Thursday, January 17, 2013

Agent Ethics: Schmagents and "Pre-shopping"

I wanted to clarify this tweet a bit. So, as you might know, I'm an enthusiast. Sometimes when I'm super excited about a new novel that crosses my desk, I might get second reads or talk to agency colleagues about it before I even sign it. If I know it is up some editor's alley, I might tease them with it -- "I'm about to offer on an aweeeesome super-secret new space opera with dragons... you want to be on the list when I go out with it?" Or "ooooh have you seen this website, what do you think?"*

There's a difference between being a fan of something, having enthusiasm and seeing if other people share that enthusiasm, and actually submitting a person's intellectual property for publication and acting on their behalf when they haven't given you permission to do so.

If you query an agent with your novel** and they tell you they're going to "shop your manuscript around to editors"... and that IF they get an offer, THEN they'll sign you up*** (but they won't otherwise?):


* If they shop your manuscript, and you aren't their actual client, how do you know what they are doing, who they are talking to, what they are saying on your behalf?

* If they shop your manuscript and end up with an offer... it will probably not be the best offer. Why? Because this type of schmagent is unlikely to have primo publishing connections. There are times that going with a small press or an e-book only press or a no-advance press or a start-up press might be a fine idea... but do you really want that to be your ONLY option?

* If they shop your manuscript, and end up never getting an offer and never signing you (which is quite likely, since they will have no particular pressing interest in trying hard, since you aren't a client) -- then let's say you get another agent? A real one? ALL THOSE BRIDGES ARE BURNED. Your new agent  won't be able to send your manuscript to any of the editors that already declined it. Assuming you can even find out who those editors were.

An agent isn't just a person who likes books and puts a website up.  They SHOULD have a ton of contacts in the publishing industry... and when they talk to those contacts, they REPRESENT YOU. That means they are meant to be acting on your behalf and speaking for you. (Not to mention they have access to your finances and potentially your financial future and career!) -- you definitely don't want somebody you don't trust in that position. Do your homework.

This isn't a game, or a joke. Don't treat it that way. And don't let anyone else treat it that way, either.

* Mind you, this wouldn't affect MY feelings about it. If somebody was like "ew dragons are dumb" -- I'd think "Oh, they are stupid", not "Oh, I am wrong."

** ETA: I'm talking specifically about NOVELS here, and note that my expertise is in kids and YA. Pop culture nonfiction or other works you sell on proposal might be different, I have no idea. And as some point out... publishers themselves may do some "pre-shopping" to their retail clients when deciding what to acquire. Sadly, there's nothing much you can do about that. 

*** ETA ETA: I'm also not talking about people who are legit agents you've agreed will represent you on a "handshake" basis but who don't have a formal written agency agreement, or who only make a formal written agency agreement when money is going to change hands. While this isn't how my agency works, I know some legit agencies that don't have a formal "agreement" per se -- but they will ASK YOU before they start REPPING YOU!

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Twitter Confessional

I don't buy it when people say online friendships are not "real." I have plenty of online friendships that have developed into real life friendships; there is a lot of fluidity and crossover. I love to meet "twitter peeps" when I'm traveling to conferences and the like. In fact, some of the people I like most in the world are ones that I met online first.

I talk to the people inside the twitterbox more than, well, anyone else besides the dog. And probably because I'm chatty, I do tend to feel like I KNOW these people. Like, personally know them. Even the ones I don't know personally at all. Maybe I just have a clingy personality or something - or maybe it is natural that humans like to make connections. I don't know. Who am I, Oliver Sacks? (No.)

So my confession is: A few times I've noticed that people I follow and admire on twitter (and in some cases, even have met or know IRL) don't follow me, or worse, have unfollowed me. And it causes me a sharp pain not unlike grief. Micro-grief, if you will.


If you've ever felt this twinge of micro-grief when you realize somebody isn't following you... SNAP OUT OF IT.  If you've ever gotten upset that somebody didn't retweet you or respond to you... GET OVER IT.  If you expect "auto-follows" or that somebody should follow or always converse with you or RT you or whatever just because you follow them... GTFO.

Everyone uses twitter in different ways. MOST people are not on there 15 hours a day like I am (because it is in the corner of my screen while I am working, which is almost always). Some people only want to follow a very small number of folks, or people they know IRL, or nobody they know IRL, or whatever. Some people have strict limits with themselves about how often they can check in, and so limit their "follow list" to ones they can keep up with easily. Some people unfollow people who tweet too much, or who curse, or post pet pictures, or don't post pet pictures, or who only talk about books, or who never talk about books, or who the hell knows.

The point is, how other people choose to use it or not use it is not a judgement about us, and is also not our beezwax.

If you're only following somebody because you have the expectation they'll follow you back, you're doing yourself a disservice. Yes, twitter is a lot about conversations and connections... but you can't control what other people do. And vice-versa. So hey, feel free to keep following people you enjoy and have the bandwidth for... and stop following if you don't want to anymore. No need to make a big to-do about it. No need to announce it to anyone. It's not an insult to not follow somebody or to stop following somebody, it's just you choosing how to spend your own time and energy.

Spend it well! 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

On Shortcuts, or, Do I REALLY Need an Agent?

I get asked this question many times a week via twitter, in emails, at conferences, at the bookstore... Here's how it goes:
[scene: a podium in a random hotel conference room in Anytown USA]


Me: Probably. Depends what you want from your career. I'd get one, personally... but of course, I'm an agent, naturally I'd say that.

Stranger [impatiently]: NO. I MEAN DO I REALLY NEED AN AGENT?  

Me: Oh man. Since you asked with that inflection... wow. I guess I have to give it to you straight. You got me. There's a little something that everyone else knows except you. Every time somebody suggests you "query agents" they are really trying to TRICK you. Because they don't want you to know the secret!  *Muwhahaha!*
Oh. You can tell I'm poking fun, and you don't like it. Sorry. I'm going to be totally serious now. When you ask that question, it sounds to me like "but I don't want to read the manual, instructions are for suckers, I'm gonna find the shortcut and do this the fast and dirty way!"

And I get that. I'm impatient too. The fact is, much like putting together the elaborate entertainment center from Ikea, getting an agent is usually difficult, or at least inconvenient on some level. There are almost always some bruised egos and frustrations along the way. It can take a long time. It can be a lot of work. And even when you have it figured out, that is only the beginning. Ugh what a pain in the ass.

So look. It DOES depend on what you want from your career.

* If you want to go the self-publishing route and would never consider traditional publishing... you may not need an agent. (You'll find that it is a lot of work to be successful at this game, but hey -- it happens. Elbow grease, baby!)

* If you have a very "niche" type of work -- highly technical, educational, religious, or specialty-type content... novellas, chapbooks, and other things that are not usually found in regular bookstores... you may not need an agent.

* If you want to be traditionally published and are a super-type A personality, know a ton about the vagaries of publishing, have lots of insider publishing connections, know contracts well, understand the market for your work specifically, enjoy talking about money and don't mind things like asking for a raise, know how to sell subrights and foreign rights, want to spend time pounding the pavement on your own behalf... you may be not need an agent.*
Otherwise? An agent is going to be hugely helpful to you. 

In fact, here's the secret. As big a pain as it is? GETTING AN AGENT IS THE SHORTCUT.
Recognize this? It's called an allen wrench, or a hex key.

You can put the Ikea entertainment center without it, but dear god, it's a hell of a lot easier with it.

Consider an agent your hex key.

* (Though I do know people like this, and after a certain number of books... guess what, they got an agent. Because it is a huge time-suck to do all these things for yourself, the time-suck gets exponentially worse the more books you have out, and that is time you could be spending writing. Or, you know, lounging in a hammock drinking mocktails. Whatever.)

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

5th Agentversary + 2012 by the numbers

Today marks my 5th agentversary. Here's my post from last year on the subject. And this one from two years ago has the tale of how I became an agent and the story of the first book I ever sold.

So you know, I've already done the wordy thing. This year I did a bit of number-crunching instead. Depending on your POV, this'll be either deadly boring or geekily interesting - if the former, forgive me, please do skip it. Here's 2012 by the numbers:

In 2012, I got approximately 4200 queries (an average of 80 per week). I didn't actually count this part, but I'm gonna take an educated guess and say about half were not even in genres I represent, were not addressed to me, were barely in English, had attachments or otherwise didn't follow submission guidelines, and thus were automatic deletes. (In other words: if you are following guidelines and subbing the correct material, you're already in the top 50%!)

So let's call it about 2000 viable queries. Of those, I took on seven new clients (aka, .35%).Of those, two were total slush-puppies and debuts (one of which I signed right away, one after a revise-and-resubmit). Two were referrals (one previously published, one not). One I knew in real life from SCBWI (previously published). One I met on twitter, then in real life, before she queried me (previously published). One, another debut, I knew in real life from my old bookstore job! Of the seven new clients, four are debuts, six have have deals done or in progress, and one I haven't yet sent out.

In 2012, I sold 14 YA,  9 MG,  6 PB.

Of these, seven were debuts: Three YA and two each MG and PB.

This also marked the year I sold my 100th* title. I'm at 103 now (46 of which have been released), and the breakdown is:

 Total: 44 YA, 32 MG, 27 PB


I guess that I work with totally awesome authors and illustrators, that books are still selling, that good stories are still finding readers, and that it was a very busy and very productive 2012. So let's do it again in 2013!

Wishing you time to read, inspiration to write, and much happiness in the coming year. :-)

*I'm not counting foreign sales, subrights sales or sales where I rep both the author and illustrator - that would get way too complicated. Each book only counts once.