Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Sell Yourself

On a recent blog post one of the infamous anonymous comments accused me of being offended by an author’s belief that an agent does nothing more than submit material and negotiate the contract only because I didn’t want to actually have to sell myself or convince the author otherwise.

I know upon reading this I laughed out loud and I would imagine other agents did as well. The thought that we don’t sell ourselves to authors is ridiculous and only comes from someone who has never met with an agent at a conference or been offered representation. Every single time I make a call to offer representation I’m going into it with a sales pitch of sorts. I have never once called an author with the assumption that this was an easy “get.” Whether I’m the first agent offering or the fifth I know that my job is to convincingly tell that author that I’m the best agent for her.

The same holds true of any public interaction with authors. Sure, I write this blog and I try to remain as honest as possible, but if you don’t think I’m editing myself daily to ensure I don’t offend potential clients you’ve got to be kidding. And conferences? Conferences are all about looking my best, acting my best, and being “on” as much as possible. Every author I meet is a potential client, which means I need to show my best and most professional side. Have you ever sat in on a pitch session with me? One of the first things I ask authors is whether or not you have any questions for me. If you do, my goal is to sell myself.

If you’re a regular reader of the blog you’ll see posts I’ve done on how difficult it can be to lose out on an opportunity to win over a new client, and if you’ve ever read blog posts from other agents you’ll see similar posts. An agent’s job is to sell. We sell our clients and we sell ourselves. We sell ourselves to authors and we sell ourselves to editors. If I can’t convince editors that I’m a good agent I can’t convince them that I have good clients.

To assume that agents don’t have to sell themselves to potential clients is short-sighted, but also I think doing yourself a disservice. I’ve said it over and over and over on this blog: When you get an offer of representation the very first thing you need to do is leverage that offer as much as possible. Give yourself the chance to choose the agent you feel is best for you. Doesn’t that statement alone prove that I’m encouraging authors to ask agents to sell themselves?

And yes, this post is a bit of a rant, but after a while I get tired (as do many of the readers who honestly post, learn, and give constructive opinions) of the anonymous who feel they know so much more than the rest of us. I can understand where this business can get discouraging, but bitterness toward those who only want success for you is not going to help you succeed.



Sarah J. MacManus said...

Careful, Jessica - you're selling yourself again! ;)

Donna Lea Simpson said...

In my experience there are many people in this world with a negative view of life. Those folks will try to pick a fight with whomever, and there is no reasoning with them. They pop up on message boards and inevitably post as Anonymous (there are legitimate reasons to post as 'anonymous', BTW, but lots of people hide behind anonymity, too) so they can incite a quarrel.

Those kind of folks are better off leaving a business where optimism and a cool head are necessary. Publishing is a hard knocks business, where you have to be tough and thick-skinned to survive. If you're looking for a fight, or if you're easily offended, then you're better off out of it.

And yes, we're all selling ourselves in this business as well as our product, whether that product is the books we write or the services we provide. Ignore the anonymous trolls looking for a fight; I'm sure they'll find it somewhere!

Delilah S. Dawson said...

When I first began the query process, I dreamed of the call from an agent offering representation.

Nowadays, I dream about getting that call and then emailing the six agents reviewing my manuscript to tell them that I've been offered representation and see how they respond.

Perhaps the dream will one day encompass editors, too. Give it time.

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

Delilah: That dream recently came true for me. I had an offer of representation and had to let the other agents know about it. It was a wild ride for a while, but I feel I landed exactly where I should be. Good for you for aiming high.

We all need to sell ourselves. That's the nature of the business.

Dear Anonymous: Deal With It.

Linda Banche said...

I shake my head when I read comments about how awful the agents are to the poor writers. I mean, have you ever gone on a job interview for a job you really wanted and didn't get it? If you're older than about fifteen, I assume it's happened to you a lot. It has to me. So what do you do? Whine about how hard it is to get a job, or go and look for another? If all you do is whine, I can guarantee you'll never get a job, let alone an agent.

Rick Daley said...

I thought conferences were about lack of sleep, manic races to all varieties of transportation devices, and the search for luggage. I should have known there was an undercurrent of higher relevance ;-)

Stina said...

Great post, Jessica! And Linda Banche, your comment was right on.

DeadlyAccurate said...

First thing my agent did when she offered was tell me why she thought she was the right agent for me. She pitched to me just as she pitches books to editors. The Nonny is flat-out wrong.

JDuncan said...

When I got a deal offered to me on my book and contacted several agents for possible representation, I had two that it came down to. One, I had a very good conversation with. I liked her a lot, she was enthusiastic about the story and even thought it could sell to a bigger publisher. She was from a very reputable agency, had several clients in my genre, had editorial contacts that she knew my story would appeal to. Honestly, she gave me no reason to say no. The "sell" as it were, was great. I had every confidence she would be a great agent for me.

The other, I was equally confident in. I knew he would be good. I had been in contact with him through his blog. I knew he was savvy and would enjoy working with him as well. He was at the top of my list. He was the automatic yes vote if he offered. He offered. I was ecstatic, but still hemmed and hawed a bit between the two. The other had more experience working in this genre, established and proven with editors. I knew I couldn't really lose with either, but in the end, the top of my list won out. I felt really bad saying no to the other agent. I know it's a business and it happens all of the time, but still. She had done everything right.

The same can and does happen with authors. You can do everything right with your novel, but it still may not be the thing for an agent, for a variety of reasons. It's just the way things fall out some times.

Kimber Li said...

I think this is a good example of a commenter having a negative experience with a less-than-professional agent and then lumping you in with her, instead of taking you at face value and respecting you as a unique individual.

Hopefully, the commenter will have more positive experiences in the future to help clarify the situation.

Mira said...

Good post. Thank you. .

Agents are so in demand, that I think it's hard sometimes for writers to remember they are people - people who are dealing with the hard realities of life just like we are.

I believe you work very hard, Jessica, and try to do the absolute best for your clients and your agency.

I also imagine you're a pretty good saleswoman. You 'sold' me this morning. :)

Dara said...

I can understand where this business can get discouraging, but bitterness toward those who only want success for you is not going to help you succeed.

Amen to that!

Remus Shepherd said...

The thought that we don't sell ourselves to authors is ridiculous and only comes from someone who has never met with an agent at a conference or been offered representation.

But that's a tiny fraction of authors. You offer representation to less than 1% of the authors who query you (and that's a small fraction of authors out there). Probably fewer authors than that attend conferences, let alone manage to meet an agent there.

To the average author, agents look like they're standing on pedestals waiting to be worshiped. An author has to be extremely lucky to even get the time of day from an agent.

Anonymous said...

I agree whole-heartedly with Remus Shepherd. Of course there are a tiny fraction of books that incite an agent's attention and then they are more than ready to sweet talk the writer into signing.

But more often than not, agents respond months and months after a query and even when they are interested, they ask for a rewrite before offering to sign you.

Once upon a time I did have two agent offers for a ms and the one who "sold" herself best to me won. Then she promplty put me on the back burner and later dumped me all together after only a handful of subs for the ms.

Lesson learned: some agents like the chaos and "chase" of signing what they deem a sought after client, but that ferver doesn't necessarily translate when it gets down to the nitty gritty of being dedicated to sell the thing.

Voidwalker said...

Gotta love those anonymous commenters and their amazing insight. lol

Nancy Coffelt said...

We all should be selling ourselves all the time - by putting out the best work we're capable of,educating ourselves, researching the market, and dealing with other people in the business in a polite and respectful manner.

I am so thankful for my agent. He sells himself constantly by letting me know what the status of submissions are, mediating any teensy potholes in the editing process and checking in to see if I'm on track with my WIP.

And that's not counting the contract negotiations!

Kate Douglas said...

LOL...I love a good rant to start off the day. I can't think of an agent who works harder at selling herself than Jessica. From writing this blog to the regular columns in Romantic Times magazine, to attending conferences all over the country where she sits on panels and does workshops, to her stellar representation of her clients. It's all about going above and beyond what the job actually requires.

This is not a business for sissies, whether you're an agent, an editor or a writer. It's hard work, it's rewarding as hell, but the competition to stand out from the crowd never ends.

Rebecca Knight said...

To Remus & the Anon: I appreciate that you guys feel that way, but I think what we all have to keep in mind is perspective.

Agents don't *ask* us to think of them that way--authors/writers think that way when they're discouraged and feel that they're being treated unfairly.

Intrinsically, the system is set up to be fair. Just because only a few make the cut doesn't mean it's the judges' fault or that they want us to treat them as gods. It just means they're doing their jobs. Like everyone else :).

Getting published is like being accepted into the Olympics. Not all athletes are going to make it, and that doesn't make it unfair. It is what it is :). If it were easy, it wouldn't be The Olympics!

frapoBlue said...

i think, on a daily basis, or where ever there is interaction in getting an agent or in any business for that matter, both sides always has to sell themselves. No matter what each side thinks what ace they have or power the hold, you gotta sell yourself.

LynML said...

This is a heartening post, to think that an agent may actually want to work with someone like me. I've worked hard, joined critique groups, attended conferences and workshops, and revised again and again. I also devoted countless hours to ensure that my small press published book, which I sold with no agent, gained critical attention and traction in the marketplace.

I had been skeptical about working with an agent but thanks to this blog and others have learned what an agent can do and how I should communicate with a prospective agent to make sure we have a positive and productive relationship. So thanks, Jessica. And if I'm able to take the next step in my career, you'll be part of the reason.

Anonymous said...

I've never had anyone who didn't try to sell me on signing up with them. They're all salespeople.

One quibble: I would expect more negative posts to be anonymous. That doesn't mean anonymous critical posters are negative. My guess is many of the more accomplished professionals who disagree with you are going to do it anonymously, because there's nothing it in for us to put our professional name out in a public venue like this. Getting into a public squabble with an agent on a bulletin board is not a good use of a writer's brand name.

--And yes, this post is a bit of a rant, but after a while I get tired (as do many of the readers who honestly post, learn, and give constructive opinions) of the anonymous who feel they know so much more than the rest of us.--

Anonymous said...

This isn't uncommon. An agent's hot passion can cool very quickly if they don't have immediate success. I've had a number of agents and they were all a mixed bag. They all praised me out of the box, a Hollywood agent declaring I was a "genuis." Mostly, they were good people and good agents, but they were businesspeople and a certain point I moved from a high to low business priority.

--Once upon a time I did have two agent offers for a ms and the one who "sold" herself best to me won. Then she promplty put me on the back burner and later dumped me all together after only a handful of subs for the ms. --

Gary Ponzo said...

Is this really a serious problem? I mean does the typical writer want to be schmoozed, or do they run out and scream, "I finally have an agent who likes my book?" I think the latter. And if you have more than one agent interested in representing you, be grateful Mr. Grisham.

The Swivet said...

Great post!

And amen on being fed up with the "anonymous" know-it-alls.

Anonymous said...

Whenever there's a power imbalance in a relationship, the party with less power will usually, eventually, get angry. It's human nature. Hence, the anger some writers feel toward agents.

The truth is, when querying, it's easy to feel as if a writer has no power, and the agent, all of the power.

(On that note, it's a big reason why "no means no" agent rejections, although understandable as a time saver, further stir the power-imbalance pot.)

That said, I just want to say how grateful I am for the *constructive* anon commentors.

It didn't escape my notice that many such anons were the more established, already agented writers, and as a writer working with an agent (for the first time) on revisions, I've found those insider views and experiences (on all topics) to be positively *golden* -- like sign posts along the way.

Love your blog, Jessica! Thanks for the generosity you exhibit in helping writers not only navigate the road to publication, but succeed along the way.

As they say, knowledge is power!

Anonymous said...

May I ask if the blog doesn't like Anon comments why do they let them on the blog?

Yes, anon comments are sometimes negative, simply because this is a super hard business, with a super steep learning curve, and the balance of power does not tip in favor of the writer. If someone does have a legitimate grip they obviously don't want to be branded a "complainer or whiner" on a blog. I've read other Anon comments about problems with agents or editors and been relieved that I wasn't the only one. But this isn't my blog, it's Bookends.

Why not just banish Anon comments all together, rather than being surprised by it? Truly, I don't get it. :)

Anonymous said...

Has anyone noticed that we don't know who most of the bloggers with "names" really are?
I write anonymously b/c every time I try to use the name I chose, I'm told my password is wrong. It's the password I chose! So I gave up and write anonymously.

Anonymous said...

I actually think that the poters wuth names are more fame than the anons. This is because the ones with names are essentially Internet Billboards, advertising themselves to their respective industries. Anons, on the other hand, are speaking freely,m enencumbered by the facade of pretentious politeness put up by the chest-puffing account holders whose only goal is to promote. You don't know what they reall think. they're jsut typing what they think will endear themselves to the industry.

Anonymous said...

it's also worth noting that most of the named posters are current aspirants who will fall away within a couple of years after they realize they're not going to make it in the publishing business. No longer with a purpose, their accounts are left to fester in obscurity, or in some cases are re-tooled for some new pursuit.

We anons, however, will always be here. We post anon precisely because we've already BEEN in it for the long haul, and will continue to be.

So in that sense the anons offer truer advice than the so-called "Internet Billboards" which most publishing blog posters fall into.

Anonymous said...

I've been in the game so long that I trust my own longevity to outlast any Internet "account." I do't even bother to create them any more because I will be arouond longer than they will. But anon--anon is good forever, with no hassle of signing up, retaining login info, receiving junk mail, etc.

Anon is REAL.

When Blogger goes under or gets bought or merged or just falls out of favor, all the Billboard names will be no good, in fact--icons of a failed venture--while the anons will still rertain their identities.

Anonymous said...

"Whenever there's a power imbalance in a relationship..."

Another newb misconception debunked:

There is a "power imbalance" between agent and writer, but it's not the one you think. The greater power is definitely with the writer, PROVIDED that the writer produces commercially in-demand material. For those writers, it's the agents who compete.

For newbie writers, yeah, agents have more power, but it's not much in the way of real power, since agents want to sell books, and that means repping bestsellers, not newbs.

Daron D. Fraley said...

Jessica, I enjoyed this post and appreciate the thoughts about an author choosing the best agent for them. I would agree that both the author and the agent need to sell themselves.

A follow-up question, out of curiosity: Have you or other agents you are aware of ever offered un-solicited representation? That is, have you ever approached an author before they approached you, simply because you found out about their book and had interest in it, and then sold yourself/your agency to get the deal?

I could guess that this may happen at conferences, etc., but with social media increasingly being used by both authors and agents, it makes me wonder if these types of connections are starting to take place more often.

Anonymous said...

It can ocassionally happen, Daron, especially if the writer is selling on their own through Amazon or otherwise making a name for themselves on some kind of platform, but I wouldn't sit around and wait for it to happen.

ali cross said...

This post made me so, so happy. Thank you! Recently I became concerned because an opportunity I had with a publisher never once made me feel like they needed to sell themselves to me. As a result, I doubted their ability to really promote my book. I decided not to go with them, but I've doubted myself. It's hard to walk away from a publishing opportunity when you want so much to see your book in print.

Your post, Jessica, proves to me I was right. That the RIGHT agent/publisher will want to reassure me that they are the right fit for me and my book.

And if I've totally misunderstood and you really think I was still nuts for passing on a contract ... shhh ... don't tell me. Let me live in happy ignorance a little longer.

LynML said...

Daron, another reason an agent may approach a writer is if s/he has a short story that appears in a prestigious literary journal.

Anonymous said...

I've read posts from writers going off on agents. This is a new one for me. To assert that agents don't need to 'sell' themselves to their clients or publishers is simply ignorance on the part of the accuser. I suspect anyone making that point simply doesn't understand sales. Most likely they have never worked in sales. If they did, they would understand one of the key tenets of salesmanship is this: you sell yourself before you sell your product. Agents are in sales. Of course there is much more to that but every day in every way an agent sells himself: to his clients, potential clients, editors, publishers, whatever. Anyone under the impression this is not so simply doesn't understand the process and the business.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me agents like the thrill of the chase--and once they land you, they're no longer interested unless a few editors are immediately ready to sign you up.
Books are not candy, people--they must be savored over time to be appreciated.

Enjoyed the Anon comments--maybe we have the most to lose cuz our names *are* well known, at least in our biz...

Axe said...

IMO, this here blog is how you sell yourself. I don't know for sure if you're the right fit for my book, but if you are, that you've obviously already done so much to help me speaks volumes to me about what you'll do if I hire you. (Unless, of course, you're just spending all your time blogging and none of it working.)