Monday, November 28, 2011

It's Not the End of the World.

Q: HELP. I am scared my agent is about to drop me. WHAT DO I DO?

I gave basically this answer to somebody on a message board recently but realized that I get a variation on this question all the time. So let's tackle it here.

The fact that you are asking a stranger about this is a bad sign, to be honest. To me, it means you don't have a good enough relationship with your agent to have a frank conversation with her.


A) You are right, she is not jazzed about your book anymore (or your next book, or whatever it is) -- in which case you need to TALK TO HER and find out what the problem is, and if she has lost faith in your book you need to find out why and discuss the possibility of revisions, or tell her the other awesome idea you have up your sleeve, or part ways with her, or SOMETHING. But nothing will get accomplished if you don't talk to her. You sound like you are stuck in a rut right now, and something needs to change for you to move forward. Or...

B) You are being a neurotic stressball (common in the writer community) and you need to TALK TO HER and realize that she still adores your work and is waiting until after the holidays, or is swamped and not being the communicator she should be, or SOMETHING, but again, you can't find that out unless you talk to her. She is probably not psychic and will not know you are upset unless you tell her.

If you haven't had a conversation about your fears with her, ask yourself why. Is it because she is hiding from you? Or because you are avoiding saying what is on your mind? In my opinion, not communicating what you need and expecting somebody else to just magically know it it is not just passive, it's passive aggressive, and it is a sure way to sabotage yourself.

If you have the conversation you might both end up pumped, re-energized and ready to do another round, or see what happens next.

But if by chance she does end up dropping you (OR vice versa)... it won't be the end of the world. In fact, you might find it a blessing in disguise. Even if you really like somebody as a person, you don't want them as an agent if they aren't excited about your work. And you certainly don't want to work with somebody you don't trust enough to talk to.

For a bit of inspiration -- and this is for ALL writers -- I link you to this post I liked by THE INTERN on Nova Ren Suma's blog. (Actually all the inspiration posts on that blog are great). I urge you to remember that seriously, in the grand scheme of things, all this neurotic crazymaking stuff that is so easy to tear your hair out over? Really... just... doesn't... matter. Stop obsessing and freaking out, take a big deep breath of fresh air, and be brave. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Exclusives on Slush? Oh Hell No.

Paraphrased from a ton of queries:

"I'm sending this to you exclusively. You're the only agent to see this because I know we're such a great fit!"

My (short) response: 


My (long) response:

What are you, NUTS?  

Even if you read my twitter, follow my blog, have met me in real life - you don't know me. You don't know how much time I have, or what other people already on my list are currently in the midst of writing. I reject 99% of what I get. Even if you ARE the 1%... I'll be the judge of that, thanks. Don't presume we are "such a great fit" that you are willing to sabotage your own career on that basis. 

Yes, giving exclusives when they aren't requested IS sabotaging your own career. 

An agent or editor may take weeks, or months, to get back to you. Frankly, they may never get back  to you. They quite rightly prioritize authors that they are actually working with, and some have policies of "no response means no." 

You might think that an "exclusive" will make me speed up. Nope. I read queries in the order I get them. When I get to your slush query a month after you've sent it, that is the first time I have ever seen your name, and you say something like "this is an exclusive submission" -- but why? I had no idea! I didn't ask for that! You were seriously going to wait a month, two months, or FOREVER?? And then send it to one more person? And wait a month or two months or FOREVER??? Noooo!  You will be like Rip Van Winkle at the end of it all. 

And let's say you DO get a favorable response? Let's say I read it and love it and offer. Well great. But you have no idea if I am actually the agent who will love it best. Or let's say that editor says "OK! I'll buy it." But... you have no idea if other offers would be better, and no leverage to improve the offer. Argh. 

I'm sorry to be so keyed up, I am obviously emotionally invested in this. But... I really really REALLY want authors to give themselves a fair shake. I think exclusives are a poor idea and BAD FOR YOU. 

These are the times to give exclusives: 
* When you already work with an editor, and enjoy them, it is totally appropriate to give them the "first crack" at your new work.  
* When you already work with an editor, and this is a project that they have asked for specifically - a sequel, or another work set in the same world as your first, or they've asked you for a book on a specific topic, for example.
* When the agent or editor has worked with you extensively, and given you tons of specific editorial feedback, and has asked you to revise and indicated that they WANT to read it again, and you have revised the book specifically FOR THEM. Then it is totally appropriate to give an exclusive on that version of the manuscript, for a window of time. But all of those factors have to be in play. And you have to TELL the editor or agent that they have x-number of weeks to look. After that point, you are quite free to send the material to other people. 
You notice how NONE of those times are "when you are a slush puppy and nobody knows who you are yet"?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Holiday Gift Giving - Agent Edition

Q: I have an agent I love, although she's not had success (yet?!) selling my book. The ever important question: what is appropriate for an author to do for her agent at the holidays? Just a card? A gift? What kind of gift? These are the things that keep me up at night! Thanks.

May seem silly to some, but I get this question with surprising frequency, so I am going to pull on my white gloves for an etiquette lesson.

Your agent needs and expects nothing for the holidays. You are under NO obligation to spend money or time on gifts your agent for holidays, or at any time of year. Even if you and your agent are friendly... even, in fact, if you and your agent are friends.

If you are the card-sending "type" and sending cards is already on your agenda -- go ahead and send a card. That's nice. But don't go out of your way to do it if you are not "cardish" by nature. Otherwise, an e-card, or just simple greetings in regular correspondence, such as you might give to anyone you do business with, are of course polite. You may not know what, if any, holidays your agent celebrates... so I'd suggest keeping it to a neutral "happy holidays", "happy new year" etc, unless you know for a FACT that your agent is a practicing member of a specific religion. (I usually say "stay warm!")

If you have a book deal to celebrate, or if you just love to give gifts and you REALLY WANT to give your agent a present, I'd suggest keeping it small - no need to go overboard. Perhaps something bookish, or some cool token related to your book. If you are an illustrator, a small piece of art would be beyond lovely. If she works in an office with other people, some nice chocolates or cookies to share, or a special snack from your region. If you know she likes a certain kind of coffee or booze, some of that would be appreciated (provided it is not too pricey). Your agent will be delighted to receive a gift... but again, she is NOT going to be expecting one, nor will she be disappointed if one does not come.

DON'T buy something lavish, particularly if your book has not yet sold. (If your book sold for a million bucks, by all means splurge on the luxe cashmere scarf or golden phone case... but if your book hasn't sold yet and you are barely holding down a job at Dairy Queen, it will make your agent worry. You want your gift to inspire delight, not concern.)

DON'T send perishable items to the office over the holiday break - nothing quite so gross as a box of decomposing pears leaking onto your desk when you come back from vacation. So make sure you find out when the office will be closed, or if there is a better address. I'd also steer away from things that have a scent (perfumes and soaps), and items of clothing that have a size.

DO remember that people go out of town and offices are closed over the holidays. Check for the best address before sending.

DO Let common sense be your guide. And DON'T worry!