Friday, May 21, 2010

Work Your Inner Fierceness

At the conference I went to last weekend, I got asked this question above any other:
What kind of books, exactly, are you looking for?
I sigh. You see, I know that I am looking for children's and YA books, but the thing I am always most looking for is... something I have never seen before. So I don't know what it is yet. (But I'll know it when I see it!) And since I represent authors, hopefully for their whole career and not just one project, the better question to ask might be what kind of AUTHORS, exactly, am I looking for.

I've been watching a certain brilliant reality show of late. One whose host is a razor-sharp judge of character and fierceness. You guessed it: RuPaul's Drag Race, in which a handful of pro and semi-pro drag queens participate in a variety of challenges and stomp it out on the catwalk to determine who will be the next drag superstar. (I can hear you thinking, "Jennifer, are you suggesting that clients must wear high heels and lipsynch for their lives?" NO NO, BEAR WITH ME!)

Ru always tells the girls that she is looking for four qualities above all others in her superstars, and I think that they are really important too (in life as well as art, actually). They spell C.U.N--actually, you know what, let's not do the acronym.  Ahem. Anyway:
  • T is for TALENT
  • U is for UNIQUENESS
  • N is for NERVE
  • C is for CHARISMA
TALENT: Dude, you have to be a good writer. There, I said it. You've written an awesome query letter, you have terrific web presence, blah blah blah, I don't really care unless I am in love with the book.  I think that there is such a thing as native talent, something that you are born with, but that you can always make your skills sharper. So don't rest on being "good" writer, you have to get better. As Ru would say, you better work!

UNIQUENESS: If you do what everyone else does, if you write what everyone else writes, you might be OK, but you won't break out and be truly successful. Plus, I will pluck my own eyes out if I have to read it.

NERVE: Now I realize that lots of authors are shy and maybe even a bit neurotic. They hire agents so we can be the tough guys and take care of business. But I still need my authors to have a spine, be driven and at least a bit fierce. That means speaking up for yourself, having self-confidence, putting yourself out there (even if you don't necessarily feel like it...) It also means bravery in terms of your writing. In  authors: NO BABIES. In writing: NO PABLUM.

CHARISMA*: Yep, I have to like you, and I have to think that other people will too.  It's important. Do you need to wear glitter and wigs? No. Do you need to be a cheerleader-type? NO! But do I want to work with somebody who is presentable, engaging, funny, thoughtful, easy to talk to?  Heck yes I do. Or at least somebody who can turn those qualities on when they want to.  So work it!

Authors, what qualities do you most want in an agent?  (Bonus points if you can frame your answer as a reality-show metaphor...)

(*ETA: I changed this one up a bit. See comments for further discussion of the C-word...)


  1. LOL--I almost spit up my coke with the acronym! I will need my agent to be like Ryan Seacrist from American Idol. Popular with both the judges and contestants (editors and writing community), is decent looking and dresses well (just kidding), and somewhat mysterious/androgyous--so they can keep me on my toes. Oh and act really sympathetic when something isn't going my way (you know, delve into my family background and put together a video collage to show how awesome I really am).
    tee hee this was fun!

  2. You realize that you set your inbox up to receive a deluge of paranormal YA in drag stories, right? (Which might work well, now that I think of it. No one would suspect that geeky Jeremy Hyde's alter-ego is super-fierce Heidi the Amazonian werewolf. "B^^ch is a compliment, darling.")

    Ver word: vinesen -- What vegens hunt when their Bambi-killing boyfriends drag them to the deer lease.

  3. So great to meet you last weekend *writing this as I adjust my glittery wig*!

  4. Haha - NICE, Christina! (I might be a tiny bit more like Ellen crossed with Simon. Which I think comes out to equal Kara.)

    Josin, I think that would be a lot better than most of the paranormal I see...

    And obviously YOU are fierce, Laura! :)

  5. In better work (said with fierce look and killer snap)!

  6. What do I want from my agent? I want to work with someone who is like Heidi Klum. She really (really) loves her Project Runway designers. She didn't pick a bunch of people at random and throw them into a ring to fight to the death like some sadistic Caesar of a reality-show producer. She really loves her people, and she *wants* them to design for her. She wants to love their work.

    But, when they put up some bad s**t, she is not at all averse to saying that it's a mess. Not even a hot mess, just a mess.

    Still, in the end, she invests in them and wants them to succeed. And she will wear their dress to the Oscars and throw them a party on Oprah... not because she "has" to, to promote them, but because she *wants* to.

    This was very fun. :-) And back to the writing...

    (P.S. I think a cross between Simon and Ellen would be RuPaul... just my 2p.) :-)

  7. i loved this on twitter and i still love it now.

    and as for my agent (to be). it's okay to be a little bit of Tyra, Mr. Jay and Miss J rolled together. one who is fierce, creative, and can walk that runway of submissions/contracts/legal jargon with panache.

  8. you can have my glitter when you pry it from my cold, dead, stiff fingers.

    thanks for good post, now I know what you're looking for in me, if I ever get to meet you, I'll ask only what you're NOT looking for in a new story.

    I've never understood writing to whatever the current trend in reading is. Today's most popular books were written at least two years previous right?

    Thanks again for sharing your experience and insight!

  9. I am loving these comments. Rebecca & Mumfusa - NICE. I am also mad for ANTM and PR.


    (And if you suspect that I am moderating comments in an effort to put off the inevitable HORRIBLE TASKS I have to do before leaving for BEA... well, what can I say.)

  10. Good post, Jen. I'm not an Idol-watcher but it sounds like Ryan might be a little like Tyra Banks on (ANTM (a show I can't believe I adore). "Mama" is well-conneted, smart and funny. She's creative and not afraid to try new things (of course, writing a YA series is just the latest). She's tough when necessary, but fair and also is a great teacher and supporter. She keeps in touch via cool Tyra Mail, has a big forehead and....wait for absolutely fierce. Plus, the girl can smile with her eyes and knows how to make gobs of money. I don't need all of that in my agent, but would like to get close.

  11. I can't agree about the c-word. I've known too many great and well-published authors who, in person, make you think, she wrote that? I've known dull writers who write exciting books, mean writers whose books can break your heart . . . so, eh, charisma.

  12. Wrote & sent my Tyra comment before the first Tyra/ANTM comment was posted! Love the walking the runway w/ panache part!

  13. Anonymous12:58 PM

    Love this post. So effing brilliant. Of course, this is no surprise.

  14. The perfect agent is clearly Tim Gunn - he can tell you when you need to edit, wants you to develop your own point of view, and hugs you when you don't think you can meet the deadline.

  15. Roger: I can see your point for sure. But I guess, for my own personal purposes, I don't want to work with a pill, jerk, egomaniac or bore.

    Of course, I have all kinds of authors. Few of them are going to be TV talk show hosts any time soon, they aren't full of fake charisma. Some are teachers. Some are scientists. Some are boisterous. Some are gregarious. Some are thoughtful and gentle and quiet...and some are a combo!

    But they are all fun and interesting to me. I love to work with them, and I am personally delighted to sell their books.

  16. As an agent, I guess I can't really have an ideal one. ^_^ But with his patient teaching skills, his quiet yet confident editing skills, and his catchphrase of "Make It Worse," Donald Maass is clearly Tim Gunn.

    And no I'm not just brown-nosing for the boss. ;)

  17. I would LOVE an agent who's a cross between Ellen and Simon. Perfection.

    Great post, Lit! :)

  18. You can be any reality/talk show host you want, agent of my future, as long as you don't "Oprah" my book :)

    Srsly, great post. I think an agent has to be a bit Jillian, to work off any extra bulk in my MS and tone it up, and a little Pierce (BGT), to smile at me (he has the best smile) and tell me I've got what it takes to "write for the Queen."

    And I adore your Twitter hat.

  19. Loved this post and if I wasn't already rep'd I'd want to send my newest YA manuscript to you. It's called FIERCE, I believe it's unique, and it even includes a transexual hooker.
    And that acronym is a word we women need to reclaim.
    Seems almost serendipitous.
    Count me as a new devoted reader of your blog at least.

  20. Always knew on some instinctive level that Authors are indeed like Drag Queens.

    *wishes my make-up looked that fierce, though*

  21. I live among the world's greatest drag queens. Plus I'm going to my first Key West Burlesque show tonight. Who knew I'd be able to chalk it all up to research? Thanks so much.

  22. Okay, I can do this. I want Stacy from What Not to Wear. Not Clinton--he's good, but he's worried too much about hurting my feelings. I want Stacy because she would SO tell me when I could NOT wear/write something, but I'd also know that when I got a "Shut UP!!!" that I'd done good, for real.

    You asked! :)

  23. Jenn--you are really a hoot! Have fun at BEA.

  24. I'd choose Tom Colicchio from Top Chef. He appreciates good food as a renowned chef, and offers helpful advice to the Top Chef hopefuls (like editing). He believes, "When the quality is there, all that is needed is the knowledge of time-honored techniques to prepare and combine those ingredients properly."

  25. Ooooh, NICE ONE Theresa!

  26. The perfect agent:


  27. Donna5:08 AM

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