Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Quick post to my post

I leave in the morning for a conference, so I'm harried, but one of you wrote in that the terms "severely edited" and "heavily negotiated" scared the bone marrow out of you.

As an update, I have not closed on a single one of those aforementioned titles, although phone calls have been placed back and forth. I don't list sales on Publisher's Marketplace until they are done. It's both bad luck and bad form.

Of the 14 titles I'm juggling offers on, 13 are nonfiction. The author/editor meetings were with celebrity clients (publicity always wants to see what they are really like), an expert who is on the verge of getting her own spot on a talk show, and another expert who is trying to brand herself. These are not the kind of author/editor meetings most of you will be dealing with.

For first novels, an editor only meets with an author when they've purchased the book and they think they'll be working with the author again.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Days in the Life

I've been wanting to write the "Day in the Life" post for a while, but the days have been too busy, which is why I'm writing this on the weekend.

Either I am having a particularly busy season, or I've managed to expand my workload too much.

Right now, I have 14 books that I am juggling offers on. I think this is a record. I usually sell one or two books a week, so this is almost overwhelming. I actually had one editor email me that she wanted to make me an offer on Wednesday, and I told her I wouldn't be able to talk to her until Friday.

Part of the reason why I'm so busy is that I have had to schedule author/editor meetings, which means I am out of the office for non-lunch hours. I had three such meetings late this week. and although blackberrys and cell phone have made it so that we are supposed to be on call every minute of every day, they don't work on the New York City subway system, which is how I get downtown.

When I say I'm juggling 14 book offers, that means that almost every one of them needs to be severely negotiated, or editorially restructured before we go to contract, so there is a lot of back and forth on every book. I have been waiting since early January for an increase in the advance on two of the books (the company was purchased and I can get more money from the new company if I let the editor make my case, so we wait).

What this means for me is that I feel like I'm doing the same thing every week and hardly getting ahead.

I try to only have 20 books on submission at a time. As soon as one sells, I'll move another forward. Right now, I think I have 30, because I was expecting to close on these 14 books quicker. This means that I have about 5 books in the line and no time to get them out.

And there just seems like there is no time to read, although I did read and line edit two client's proposals while going back and forth. And I've probably sifted through another 100 query letters this week.

What I wanted to do with the Day in the Life post is actually give you a real day of my work. I am hoping to do that next week, but it's a short week because I am heading out to a convention at the end of the week.

Monday, March 19, 2007

True Confessions of an Agent

I didn't read a thing this weekend.

Not even the New York Times.

And I feel really guilty.

My son is on a national robotics competition and I have been up at 7 to drive him downtown. I am re-doing my home (painting, new rugs, new floors, new furniture) and constantly moving new furniture, putting up paintings, and cleaning out stuff I no longer want. And then we went out for St. Pat's (a family tradition of corned beef and cabbage).

Up again on Sunday morning. My son had asked his grandmother and a neighbor we call "his extra grandmother" to come see him at the competition, so I decided I better feed them if they are out all day at this robot stuff, so I cooked a turkey and brownies before I left at noon and had dinner for five when we got back. Cleaned up. Passed out.

My son's team won top honors and they are going to the nationals in Atlanta, as is the high school's second robot team, a rookie team made up of all girls!!!!

I read a manuscript in the monring before I started work at 10 (instead of working out). I've done almost all the email unsolicteds that came in today (none have I requested). It's time to break for lunch, but I feel that I'm already behind.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Do You Like Your Job?

I am driving my teen-aged son home from school (it is a luxury I afford him because it's an 8 minute car ride and 45 minutes by bus, and it's one of the perks of working from home) and my son asks me the above question. I'm kind of shocked, because he has seen me work since he was a toddler (I used to have the office in the home with my business partner, and one day my son picked up his Playschool phone and said, "Lori Perkins, Lori Perkins.")

I love my job. I think everyone I know knows that I love what I do. It's a really great way for me to combine the skills that I've learned over the years - as an editor, sales person and a business woman. And the best thing about being an agent is that I have no boss (other than the marketplace) telling me what kind of books I have to take on.

And I get to work from home and work with the coolest people in the universe. We are all book fiends, whether we're writers, agents or editors, so we love the same things.

So I was surprised to have my son ask me this question, but then he followed it up by saying, "well, no one wants to be a literary agent when they grow up" (he wants to build robots and has been doing that since he was in 5th grade, so I think he was wondering about his own career path). I told him that when I was his age, I wanted to write, which I have done, quite successfully - I've published four books, edited two fiction anthologies and probably published 2000 articles, and been paid for all of them. I was the publisher of my own newspaper in Manhattan. But the real problem with writing is that I can't guarantee that I'll consistently make the income that I make as an agent as a writer.

And then I told him that I don't believe in the starving writer mythology. I believe that writers should either make enough to live a middle class life from their work, or do it part-time for the fun, and not the money. So when I write, I write for fun and the money goes for the extras.

And then he said, "Well, you don't write and you're not the editor, so what do you really do?" and I tried to explain how I manage a writer's career and get the work ready for an editor to buy it. And he said, "Well, then, you're the middle man." and I said, "yes, that why my blog's called agentinthemiddle," and he laughed. But I was really glad that I was able to explain it all to him in a way that really made sense to him.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

After all this..

This is the kind of question I get.

"So when are we going to hear from you?

I'd love to hear how recommendations trump the slush a million times over."

Because obviously, I have nothing else to do but read slush. It's not like selling 100 books a year takes any time.

How do recommendations trump slush? Let me count the ways.

Well, when Dean Koontz sent me a starving horror writer and asked me to see if I could get him enough money in a contract so his family could eat meat more often, that writer definitely jumped to the top of the slush.

When one of my N.Y. Times best-selling authors says "I've read this guy's stuff and he reminds me of myself when I was young," that jumps slush.

When I go to ComicCon and one of my authors who also writes comics introduces me to a famous comicbook writer who now wants to write novels, that trumps slush.

When the boyfriend of a celebrity client who appears on TV regularly wants to explore writing his autobiography, that jumps slush.

And often, one of my clients calls me and says, "you know so-and-so. S/he's too shy (or head-strong) to call you, but s/he needs your help. Will you look at what s/he's working on and see if you can rescue him/her?" That always jumps to the top of the slush pile.

I hope you're getting the picture.

And on top of that, there's always an old client who started to write again after a 10 year hiatus, or someone whose work I've always loved (and probably told them so at some convention over the past 20 years) who is now looking to resurrect his career and remembered my kind words of praise. They always jump to the top of the slush.

Are you beginning to get the picture?

But the thing that it seems that many of you fail to understand is that an established agent does not want an entire clientele of new writers. My list is varied. I take on and sell at least one first novel and first nonfiction book a year, but my first year as an agent I sold 14 first novels (and probably as many first nonfiction books). I was actively building a list. That's really who new writers should be targeting themselves to - a new agent, but someone who is affiliated with an established agency.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Tribe has Spoken

Okay, you seem to want closure, so I will continue to respond to queries at the pace that I can. For those that are really late, I'll add a note that says "sorry for the delay, but we get 30,000 submissions."

And for those writers who just can't stand getting rejection, on time or late, and feel compelled to write me a nasty comment I just might share it with you here, so you can see how annoying and frustrating it is.

Let me make one thing clear though. My list is full for all intents and purposes. I could make a comfortable living from my existing clients and their referrals. I have taken Jenny Rappoport on so that new writers can still get the benefit of my experience through her, but I am in no way obligated to take on new writers. I choose to do this. If you research me, it says something like 10% of my list is composed of first time authors - that's 7 or 8 a year.

And I'm sorry, I refuse to hire someone just to go through unsolicted queries. It's not a sound business practice. It makes no extra money for me or my existing clients. Yes, I might get a book or two from it, but if I didn't, I would probably put that time and energy into an existing client. And in my 20 years as an agent, I have never gotten a big book from the unsolicteds - all my big books have been nurtured or I have gone after them.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Question for you

Okay, I am serious. I want your gut reponse to this question.

If I've had a query letter for months, should I bother to respond or do you just assume that you've been rejected already and get pissed off that I held on to it for so long and then rejected you?

When I do query catch-up, I am always surprised that some writers get back to me with hositlity because I took the time to reject them. It's a lot of work for me. Should I just toss the old queries?

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Thanks, but not for me.

This is the short note a writer will get when I return something. It means what it says.

If I add anything more, that's good news. Sometimes I'll tell you your novel is too long or too short (and don't email me back about IT or Johnathan Livingston Seagull - you are neither King nor Bach). Sometimes I'll add that it's publishable, but just not my cup of tea - keep trying (don't email me back asking me to read it anyway). Sometimes I'll tell you to look for an agent who specializes in inspirational books, which I don't (don't email me back asking me to recommend someone. If I thought it was right for someone, I'd tell you.) So, basically, don't email me back, unless you want to thank me for taking the time to explain to you why you were rejected. I've already given you your minutes of my time.

Of course, there are many other major and minor reasons why something gets rejected (you can't write, you send the email to the wrong agent and/or it was part of a group email blast of all the agents in the U.S., Canada and England), but most of the time I will read through the letter even if there are one or two spelling errors (depends on what they are though - I have no patience for horror writers who can't spell cemetery). If I take the time to open the email, I do try to give it a shot.

And sometimes, something is written badly, but it's unique and I hope by telling the author to join a writer's workshop or pull out a copy of Strunk & White's Elements of Style, it will come back to me transformed, with a note that says, "you are the only one who told me the truth about my writing," and a beautiful relationship will begin. This has happened.

A little over two years ago, I lost my fabulous assistant of a year and was reorganizing how I wanted to run my office (since then I decided to relocate to the home office, where I have been much happier), but I was beginning to be overwhelmed with snail mail. Boxes upon boxes upon boxes, which I had no physical room for. So I cleverly sent a form rejection letter that said (and I paraphrase here) "I was overwhelmed with submissions at the moment and was currently not reading for new clients, but that if the writer believed his/her work was truly suitable for my agency to requery in six months."

To my amazement, I got lambasted by writers and writers organizations for not notifying every writing site that I wasn't reading (and that wasn't true - I just did't want any more than what I already had and was just taking a break from the pace of unsolicteds, which is demanding). Why was I still listed in Writer's Market? Why was I doing writer's conferences. It was surreal. (if you do a google search on me, you can still find these diatribes). I really felt like I couldn't win for loosing, and that's also why I keep my rejection letter short and sweet.

Over at Miss Snark's (misssnark.blogspot.com - a great agent blog, if you do not know about it), there's a post about an agent that just hand wrote a rejection on the envelope. I know an agent who used to just write "No," in red on the letter. So the next time you get what you think is a cold form rejection, know that the words were carefully chosen even if they're not what you want to read.