Thursday, April 19, 2007

Reader Question: Choosing the Name

Two years ago I was looking for an agent. I received two offers of representation. One from a small, newish, up-and-coming agency, made up of three agents, one from a big-name, established agency.

I went with the big agency for their muscle and contacts and record of success. I felt the name alone carried weight.

After five submissions, my agent told me basically based on the uniform (meaning no thank you) feedback from editors, the book was unsellable in today's market, and that was it for submissions. Maybe later, when the cycle turned.

I'm working on the next book and meanwhile very unhappy that this is their policy. I hadn't realized this was a question to ask. Is this the general rule with big agencies? I thought I was better off bigger, but I'm questioning my decision.

I liked the other agent. I just felt the big guys had more juice. And how, if I decide to go back to the other agent, do I approach him? Will this bad choice color the rest of my writing career?

This question actually comes at a good time for me. I’ve seen a lot of postings on blogs, message boards, and the like about authors who know exactly who they would sign with before talking to any agent. Many feel that signing with Big Name Agent is always the right thing to do. I’ve wanted to address this situation, but wasn’t sure how to do so, and I think this gives me just that opportunity. . . .

I can’t stress enough how important it is to choose an agent that works for you. Ms. Big Name Agent isn’t going to do you any good if you don’t agree with her policies, are afraid of her, or disagree with every editorial suggestion she makes. The other problem is that Big Name Agent and their counterparts often get that way because of their years in the business, the success they’ve had with a client or two, or because they are really good at talking themselves up. I can name at least one or two Big Name Agents that don’t have nearly the reputation in publishing houses that you all think they do. There are definitely Big Name Agents that authors revere and publishers couldn't care less about.

Name isn’t everything. Do you buy tennis shoes for the name only or do you try them on first and see which pair works best for you? While I hate to compare myself to a tennis shoe, I think it works. Try on an agent, interview her and make sure that she works for you. Obviously you want someone with a good reputation, but a big name doesn’t always mean a good reputation.

If you’re unhappy with your current agent, chalk it up to experience, fire her, and start fresh. Contact that other agent, as well as others, and use your experience to ask the questions you feel need to be answered.

Oh, and by the way, what is a big name agent?

* On another note, beginning tomorrow we're going to try to make our Friday interviews more interactive and give readers the chance to directly ask questions of the authors. Tomorrow's interviewee, Sally MacKenzie, will check in on the blog periodically during the day and answer any questions you've posted in the Comments. So if there's anything you want to know directly from Sally or any of our other interviewed authors, ask away!



Dara Edmondson said...

I have several friends who've signed with "big" agencies only to see their work still unpublished years later. Is it better to concentrate on the books the agent has sold recently rather than the scuttlebutt from other authors? I also shy away from agents who are also writers. This may be the wrong move, but I fear they'll be looking out for their own opportunities rather than that of their clients.

Anonymous said...

I had the opposite happen - I signed with a brand new agency, only to see it splinter a few months later. The agent who signed me on had too much on her plate and dropped me.
Now I think I'll go with an established agency - not necessarily big name or huge agency, but something that won't disintegrate.

Anonymous said...

A good friend was contacted by a Big Name Agent, who then dropped my friend without so much as an email after 6 submissions were rejected. I had offers from two BNA and a mid-sized boutique. Though I really liked the BNG agents personally, after speaking with them, they didn't share my vision for my manuscript. I went with the mid-sized agent.

Jessica, you're an amazing agent yourself, doing such a service to the writing community with this blog. May all that goodwill be returned to you ten-fold.

loralee said...

The tennis shoe example is a good one, Jessica. Try before you buy. I feel fortunate to have Kim as my agent and BookEnds,LLC behind me. Didn't I know you and Kim waaay before I signed the contract? Yeah, a good fit is important for everyone involved.

Anonymous said...

Amen and Amen and Amen. I was with a "big-name" agency. Nice agent, nice agency--just not right for me. What I learned is: You don't marry the high school star quarterback just because he's the guy everyone's swooning over...and he asked *you* to the prom. Hold out for the real prize--someone with whom you connect on a lot of levels.

I went back to someone--from a smaller, three-person agency :-D--who had previously offered representation (and she never said, "I told you so.")

And, Jessica, I agree with the poster who said you (and Jacky and Kim) are doing writers a fabulous service with this blog. It's the one blog I read without fail. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I can name at least one or two Big Name Agents that don’t have nearly the reputation in publishing houses that you all think they do.

I'm really on the spot here trying to say this without sounding offended or offensive. I know your heart is in the right place, but as our dear President would say, "They misunderestimated me." I'm not as dumb as I look. My loyalty to "at least one or two BNA" has nothing to do with his /her reputation in the industry, because s/he is not my agent. My loyalty is based on the character and integrity of BNA, and the kindness with which s/he has treated me. BNA will undoubtedly never be my agent (too bad for me), but there's no one I'd rather have watching my back. If s/he told me s/he had to kill someone, I would bring the gun.

Kate Douglas said...

My first submission to Jessica, about five years ago and before she signed me, was a contemporary romance with a kick-ass heroine and a good looking hero with sexual identity issues. She "got it," and offered to represent me on the basis of a book that was a little different, to say the least. When an editor said she was interested, but only if I would tone down my heroine and turn my hero into a cowboy (?) Jessica backed my decision not to revise. Back to the tennis shoe analogy--she's a good fit and it's paid off over the long run. We share the same long-term goals for my career and I trust her ideas implicitly--that, as far as I'm concerned, is the most important thing to look for in an agent.

Maria said...

I think having the authors comment is a GREAT idea--put that in a post of its own so that people know about it. There was a western writer a few fridays back and I actually went to his website to see if I could ask him a question. Turns out I couldn't, but I would have asked had this existed then!

Great idea!