Thursday, May 08, 2008

Does an Agent's Gender Matter?

I received a very interesting question recently, one I had never really thought of. A reader asked if choosing an agent is anything like choosing a doctor; do you consider an agent’s gender when submitting or making that final decision? Does it make you more comfortable to think you might have an agent of a certain gender or does the track record and method of doing business trump all of that?

I had never really considered that gender might play into the equation when an author chooses an agent, and I’m not sure why, because there are plenty of times when gender comes into play for us. For example, when choosing which editors to submit a project to, there are plenty of occasions when we feel that maybe a certain book would have greater appeal to male versus female editors or vice versa.

I would imagine that for some people gender might be an issue, whether you consciously realize it or not. Often I preach that choosing an agent is a very personal decision, and in addition to finding a reputable agent it’s important to make your decision based on comfort, and it’s very likely gender could play into that.

But what about readers? When putting together your submission list or when you finally said yes to your agent, did gender play a role? Do you feel your book would appeal to a certain gender agent or editor, and do you prepare your lists accordingly? Or do you think this entire discussion is ridiculous—gender shouldn’t or doesn’t matter at all if the agent is good at his or her job?

Jessica

34 comments:

beverley said...

I am guilty of gender bias. I think of the genre I write in as basically a female genre (historical romance) so when I'm querying agents, I pretty much stick to females because I look at like 'men don't really read romances', they are more mystery/suspense/thrillers.

superwench83 said...

I write in a genre which has a fairly even number of readers from both genders, so the gender of my agent won't matter as far as that goes. I understand that some people might feel more comfortable working with an agent who's the same gender as them, but for me, that's not an issue. I just want an agent who seems like someone I can work well with.

Gail said...

Yes. Everything Beverley said except I write in a different genre, however my fan base is female as well. Some men love romance, I haven't noticed any male agents who do.

Anonymous said...

I thought a lot about this, actually, because I tend to work better with men (I'm a woman). Not that I didn't submit to women and wouldn't have been thrilled to work with any of them, but I did sort of wonder, myself, if a male agent wouldn't be a better fit for me in some ways.

I did end up with a male agent, and I'm very happy. But I do wonder how our working relationship might be different if he were a woman.

Mark Terry said...

I've had a male agent and a female agent and I'm not sure it matters to me (or my career) one bit. I suppose if I wrote romance novels I might think a female agent would be more attuned to it, but I think it would just depend on the agent, not the gender.

150 said...

I'm baffled as to what difference it would make whether a man or a woman is selling my work.

Dwight Wannabe said...

True Story (and one I'm not proud to tell, btw, but it's relevant):

I once sent an e-query to a blogging agent who said she had only three male clients but couldn't sell any of them to publishers.

The rejection e-response took less than 90 seconds.

Two weeks later I resent the IDENTICAL query letter to the same agent, changing only the title of the manuscript, and sending it from a freemail account I threw together using a catchy female name.

Request for partial. Not kidding.

So, to answer your question, yes. I've gone to agents' web sites, clicked on the "Our Authors" page, seen pictures of 35 women and one man, and said, "Mmmm. Maybe I'll save the stamp on this one."

Given the number of comments I got back on sample pages where agents scribbled "This is too male," I'm afraid agent gender is something I came to consider before submitting.

Mark Terry said...

Well, Dwight, I did get rejected once by an agency that told me, "We only take on women clients."

I did have to ask myself in what other industry this might be an accepted practice, but, oh well...

Jael said...

Doesn't matter to me. I'm a lot more sensitive to age than gender. I got my first agent when I was 23 and he was in his sixties, and my second book was almost completely about Email, which he so didn't understand and therefore wouldn't sell.

I think I've queried more women than men but that's because more women than men are selling what I write.

Anonymous said...

I write Dark Paranormal Romance, and I have to admit, I've received more requests from male agents than female.

I think once you drop horror elements into a romance, female agents get nervous.

However, it doesn't stop me from querying female agents. I would imagine there's one out there who likes horror just as much as romance.

...At least I hope...

Anonymous said...

Don't consciously look for a particular gender in an agent in my queries. I'm more interested in getting the agent who will best represent my work and who is just, flat-out a damn good agent. Now, though I am male, I do confess that I would likely feel more 'comfortable'working with a female vs a male agent simply because I just prefer women to men in general. But I would not hesitate working with either gender as long as we are 'simpatico.'

Anonymous said...

Interesting topic and one I haven't really thought about. I'm a woman and wrote a mystery with a female protagonist. But while querying agents, I focused solely on their sales. I'm guessing that about 1/3 of the agents I queried were men (I ended up signing with a female agent, though--luck of the draw).

Some men love romance, I haven't noticed any male agents who do.

Evan Marshall and Ethan Ellenberg represent a lot of romance authors.

Diana said...

Thanks for this topic. A few months ago, RWA featured a male agent specializing in romance in their monthly magazine for members.

I remember scratching my head over why a man would want to specialize in series romance. I do believe that agents have to love what they're representing, and I just haven't seen too many men reading series romance. But then I scratched my head over how unenlightened I sounded.

Aimless Writer said...

I'm sure it would matter to some. I think gender bias exists in all walks of life. I work in an all woman office. We don't hire men. Mostly because the boss comes to work in her pajamas sometimes.
When choosing an agent I just look at their sales, clients (do they represent my genre? Do they already have too many like me?) and what they say they represent. And if I've heard them speak thats a plus. Some I'm more impressed with after hearing them. Others no. Lazy speakers make me think they don't push too hard. I want an agent who knows how to sell. A little enthusiasm please!

Anonymous said...

I find it idiotic that anyone would consider gender in their search for a doctor. You hear that a lot with OB/Gyn -- "oh, a woman understands it better."

Really? Does your oncologist have to be a cancer survivor?

C.J. Redwine said...

I consider many factors before querying an agent: sales, reputation, current clients, level of interest in my genre, online presence (yes, I like to find that in an agent, though I know there are many excellent agents who aren't on the web), and yes, gender.

I recently queried my top list of agents and my list is predominantly women because the kind of working relationship I want with my agent I think will be easier to come by if I work with a woman.

Ultimately, though, I'll make my decision after having conversations with prospective agents and seeing who is the best fit, regardless of gender. =)

spyscribbler said...

Probably I'd consider it an experiment. I'd probably make it a scientific study to see how male readers (agents) responded to my work as opposed to female readers (agents).

I always try to write with the reader in mind, but ... men are sort of a mystery to me.

I do know that I'm a prude, and while I'd probably share my erotic pseudonym with a female agent, I doubt I would tell a male agent. I'd be too embarrassed!

Matthew said...

Great topic. I write mainstream, so I don't worry about gender bias towards me, but gender does have an effect on how I view agents. Here's this man's opinion:
While how an agent acts professionally trumps everything, often you don't have enough examples of their rapport to be able to say how they act professionally- except through transaction records. I don't want anyone to hold my hand; I just want basic respect and understanding. So I look at gender and think about my experiences with it when querying. I.E.: Women tend to be more nurturing, subtle, less confrontational, and when confrontational it can be offensive because unexpected(or because they're female). Men tend to act in the opposite manners. Now, I like women because they're less threatening to me. I view agents as business people- nice enough business people, but still business people, and business people scare me. But on the other hand, even in business interactions, I tend to have more miscommunication with women than men. The potential problem with men is the machismo effect- overconfidence, not consulting with the client on matters that the agent believes are obvious choices(even if the client might disagree). Potential benefit: more direct. Subtlety can go over one's head. So:
Caveat 1: Girls will be boys and boys will be girls, it's a mixed up muddled up shook up world.*
That been said, I compare the qualifications of the relevant agents, and tend to view women more favorably for one last reason: I think women connect to literature more viscerally and emotionally, and I don't feel weird discussing the emotional with a woman. Two men discussing their feelings... yeah. Let's just say I feel kind of inhibited. All this would be more relevant to your relationship with an editor, though, probably. Which brings me to another question: how much of the work does an agent discuss with the client, and how much the business? How much do agents edit today, as well?
Thanks!
-Matt
*- The Kinks, "Lola"

Anonymous said...

Actually, I don't find it "idiotic" that anyone would factor in gender as they look for a gynecologist. That's a pretty personal experience and if someone is more comfortable with a woman than with a man, who's to blame them?

Personally, both my gynecologist and my oncologist are men and I'm comfortable with them both but I don't get upset with others who don't feel the same.

Craig said...

Anonymous 10:46

No, your oncologist doesn't HAVE to be a cancer survivor, but it sure would help on the empathy end...

And it's about YOUR comfort level. I'm a guy and my doctors have always been men if I had the choice. Not because women aren't great doctors (I've had some great women doctors), but because it is usually easier to comunicate with the same gender, (especially if you're going to be sitting on a table in your boxers for an hour).

But, my fantastic agent is a woman. My genre is non-fiction and non-gender specific. I just wanted to go with an agent who was passionate about the project and 'got' it enough to sell it.

Again, it depends on YOUR comfort level and communication, but I think that the gender discussion is better in regards to doctors than agents. You really just want an agent who LOVES your work, male or female. Unless you're going to be sitting around in your boxers with your agent for an hour...which is a different discussion altogether...

Robena Grant said...

I wouldn't worry about the agent's gender. Ultimately, I want an agent to love my voice and be willing to get behind my stories and get them sold. That's it.

An agent or editor doesn't necessarily become a friend but they have to be someone whose opinion you respect, a person you like and maybe even admire. A person you can work with.

Regardless of the agent's gender, I always ask myself could I meet this agent at RWA National and sit down have a sandwich and coffee and chat like a normal person? Or would I feel so inferior I'd be nervous and dribble mustard down my silk blouse? It's all about comfort for me.

I know of several male agents who represent romance. Steven Axelrod is one. Donald Maass is another. Both great guys I'd love to have coffee with. Sigh.

Kate H said...

I've pitched my women's fiction to both genders, but it seems that a woman would be more likely to get excited about it. I wouldn't object to a male agent provided he was sympathetic and approachable, but I have a feeling I'd be more comfortable with a woman.

Anonymous said...

I have to admit to only choosing female agents to query. I'm sure there are a lot of wonderful male agents out there, I've just felt that I would get along better with a woman...and ultimately, the relationship with my agent will be an important one for my career, so I want someone who I feel most comfortable with. Especially because I write romance.

Although, most of my doctors have been male. Go figure.

Heidi said...

I absolutely considered gender when querying, but I'm not sure it was the right thing to do.

My opening lines were about my protagonist miscarrying eight times. Although men rep women's lit, I was definitely worried this beginning might turn them off. Of those that requested partials, the two men I queried were the ones who wrote, "I am just not the right agent for this project," as opposed to the more encouraging and specific replies of the women.

My newest book is from a mother's point of view, but it is about science verses faith and an entire family facing medical and legal difficulties that make them redefine what they believe and who they are as a family. And that, I think, is gender neutral.

So yes, I do consider gender. But it is not a hard and fast rule.

I always wanted a female OB until I was reassigned to a man who specialized in high risk pregnancies. He saved my life on the operating table, so yeah - I'm not as picky now about that either.

Just_Me said...

I'm writing sci-fi and looking for an agent, and right now it's pretty evenly split between male and female. I'm looking more at who sells what than whether they have a Y chromosome.

The age thing does get me. I know the older agents are established name and can demand 6 figure totals for their clients but I'd rather work with an agent who's on their way up rather than over the hill and counting years until retirement. It sounds tactless and mercenary but when I look at who sells what it isn't the established agents who are representing my style of writing. Those agents represent wonderful books and I don't doubt they're great people, but that doesn't mean they're right for me.

Anonymous said...

I write womens' fiction so I tend to submit to women agents. I've always felt uncomfortable submitting to male agents because of the female angle, although a few men do represent it. I am always wary of whether they will "get" my projects. Terrible bias, I know. (I also tend to pick up women authors more.)

Kristin Laughtin said...

Doesn't matter to me at all. I worry more about my own gender-- I'm a female who writes mostly sci-fi, and although there are tons of women who read and write that genre, it occasionally gets stereotyped as "for men". I'd rather just find an agent who likes my work, and I'm split pretty evenly in terms of gender as I prepare my query list.

Christie Craig said...

Very interesting topic, Jessica.

I don't think it's ridiculous, because women and men do have a tendency to like certain genres more than others, and logically, we want an agent, who loves our genre. However, in the end, whether or not it matters, is debatable. One would hope that if an agent accepts certain genres, then he/she is either able to put their subjectivity aside, or they genuinely like the genre.

When I was looking for an agent, because of what I write, humorous romantic suspense, most agents who accepted my genre were women. So the question of male/female agent was never something I had to consider.

This said, I was always concerned about giving my work to a male critique partner. Would he, being male, understand the importance of main story line--meaning the romance? Would he not enjoy it simply because of his dislike of what he might consider a "chick" theme? And what about him reading, "those" scenes?

My tag line is "Sexy, suspenseful, and seriously funny." So, yes, my books have sex scenes. I knew when my work hit the bookstores that I would have male readers, and I was okay with that, but the thought of having a man critique these intimate scenes, had me feeling uneasy and unsure if their feedback would be helpful. I mean, my general readership would be women, so shouldn’t I stick to the female point of view?

But you know, Fate has a way of teaching you lessons. And yeah, I got a big lesson when Kim sold me to one of the few male editors in the romance genre.

Amazingly, I have found working with my editor very comfortable. He not only gets my quirky, sexy, romantic stories, but he is very insightful. And occasionally, I’ll get a “Wow, really enjoyed the dish-washing scene!” (Hey, things can happen in any room.)

Yes, I have joked my editor about the disadvantages of having a male editor, especially when he asks questions like: "Can a woman really spend $500 dollars at Victoria's Secret?"

So I guess, due to my experience, my opinion is that the sex of an agent/editor/critiquer shouldn't matter if you are dealing with a real professional in the business.

CC

jjdebenedictis said...

Yowsers, Dwight Wannabe. That's appalling (and I think I know which agent you're talking about, too).

If the 90-second response wasn't due to some hair-trigger auto-reject that happened to kick in that day because the stars were improperly aligned, then what you describe is bald-faced sexism.

And I really hope it proves bad enough for their business that they quit it. As a woman, that sort of thing makes me furious; I just feel like women should know better.

Linnea said...

A good agent is a good agent and I work well with both men and women so I have no preference. But I DO check out the gender of authors represented by agents and if they seem heavily biased one way or the other it affects my decision. I'm a woman and if I see a client list made up primarily of men, I think twice before submitting.

Julie Weathers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
leesmiley said...

For me, if I have two agents where all other things are considered equal after a thorough interview of each, I would likely go with the female agent. I can't really see a situation where all things other than gender would actually be equal, but as a guy with years of experience working with the public, I have found that I generally work better with women than men. This is nothing against my own gender, but just a continuation of the experiences I have already been through.

JohnO said...

I've wrestled with this exact question, because I'm in the querying phase with my first book, which is a fairly male golf novel.

But the project I'm working on now, and the one I want to work on after that, would matter a lot less.

My two cents is that gender matters, especially if you want your agent to be passionate about your project. And certain projects are going to appeal to one gender more than another.

But after you're signed up, I think it's more of a working relationship, and then it's much more situational.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I didn't think my question would elicit such a breadth of responses and that so many would be highly emotional,leading me to believe that, in many cases, gender DOES matter.

My first thought: As far as a ob/gyn is concerned. My three sons were all delivered by male doctors. Plenty of empathy and great medical credentials. But in the end, the male doctors and I were never on the same page. They were very kind, but they just didn't get it.

It wasn't until I switched to a a female gyn that questions about sexuality and in-depth advice about general health came into play.

As for agents, I could never work with anyone who treated me as if they were doing ME a favor by taking me on as a client. And I believe there are agents of both genders whose personal statements on PM sound as if that is their approach to agenting. They practically state: "You - yes YOU! - lowly unpublished writer - don't you dare query ME - I prefer referrals from clients, etc." So why the hell are you updating every week asketh little unpublished me?

But I digress. I'm guessing that if I were to receive multiple offers (I can dream, can't I?) let's say four total - 2 of each gender - based on my extensive research on agents (and yes, I know I'm trying to get a sense of their personalities and working styles from blogs, websites, interviews posted on the web and postings in Publisher's Marketplace), I'd be willing to bet the ranch that if I interview each of them extensively, that I would end up choosing a female. The genre of my novels aside, I believe I'd be more comfortable discussing my career with someone who shares my sensibilities.

Of course I've been wrong before and could be so in this case. But my query list is heavily weighted toward the fairer sex.