Thursday, January 22, 2009

Trolling for an Agent?

Some people use the trolling method of acquiring an agent. Others try the dartboard method. And, still others use the buckshot method.

I use the marriage method. Maybe you’ve never heard of this approach? Well, it’s straightforward. Really. It’s kind of like the dating game. There are lots of agents out there but surely you don’t pick the first agent you see. Do you?

Pretend you are single. If you walked into a room of men, would you marry the first one you saw? Or, the first one who asked you? Well, maybe you would, but I would peruse the room carefully...see if there was one among them with that special...something.

Then I see him. He might not be the best looking, but the way he’s looking at me is curling my toes. Mmmm-mm. But just because we connect on that level doesn’t mean I’m going to marry him. What if he laughs like a donkey. Or makes me gag from his manly...aroma. That wouldn’t do at all. So, I meander over, pleased to see him saunter toward me. He says hello. My ears don’t hurt from his voice. His cologne is fresh and outdoorsy. His smile draws mine out. I’m definitely interested. But is that enough? No. And, so it goes until I find the man who fills my ideal or as Shania’s song says, “I don’t want a man I can live with, I want a man I can’t live without.”

When you marry, you give your spouse your trust. You are now in a partnership. You trust him to do what’s best for you and the marriage and he trusts you to do the same.

I liken an agent to a spouse. When you find your dream agent, you sign a contract, enter into a partnership and trust your agent to do what’s best for you and your agent needs to trust you to do the same.

When an agent decides to represent you and takes you on as a client, you are giving him or her control of your writing career. From that point on, your agent will decide what’s best for you.
This was made clear to me last fall when one of my writing friends commiserated that she’d just finished writing a 75,000 word novel yet, after reading it, her agent said it wasn’t ‘salable’ and to start over with something new. I was stunned. My friend – who pours her heart into everything she writes - spent months writing this story and her agent squashed it flat.

But you see, that’s what agents do. They are the experts in what the publishing houses want. They have the experience to know who wants what, what has a good chance of selling and what would only fit a niche market.

When you sign with an agent, you are giving them the license to decide what you need to write to become published.

My friend had 2 choices at that point. She could have said, ‘Stuff it! You’re my agent and this my project, so sell it!’ Although this might have worked, the ‘trust’ part of the relationship between agent and client would have been breached. What follows after the trust is gone is not a healthy relationship as anyone in a broken marriage can attest.

Instead of taking that option, my friend tucked her wip away and started another one. She’s jealously hoarding this new wip and hasn’t even sent me one chapter to read yet, but from what I’m hearing, she’s very excited about it.

As for my own quest...I found my dream agent. I read and comment on her blog and I think she’s wise, considerate and compassionate. I even had an appointment with her when I went to a writing conference last year. She was charming and witty and even remembered me from my comments on her blog. And best of all, she wanted me to send her a proposal and partial of my Inspirational Historical. Wow. I think we could write great things together.

But once I got home and thought about it, I couldn’t send it out to her. I want to but I’d be giving up a dream. You see, there’s only one problem with my dream agent – and it’s a biggie - she doesn’t represent category books. I write category books. Harlequin Romances are category books and I’ve dreamed of becoming a Harlequin author since I was 14 yrs old and read my first one.

My Inspirational Historical is the right length for the general book market that my dream agent represents so, I could send her my proposal and partial. Then, if she liked it and wanted to represent me, I would become her client and we’d enter into a partnership with the understanding that I would only write books for the general book market.

And my dreams of becoming a Harlequin author would be tucked away in some back corner of my mind. Just like my friend's unsalable novel is tucked away in a ‘forbidden’ file on her computer.

Now, you might be sitting there saying, ‘There are other agents’. Well, yes, and there are other guys, too.

I met other agents at the conference, read their blogs and listened to other writers talk about their favorite agents. But, none of them have inspired me. Yet.

And that’s okay, because while I research for another dream agent who will fill my publishing dreams, I’m learning more about my craft and the industry. Publishing a book from conception to the shelf takes years. I can wait.

Do you have an agent? Or wished you had one? Am I missing the point? How long does an agent/client partnership usually last in your opinion anyway?

Have you used one of the above methods to find an agent? Which one do you think works best most of the time?


KellyMarstad said...

Have one. Love him. He's a Christian who PRAYS FOR HIS CLIENTS and their success. You can't beat that.

Had a different one before him and couldn't wait to get rid of her because... oh heck, sooo many reasons but mainly she couldn't remember me or my name and would break appointments while gushing over how important I was. Uh huh. Not important enough for you to remember. Thanks but no.

A good agent is critical. A bad agent can suck the life out of you for a year. And most houses require one.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
I don't have an agent and haven't seriously looked for one because, like you, I wrote category. Now that I am epublished there is even less need for an agent.

But that doesn't mean I don't want to write a bigger book someday. And like Kelly said, most houses require an agent.

For me finding an agent is a future consideration, but if you think you have a chance with this dream agent why don't you submit to her and see what happens. I know you have your heart set on being a Harlequin author, but if you were to secure this agent, it's possible she could help you take your career to places you haven't even dreamed of.

Just my two cents...

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Kel, I wondered how you worked that out...

I agree about a good agent being critical as it usually means they're telling you what they really think.

Thanks for your input.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Jana, you are a very wise woman.

In fact, that is the one reason I still refer to her as my dream agent and haven't started looking elsewhere.

I also know several authors who had books out on the general market shelves and then went to Harlequin. At least one of them was even invited by a Harlequin editor to send in a proposal and now has 2 or 3 pubbed under the Love Inspired Suspense line.

Thanks for reminding me that even if I do happen to 'snag' my dream agent, it doesn't mean I'm throwing away my dream of writing for Harlequin - I'm just setting it aside for awhile. And, I did say, 'I can wait' didn't I?

Thank you, Jana. I truly appreciate your insight.

sheandeen said...

You wrote a provocative blog--but why can't you do both? Is there a reason why you can't show this dream agent your partial and see what she can do with it and still someday write for Harlequin?

I know I am still trying to figure it all out, but is there some type of an exclusive clause that does not allow you to send some work through her to the general market and still write for category?

Samantha Hunter said...

"When an agent decides to represent you and takes you on as a client, you are giving him or her control of your writing career. From that point on, your agent will decide what’s best for you."

No. Sorry, but no. LOL

Only YOU can prevent forest fires. ;) You are always in control of your writing career, no matter what. Only you can decide what's best for you, and that's you. If you go into a an agent relationship giving over this much power and control to them, that's not a good thing.

You hire the agent, and it's probably healthier to think of it as a good friendship or business partnership than a marriage. In the strictest sense, the agent works for you. You pay them, not the other way around. I think one of the biggest mistakes writers make is forgetting that.

In the best case, you work together. I have that with my agent now -- she invests in me, and I work hard to hope it pays off for us both. Partners, but even so, I am always responsible for the trajectory of my own career. She can't make those decisions for me. She gets me some nice projects now and then, negotiates contracts, and tells me if something is ready to be submitted, but she can't make my decisions for me, and shouldn't.

I listen to my agent, I trust her, and she's been wonderful, but for her to do her job effectively, I have to be clear on my own career goals and letting her know what I want, so we can figure out a way to make that happen.

She's an advocate, a representative, and a link for me to publishers, etc -- but ultimately I am the writer, the final decisions always come down to me. In fact, if your agent takes too much control over your writing, your career, etc I'd say, be careful there...

My two cents


Janet said...

An interesting post, Anita - especially considering my post tomorrow. I, too, am talking about agents. Well, you get two people in a room and bring up a subject, 50% chance they're going to disagree. I think it's a case of what works for you, decisions have to sit right in your heart. My strategy is very different - just like my genre is very different than yours. It's good to have variety, isn't it?

I would agree with Jana - I still think you should send in your partial. This agent may say she doesn't represent category writers, but you might be the writer that changes her perspective. And it would be good feedback - something every writer needs.

Looking forward to hearing your perspective on my strategy tomorrow.


sheandeen said...

Sam--thanks for weighing in. I figured from various comments I have seen elsewhere that there are ways to right both mainstream and category if that is the writer's goal. Having an agent for category is not an absolute, but for mainstream it is--is another one of those tidbits I've heard. Yes?

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Sheandeen, nice to see you over here.

Well, I don't know if there's a 'clause' b/c I've never been offered a contract, but it states right on her blog that she doesn't do category.

Knowing this, I still picked her for my lone agent appt at the conf because I wanted to be sure. She emphatically stated right there that she doesn't represent category.

And yes, I could show her my partial and see how far I could go in the industry and leave Harlequin for 'someday'.

In fact, you seem to be in the majority with this reasoning.

Thank you, Sheandeen, I'm going to have to seriously recondsider my stance on this. (See you on the boards...)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Sam, as always, I appreciate your 2 cents worth. It sounds like you have an excellent working relationship with your agent. I envy you.

You said, I listen to my agent, I trust her, and she's been wonderful, but for her to do her job effectively, I have to be clear on my own career goals and letting her know what I want, so we can figure out a way to make that happen.

Sam, have you switched career goals with the same agent? I know you write for Blaze, but what if you wanted to switch to...Steeple Hill for example? (I can hear you laughing but I went to the opposite end of the spectrum.) How would your agent react?

And if you were my friend and had written this fab book and your agent wanted to squash it, what would you do? Would your agent still work as effectively if she didn't believe in your book? Or, are you saying that it would never have gotten to that point even if it was the book of your heart?

Karen said...

Wow, when I was fourteen my goal in life was to marry Shaun Cassidy of tv fame. I did have to tweek the dream a bit. I did, in fact, get married, but not to Shaun Cassidy. Its worked out very well.

Interesting to hear the different opionions. I'm reading and learning.


Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Janet, vive la difference, and all that, eh? LOL

Thank goodness we do have variety. I'm looking forward to reading your post tomorrow.

Y'all are giving me the feeling of immediacy. Yikes!

I'm of 2 minds - starting a proposal, and - checking out other agents to see if any 'zing' with me.

And yes, that was my orignal question but now the reason has changed...instead of the category thing, Sam's got me worried about the control thing...

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Karen, David was the cute one!

I'm glad you're picking some info here today. Me too!

This question has been weighing on my mind since I attended the conf last Sep and I just couldn't decide. I'm really thankful for all the insights.

Thanks for stopping.

Suse said...

Hey Anita Mae,

As always, your post gives us all something to think about. At this point in my career I wouldn't need an agent - most short pieces are just sent with a cover letter. If I do get back to writing novels (category romance), I probably wouldn't need an agent then either. I do have a nonfiction book idea I would like to pursue some day, so maybe then I will look for an agent.

I am in agreement with most of the other comments. I don't see why you can't let the agent see your inspirational historical and give you some feedback on it and maybe represent it, AS WELL AS your continuing to write your category romances. Couldn't you do both?

I have been reading a book called "My So-Called Freelance Life" by Michelle Goodman. Michelle has stated that it doesn't hurt to work on other projects that pay the bills while you continue to work on your dream project.

I think if your dream agent can help you get that book published, your chances of selling your category romances to Harlequin would increase. By having a book published, you would show that you can finish a book, can write a salable story, and you may have a readership that would be interested in reading your category romances as well.

Just my opinion. I could be totally off the mark though.

Good luck with whatever you decide. Go with your heart.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Suse, yup, I like hearing what you really think.

I think your last sentence said it all, 'Go with your heart'

I think that's the best advice yet.

Thanks, Suse.

Anita Mae Draper said...

I'd really like to thank everyone who took time out of their busy lives to comment here today.

I think the general consensus seems to be my first priority should be of signing with an agent. Once I've done that, I can wow her with my brilliant writing and bend her to my will. Hmmm. You never could work.

You've all given me much to think about. Thank you. I will definitely keep you all informed as to my progress in this endeavour.

Janet - I can't wait for your Friday post.

Samantha Hunter said...

Hi guys -- sorry I couldn't get back yesterday...

To answer a few of your questions:

My agent picked me up through an ST romance that I had in hand -- though the funny story is that she hated the ms, but she LOVED Untouched (A Blaze) and so she really wanted me to sign with her, even though I had no book to sell -- good sign there -- she liked ME, she wasn't just after a book to sell.

Second, she does handle my category work, because for an agent to really be effective, I think they have to handle all of your work, so that way, if there are scheduling issues, whatever persnickety stuff can come up among publishers, etc then they can handle it all. So she does handle everything I write.

And yes, she has seen me through some changes. She's supported my attempts to write for Superromance (still trying), and I am actually making a larger genre change into mystery -- through my work with her, one of the things I discovered is that I can write category romance, but I am not as good at long, single title romance. But, lo and behold, I love reading mystery, so I tried writing one, and WHOA! Loved it. :) She's trying to sell one for me now, but it was my first, so you know, we'll see. I am working on a second currently, as well as several category books.

And, it was kind of there all along, if you are familiar with my Blazes, they almost all have mystery/suspense components.

So, yes... I think we learn, grow, change, and that brings up a good point about choosing an agent -- if you look at my agent's website, you can see she represents a lot of different books -- fiction, nonfiction, all kinds of stuff. She's gotten TV and movie options for her clients etc -- so she can offer me a lot of variety, too.

That, in contrast to my first agent, who only did a certain kind of book, and who wasn't really as broadly experienced as my agent now. She was a fine person, and a good agent, but in a much narrower sense.

So... sorry this got long again, but I hope that answered questions...


Samantha Hunter said...

Anita, as for your "squashing the book" question, that goes back to trust. If you trust your agent's experience and view, then you should listen and take it seriously. If you still feel that book is good, then you have the option to send it out on your own, to get editorial feedback, and that will be a test that will show you if you are right or not. So, there are middle-grounds. Agents are people, they do their best, but they can be wrong. Then again, we're not always the best judges of our own work. *G*

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Sam, glad you came back.

Your answer is spot on. Especially when you said, 'If you still feel that book is good, then you have the option to send it out on your own, to get editorial feedback, and that will be a test that will show you if you are right or not.'

Getting editorial feedback is the main thing. It's like sending it out for arbitration if you and your agent can't agree, eh? Good advice.

Thanks Sam, excellent advice and info.