1.24.2007

Suck it up, thanks for asking

Dear Miss Snark,

I just received another rejection. Nothing novel about that (get it? novel?). This gal said no thanks, not because my writing is abysmal (a distinct possibility), but rather because she's taking a new direction with the agency, and therefore not taking on any new clients.

Well, fine. I wish her all the luck in the world selling vintage Beanie Babies or whatever it is she's gonna do. I got curious and hopped on her web site, and out there she's still open for business. Send me submissions! Here's what I represent! Blah blah blah.

This happens quite a lot actually, where an agent has a web site saying one thing, and then the letter in the SASE says something quite different. I honestly believe if agents actually ran their businesses like businesses, and updated their web sites when things change, they wouldn't get nearly as many mismatched queries. Plus it would save us wannabes some coinage on copying costs and postage.

I'm not sure there's even a question in here anywhere, so maybe I better ask one. How are you today?



Well, I'm just fine and dandy.
Now, this will come as a major shock to you I know, so please sit down and extinguish your eyebrows before reading on.

Ready?

Really ready?


Agency websites aren't a top priority with most agents.

A spiffy website, updated hourly, is lots of fun but it doesn't actually improve the quality of the queries we get. It may reduce the number but you'd have to cut my queries in half...well, more like 75% to even start to equal the amount of time it takes to update a website. Now before you spit and snarl, and huff and puff, let's all just remember most agents aren't updating their own sites. They're paying someone, OR they are having their kid/SO/hot guy across the hall do it. Most agents are not the savvy techno geeks out there that you all are. Miss Snark among them sad to say.

I understand the frustration of the website saying one thing and the form letter another. Dog knows I get that kind of crapola myself.

We have to chalk this one up to "just the way it is" suck it up and slither on.

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

MS: "Agency websites aren't a top priority with most agents."

I am shocked. Truly shocked.

If a web site is not an agent's top priority and they aren't available for lunch and they don't like glitter in query envelopes and the Crap-thingy is closed, then...

WHAT DO AGENTS DO ALL DAY?

I can only holf my breath so long, so please reply soon.

Paul said...

The possibility, of course, is that particular agent was, you know...being polite.

Agent Query said...

So, is Agent Query any more up-to-date than agents' Web sites?

An example: Jenny Bent's Web site says that she is not accepting "unsolicited submissions", but her page on Agent Query says she "accepts queries".

What should I go by?

snarkling #318 said...

*chortles at "extinguish your eyebrows"*

Linda said...

Spoken by someone who doesn't have a Web site.

My last company (computers) had a horribly outdated site that stayed like that for YEARS because it simply wasn't a priority for them. There were a lot of other things that were more important. They only changed it after they lost a contract because of it.

Another one stayed--also years--out of date because content that needed to be updated had be written by someone, run through someone else, approved by someone, and everyone was alwasy too busy with other things to spend the time updating their content. That site had a full time Web site designer, and he could never get anyone to pay enough attention to it. Eventually, they got enough complaints that they replaced the site with a page saying they were going to update the content soon. That's still up there, and it's been another year or two...

My writing organization still has up an advertisement for a workshop two months ago. It costs them a lot of money to get each page updated, so they wait until they have multiple needs and then do it. So the site is often out of date just because of that. If the agents are paying to have it done, they may even fall into this particular problem.

I have my own two Web sites. One of them is definitley out of date, but it'll take me at least an hour to fix something that looks simple to the outside world but is very time consuming. So I'll get to it when I get to it ...

Demented M said...

This is a great example of the double standard I often see with agents and clients.

Agents; "Writers must be professional"

Writers: "Okay, but why aren't you?"

Agents; "Becasue we're _busy_."

Writers: "And no one else is?"

Sorry. Websites are a part of running a professional business. Not keeping up just reflects a shoddy business plan with poor follow through. With the internet and agent blogs, the agent 'brand' has been born. It helps the agent make money and helps their clients sell books so if the online branding is substandard...

I've dealt with enough agents now that I would say their websites often reflect their sense of professionalism. They may not think so, but as an outsider looking in, I see a connection.

M

Kate Epstein said...

Your faith in the writing community is touching but my website is up to date and pretty thorough on the score of what I'm looking for and I get a query for a novel at least once a day. (And yes, it's the SO updating it.) I don't do fiction, it's loud and clear.

All the more reason for agents not to update their websites--it doesn't help.

Maya Reynolds said...

I'm wondering if 2007 is bringing us a kinder, gentler Snark.

My initial reaction to the post was that the agent in question was letting the writer down gently.

Miss Snark said...

Kinder?
Gentler?
Miss Snark will be sending you slings and arrows of outrageous Fortune, and soon!!!!

Anonymous said...

Surely this is just a form rejection? If they told you your writing sucked you'd only email them to argue about it.

Zany Mom said...

I have a professional website. I know nothing about writing code or running a website. Rather than pay thousands for someone else to do it, I'm fortunate in that, in my line of work, there's a web company that caters to web-morons like me. Basically, a website template. Choose the layout/color (from gazillions of choices). Insert text here. Pictures here. Choose page layout here. Point and click.

I type the content. I upload the pics. I can change the website in under 5 minutes if needed. It's that easy and I maintain control.

Employee quits? Insta-delete from staff listings. Hours change? Insta-update. Love it.

There should be a company who does this for other professions, I'd assume (but then that makes me an ass....)

Ryan Field said...

Agency web sites haven't been top priority for agents for all the reasons Miss Snark mentioned, and they've been forgiven. But that won't last for long. Barnes and Noble didn't "take over" by slacking off with an obsolete web site.

igu ie said...

Not a very convincing argument, Miss Snark.

Some reasonable proportion of us queriers are savvy enough to check Web sites. If that proportion is even 10%, then that's 10% fewer queries the agent receives.

It takes five minutes to update a Web site. Surely reducing time spent on replying to unwanted queries is worth spending a few minutes up front?

Diana Peterfreund said...

I know an agent who likes to fire his unsuccessful clients saying that he wasn't handling that kind of work anymore. But he was still signing up new clients for that kind of work and etc. What a jerk that guy is.

My advice? No means no. You're now wiser and 74 cents poorer.

"Agent Query": Unsolicited submissions are different than queries. The former means manuscripts. The latter means a letter.

Demented m, a website is a bonus. Most agents don't have them, including a lot of the biggest. (And this is because a lot of the biggest aren't looking for clients at all.) The "agent brand" is not for the public, or even for writers. It's for publishers, and most of them aren't checking out agent websites before they look at the work the agency sends.

Anonymous said...

If you only update your website every few years because it's so terribly difficult, costly, and expensive, your real problem is that you're a hostage of some obsolete electronic monster and its hideous software children. This is your clue that the time has come to burn your old computer and go find something that runs OS X.

Anonymous said...

Having an out-of-date website is like making a speech with spinach between your teeth. You would be better off with no website at all.

Far too many businesses rush into have a website created without ever thinking about how they are going to maintain the darn thing.

Really, small content changes that don't affect the overall layout are something everyone ought to be able to do for themselves. There is plenty of software available that is no harder to use than a wordprocessor. There was a time--not so long ago--when many professionals thought they didn't need to learn that, either.

That said, however, I do think any business that's too small to have a web designer on staff deserves a couple of weeks grace in getting their website updated. It's always possible the OP was unlucky enough to run into that situation.

Just Me said...

Hmmm, is it just me or does the advice "learn as much as you can about your potential agent" run aground with the agent saying "I can't be bothered to keep you informed"?

If the second thing a good agent does when reading a submission is Google the author to check them out for savvy and track record, why is an outdated or shabby site an asset for an agent?

Just wondering.

Anonymous said...

This is an issue that pisses me off more than anything else in the whole query process. When the Writer's Market contradicts the Agent Query contradicts the agent's website, we're stuck making a choice. Then agents scream about being sent things they don't represent, and it makes me want to tear my hair out.

Conduit said...

When I'm not trying to kid myself that I have writing talent I'm a partner in a moderately successful web design business. We deal mostly with clients from one very specialised industry that has a very low level of computer literacy, and like most people who run businesses, they tend to be very short on time.

So, one of the main things we provide (as does any web design company worth its salt) is a quick and easy means of updating your own website. Ten minutes training and you can add news, change products, remove staff - and, if you were a literary agency, you could show whether or not you were taking submissions, and your current turnaround time for dealing with queries. And you could do it in less time than it takes to have a coffee break.

Mind you, I have to agree with some other commenters here - it does sound like the agent was being nice.

Anonymous said...

I dunno. "This gal" and "I wish her all the luck in the world selling vintage Beanie Babies or whatever" sounds sorta condescending to me.

If he approaches the female characters in his writing with the same mindset, he's lucky that the agent was so polite.

Good luck with your Beanie Babies. I'm gonna serialize my novel in Collier's and after that head down to the drug store for a phosphate and a shave.

Demented M said...

Diana:

I find your comments interesting considering your agent is one of the frontrunners when it comes to online branding. In fact, I think what they've done online is fantastic and very avant-garde with a lot of reader and writer focused initiatives. They understand how to leverage the internet to their advantage.

In my opinion and experience, the viewpoint that agent websites don't matter is a narrow one.

I also disagree that agent branding is not for writers. New clients mean new money, and I've bought many a book based on an agent's recommendation. What people do online matters. When you are trying to sell something, maintaining a professional image in public is just good business sense.

But I am not saying that agents should have websites, only that if they do, they need to pay attention to the requirements of the medium.

Either way, as Just Me said "does the advice "learn as much as you can about your potential agent" run aground with the agent saying "I can't be bothered to keep you informed"?" That's the kind of mixed messages we writers hear all the time, and not updating a website is an extension of that doubletalk.

If you're going to set up a website, then do it and do it right. Don't complain about how much time it takes. It is not that hard. How many professional writers work a day job, cook for their families, write, AND maintain high quality websites? A lot. If they can do it, anyone can.

M

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering if the internet in all its form is providing too much information and advice for wannabe writers now. Is it just getting way confusing and likely to frustrate as you spend time chasing your tail round the net trying to get it right.

I sent a query to an agent who is very into her 'net' profile and online subs. I got asked for pages which I sent and received a very quick no thanks. Fair enough but then said agent announces on her blog that she has read any pages for a couple of weeks, and so clearly did not see mine. She also announces on her blog a few days later that she is actively looking for things away from romance towards things that might appeal to both genders (which mine was). So how bad do I feel. I know, clearly it wasn't good enough to get by the PA, but still...

SAND STORM said...

Another double standard. I can cover a wall with sites that say they accept Thrillers only to receive a email back saying sorry we used too!Then I get "just by woman writers" or "just legal thrillers" or "some but not terrorist thrillers" or or or. It would be nice if the websites, blogs, books, etc. were updated occasionally for those of us who are schlepping an MS to the Gods.

Anonymous said...

I had this discussion the other day. Before the internet, there were snail mail queries. That was it. People dealt with it.

Now, there's a sense of entitlement that goes way beyond what one should expect from approaching any business. An agent should do this or that according to the writer's desires.

Bollocks! A query to an agency is asking them(a business) to take a look(at your product), say yes or no. Nothing more.

The amount of time some writers expect, the amount of free work some writers expect, is bizarre.

A website is basically an ad, like in the yellow pages that says the agency is there doing business. Some websites are fancy, some not. Some are glitzy, some plain ugly. They all serve the same purpose. But you kind of get my drift. Like with doctors in the yellow pages, those with a big presence might need the business more than the ones who don't advertise.

You want more info, e-mail or write. Stop bitching, grow up and get over yourselves. No one owes you anything. You have to earn an agent's attention with your writing.

ndxptxe said...

I think the problem here is that there are two different patterns of website usage.

The first uses the website like an office bulletin board, in that serves some function within the business.
Information on it changes regularly, so important changes probably are made in a timely manner.
("Softball practice is moved from 1 to 2, bring beer.
Oh, and here's my new number.")

The second uses the website as the equivalent of a yellow pages ad.
Someone looking for the company on-line will pull it up.
It has minimal, static information.
In this case, the owner has no reason to look at it, and mostly doesn't think about it.
Eventually, when there is nothing more important screaming for attention, someone will remember to update it.
("Oh yeah. We moved.")

Should an agent make sure their website is up-to-date?
Sure, but it's probably further down on the to-do list than you'd expect.

EGP said...

At the risk of sounding like a hopeless sycophant (hmm, that's redundent), I'd say Miss Snark's response was pretty on point. It's just the way it is.

I feel for the people that want to pull there hair out because they see conflicting or inadequate information. But let it go and if you are in doubt, send the query. The worst that can happen is that you will become an anonymous complain in an agent's blog. Ok, I guess maybe the worst would be if the agent told all her fellow agents to avoid you. But I honestly doubt that would be the usual result of sending a query when it is somewhat out of genre or the agent is not accepting quries.

I will soon be querying for a thriller, and I can't tell you how many agents' list themselves as wanting thrillers but have nothing resembling my book on their list of titles. Wikipedia lists 12 sub-genres of thriller, some of which are broken down even further.

I intend to keep researching, googling, and narrowing down the list to the most appropriate agents based on what I can find. If there truly isn't enough information out there for me to decide about a given agent, then two things will happen:

1.I won't include the agent on my initial list of most desired agents

2.In the extremely unlikely event that all of my initial queries don't cause the agents in question to swoon in ecstasy, I will have no qualms about sending a query to agents who simply did not provide enough information.


It may be somewhat accurate to say that an agent with an inaccurate web site is asking for professionalism but not offering it. But it is pointless to get upset about it. To quote Don Henley, ". . .an angry man can only get so far, until he reconciles the way he thinks things ought to be, with the way things are."

Diana Peterfreund said...

Demented m, I think my agent and her website are great. The agency is also a growing one that accepts new clients. (It's also an agency that has staff to maintain the website and other public relations.) I love that they do that. But I understand also that not everyone does.

Many agencies have a different business plan entirely. Their lists are closed, or they only accept clients through recommendations from publishers or other clients. They don't want new money, or if they do, they already have non-website related sources from which to get it.

Have you seen the ICM website? They don't list submission guidelines at all, and I don't think their business is hurting as a result.

And some are small shops with limited hours and staff, or are used to sending business updates to Writer's Market once a year, and may update their website with that information at the same time.

I think what ndxptxe said is very valid. A lot of time, an agent isn't using a website as anything more than a listing.

I know it's frustrating to have different answers from different sources. Writer's Market says one thing, Agent Query says another, etc. etc. I was frustrated by that when I queried agents. If I didn't see a uniform direction, I included a line in the query to the point of, "As per the instructions on your website [Writer's Market/Agent Query /etc.], I've enclosed the first five pages [the first three chapters/etc.]" That way, they knew I wasn't just pulling it out of thin air, and that I was trying to follow directions. (Also, they could track down, perhaps, where the wrong info had gotten out.) Agents know bad info can get out there, and I think they appreciate knowing that you tried. I think some of the frustration that publishing people display is not meant for people who try but get confused, but instead for those people who are pulling a fast one.

Anonymous said...

Writers Market and other commercial guides are only updated once a year on a voluntary basis. I'm sure a lot of agencies don't bother to update their entry there, either. Also, things change during the course of a year, and agencies might change their policies, too. Take different sorts of clients on, different kinds of books. One thing publishing isn't is static. By the time you hear about a trend it's over.

Recommendations are the best way to go. If you can't get a recommendation from a current client, then get the agent's name from the acknowlegments pages of a book similar to the sort your write.

A query letter with an SASE is not offensive, even if an agent isn't taking on clients.

Anonymous said...

I think this has less to do with "the website's out of date" and more to do with the language people use to turn others down. In this case "taking the agency in a new direction" sounds a lot like the standard "not taking many new clients right now."

In other words, "It's not you--it's me."

Taking the agency in a new direction=taking it in the direction you're not.
Not taking many new clients right now=taking only a few great people and sorry, you didn't make the cut.
It's not you, it's me=It's not your fault I find you repulsive.

So she turned you town for the prom, saying she probably wasn't going anyway, then you see her there on the arm of another guy. She just didn't want to break your heart. Search on.

katiesandwich said...

Before the internet, there were snail mail queries. That was it. People dealt with it.

This is true. I understand the frustration; we've grown so accustomed to having all this information at our fingertips that we're spoiled. But just as authors have other priorities and the website sometimes gets pushed to the bottom of the list, agents--and people in oh, so many other industries--are the same. Ultimately, if I find that an agent is supposed to represent my genre and is a legitimate agent, I won't knock him or her off my to-query list. Granted, the ones I can get more information about are a bigger priority, because I have a better idea of what they're looking for, so it's not a shot in the dark. But I consider this a luxury, and I'm grateful for it.

That being said, the JABberwocky website (www.awfulagent.com) is awesome and gets updated by one of the two agents there (Steve Mancino, who is SOOO getting a query from me) pretty regularly. Just in case anyone's interested in checking it out.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
"I sent a query to an agent who is very into her 'net' profile and online subs. I got asked for pages which I sent and received a very quick no thanks. Fair enough but then said agent announces on her blog that she hasn't read any pages for a couple of weeks, and so clearly did not see mine. She also announces on her blog a few days later that she is actively looking for things away from romance towards things that might appeal to both genders (which mine was). So how bad do I feel. I know, clearly it wasn't good enough to get by the PA, but still..."

Anon, I can't stress enough that you shouldn't feel bad about this. This agent (I think I know who you're talking about)is trying hard to be a player in a difficult business and often says things a seasoned agent wouldn't dare mention. At dinner the other night I was with a long standing NY agent and when I mentioned the agent you're talking about in passing he'd never even heard the name. Enough said. I hope you feel better now.

Mark said...

I run one of these blogs and have for over three years. It's not that difficult.

"Have you seen the ICM website?"

Yup. And William Morris. They don't want just any old body showing up because of a website beckoning "come on down." CAA either. Still, some of their agents allow queries personally. Hollywood is worse where the aforementioned are the top. These are exlusive referral outfits where newbies rarely go unless summoned.

Lesser agencies have extensive website submissions. There're a lot of these according to my records, so the idea of a website per se isn't out of the question these days by a long shot.

Anonymous said...

Diana Peterfreund wrote: "I know an agent who likes to fire his unsuccessful clients saying that he wasn't handling that kind of work anymore. But he was still signing up new clients for that kind of work and etc. What a jerk that guy is."

Eh, what? Jerk? Why would anyone be a jerk for getting rid of people whose stuff does not sell? That is called business, is it not?

Ryan Field said...

Anonymous said...
Diana Peterfreund wrote: "I know an agent who likes to fire his unsuccessful clients saying that he wasn't handling that kind of work anymore. But he was still signing up new clients for that kind of work and etc. What a jerk that guy is."

Eh, what? Jerk? Why would anyone be a jerk for getting rid of people whose stuff does not sell? That is called business, is it not?

1/25/2007

Diana...I agree; he's a jerk!

This is a subjective business and treating clients in a shabby manner like that never works in the end.

Diana Peterfreund said...

The problem isn't the firing. It's the lying. What's so wrong with, "This isn't working out-- for either of us-- and we need to go our separate ways?"

Anonymous said...

There's nothing wrong with telling the truth. But writers are so desparate that sometimes they will hang on just to have an agent. Doesn't matter that the agent can't sell their work. Losing representation is the loss of validation.
Not to say in a perfect world we shouldn't be totally up front with people, but in the writing world a lot of times people don't want the truth. Don't forget this is the world where desparate writers hang on to the wording in a form letter, trying to figure out how "not right for us now" is an encouragement.
This is not a warm and fuzzy world. We will not all make it. And that's life.