Monday, November 30, 2009

What Would You Do?

One of those questions that comes with a variety of answers . . .

Let's say you're an agent who has fairly specific tastes for what you like to represent. You have a client for whom you've already sold three of these type of books. This client then comes to you with a book that has very little to do with the kind of fiction you normally represent. (Not genre-jumping, but a different style.) It's a perfectly good book, just not to your taste. If this had come via query, you'd turn it down.

What do you do? Farm it out to a junior agent? Tell the writer to shelve it? Learn to love it even though it's not your cup of tea?

The first thing I’m going to grab on to is the phrase “not to your taste.” If that’s a phrase that comes from me, if I tell my client that her book isn’t to my taste, it probably means that I really don’t like it, that the writing, the style of the book, and the book itself didn’t grab me and ultimately I don’t feel I’m the right agent for it. How I handle it will be dependent on many things.

Do I feel this is a direction that doesn’t work for the author? If this is the case then I’m going to discuss my concerns with my client. If it’s a book I don’t feel is that strong or the right direction for the author’s voice or the market, I feel it’s my job to let the writer know that. How she wants to handle the next step is up to her. Does she want to consider my opinion and put the book away for something else? Or would she rather find someone else to work with?

Do I feel that there’s something there, but the execution is off? If this is the case then I’m going to talk to the author about possible revisions and what we can both do to make the book stronger.

Do I feel it has potential, but I’m not the right agent for it? If this is the case then I’m probably going to suggest that I shouldn’t be representing the book. I need to do what’s best for my client and her career, and sometimes that means stepping aside.

One of the other phrases I want to latch on to is “perfectly good book.” That’s not a term that screams sale to me. In fact, it’s a term that leaves me a little cold. See, “perfectly good books” don’t tend to sell, especially in this market. Great books sell. If this book is only “perfectly good” it sounds to me like it’s not quite enough to hang a career on. Sure, others might hear that phrase differently, but it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement. If someone told you about a book she just read and called it “perfectly good,” would you run out to buy it?

And would I pass it on to another agent? If I feel the book has merit, but I’m not the right agent for it, it is likely I would talk about it with the other agents at BookEnds and ask if any of them, junior or not, might be interested. Of course, whether or not the client wants to work with that agent on the book would have to be a decision she would need to make.

As for learning to love something that’s not my cup of tea, well, it’s a little more than love. I try and love new teas all the time. In fact, I credit many of my own clients for introducing me to genres, sub-genres and writing styles that I might never have considered in the past. The issue for me comes not from loving the tea, but from being able to do what I feel is right for the author, and that means giving her the best agent possible. If I really get excited about something it doesn’t matter if it’s something I thought I might have rejected in a query; what matters is if I can do my best for it.

So I hope that variety of answers helps you. There’s no right or wrong to how an agent or a client might handle this situation and, as always, without knowing the book, the client, and the entire scope of the career it’s really a hard question to answer.