Friday, August 03, 2012

A Question of Love

Question from the comments: "Many literary agents say that they have to "fall in love" with the book in order to represent it. I don't get it. I view literary agents as professionals, with the main goal to find books that they feel editors/publishers will buy ... whether they like the book or not. Lawyers defend clients that they believe to be guilty, but also feel that they can set them free. Maybe it's my business education/background/attitude ... if a literary agent finds a book that she is "not in love with" but knows that editors/publishers will buy it ... why not take the book"
Let me start by saying: Both my parents were lawyers, and I love lawyers. But a literary agent is not the same as a lawyer.

A defense attorney might know their client to be guilty, but they defend them because everyone in this country -- EVERYONE -- has the right to a fair trial. Even straight-up, no-doubt-about-it, self-admitting guilty people get to have an attorney defend their rights in court. A public defender doesn't get to pick and choose their clients, they are assigned... so obviously, unlike an agent.

A somewhat more accurate comparison might be a privately-hired defense attorney, who, if they were in the position to pick-and-choose, would (I imagine) pick the richest clients with the most interesting cases. Except for the fact that agents DO NOT GET PAID by their clients until/unless they sell a book.

So it is more like having a privately-hired defense attorney who is willing to work pro bono. Why would they work pro bono? Well, it would probably have to be for a cause or a client they REALLY BELIEVED IN and wanted to support. Because it is a hell of a lot of work and time, with no guarantee of a reward.

Some agents might very well take on work that they don't care for, or work with clients they personally despise, if they knew for a fact the book would sell. That wouldn't work for me, but hey. To each his own. Even if a client comes to me with an offer already in hand, I still have to like the book and believe the author can do more, because I am hoping to work with them for their whole career, not just one deal.

Personally, for me, I have to spend a lot of time reading these books, and a lot of time talking about, and to, and for, my clients... for free. A LOT. OF TIME. FOR FREE.  I have limited time available, so I have to devote the time I have to things I believe in. I have to love the work, or I can't be passionate about reading it over, and over, and over, and over again. I simply have to like talking to the author, or it will be a misery for us both. (After all, I have worked with some of my clients for YEARS at this point, and talk to them more often than I talk to my own family!)  My enthusiasm for my client's work is not fake, it's genuine - and the editors I work with know my taste. If I tried to fake it, I pretty much guarantee it wouldn't work.

That said - I have to not only love the book, but also THINK IT CAN SELL. Just thinking it's good isn't enough. If I loved the work or adored the author but had a strong feeling that I could NOT sell it for whatever reason... I'd also have to pass.

But that's just my .02 - any other agents feel differently?


  1. Whew, I finally made it back here! This is a very important concept for writers to digest. It's really hard to hear a NO from an agent, but really, do you want an agent selling your work who does not love it? Don't you want their voice to ring with pride and passion and fan-girl-craziness? Yes, you do. Because that's what will sell your book.

    The only comment I take issue with here is the concept of your time being spent FOR FREE. If that is the case, then writers also work FOR FREE, which makes us all feel terrible about ourselves. As a designer, I've done loads of spec work, and to be honest I never thought of it as working for free. That concept is detrimental. It gives the bearer the right to claim their investment as something owed, as something that places the beneficiary in debt.

    That's not really the case. Spec work is an ammortized part of your business. If your industry expects spec work, it does, but you are still being compensated for your time for the work that does pay in the end. It's a net gain/loss game.

    I think it is far better put to say that you work to achieve the best return you can for your time, and in order to do that, it's best that you represent books that knock your freaking socks off. Then you know you have a better chance of ROI, which is what business is about, though it is also just the cherry on top when it miraculously pairs with selling something that you love.

    1. Dionna1:45 PM

      Wow! Good point of view.

  2. You have every reason to be picky and love a manuscript before picking it up. I love how you answered this person's question, though it might have been frustrating for you.

    I personally WANT my agent, whomever it turns out to be, to WANT to help my book and me because then I am sure that they will go through great lengths to get it in front of the best people they know would love and appreciate it just as I do. Besides, if an agent doesn't love the book, how will any editor take them seriously when they set the manuscript before them. They will see the fake enthusiasm in the agent's eyes and reject it.

    I am rather glad that agents are selective because that means that they do care and that you - as the author - are not just another eventual paycheck but a friend. A person who will ultimately care to see your characters on the shelves just as much, if not more, than you as the writer.

    Well done answering this question and good on you for standing up for what you believe and KNOW is right. Thank you.

  3. I love the concept that every manuscript deserves a fair trial! Okay, I know that's not what you said ...


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