Monday, March 23, 2009

Liking Your Clients' Work

I think one of the biggest fears/paranoias of authors is what happens next. I was recently asked how I handle a client’s next project if I don’t like it. Do I simply send it out anyway, do I throw the client to the curb and how does that project come about?

First things first. I like to stay in regular communication with my clients, and if all goes well I should rarely be surprised. In other words, my hope is that before my clients start any project we have a conversation about it. We talk about the idea, the execution, and the author’s vision as well as my own. If we both agree that it seems like a viable project, then she’ll move forward and start writing. And yes, there have been times, with some clients, that we’ve gone round after round in discussions about what happens next, not disagreeably, just trying to find the right fit.

But what happens if a client is hell-bent on a certain project that I’m just not as keen on or the project comes in and it isn’t at all what I envisioned. What do I do then? Well, you all know the answer to this by now. It depends.

It really depends on the client’s situation and what’s wrong with the book. Is the client published? Does she have an established career to consider and is the book just plain crap? No matter the case, I’m going to be as delicately honest as possible (at least I hope I’m delicate about it). My goal is to help my clients build careers, and sometimes that means saying things they don’t want to hear. If I think the book is salvageable I’ll definitely talk over revisions with the client. If not, the client and I, together, will come up with a plan on what to do next. Sometimes it’s the client who decides the project can’t be saved, and sometimes we are both amazed with what it ends up becoming.

If the author has not yet sold I have a little more leeway. I’m never going to send out a book I think is just terrible. This is my reputation we’re talking about, and my clients are depending on my reputation, but after some revisions and candid conversations, I may send out a book that a client thoroughly believes in even though I’m not sure. In these cases it’s usually less about it being a bad book or bad writing and more a disagreement on whether or not it will sell and, let’s be honest, sometimes you just don’t know, so it can’t hurt to try.

In terms of how long will I go, how many books will I “reject” before parting ways with a client, I don’t have a number. If a client is actively working on new projects and new ideas and I still believe she can do it, I’m willing to stick by her side. If for some reason I’ve learned that book one must have been some sort of anomaly and demons have taken over my client’s writing ability, I might, very kindly, suggest that maybe we’re no longer a good fit. Honestly though, I’ve never let a client go because I couldn’t sell her work. I have parted ways with clients because of a shift in writing—she might no longer be writing something I represent, or because, for whatever reason, there seems to be a loss of faith in the relationship.


Jessica

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice insight. You have answered a question that I've wondered about for quite some time.

Shaun Hutchinson said...

This is a fantastic post. My agent and I talk about our work and I love that he's honest enough with me to to tell me straight up if he doesn't like an idea or if he doesn't think it'll sell. Sure, the first time he told me he didn't like something of mine, my feelings were hurt for about three seconds, but I could tell that he was trying to help me build the best career I could.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a reasonable and common sense approach. I have a question that I believe is related. What if one of your clients takes some time off from submitting (for whatever reason)? Would that cause you to end the relationship? Is an author still salable after a lull in publishing?

Cowgirl in the City said...

Thanks for answering a question I've been pondering for a while! :)

DebraLSchubert said...

Jessica, Very interesting. I've got a related question. What if a client writes (or wants to write) a book in a genre other than what you normally represent? If you like the idea and the genre isn't wildly outside your norm, would you try to sell it? Or would you suggest she find a different agent for that book?

lynnrush said...

Great post. I've always wondered how that would work.

Deborah said...

The closeness between an agent and a writer is wonderful.

Anonymous said...

I attended a talk at writer's conference on "the story behind the story." The speaker mentioned that Lois Lowry and her agent did not agree at all on THE GIVER. If I remember correctly, the agent felt the darkness of the book could be career-ending. But she insisted.

Since she was an established author, he went ahead and shopped the book. But he didn't think it was viable. We can only imagine his surprise at its success.

Sooki Scott said...

There's no mountain without a way over it or around it. It's nice to have someone to help show the way. Publishing is no exception.

Encouraging post, Jessica. Thanks.



Confucius says; everything has its beauty but not everyone sees it.

Anonymous said...

Whatever happenened to a writer writing something because he/she HAD to write it? I can't imagine wanting my agent's or editor's or anyone's approval to write my next book. Especially before I had a second draft. Then feedback is viable. But why let someone else into your raw creative process?

jbstanley said...

I believe a risky project involves an established writer attempting a new genre using a new voice. Sometimes, the writer just doesn't get it right, no matter how passionate he/she is about the project. i tried writing at chick lit-style mystery at one point, but Jessica wasn't in love with the first three chapters. I liked it well enough and I felt the writing was strong, but it didn't entirely feel like "me." We batted other ideas around for a while and together came out with a fresh series idea that Jessica has since sold to St. Martin's. You've got to trust your agent's instincts, but in the end, if you really want and need to write the book, write it. You've got to be willing to let it go unsold, however if it doesn't hold up to your previous work.

jbstanley said...

I believe a risky project involves an established writer attempting a new genre using a new voice. Sometimes, the writer just doesn't get it right, no matter how passionate he/she is about the project. I tried writing at chick lit-style mystery at one point, but Jessica wasn't in love with the first three chapters. I liked it well enough and I felt the writing was strong, but it didn't entirely feel like "me." We batted other ideas around for a while and together came up with a fresh series idea Jessica has since sold to St. Martin's.

You've got to trust your agent's instincts, but in the end, if you really want and need to write the book, write it. You've got to be willing to let it go unsold, however, if it doesn't hold up to your previous work.

Shaun Hutchinson said...

Anon: When my agent looks at the beginning of something I'm working on, even if he doesn't like it, he tells me that if the muse is speaking, to go with it.

We writers have to remove this block that separates the creative from the logical. My first book is a humorous, light book. Following it up with something that goes in an entirely different direction could be a career killer. Some thought has to be put into what you're writing, and letting an agent in, just a little, on the creative process can really help focus you. At least it did in my case.

Jean said...

Thank you.

You are writing about all sorts of great topics I either haven't thought about yet or haven't read about elsewhere. I'm always learning something new.

Thanks!

Kathleen Dante said...

Anon: If you have several ideas vying for attention, your agent's input can help you focus on the one that's most marketable and will help your career best. Also, if you have a multi-book contract, unless the books were all done when you sold, you usually have to get your editor's approval on the succeeding books before you write them.

Michael Edelson said...

Jessica,

What if you sign a client, his book sells well, and he has an idea for another book in a genre you don't represent. Let's say he's hell bent on writing it, and you know it will be good, because he's a good writer and his first book is doing very well. But you just don't like that genre at all (pick the one you like least).

What do you do? Do you represent it anyway because you know it will sell?

Alternatively...what if you get a query you love followed by a manuscript you love, but the author also has unpublished books in generes you don't represent...will you not take that author on as a client because of those other books?

The Writers Canvas said...

Good posts, Jessica. I met you last year at RWA in San Fran and enjoy following your blog.

Keep up the great work and thanks for all the insight!

Elaine Burroughs

Solvang Sherrie said...

Very interesting. I'm pre-published (ha!) and have no agent, but I'm working on another novel while one makes the rounds. So it's always interesting to visit your site and gain a little insight.

Anonymous said...

You constantly referred to your client(s) as 'she'.

Don't you have any male clients?