Tuesday, November 02, 2010

"You Say Pushy Like It's a Bad Thing," Janet Reid

I was recently pointed to a blog post that really has me irritated for a number of different reasons. Many of these reasons have already been articulated by Janet Reid perfectly, but since this is an issue I feel is important, I wanted to have my own say.

The blog in question was written by someone who calls herself (I assume it’s a her based on the picture) Agency Gatekeeper. In it the blogger suggests that any agent who wants to know who else has offered representation is “pushy, rude and breaching etiquette.” Which is wrong, completely wrong.

What concerns me most about this post is the sweeping generalization that one simple question from an agent means run. And I don’t get that. It’s a question and I think we are all smart enough to know the difference between someone asking a question and rudeness. Most certainly, asking a question about who else is offering representation is not a breach of etiquette.

When an author comes to me with an offer of representation already on the table, it’s only natural I would want to know who made that offer. It’s the same with a publisher; it’s only natural that a publisher is going to want to know who else is offering for a book. Whether or not you answer that is entirely up to you. When offering representation I’ve had authors who are completely up front in telling me every agent who is still interested, and others who won’t tell me even after a decision is made. That’s fine, it’s really up to the authors. And yes, I suppose there are agents out there who might use that information to present a pro/con list to the author of why she’s better than the other agents. Doesn’t that only give you more insight into how this agent works? If that sort of pitch makes you uncomfortable then you know she’s not the agent for you. On the other hand, it might also help you determine what other questions you might ask the other agents. Heck, you could even ask the other agents what they know of each other and how they differ if you really wanted to. Why not? You’re the one doing the hiring.

So why would an agent ask? Well certainly there’s simple curiosity. Wouldn’t you want to know? There’s also power in knowing who your competition is and what they bring to the table that you might want to highlight in your own sales pitch, because it’s true, when you’re offering representation to a potential new client you’re selling yourself.

One of the other things Agency Gatekeeper said was,

The minute an agent asks this question, he/she is placing you in the middle of what may be an ongoing debate/competition/industry question/drama--it's pulling you into a situation (perhaps a fight, if for some reason the agents don't get along) that just isn't fair. That's like two old friends bringing you into a generations-old battle--and you just met them. It'll cloud your judgment and make it all the more challenging to make this already difficult decision.

Which I don’t get at all. Placing you in the middle of what? I have friends who are agents and I suppose there are agents out there I don’t like very much, but we are not going to stand you in the middle of a room and start taunting you, and I don’t have a “generations-old battle” to fight out with anyone. In fact, I’m not old enough to have a generations-old battle, thank you very much.

What I really don’t like about this blog by Agency Gatekeeper is the sense that authors aren’t smart or savvy enough to think for themselves. Are you not able to tell when an agent is being rude or making you uncomfortable? I also don’t like this sense that authors are just a pawn in a giant agent game of tug-of-war. There’s no doubt that when I make an offer of representation I want to be the one the author chooses, but it’s not because I want to “get one over” on my fellow agents. It’s because I feel so passionate about that book that not being the one to help present it to publishers actually makes me want to cry.

So, here’s the thing. When interviewing an agent for representation there are no wrong questions you can ask, and hopefully when the agent is talking to you there are no wrong questions she can ask. You’re getting to know each other, and the more you talk the more time you have to get a sense of how you will work together. If an agent asks a question you aren’t comfortable answering, simply tell her so; if she pushes and bullies then she’s probably not the agent for you, but asking the question itself isn’t the problem, how everyone reacts to the question can be the problem.