent just starting might we willing to do this for you too. We have a good rapport and I might sign with her. Still - she wouldn't be my first choice.

Ryan Field said...

Blogging has certainly helped writers with questions about new agents. Jenny Rappaport, for example, writes such descriptive, honest posts writers can at least get a feeling about her professionally and personally. A good feeling.

Essay Geek said...

I signed with a new agent earlier this year after having done my homework on her, and two (non-fiction) sales later I can tell you it was the smartest thing I have ever done for my career.

Small agencies are not for everyone, but I just wanted to say that new doesn't always equal nitwit. And of course, I was allowed to have her phone number...

~Nancy said...

To the 2nd letter writer:

Listen to what Miss Snark is telling you. If this agent falls short in any of the ways Miss Snark is telling you - run away.

And do some checking up on the agent, too. Check the Absolute Write Water Cooler in the Beware and Backgrounds Check area. Go to Preditors and Editors. Go to Writer Beware (and the Writer Beware blog); heck, you can even email Victoria Strauss directly to see if she has any complaints on file about this agent.

Don't be afraid to ask questions. It's in the writer's best interest to be as well informed about the publishing industry as possible before signing any contract.

Good luck!

~JerseyGirl

pjm said...

"I have googled her and have not found much on her or any sales that she may have made nor details on her agency."

Then why did the original poster query her? I'm seeing so many posts similar to this. "I did some research after I sent my query." "It wasn't until after he asked for a partial that I googled him." "I realized later that she doesn't rep my genre."

How the hell do you expect to find a match without doing research? Sheesh. Do the friggin' research first, then send the query. Quit wasting people's time.

writtenwyrdd said...

I read the second question and couldn't help equating it with the suspicious boyfriend who insists one never call him at home... ever. Gee, that's not suspicious or anything...

Thanks for another helpful post, MS.

cudd said...

I really wonder what the publishing world would be like without you, Miss Snark. I wonder how many hundreds of fledgling authors struggling to succeed you've helped.

Your blog half makes me wish I were an agent just so I'd be in the position to help people too, :)

Instead I'm studying how to help people manage their assets and taxes, blech.

Thanks again for being an inspiration and guide for us all, Miss Snark!

Richard White said...

Florida Agent
Only works via E-mail
won't give our phone number?

Sounds like one of the Literary Agency Group clan (New York Literary Agency, Children's Literary Agency, etc. etc. etc.), otherwise known as Bouncin' Bobby Fletcher's nest of scam agencies.

HIGHLY, HIGHLY recommend running this one past either Writer Beware, Preditors and Editors or the Bewares and Background Checks forum on the Absolute Write.

To quote an old movie - "I have a bad feeling about this . . . "

Anonymous said...

Smells like a scam. You might want to pay dues to the National Writers Union to get access to their members only info on contracts. They can also look at that one she sent you and help you understand the concequences of various clauses.

Anonymous said...

I know writers who are submitting to a new agent who according to my google search ran a defunct gift shop on the internet and sued her cable company. Nice website, but a litte too chearleader for my taste and work (crime.) No background in publishing. I hate to see people lose time by going with the first person to ask for a full.



Great post

Anonymous said...

Hi Anonymous #1. I'm the writer of the first letter to Miss Snark. I appreciate your advice about setting up a personal meeting with the agent. You mention you live in an isolated place, but my guess would be you still live somewhere in the US? Consider my situation, residing in a small South Pacific nation... I have to cross continents to get anywhere near a literary agency. Email, and maybe phone if I'm awake at odd hours, are my only options for conversing with agents.

Anonymous said...

I've checked Publishers Marketplace, and neither Ms Rappaport nor Ms Perkins, nor the L.Perkins agency appears in the listings. Red flag?

Miss Snark said...

Media Bistro on June 20, 2006 "Lori Perkins started out as a journalist working at Savvy magazine, ran a community newspaper in Washington Heights, and has worked as a literary agent for 18 years. She has written four books—including The Insider's Guide to Getting an Agent, The Cheapskate's Guide to Entertaining, and, most recently, she co-edited The MILF Anthology"


Try not to be a nitwit anonymous. I said this applied to agents starting out.

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark, what do you know about Book Cents Literary Agency?

magz said...

Ahem. FYI, there are NO phone booths in Dragoon, AZ.
Truth. The Pony Express did pass thru about 2 weeks ago..

Brady Westwater said...

Alas! The Pony Express was supposed to pass through Dragooon, AZ, but becasue of the lack of business, it now by passes Dragoon in favor of Winslow, Arizona. All that is left now is bi-weekly ox cart service.

LadyBronco said...

I shudder at the nit-wittery I see in so many letters your snarklings have written, Miss Snark. I couldn't imagine entrusting my creation to anyone I have not checked out thoroughly, and that was BEFORE I found your blog. I only hope that the folks who ask you for advice are going to follow it. I sure as hell will.

BuffySquirrel said...

I had a quick look at Book Cents Literary. They say they don't charge fees, which is good, and they say they adhere to AAR guidelines, which is also good, but none of the people involved seem to have any background in publishing, which is not so good.

Parts of their bios read to me like the ones authors prepare to try to distract agents from their lack of credits.

I think it's too soon to know how this agency will work out.

Diana Peterfreund said...

I don't think it's necessary to meet an agent in person before signing. A record of sales to royalty paying publishers (especially at houses which publish the type of book you write), a careful review of the proferred contract (or terms if a "handshake" agent), and a phone conversation or two to get a feeling for how they plan to market your work and what their deal is should be plenty.

If I were volunteering to be an agent's first client, it would be qualified by soemthing resembling "first client at her own agency," "first client since she retired from her post as [seniorish] editor of [large publishing imprint] to start her agency," or "first client of her own with the support of her boss, the senior agent." But that's me...other people are braver.

Anonymous said...

Winslow, Arizona was put on the map by a girl in a flatbed Ford. Take It Easy ;-)

McKoala said...

Agent blogs are great. I've found a few agents that I'm champing at the bit to submit to. And a few that I wouldn't touch with a bargepole, because they would drive me nuts, and I would probably drive them nuts too.

Anonymous said...

Don't rely strictly on Publisher's Marketplace/has a website (Yes, Miss Snark, I know you said this applies to rookie agent.)

Case in point: Charlotte Gusay has just updated on PM, yet is listed as "Not Recommended" on Preditors/Editors because she charges a fee.

I always check out an agent on P & E before I add them to my "Hopeful List." Once in a while, a very new agent isn't listed on P & E, but their agency is.

P & E Website: www.anotherrealm.com/preditors/pubagent.htm

Dave - chime in if I'm wrong, please.

BradyDale said...

So am I insane if I feel like I would be perfectly content to let some nice librarian in Little Rock call madly all over New York for the book I just finished?

I tried to get an ex-girlfriend to take up agenting once during a break from law school.

Hmm... I guess that's non-strategic?