Sunday, June 20, 2010

Beauty Contests

The manuscripts I want are very often desired by multiple agents, and those (in my experience at least) are pretty much always The Usual Suspects; a group of five or so of my agent pals that I know have very similar taste to me.  I know for a fact that at least one of these folks is likely to be in the running for anything I want. (This is why I always ask who else has offered - it is hilarious how often the same names come up).

I also know that they all have different styles and different personalities, but they have in common that they are all terrific agents, and none would be a bad choice. So I have to be faster, and pitch harder woo, if I want to get the author.

When multiple agents are fighting for the affection of an author, that is a Beauty Contest. And like a real beauty contest, it is kind of thrilling but mostly sucky. We are lucky in that we need not actually put vaseline on our teeth, but it's still a competition!

INTERVIEW: When I give you a call, I have to explain who I am, who the agency is, why we'd be the awesom-est for you. You get a chance to ask questions too, of course, and hopefully my answers are suitable and happy-making. I tend to be very clear up front about how and how much I like to communicate with my authors, how much I value transparency, etc, and I am pretty informal. Because I like to start as I mean to continue. If I am passionate about something, you know it -- so you might as well get used to that right off the bat!  Unscientifically, I would say that 70% of the time, authors go with the first person to express interest... so agents have to have a lot of energy in this section of the competition if they want to get in front of that statistic.

TALENT: How many sales have we made? How much hustle do we have? Are we clearly knowledgable? Have we already made notes for you?  Have we already made a submission list?  Do we love your book? HOW MUCH?  What can we do for you that nobody else can? It's showtime baby, get out there and dazzle 'em!

SWIMSUIT: This is the tackiest part of the beauty contest and it basically comes down to Hotness. If you're the kind of author who is all about the bling, you'll give more points in this section to the "neon lizard bikini" agency, the name or huge-name clients of which would be recognizable to somebody outside the industry, probably because of very strong Hollywood connections. If you are the kind of author who fancies themselves more literary, you will go with the "classy maillot", which is possibly oldest or most venerated agency. Etc. (For what it is worth, I think of my agency as the "awesomely cute boy shorts tankini" in this metaphor.)

EVENING WEAR: Look, you already know we are pretty, talented and personable at this point, but there has to be one more hoop. So you could take the largely symbolic step of checking out how we walk in a circle wearing a dress, or you could talk to some of our other clients. Now the thing is, my clients are my clients in no small part because they LIKE ME. The chances that I am going to give you the contact info of somebody who hates me is really slim. Sort of like how I would never wear the crazy unflattering dress with bugle beads all over it. Come on.

Now it is time for judgement.  Having been on both sides of the winners circle I can tell you... "Winning" can be a rush and is splendid. "Losing" ranges from disappointing-but-a-good-learning experience to Totally Heartbreaking.

In fact there are two books that I might actually never quite get over having lost, and I am sure there will be more in the future. I always keep my eyes peeled for those books and authors though, to see what happens.  In one case, the book hasn't yet sold...  but in the other case, it sold for a lot of money to somebody I NEVER would have sent to.  I don't have any doubt at all that I would have sold it, but it would have ended up a very different sort of book. So in fact, the author probably chose correctly.

And that is the whole thing about this particular beauty contest, actually. It isn't really about hotness, or who wants world peace. A lot of the judgement comes down to your own gut feeling about who has the best vision for your book and whose style you'll get along best with. I can at least content myself with knowing that I am so open about who I am and what I like, that if somebody DOESN'T pick me, it almost certainly wouldn't have worked out anyway. 

Authors, if you had multiple offers of rep, how did YOU choose? What ended up being the "clincher" for you?  Were there any surprises along the way?


  1. First of all, I <3 Sunday posts. :) I really enjoyed this and the last one. What writer doesn't envy the multiple-offer scenario!

  2. Well...I had them walk a circle in a dress, of course. =)

    Actually, I talked to each of them about their submission stratagies and where they saw my book ending up. I also asked how their agencies worked, ie: did they sign the project or the client. I didn't want to get dumped right away if my book didn't sell.(Thank god it did.)

    It may sound stupid, but I ended up going with the agent who didn't give me a whole bunch of personal reasons why she loved my book. She just loved it for it--the story and the writing. (And just a FYI, she wasn't the first offer I got.)

  3. Another great post! Thanks, Jenn!

  4. Thank you for the perspective. As a writer, I would never have imagined agents having to walk through flaming hoops as well (in high heels, uncomfortable too-tight dresses, and probably backwards, to boot). I appreciated this post.

  5. Anonymous6:36 PM

    Note on the evening wear section:

    We do not like you. We LOVE you!

  6. Wear the crown. Be the crown. You are the crown.

    And it never hurts to mention world peace.

  7. I was lucky enough to have interest in my last book from a few very well-respected agents.
    I ended up going with the one who really seemed to get the book and who I personally clicked with. I spoke to a couple of his other writers as well and they confirmed my gut feelings about him. I have to say I was almost surprised at how visceral a feeling it was, connecting with the right agent for me.

  8. I was lucky that all of my offers were fantastic choices, but that really did make it that much harder to choose.

    Like Lisa,I didn't go with the first offer either. And, like you said, it really is a gut decision. Once I talked to all of them, I just had a feeling and went with it. And she's amazing.

  9. Last October, I had multiple offers from agents. It was all a bit mind-bending. When the first offer came, my instinct - of course - was to bite. Because this was an agent I considered to be dreamy, all that. But after talking to that agent... well... not so much. But still - it was an OFFER. I let the other agents know and set up two more phone calls. The next call was with Michael Bourret, my agent. I went through the final call and immediately knew that the "click" I had with Michael (as well as how he *got* my book...) was what I wanted in an agent.

    Honestly? I didn't think he'd want to represent me. He's *ahem* big time and I'm decidedly, well, not. I hate to think about what would've happened had I not spoke with the other agents. Because, like, we're totally BFF.


  10. This was a funny analogy.

    I'd love to be in a position with multiple offers. I don't know how I'd chose. Theoretically, if it were you and a few other agents, I'd probably choose you because you critiqued my work at a conference. I already have a sense of what it would be like to work with you. After that, it would be whether I followed the agent's blog or saw the person talk at a conference.

    If I didn't have any prior contact with the agents, I guess it would be gut instinct based on the conversations. It wouldn't be the person who promised me the most. I'd want the agent who saw a long-term relationship beyond the book.

  11. This post is making me all dreamy eyed..."Ooh, what if I get multiple offers when I start submitting..."

    But I do have a question--what's the most courteous length of time to get back to an agent with a yes or a no?
    (Not that I would dream of stringing them along for too long, but I am curious.)

  12. I love this post. I will now force it into the hands of everyone I know currently or soon-to-be agent hunting.

  13. Hi Karen:

    It is no problem to tell the agent who offers that you need another week or week-and-a-half to get in touch with everyone else who offers. They will 100% understand, and if they don't, you wouldn't want to work with them.

    In my opinion, beyond two weeks is pushing courtesy and starts to feel like being jerked around.

  14. Anonymous10:05 AM

    After tons of research, I queried 3 agents. From what I knew of them online, I would have been 100% happy with all three. As soon as one offered, I sent mail to the others, expecting them to say good luck, see ya! I didn't expect all three to offer.

    So I talked to each of them on the phone to get a feel for them, and to ask them questions about their agencies (and even looked at their agency agreements, which they were kind enough to offer.)

    This round knocked one agent out because we were awkward and awful one on one.

    The evening wear round is what decided it. Talking to clients made a huge difference. Even though all the clients were happy clients, I got a really good look at how the agent dealt with their authors from the author's POV.

    This round knocked out the second agent- he's still a great guy but I knew his methods would make me anxious and when I get anxious I get bothersome. Not good for anybody!

    So I'm very happy with Agent #3 who, coincidentally, was the second agent to offer.

    Even though it was very stressful to have to make a choice, I'm very glad that I had that option. And now when I have friends who are looking for representation, I feel really good about suggesting they query any one of the three agents I spoke with.

  15. This post is sort of hysterical... and very true. I, personally, had a moment where I almost went after the bling, but then I got swept up by the classy maillot.

    How did I choose? It was an agonizing decision at the time of making it -- I felt so bad about hurting any agents' feelings that I almost forgot about how I felt, or how much it would have hurt if they'd passed on me rather than the other way around! But once done it felt so right and I can't imagine it another way now.

    For me, it came down to some very specific comments the agent in the maillot (just kidding, he wouldn't wear a maillot) made about my book, my future career, and me as a writer that just *clicked* and made me know it was right. It was very personal. I also got to meet him, which helped, I admit it. But what I really liked was that he wanted to push me to be better, to think bigger and try harder. It was a challenge, and intimidating, and I like it when people challenge me.

    But I keep going back to this one moment: The first time I talked to him on the phone, he mentioned a book he loved that just happened to be by _the_ author who instigated me to decide to write YA in the first place... a book you could say that changed my life. He would have had no idea about that, of course, but it was one of those perfect coincidences. I took it as a Sign.

    That said, there wasn't one single reason why I picked him over the others. They were all such great agents. The clincher was my gut feeling, I guess. Everyone says that. But when confused and courted by multiple agents, the only thing you can do is go with the gut. There's less of a chance you'll question it.

  16. Thanks for the honest little look into agent life. As someone who is looking into becoming an agent, it's mad helpful. *rubs hands together gleefully*

  17. Oh! I posted a comment on yr live journal feed and then realized I was missing everything over here

    anyway, it's over there

  18. Anonymous9:58 PM

    Who are these five 'Usual Suspects'?

    I only ask because I am desperately interested in you and if these five are as similar to you in taste, I would be interested in them as well.

    Hmmmm ... a tactless question to ask, isn't it? I should do my homework.


  19. Haha, I love the beauty pageant analogy. It's awesome. :o)

    In early May, I had three agents offer me rep--which kind of blew my mind. I was so unprepared! The first two offers came within a day of each other, and I couldn't quite decide which one I felt a better connection with.

    But when the third offer came in (from Jim McCarthy), something simply clicked in my mind. I just KNEW this was the agent I wanted to represent me. My hunch was only cemented when I contacted two of Jim's current clients--they both wrote entire essays on why they loved working with him.

    I've only been agented for about six weeks, but I'm really happy that I signed with Jim!

  20. I'd be looking for a relationship; the agent who thinks of me not as a person who hands over books, but as a person. The agent who's willing to help me grow as an author. I may have been writing my whole life, but so have millions of others, and the agent has been in the business longer and can show me the ropes.

    This was a great analogy!

  21. My very short-lived subscription to PW was helpful in making my decision!

  22. Anonymous11:20 AM

    After parting ways with my first agent, I had multiples offers late last year. The first offer came out of the blue which was exciting and we scheduled a phone call for a few days later. It was fine, pleasant enough, but I got off the phone feeling a bit deflated. She was a bit vague in some answers and didn't give one specific about my book. Second agent was passed my ms by another who was too snowed under, read it straight away and rang me a few hours later to offer. We ended up talking for 90 mins and it was the best phone call of my life - her passion, knowledge and polishing ideas for my book were just amazing and she'd already started mulling editors to send it to. I signed with agent 2 because we totally clicked and I'm extremely happy with my choice, her communication is excellent.


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