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 13, 2007
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But it should be noted that it needs to be a good referral. Some people are so desperate to get published that they'll email authors at random off their Web sites, hoping to find someone who will give them a referral. A bad referral is WORSE than no referral.
The best referrals will come from people you know. You may not directly know a writer, but someone you know may. I've met two writers--one a best-selling author--both through someone else. Neither one would have been able to give a good referral because my book wasn't something they would read--and I was glad they didn't do a referral because they wouldn't have done a good one. However, I know a third writer who did critiques on my book once upon a time, so he has seen it and liked it, and I plan to rekindle that tie at the next writer's conference.
Thank you. This is a terrific post. It lays it on the line, that there are other issues involved in your business.
I know it sounds egocentric, but writers honestly can't think very far outside themselves. Everything revolves around them -- not in a bad way, but in a "how does this affect me way?"
To know that there are established clients, plus all these incidental possible clients coming up, and then, way, way down there the unsoliciteds puts things in perspective.
For one thing, it makes me really, really happy when an agent asks for a partial. It means I've made it past a certain gate. Then, to have a full requested!! Man, that's nearly the brass ring.
I did this on my own, without having a recommendation. And I'll keep trying.
On another note, I'd venture that when you started there weren't the sheer number of submissions simply because the personal computer as we know it didn't exist. People were still banging out their work on typewriters,and it took more resolve to finish a book. Were the odds different then? I'm beginning to think it's not so much that there's no quality writing out there as much as so many more people convinced they can write a book. Having a computer makes it a lot easier, and clogs up the systems at the same time.
So when an agent sends a personal note about your work of any sort, it's time to celebrate.
You mean publishing is a lot like life? Who you know helps? Say it ain's so, Joe! I'm sure that will horrify a lot of people, but where isn't that true?? Maybe heaven? Your honesty is pretty damn cool. A little scary, but I'd rather hear the truth than some glossed over fairy tale. And I got "the call" yesterday so I am feeling rather confident today. Tomorrow I shall be my usual scattered self. ;)
It seems there are a fair number of writer folk out there who continually fail to understand the difference between an established agent who is accepting submissions and a newer agent doing the same thing. If you were running any other business and one of your workers recommended someone as a really good prospect for the company, that's certainly going to perk up your interest over the random applicant from off the street. To be really cliche, folks could think of it as looking for the needle in the haystack. Finding that needle is a bit of luck and a shitload of work. What sane person wouldn't prefer to have the farmer walk over and hand you a needle?
Anyway, silly analogy aside, a lot of writers (I'm generalizing here) don't seem to quite get the 'business' part of this whole thing. Writers are insulated from a lot of it, but a diligent one can easily find out about how this all works. The information is splattered all over the internet. Reading agent blogs and writer's sites has gone a long to educating me about the business end of things, and I've only been looking into it for the past year or so.
I enjoy your blog, Lori. Keep up the posts!
Excellent info. What this also says is that established agents with a strong client base don't have to look outside for new clients. The odds of you connecting with such an agent are smaller, but still there.
It means to me that I shouldn't have my heart set on one dream agent (or even several), because odds are if I know about them and feel they are my "dream" agent so do lots of other writers!! Time to update my query list and put some newer agents on there as well as agents who aren't making the conference rounds.
This is actually the most plainly worded version of this advice that I have seen - that the best bet for new writers is a new agent at an established agency. I am not quite ready to begin querying, but I had come to the same conclusion.
My book is a thriller, so I have many, many good agents and agencies to choose from. My initial query list is definitely weighted more heavily towards agents who are fairly new but work for established agencies.
Thanks for the advice!
Dan - you got it.
Anonymous - haystack analogy is good.
And 2nd anonymous - yes, it's harder, but it still happens, just know the odds, which is what I've been trying to explain here.
I never assumed an agent would do anything else, at least an established one. As Kim said, where isn't this done. Stating it plainly takes all doubt from the equation though, and assuming facts not in evidence is a growing pastime. :)
This is a great post. A lot of aspiring writers don't seem to get that having an agent accept you as a client is NOT the same as being published. The agent then has to go to work selling the book. This is how agents make their money and make their already established clients happy--by selling books.
I know, I'd be a bit irritated if I thought my agent was spending the majority of her time hunting new clients when she already has a full stable of authors with books to be sold.
I lucked out when I found her--I had a good recommendation from a friend, I had a track record in nonfiction, and I had a good book that fit the market. Things clicked...etc., and now I'm an established author with her and I'll happily stay with her as long as we both feel things are working out.
But, I was fully ready to query a lot of agents who were just building their lists because I knew how hard it was to get in with an established agent.
Thank you for providing such a coherent explanation of how the business works. I'm making your blog a daily read. It inspires me as a new writer to keep writing and wait patiently. With any luck I'll have my second novel done by the time I get representation, which isn't a bad thing. Finding out how much work goes on behind the scenes helps me to be content to wait.
First, this is the most beneficial and clear example I've ever read on this topic.
Second, I'd like to take this one more step and suggest that writing "novels" and sending unsolicted queries isn't the only thing writers do. If a writer wants to be taken seriously building publishing credits is very important, otherwise they will always be at the mercy of the dreaded unsolicited query and the form rejection that typically follows.
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