Tuesday, April 02, 2013

"Rock Star" agents, and more about Schmagents

The phrase "rock star agent" gets thrown around a lot. Sometimes even regarding me. That's fine, I know people mean it as a fun compliment, and I am definitely not dissing anyone who uses that phrase. But the thing is... Agent TO rock stars is slightly different than "rock star" agent!

I want MY AUTHORS to be in the spotlight.

Good agenting is not a popularity contest, and in my opinion, a good agent should not be seeking fame for themselves above their authors. YES, it's fine for an agent to be plugged in to social media and whatnot (hey, I am!) -- but just because an agent has a cool blog or website, or is funny on twitter... doesn't mean you necessarily want them handling your business. This should not be the main criteria for choosing an agent.

I adore my social media friends. I've been blogging and tweeting and whatnot for a long time, and it is definitely part of my identity. But I cringe when I see people talk online about their "dream agents" and realize that most or all of them are actually just "agents who have popular blogs" or "agents who are big on Twitter." Some of the very best agents in the world have ZERO social media outlets. That doesn't make them ineffective or behind the times.

There are also schmagents out there who have web presence, but nothing to back it up. I know it might sound silly or obvious, but even if you read about an agency in a book or magazine, or see them online, that doesn't mean they are good.

Of course, even a great agent at a totally legit agency might not be a great fit for YOU and your work. The agent relationship is unique from author to author. But at least do your due diligence.

Make sure the agencies you query have plenty of sales to legitimate publishers, and books in the bookstore. A new agent with few or no sales can be fine... but their agency should have a solid track record of sales and clear experience in the publishing industry. A new agency with no sales, made up of agents with no sales and little to nothing in the way of publishing industry experience? Or where the agents don't seem to want you to find info about their authors or books? Or the sales are only to publishers you've never heard of and can't find in the bookstore? Well... I'd be WARY.

There are no special classes to take or tests to pass to become an agent (unfortunately) -- ANYONE can call themselves an agent and call it a day. Which is why even smart writers can be taken in. So don't be a sucker. A good agent won't just have a cool website -- they'll have either a proven track record of sales or the backing of a strong agency. They'll never, ever ask you to pay them fees. They'll communicate with you, be straightforward and honest. And of course, they will connect with your work and know how to sell it.

When you get an agent, you are putting your career in somebody else's hands. Be sure they are steady ones.


41 comments:

  1. Bwahahaha! "schmagents"!

    I'm partial to the term 'god-tier' over rock-star. There is some selfishness in that term, though. The hope is that an amazing agent in that echelon will = an amazingly successful career for the author. It's not worship, it's aspiration.

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    1. The term "god-tier" bothers me even more.

      An agent is not a god, but a business partner. To view one's agent as "god-tier" is to put them high above not only other mortals but above oneself, which seems likely to create some very unbalanced agent/author dynamics.

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  2. Yes! I wish more authors realized this. I wrote a post about researching agents recently too. I always use Absolute Write's Background check section and Publishers Marketplace. Not just interviews and agent websites (though I use those too). Thanks for posting this!

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  3. Good to keep in mind as we newer writers learn the ropes. "Due diligence " will pay. Thanks- rob

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  4. Couldn't have said it better myself.

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  5. Dionna7:39 PM

    What if a writer doesn't want to be a rock star, just a quiet spinner of yarns for others to enjoy? Is that a problem?

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    1. The point is, your agent should help you be successful at the career you want. And they should put your interests above their own. You are the public face of your work - your agent is behind the scenes crew.

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  6. A good fit is everything. Some like rock, and others jazz. I personally prefer classical... a classical agent would be better than a rock star any day.

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    1. Well, what I meant is that YOU should be the star. If we're going to go classical analogy, the author is the conductor, the books the orchestra, and the agent is the theatre manager or some other person who helps everything go smoothly for the conductor behind the scenes, not the person who shoves the conductor out of the way.

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    2. I was trying too be too clever by half. But we both made the same point- it is about fit.

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  7. To me, a dream agent is one who, through his or her online presence (both blogs and Twitter), comes across as knowledgeable, funny, and responsive. Those are qualities I look for in all of the people I want in my life.

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    1. Agree. A good agent, these days, should not only broker the deal, but foster its success after publication by boosting the signal about the book and supporting the author's efforts online; just as a good author, these days, should not only write a good book, but collaborate with the publisher to promote the book by every means possible.

      I do, however, agree with Jennifer that writers should consider the agent's credentials and track record first and foremost. Consideration of track record should far outweigh consideration of the agent's online charm when choosing the best person to represent your work.

      But... some agents have both—ability and charm online—and that combination is golden. Because an agent shouldn't just be a deal broker, but a career nurturer, and nobody wins if the great deal the agent brokers for a client doesn't earn out because the promotional efforts were drowned out by more energetic online support teams.

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    2. But ... many of the knowledgeable, funny, responsive people in my life are all these things offline, and their blog and Twitter presence is not an indication of their having these qualities. :-)

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  8. I tell querying writers to get a one (or more) month subscription to Publisher's Marketplace. They can compare agent sales records side-by-side (not that all sales are reported), look for number of sales in a time period and over a career, and a list of clients. It's well worth the $20.

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  9. Funny. I have on my twitter description that my agent is a rock star agent, but she really is, so there's that.
    Also, if you've researched an agent thoroughly and know she or he would be the best one in your corner, then it is perfectly legit to call him or her your dream agent, correct?
    I think you're point is extremely valid -- online presence does not make an agent a rock star agent. In fact, some of the REALLY popular agents on Twitter who tweet all day long should make potential clients wonder how on earth the agent ever has time to be out there selling books.

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    1. Fair enough!

      For the record, I don't think there is anything wrong with thinking your agent is TOTALLY AWESOME IN A THOUSAND WAYS... if you actually work with them. And I hope I am my clients "dream agent" as they are my dream authors!

      I am a bit more dubious about crowning an agent you don't work with and don't know yet as a rock star or dream, when you're still in the querying process. They very well might be terrific, but not turn out to actually be a fit. I'd just encourage authors who are seeking agents to keep a bit of an open mind (not enough to take on just anybody, but.)

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  10. Absolutely! And just for the record, I'm quite sure your authors do think of you as their "dream agent!" ; )

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  11. Last year, I met an agent at a conference, and she loved my pitch and the sample pages she read. She even swooned a bit over the non-fiction manuscript I'm working on (in a genre she doesn't represent) and spent the entire conference pulling me over to various groups of editors and other agents to introduce me and gush about how talented I am. That's my "dream agent." I want someone who is so excited about the things that I write that she/he can't wait to tell everyone in the world about my manuscripts. So even though it hurt like crazy when this particular agent ultimately decided not to offer representation, she helped me define my dream agent. I know exactly who I want as my agent... except for those tiny details like the agent's name & agency! (I'll figure that part out when we meet.)

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  12. This post rocks.

    i also believe no one knows who their "dream agent" truly is until they begin working with them.

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  13. Terrific and important reminders and guidelines in this post! Thanks so much. Am sharing with my drydenbks clients.

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  14. This is good advice. As the creative person in the mix, I would like an agent who has strengths in areas I may be weaker: cool head in negotiations, nurturing when I am down on myself, tough love when needed, and savvy preparedness with contracts and rights. Conferences are great experiences and a chance to meet agents. I watched some agents give great talks, then dash off to check their Blackberries and generally act aloof the rest of the time (the wannabee writers and artists didn't earn their attention). I've met two agents who absolutely blew me away: intellectual, articulate, kind, yet honest and direct. People who think long term. Those are my agent crushes. They would make me better at what I want to do.

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  15. Some things: I love the term "schmagent." Did you just coin that? Second: Anyone who's met you knows that you sport some very humble galoshes over those blue suede shoes. You could not be accused of trying to upstage your talent. And lastly: You make an excellent point. Thank you. This really can't be overstated. Followers does not necessarily equal fantasticness.

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    1. aw, thanks!

      I didn't coin "schmagent" I don't think -- it's one of those things that sprung up in conversation, as friends and I noticed more and more fly-by-night... well, SCHMAGENTS, popping up every day.

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  16. Great advice. I hope to someday soon have a dream agent, but in the meantime, I'm doing my research and developing my craft, submitting, writing, waiting until that right match comes along.

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  17. I often think of "dream agent" as a term which refers to an aspiring author's FANTASY of what it means to have an agent, but when you get down to brass tacks the important thing is to find an agent who best suits your own individual reality as an author. Reality agents are immeasurably better than dream agents.

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  18. Great post. My agent responds to client emails quickly and thoroughly rather than maintaining a presence on Twitter (not saying there's anything wrong with Twitter).

    I think sometimes, authors say "dream agent" because that person represents other authors they admire. At least, that's how I used the phrase in the past.

    Thanks for posting. (And let me know if you'd ever consider being interviewed for RateYourStory.org, a site that helps budding children's authors).

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  19. Great post! My agent has a small web presence but is absolutely a rock star. In fact, I've speculated on my blog about the possibility that many literary agents actually started out as secret agents (http://bstaveley.wordpress.com/2013/02/15/of-agents-secret-and-literary/) and discretion is definitely a hallmark of a good secret agent...

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  20. This. My agent has no online presence at all: I knew her reputation from both researching and talking to her clients before signing.

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  21. Thank you for this post. Sometimes writers are eager to search for an agent before they are ready, and sometimes writers are so eager to get an agent that they don't consider these important points.

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  22. Agreed, agreed, agreed.

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  23. Anonymous12:09 PM

    I'm always hesitant about agents who seem to spend most of their time tweeting about trivial stuff to people they'll never meet, as well as agencies who are so impressed with their own latest facebook comments that they post them as blog entries!This is one of the better blogs, or I wouldn't participate...By the way, I just log in as Anonymous so I don't have go through all that URL interface stuff. Kevin A. Lewis

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  24. Last year I had a schmagent send me a friend request on Facebook. His disco-shirt cut down to there was a big tipoff that he might be more interested in "romance" than "romance titles".

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  25. Thanks so much for this. You make so many valid points!

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  26. You personify the best kind of agent - funny in person at conferences, informative online keeping a huge fan club of followers on their toes, yet self effacing and genuine. And always working toward good relationships with authors and editors. If there was an agent hall of fame...

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  27. How can you find out what their sales records are? How do you track it from Agent to Sales? Could you touch on that point? Thank you.

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  28. Anonymous10:50 AM

    As a four-book author, I'm ready to plunge into the agent pool. After learning how to format (yuck) market (barf), and losing the trail of vanity publishers that hounded me for three years,(awhooo) I realize that a good agent deserves every dollar of their fees.

    Thanks for the insightful tips, which for me, are perfect timing.
    C.S. Poulsen

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  29. Very nice post. It's so easy for writers to get "caught up" with the wrong agent. We all have to be diligent with who we're working with. It's basically like any other relationship. You have to kiss a few frogs to find your prince, and be cautious so you don't get warts.

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  30. I just finished the blog. Really very helpful. Thanks for sharing such an amazing blog.
    Stone Split Face

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