3.11.2007

Pitch THIS

Bon jour, Miss Snark!

You recently said, "This is going to be a VERY hard sell to an agent. Unless your agent called it a romance when it was a Western, it's going to be really hard to find someone to take this on."

Is it customary to discuss with an agent HOW they're going to pitch a book? I had a friend who learned her agent was pitching her project as a middle grade book when, really, it was a teen book (due to subject content). She wasn't very happy (the book never sold). Should she have trusted the agent's vision of the book or should she have corrected the agent's pitch?


The day my clients start "correcting my pitch" is 30 days before they get a new agent, and I'll be happy to waive that by fedexing a release this very day.

My clients have a hard enough time picking the correct category for their novels without trying to figure out how to pitch it. Fortunately we have a division of labor here that works well: they write wonderful books, and I figure out how to sell them.

The reason I'm waving my arms in the air and howling about this is cause 99% of the authors I know do NOT know how to position or pitch a book to an editor. Your friend is a CLASSIC example. YA and middle grade do NOT divide based first on subject matter. First it's vocabulary, sentence structure and tone. You can have middle grade books with very difficult subject matter but not written with YA vocabulary. And you can't sell middle grade vocabulary to the YA market.

My comment about romances and westerns was mostly for illustration. I've had some clients with oddly checkered submission patterns and taken them on cause I thought the book could be pitched in a new way. I've done this only twice, and both were as favors for long standing well established industry friends/colleagues. If these exact same books came over the transom I would have said no. Neither sold on my pitch either.

I've also repositioned novels after a round of rejections but that's mostly calling something a thriller rather than a horror novel to expand the pool.

21 comments:

Kimber An said...

If I am ever blessed with an agent, I will be more than happy to have her figure this one out for me. An agent's job is not one I envy. You go, Queen Snark.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I have a sincere question--are reputable agents, you know, ever wrong? To read this blog and others, one would think not. . .are authors with representation and sales always idiot savants--great creative writers with absolutely no insight into the marketing world? As a writer with an agent who HAS had sales--before and after aquiring an agent--it seems that in any discussion/debate I am always "wrong" (though stated in a nice way). Period. There has never been a "okay, I see your point. Maybe you are right" or, "perhaps I'll reconsider." I sense from Ms. Snark, who is quite brilliant, that she too has never uttered these words to a writer. So, when it comes to a revision, marketing, a pitch, etc. . . .is the writer ever right? I have yet to hear an agent admit that this might be a possibility!

Jim Winter said...

So suggesting my agent pitch my Elmore Leonardesque caper as vampire romance with elements of political satire was a bad move?

bran fan said...

Thank you, Miss Snark. You may just think you're ranting, but the rest of us are actually learning something.

Barrett, M said...

"The day my clients start "correcting my pitch" is 30 days before they get a new agent, and I'll be happy to waive that by fedexing a release this very day."

Wow. I think your author would be happy too. It seems to me there should be a bit more humility on both ends of the team. It is a team, right? But, what do I know... I don't even have an agent. All the best!

desert snarkling said...

Agents can absolutely be wrong, just like anyone else. This is why writers need to remain involved in their careers, use their judgment about whether the agent's judgment is on, and talk to them when they do have serious concerns.

All tactfully, of course, and without dogging the agent at every step or making a big deal out of the small stuff.

Everyone is wrong sometimes, and sometimes the agent doesn't get your particular work, and there's really no one to realize that but the writer.

Anonymous said...

When my agent told me she didn't think she could sell my second book, she said, "But remember, I'm only one person and I could be wrong. Don't be afraid to disagree with me." So some agents do admit that they're wrong, or could be. Although...I ended up agreeing with her, and started writing another book - which we sold on outline and three chapters a month later.

Kit Whitfield said...

Agents, being human, are doubtless sometimes wrong. But a writer should be wary of assuming that, if the agent and writer disagree, it must be the agent who's wrong. The agent has more experience of selling books; that's why you work with them.

It's perfectly possible to discuss your agent's strategy and ask why they're doing it they way they're doing it; it's even possible to express doubts as to the efficacy and let her address them. But it's foolish to assume that, because you know everything about writing your book, you know everything about selling it. Writers aren't objective judges of their own work, and they're not publishing market experts. Agents are both.

Discussion is one thing, but giving the agent marching orders about how to sell the book is failing to respect herprofession. It's never good to be rude - and it's rude to treat an agent as if she was your secretary.

In short, everyone goofs, agents included - but the benefit of the doubt is a valuable thing in professional relationships. And since agents generally are happy to keep things cordial, if you don't know why she's selling it in an unexpected way ... ask. She'll probably be happy to explain.

Kimber An said...

I don't get it. If the author has done her homework before signing with the agent, a conflict like this ought to be rare. She should know beforehand if the agent is the kind of human being she can work with and trust to handle her part of the teamwork. I accept that I'm naive in this business.

Anonymous said...

"Discussion is one thing, but giving the agent marching orders about how to sell the book is failing to respect herprofession. It's never good to be rude - and it's rude to treat an agent as if she was your secretary."

Bravo, Kit.

This is where the "agent is not your employee but your partner" comes into play.

I totally agree that you should discuss strategy with your agent, if you so choose. You might even make a couple of suggestions, which she may or may not agree with, and you'll come to terms.

However, if you feel you know better than your agent, please dump her so that there's room for the rest of us, who would love to be privy to that expertise.

Why do you have an agent? As a doorholder?

Anonymous said...

Why do you have an agent? As a doorholder?

Because publishers don't accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Green Grass said...

To the first anonymous:

Most of the time, the agent knows more about positioning and marketing a book than the author.

However, "...are reputable agents [...] ever wrong?"

Yes.

I worked for an agent who represented bestselling authors and when it was anything outside of a standard, boilerplate pitch/situation, she was ineffective and she knew it. However, to admit that to a client, she believed, was bad business practice. It's a carryover from politics and the corporate world--never admit a mistake--but it's not always the smartest route to go.

It sounds like you feel your agent not only doesn't listen, but s/he has dismissed you entirely. It's possible that your suggestions may be insightful, but not practicable. Nonetheless, the agent should have a better way of communicating that to you.

Stephen Parrish said...

"Fortunately we have a division of labor here that works well: they write wonderful books, and I figure out how to sell them."

But despite that division of labor, you suggest ways they might make their books better. Cannot they suggest better ways to sell them?

Dan said...

"Why do you have an agent? As a doorholder?

Because publishers don't accept unsolicited manuscripts."

Exactly.
And why do you think that is?

Because publishers are tired of looking at unsolicited, unfiltered drek. This is the system, and these are the sorts of issues to work out with your agent in advance.
Until you are "worth" something in the open market, you are just another drain of resources. Your agent is working hard to get you to the point where you pay your way. She's taken a shot on you. The least you can do is to see her point when it comes to her specialty: selling of manuscripts.
You may disagree, but if you signed on with her (or him)it's because you've checked him out and decided he would do a good job for you. So let him do it.
Make all the suggestions you want, but you've hired a professional manuscript seller. Not a messenger service into a publisher's office.

Anonymous said...

Poster said:

But despite that division of labor, you suggest ways they might make their books better. Cannot they suggest better ways to sell them?

Most agents have years of experience under their belts. You have the experience of writing one or two novels.
Authors have no idea what they're up against/dealing with in publishing until they're in the thick of it. They believe just getting to the point of being published is all.
Well, it's not. It's only the start. And you'd better damn well have someone with your best interests in mind in your corner.
And if you're lucky enough to have a good agent, treasure him or her. Your interests may veer at some point that you grow apart and split up, but a good agent is gold.

BernardL said...

Thanks for another cold dose of reality, MS. :)

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't care if the agent wanted to pitch my book as an aardvark. The question would be if there are any aardvark-buying publishers out there.

However, most agent and publishers want one little statement from the author: what is the genre and similar material already on the shelf?

So, the author answers to the best of their limited capability and if what they've stated is not something the agent likes. Too bad. Let's play Catch 22 a little more. It's so much fun.

Debby G. said...

"Your friend is a CLASSIC example. YA and middle grade do NOT divide based first on subject matter."

Subject matter can be an important dividing line. I don't know of any middle grade novels with an oral sex scene. The Printz-award-winning YA book Looking for Alaska has one, along with lots of underage drinking.

How many middle grade novels concern teens losing their virginity or getting pregnant? Lots of YA novels do.

And are you saying that the middle grade Harry Potter books have easy vocab, sentence structure, and tone? I don't think so. And if the next book was about Harry wanting to lose his virginity or have a sex change operation or cure his heroin addiction, then it would be classified as a YA novel due to subject matter.

I enjoy reading your blog and agree with you 95 percent of the time, but not in this case.

Anonymous said...

It never ceases to amaze me how writers think they know it all and they don't even read in their GENRE, let alone know what's sold recently.
This is an agent's stock in trade. They live and breathe this stuff. They recognized authors, agents, editors instantly.
How could you possible give a legitimate, skilled agent pointers? You may THINK you know what will work, but bottom line is that the agent knows better. And more.
Sit down, strap in, shut up and write the next book, and let your agent do his job.

Anonymous said...

"Your friend is a CLASSIC example. YA and middle grade do NOT divide based first on subject matter."

This is classic, but it's a classic case of an otherwise skilled agent not knowing a certain genre. The dividing line between MG and YA *is* subject matter, not necessarily the complexity of the writing.

Would you call the story of a date rape a MG even if the author uses simple vocabulary and structure, and the novel is less than 30k words? Didn't think so.

There are times when a writer does know the genre better than some agents, especially those who've been in the field less than five years.

Anonymous said...

"Why do you have an agent? As a doorholder?

Because publishers don't accept unsolicited manuscripts."

I can't imagine anyone but a scammer who'd want to work with this attitude.