Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Parting Ways, the Aftermath

Yesterday's post on Jennifer Crusie's post about being fired by her agent elicited some interesting comments from all of you. The biggest question though seems to be what happens next. Do I think Ms. Crusie received hundreds of emails and phone calls from agents trying to woo her and what do agents do to distinguish themselves in a field obviously filled with agents?

First questions first. I want to address a few comments from Jennifer's blog. A few readers felt that her agent was making a huge mistake and were concerned that if even bestselling authors get fired what kind of hope do unpublished authors have. I addressed this yesterday, but want to repeat that I have the utmost respect for an agent who is willing to let a bestselling author go for the good of that author's career. According to the original post on the subject the agent didn't agree with the new direction Jennifer saw her career going and therefore (my words) didn't feel she would be the best agent for the job. This is the agent everyone wants. Not a "big name," not your best friend's agent or not someone who buys you great drinks. You want someone who truly believes in you as a writer and your work and who is willing to risk losing money if it means honestly telling you that the direction you're going in doesn't fit what she can and should do for you. Remember, the author/agent relationship is about teamwork and if not everyone on the team is able to play the same game you don't have a chance in heck of winning.

Now on to your questions...Yes, I suspect there were more than a few phone calls and emails from agents looking to sign Jennifer in about five minutes flat. More importantly though I suspect all authors already have a list of agents they've met over the years and liked, know very well or have just heard good things about. If something should go awry they already know who they might contact. While this might not be a conscious list, I would suspect everyone has a list nonetheless. After all, it never hurts to be prepared. In the same way I have built acquaintances with many published authors who are not my clients, authors are regularly building relationships with publishing professionals. It's only natural. For me, I would be thrilled to sign some of these acquaintances immediately, while others I would have to talk to first. Jennifer Cruisie mentioned that she is going in a new direction that her now former agent doesn't feel she can support. Without knowing what this direction is any agent worth her salt is going to want to talk to Jennifer before committing. She too will want to make sure she's the best agent for the job. But to really answer your question, few agents feel the need to go about trying to rally up clients. I don't know Jennifer Cruisie personally. If I did would I be dropping her an email? Probably not. Most likely I would already have an idea of whether she'd be calling to talk to me anyway.

The question that was asked that intrigues me most is what does an agent do to make herself distinct. I talk over and over about making your work and your queries stand out, but what can agents do. Well I'm going to throw that right back at you? Imagine yourself in this situation or, if that's too big of a stretch, imagine yourself faced with multiple offers of representation. What would you want to hear, see or know about an agent that would make her win the ultimate prize (your business)?



Laura K. Curtis said...

I suspect all authors already have a list of agents they've met over the years and liked, know very well or have just heard good things about.

That is SO true. I suspect they also have a list of agents they already know they're incompatible with for one reason or another.

I haven't been agent-hunting all that long, but in that short time I've found three agents and one editor I'd love to work with, a few I'd have to get to know better before I could make a decision, and a few I would never submit my work to because I know we wouldn't work well together.

The three agents at the top of my list have four things in common:

1) They all have authors on their lists who write the same kind of thing I do, and have been successful in selling those authors' work.

2) They are all willing to share their expertise, whether in blogs or other online venues, on panels at conventions, or by speaking to area chapters of organizations like Sisters in Crime. (This lets me know they are interested in working with authors.)

3) They listen.

4) Oh, yeah. And they respond.

1 and 2 can be researched relatively easily.

3 is one of those things you have to meet someone, or at least talk to them on the phone, to evaluate.

4 you have to submit to someone to find out. I have submitted to two of the three agents I'd like to work with. Both wrote me back in a reasonable amount of time (less than three months) and although neither wanted more than the original partial, both made a point of telling me exactly what I should do to help myself.

On the other hand, one agent (who had been on my list because she represents a lot of authors who write in my genre and seemed quite nice at a conference) requested a partial and never replied. Things get lost, but a bit of research online let me know that this woman has a rep for doing exactly what she'd done to me.

So...those are my top 4!

Jeff Savage said...

For me, professionalism is the biggest key. Does my agent treat me like a valued business associate, or simply a commodity? Does she respond to my calls or e-mails in a timely fashion? Also as you pointed out, does she take a real interest in my career?

I think it shows a great deal of class for an agent to say. I really like your newest book, and I think it will sell, but I don't have the right contacts for it. The very fact the author was comfortable asking her agent who she would recommend shows me that they have a great relationship. It’s also great when I can tell my agents about the projects I am considering and have her let me know what is the most marketable.

In my experience, the best way to learn these things is by asking several of the agent's existing clients how they have been treated.

I've had several authors ask me about Jacky, and was always happy to say that she was great in all of these areas.

bob said...

Boy that is hard to answer because the number one draw would be that the agent was actually excited about the authors work and felt that they had the connections to make it work.

Not knowing what new direction Jennifer is going to would I think make one hesitate.

Interest and connections in the appropriate area would seem to be what any writer would be looking for first, then would come the ability to work together and the likeability factor.

It will be interesting to see what Jennifers next move is.

Christine Wells said...

For me, the agents who stand out are the ones who have an online presence--you can get to know their personalities a little before you commit to a relationship.

Professionalism should be a given, but sadly, it isn't. Good contacts within the industry--if I've seen deal after deal made by an agent with the same editor at the same publisher, that raises questions in my mind about how many other contacts the agent has.

Also important is the agent's understanding of the market--ie what kind of books in that genre are selling at the moment and hopefully, a real appreciation of the author's work. I think the last is probably the clincher once the writer has narrowed down the choices enough to submit. If the agent can talk enthusiastically and *specifically* about things they like in a writer's book, then it's clear they have what it takes to pitch the book to editors. I've seen friends sign with an agent who might not have as much prestige or clout as another because that agent's view of the book so closely coincided with the author's own.

Anonymous said...

What I appreciate knowing about agents is how they work. When an agent knows s/he has an editorial style and will be very involved with revisions, that's helpful to know. On the other hand, if the agent has more of a marketing bent, and says so, then that is good to know, too.

Ultimately, my decision to sign would be based on a shared vision and enthusiasm for the writing.

kris said...

For me, I would need to know there was a connection of some sort - a shared vision. I also need someone I can laugh and be honest with, but that shared vision thing would be what makes an agent stand out for me.

I can pinpoint the precise moment I knew Jessica was the right agent for me. She had called to offer representation, I blurted out something stupid, we carried on. Lots of laughing (good sign). But then she made a suggestion as to how to turn the book into a series. It was the exact same decision I'd made not too long before, and it wasn't an incredibly obvious choice. As soon as she said that, I knew this was someone who would be able to understand what I was trying to do.

If I were Jennifer Crusie (oh, don't I wish), that's the kind of connection I would be seeking. I can only hope her search yields as fantastic a result as I was lucky enough to get.

Anonymous said...

Communication, courtesy & shared vision. Also, on Jennifer's blog she said that she could tell just by looking at her agent's face that something was up - that tells a lot about their relationship. Ultimately (in any relationship - business or otherwise) you want to be paired with a human & not just a machine.

pomo housewife said...

Most of what other respondents have said makes a lot of sense.

For me personally, an additional issue would be whether they are in a position to handle any concerns around being an international author.

Perhaps a track record of having worked with authors who do similar sorts of work, or 'out of the box' stuff - whether that's collaborating, cross-genre or whatever.


Shelli Stevens said...

I just went and read her post. I hadn't heard's a surprise, but you're right. I admire the agent. Sounds like they both knew it was time.

I'm at such a different place than Jennifer Cruise (though I'll be there some day!), I can't imagine having that many agents knocking down my door.

But if I did and I had to decide, I'd probably pick the agent that loved all my work, not just one genre. An agent who wanted to help me take my career from point A to point D.

It's just very hard to say, because I'm at a different starting line. So I'm not sure if those are my current requirements, or what I'd do if I were Jennifer.

Aimlesswriter said...

I want a lot in a agent. :)I need an agent to guide me, encourage me and be a friend. Oh yeah, and sell my stories.
Before blogs I read the stats on the agents, what they sold and for how much, who their clients are, etc. But blogging helps me see the personality behind the name. There are a few I've added to my list of dream agents because of how they spoke on their blog.(oh yes, this includes you)I've also cut one from my list because her blog was so self centered and braggy. (I won't mention that name here)
One question I've seen raised: Is it better to go with a big named agent? Or a little guy? Or someone in the middle? Or someone new?
I don't think there is an answer to this, is there?

Anonymous said...

Throwing that question back to us was incredibly instructive (and a little redemptive) for me. What would distinguish an agent for me is the same sort of inexplicable gut-level *yes* that I suppose I'm waiting to elicit from an agent. Having not managed to yet, it helps to think it may have been an equally non-your-writing-stinks quality but something a little fuzzier to blame. Thank you.

Sherry A Davis said...

What would I do with multiple offers of representation?

Mind boggling, truly. But since I'm on the great agent hunt, I'll play. (We can all dream, right?)

AAR is a must. I wouldn't even look at an agent without it. I guess, secondly, I'd want to know the agent was professional, meaning their communication style was prompt if there was a problem or an issue. I know that's asking a lot. But if they didn't have the answer, at least let me know they're working on it.

I'd want an agent/agency with a web presence that advertises their authors, new sales, interviews, movie rights, accolades, etc.

I've seen websites where it's so minimal it's useless. What's the point?

I've also seen narcissistic (sp?)agency websites where the clients "tout" the agent/agency without even a courtesy mention of the author's latest release/upcoming titles.

I'd also want to know the agent had a professional reputation with the pub houses I'm targeting. Unfortunately, this is something you don't find out right away. But it's oh-so important.
I want someone who's in it (the industry) because they love it. Not because they want to attend the NY scene and attend glamourous parties. I need smart! Hard working! And when it's appropriate, hard playing, too.

Okay, last thing, I promise. I'd want an agent unafraid to step out of their comfort zone, within reason, and allow me to expand out of my initial genre. (We all change.) This is very hard.

Most agents work like the dickens to establish relationships with editors and publishing houses. The better the relationship, the better the deals. And I'm all for that.

I think this leads us back to Meg Ruley and Jennie Cruisie. I can't blame Meg. She's worked her tush off to establish her career in romance. And I can't blame Jennie for wanting to stretch herself in new directions.

I think they're both extremely smart women who happen to know where they want to be five/ten years from now.

Okay, Jessica. You've established a thought provoking tennis match here. I'm throwing it back at you:

Where do you see yourself five/ten years from now?

Dara Edmondson said...

For me, it's all about personality. Obviously I'd want to know that said agent has the contacts and experience to get my work before the best publisher for it. But I'd want to really click with that person. I'd have to have seen them speak at an event, met them or be a regular blog reader;-) and know I like them and can respect them. After all, they'd be guiding my career and helping me make really important decisions.

Anonymous said...

I would *love* to see these kinds of topics:

How the money flows in ePublishing (to show how money is made and that it flows *toward* the writer, and also to show distinctions from the way traditional publishing works)

How the editorial processes work in ePublishing (to show that there are, in fact, quality requirements, intent to improve work, etc.)

What the sales process is like (again for the compare/contrast)

And maybe, if you're willing to branch out a bit, something on "How to Identify a Stable ePub House"

Anonymous said...

First off, what a class act Meg Ruley is!!! Jennifer Cruisie is not a brand new one-book wonder. She's a NYT best-seller. Agents make very little (calculate it) in the scheme of things until an author is established. To walk away when an author is at the top of her game for the good of the author is phenomenal.

As for what I want, first is an agent who is more about the authors than about himself/herself. I don't want to work with someone who promotes himself/herself and his/her books first (especially in a rejection.) I don't want an agent who spends half his/her time doing conferences. While he may be a great guy, fun to be around, and a wonderful speaker, when does he/she have time to focus on clients?

In other words, the agent can be low profile. Some of the most "powerful" agents are names not on the tips of everyone's tongues. They are not building a business. They either don't take many clients, or take on referral only. So I'm not impressed by the glitz.

Expertise, connections, professionalism and honesty are a given. I want someone who has been around, either on their own or a new agent affiliated with a reputable agency.

Attention. Communication. Time. I think because of these, I'd rather be with a smaller agency, than be the small fish in a big pond. I don't think being with a huge agency affords you any advantage unless your agent is accessible.

I'm not looking for a friend. I'm looking for a business partner. If it turns into friendship, that's great. But for now, take care of my business so I can do what I do best which is write.

Anonymous said...

What if a published author feels their agent isn't working for them anymore? This happens and authors talk about it at conventions. Everyone is afraid to make a move. The agent is bigger, busier, too many clients. The agent has lost interest or whatever. There are all kinds of reaons authors feel this...How does the author make that change? It's scary. What happens to that work that is in limbo and had no response? Is it taboo to the new agent? This can be the pits if the first agent has left it on desks without response for months on end? If they fire agent A -- do they follow up themselves while looking? Will the new agent even consider working on this? Does the published author need a new proposal for that new agent to even consider them? Do they have to kiss those old proposals goodbye?

Kate Douglas said...

Two things my "perfect" agent must have are integrity and a sense of humor. Those two traits cover just about every contingency, least they have so far!

Anonymous said...

Jenny wrote about her search for a new agent here:

Anonymous said...

I don't usually post on blogs, but when I saw your question, I couldn't resist. I don't think I've ever heard an agent ask what a writer looks for when he/she sends out a query.

I'm in the process of looking for my third agent. Not because my previous agents were bad, but as I've developed as a writer, shifted genres, and become more educated about the business, what I'm looking for in an agent has changed.

Having an agent who is your friend is a nice idea, but this is a business. A tough business. I'm looking for an agent who behaves in a professional manner. What does that mean? Responsive, communicative, well-organized, and straightforward.

Of course I want an agent who is enthusiastic about my voice, but more than that, I want an agent who knows how to pitch me to an editor. I want to know who my agent is pitching and why. It should be because my voice matches what the editor is buying and not because this who the agent always pitches, the editor is a friend, or they've just had lunch together. I don't want an agent who pitches to editors who don't have the power to make a decision about whether to buy a book. Just as books need hooks to sell, agents need to have hooks to sell writers.

I want to be updated on when and how editors respond to my work. I don't think a writer should have to call and ask where a manuscript has been sent, if the agent has checked on the status, or if there's been a response. Rejection is a bitch, but it allows a writer to move on, get some perspective, and adjust.

I want to know up front what your working style is; do you prefer emails or phone calls? What is your general response time--same day, several days? How quickly will you respond to a proposal? A manuscript?

Do you want to be part of the process, or would you rather just see the finished work? Do you edit? How many times will you touch base with an editor before concluding he/she isn't interested in the work. Do you withdraw a manuscript if the editor hasn't gotten to it after a certain number of months?

While these points may sound like I want to look over my agent's shoulder, I don't. But manuscripts don't always sell. If an agent doesn't keep a writer informed, how does the writer know what if anything has been done to sell the work? I want to trust my agent, but trust is something that has to be built up over time. Every writer has heard horror stories of writers who only found out after the fact that work was never sent out, or that their agent had had a nervous breakdown.

I admire Meg Ruley for having the decency to tell Jennie Crusie that she couldn't support her new direction. Jennie is a NYTimes best seller, a nice piece of advertising for any agency. A lesser agent might have stopped being responsive, stopped supporting the work leaving Jennie to figure out that it was time to go.

With the market the way it is, I suspect some agents keep writers on the shelf as inventory--just in case cowboys, or pirates, or whatever suddenly comes back into vogue.

A blogging agent, an agent who gets out and goes to conferences is fine. Networking is incredibly important in this business. But I want an agent who can balance the work of recruiting new agents with the care and feeding of old ones. (Frankly, I worry about agents who are always on the conference circuit. After two years, shouldn't they be established enough that they don't have to be constantly trolling.)

Finally, I pay attention to how an agent responds to my queries and submissions. First impressions count. Slow, sloppy, multiple responses, pitches for agent's books, no responses? If that's they way an agency handles potential clients, it can't help but raise questions about how they handle actual ones.

Anonymous said...

Crusie's newest book will be at #24 on next week's NYT bestseller list.

So I say good for Meg Ruley, for 2 reasons.

1, she's obviously done well by Crusie even though she didn't "get" Crusie's current direction.

2, it takes guts to break up a professional relationship that's that successful.

From Crusie's account, it sounds like they both knew it was time. That shows they're still in tune with each other, so good on Ruley for honestly and altruism.