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Thought on the world of publishing...

I just finished reading up on a backlog of Editorial Anonymous posts, and one of them was about an author who had apparently done a couple of unethical things -- and how this gets around.

The second time the author did something unethical, it was at the behest of her agent (or so EA heard), and EA was commenting on how it's a small world in children's writing, and how this agent and author may be surprised in the future when no one wants to work with them.

What does this have to do with me? Well, this month marks my 3-year anniversary of agent seeking (sigh). I've learned quite a bit in three years, actually. I probably know more about most agents than your average writer (especially those who go out and get their first choice right away). A few of the commenters on EA's blog suggested that writers should share their negative experiences with other writers -- and then other commenters shot that idea down.

My opinion? It would be nice to have that kind of honesty in the writing world, but it's pretty unrealistic. Because it's often not the agent who pays for this kind of thing (even when it's the agent's problem), but the writer. However, I can share (without naming names) that I have a list of agents that I will not query. They're not agents who are on a Beware List somewhere -- they're simply people who have treated others I know with less respect than I want. These are them, in a nutshell.

Agent A: Made promises and didn't keep even one of them. This was my own personal experience with the agent, and although I don't query her anymore, I don't hold it against her, either. She was trying to be nice -- probably she never meant for her words to be taken by me as a promise, in the first place.

Agents B and C: Two agents I've seen who are the 'Immediate Sale Or Else' types. They're not interested in an author's career, even though they make that claim. If they can't sell the book within six months (or sometimes even 3), they dump the writer. All this after a great deal of initial enthusiasm, sometimes enough so that they convince the writer to go with them instead of other offers...and when the editor response wasn't what they thought, they broke up with the writers. I cringe every time I hear of a writer signing with one of these two.

Agent D: Flaky. She's got a great rep -- with some people. But with others, she's lost mss or shown high enthusiasm only to respond with a complete lack of interest the next moment. She'll promise a quick read -- on the phone even -- and then never contact the writer again.

Agent E: Too important to care. This is the agent who will think a writer has huge potential, but if it doesn't pan out (and quickly), she'll drop you because she already has too many high-selling authors to really care.

Agent F: Too busy to care. Another who shows amazing initial enthusiasm...and then never contacts the writer again. Ever. (Yes, this is another personal experience).

Agent G: Insecure. This agent likes to spend tons of time working with a writer -- but isn't secure enough in her own abilities (imo) to make it over that hump and offer.

Agent H: In Over Her Head. This agent starts strong and enthusiastic, but as her client list grows, she slowly retains less and less control over any of it.

To be fair, I've also seen some agents whose professionalism and loyalty seem impeccable (in my own experience), and those I'll list by name: Kristin Nelson, Jennifer Laughran, Wendy Schmalz, Zoe Fishman, Miriam Kriss, Holly Root, Susanna Einstein, Emily Sylvan Kim, Kate Schafer Testerman, Erin Murphy, Tracey/Josh Adams. (ETA: some from comments' list) This isn't even close to a comprehensive list -- these are only agents with whom I (or someone I know well) has had consistently good experiences. And a good experience doesn't mean tons of sales -- it means an agent who treats writers (clients and non-clients) with respect and professionalism, even if their book(s) doesn't sell right away.

Do you know of others? What do you think makes an agent worth querying -- and what keeps you away from others?


( 92 comments — Leave a comment )
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Nov. 8th, 2008 10:01 pm (UTC)
I definitely had a list when querying of those I wouldn't go near, and those I didn't know of but am thankful didn't offer, retrospectively, based on the complaints of others. I know of many who got "dream" agents who quickly proved themselves in one of the categories above.

My agent isn't huge. She's not on a lot of radars. Her client list isn't expansive, but she is not only amazing, she's amazing for ME. It's all about a great match. She tops my list, along with a few others (Michael Bourret, Nathan Bransford, Janet Reid) who are not only incredibly personable, but loyal and devoted, and tireless.
Nov. 8th, 2008 10:19 pm (UTC)
It is very much about a 'perfect' match between each individual writer and the agent. In fact, I think every one of the agents I list above (A-H) has at least one client (whom I know) who feels that the agent is their perfect match. And that's great--but I still wouldn't query them (or suggest them to any other new writer, heh).
Nov. 8th, 2008 10:19 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the post. It is a small world. Even on a blog, where I'm hiding behind a nickname, I think twice about saying something critical about a published author, let alone an editor or house because of just what you say. It's a small world, and many people aren't as respectful as they should be. Word gets around though. One of my friends was at a conference and scheduled to read with a popular published YA author. My friend has only published short stories, but has a pretty strong local reputation. The published author though, read his piece and then left the reading with his entourage, without any excuse or apology. As a bookseller, I did my best to steer people from his books to someone else, like Holly Black, who has always been a sweetheart to her readers and fellow authors.

When I start looking at agents this January, I'll run them past you first. :) Good luck!
Nov. 8th, 2008 10:21 pm (UTC)
It's amazing how easily people can 'darken' their good name, isn't it? And yes, some people are so kind, so respectful and aware...I can only aspire to do the same, should I get the chance!

Definitely let me know, Katie -- I'd love to see you succeed!! :)
Nov. 8th, 2008 10:19 pm (UTC)
Man. I'd love to know names on your first list, since I have *no clue* who I'm up against here. Hopefully my current first pick hasn't made that list.
Haven't heard anything yet, so who knows if it even matters. I *hate* this stuff. It's like dating. *sigh*
Off to play some tunes...
Nov. 8th, 2008 10:22 pm (UTC)
I'll e-mail you all the names ;) I'd be surprised...but even if your first choice is among those, notice what I mentioned to Victoria -- each of those agents has at least one client (that I personally know) who LOVES what that agent is doing for them. So sometimes we get lucky :) And you're certainly due for a lot of that!
(no subject) - lizjonesbooks - Nov. 9th, 2008 02:01 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 8th, 2008 10:30 pm (UTC)
I've been very happy so far with my agent, Josh Adams. He and his wife Tracey work as a team, and although they're very busy and thus are not always quick to respond to new submissions (though they've just hired a reader to help move things along, so that's improving), as a client I've always got prompt responses to my questions and concerns. They're also techno-savvy and have (so far as I've seen/heard) a very good reputation. I like that they've also got young children, so they understand the pressures and challenges of family life. So I say, yay for Adams Literary!

But like you, I have heard things about some other agents that make me very thankful I didn't sign on with them.
Nov. 8th, 2008 10:32 pm (UTC)
I'd forgotten about Adams Literary -- probably because they're not open to random queries (I think you need a referral) -- but yes, from everything I've heard, they're topnotch :) Thanks for mentioning them!
(no subject) - rj_anderson - Nov. 8th, 2008 10:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - robinellen - Nov. 8th, 2008 10:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lizjonesbooks - Nov. 9th, 2008 02:09 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 8th, 2008 10:34 pm (UTC)
I'll call myself Anon...
Um, yes. You've hit the nail on the head here. So many times it's not about the Predators and Editors website -- not about an agent blatantly doing unethical things. It's all these things you mention here. Things that involve giving a writer hope, tons of it, and either slowly or abruptly killing that hope, often seemingly for no reason. It's about that promise that they'll do their best, and then, in fact, their actions are the complete opposite of "best."

I've had an agent that was a combination of B, C and E. Ugh. Still makes me sad when I think of it.
Nov. 8th, 2008 10:44 pm (UTC)
Re: I&#39;ll call myself Anon...
Anon, I'm so sorry! I've been lucky in that I haven't had to deal with some of this after signing. I hope your next agent truly is a wonderful, giving, enthusiastic person!
Nov. 8th, 2008 10:54 pm (UTC)
it's such a complicated issue. and sometimes an agent is perfect for one person, or at one stage of that person's career, and totally wrong for someone else.

Early in my conference-going days, I was at a small conference with two published writers, repped by two separate well-known agents. And each writer was in the process of switching to representation by the OTHER agent.

That has stayed with me.

I think that you want to look for someone who is a good fit for you, who likes your work and wants to be with you for the long haul, and who you can respect/trust/work with. I'm sorry that you're still looking, but I trust that the day will come when you find the right person!!
Nov. 8th, 2008 10:59 pm (UTC)
Oh, it's definitely a personal fit thing -- but most writers who are seeking want to avoid a lot of what I mention. I think part of the 'fit' aspect has to do with things like communication styles and nudging and how often batches are sent out...at least, that's the feeling I get :)

I just don't like how some agents (like those listed above) treat writers without basic respect. Even if I happened to 'fit' with one of them, I wouldn't want them because of how I've seen them treat others, I guess. But I'm happy whenever I hear of a writer who finds a good fit, even if it's with one of those above.
Nov. 8th, 2008 11:05 pm (UTC)
Oy. It does sound like dating and not that much better than blind dates. I hated dating. ...

Nov. 8th, 2008 11:27 pm (UTC)
I think it's often like blind dating! Even if you have a recommendation...I know people who have the agents above, people who have had great success with them...and yet, I've seen the other side of it too. I guess we all just have to go with our guts :)
go with your gut - egwenna - Nov. 9th, 2008 01:23 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - robinellen - Nov. 8th, 2008 11:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - egwenna - Nov. 9th, 2008 01:24 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 8th, 2008 11:12 pm (UTC)
Hmm, I think I can guess a couple of these based on my experiences while querying and the experiences of others. But I am curious :)

I hope you find an agent soon. You definitely deserve it!
Nov. 8th, 2008 11:28 pm (UTC)
That's sweet, Tara :) You certainly have a great agent -- which restores my faith in the whole process, heh.
Nov. 8th, 2008 11:17 pm (UTC)
I've seen some of those one-book agents, too. The ones that worry me most are the ones who do sell a book for a client, but the intersection between client and agent interests is so small that once the author wants to write a different book, suddenly the agent isn't knowledgeable enough in the field to sell it. (For example, if the agent reps chic lit and the author has a YA chic lit, but for the next book, they want to go historical, and then all bets are off. That's why one of my big questions is how well the agent knows the entire field/genre of what I plan to write in. Maybe they are starting to pick up YA, too, and I realize there's always a beginning, but if you don't even READ the stuff, I don't see how you can sell it.)

Speaking of good agents, I've only ever heard good things about Erin Murphy, even from clients she hasn't sold for yet, and from people who have been rejected by her. She's closed, though, unless you go to a conference. Ditto Adams Literary--but RJ says they're now open again? Go for it!
Nov. 8th, 2008 11:30 pm (UTC)
Yes, I should add both of those -- I will, in fact :)

And you're right: it's tough when you want to make a career of this, and you like to experiment with different sub-genres...there are a few agents who will do everything in kidlit, but what if none of them want me? :) Always a challenge, isn't it?
Nov. 8th, 2008 11:20 pm (UTC)
i think i can also guess a few of these mystery agents, based on my experience and some posts on the blue board. :)

but yes, it is such an individual thing. some people have reported trouble with an agent, when that agent was nothing but nice to me during my search. or vice versa ...

anyway, i hope your search ends soon - whomever you end up with will definitely be lucky to have a client who is so focused!
Nov. 8th, 2008 11:33 pm (UTC)
It is an individual thing -- and for me, after being at this for such a ridiculous amount of time (yeesh), I know exactly what I canNOT put up with, hehe. I did the same thing when I was dating -- rather than look for a guy with great qualities (though I certainly did that too), my focus was on the not-so-great qualities. Once I found someone whose 'weaknesses' I could handle (who could also handle my weaknesses), that's when I knew it was the right fit.

For me (and perhaps me alone), those agents A-H have weaknesses that I can't live with. Even if they didn't treat me that way, I don't like the idea that they could treat a friend that way. But I realize that not everyone feel like that (and that's okay too -- live and let live). :)
Nov. 8th, 2008 11:29 pm (UTC)
I bet I can name A-H without a problem... plus we've shared a lot of this information through emails.

Yes... a good fit is possible with these agents, but I'm willing to guess that the good fits (most of them) revolve around some pretty big sales.

It's the struggling author, still unpublished, that get's the same attention from his agent that a published author gets that makes, to me, a perfect match.

Finding an agent is hard enough without having to clip off a few more because they've been unethical... but I respect you for that, Robin. And when you DO finally get your agent... it'll be one of those perfect fits.

Nov. 8th, 2008 11:35 pm (UTC)
I bet you can too :) And yes, I think many of the good fits with those agents comes from big sales (or quick sales)...it's definitely the pre-published, not NY best-seller type writer, who falls between the cracks and loses the respect.

I guess hope springs eternal ;) I'm just glad that you found your perfect match -- and that she's truly so wonderful!!
(no subject) - melissa_writing - Nov. 9th, 2008 02:54 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - robinellen - Nov. 9th, 2008 05:26 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - patesden - Nov. 9th, 2008 08:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - robinellen - Nov. 9th, 2008 09:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - frost_light - Nov. 10th, 2008 01:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - robinellen - Nov. 10th, 2008 04:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 9th, 2008 12:14 am (UTC)
Boy have you nailed this! I bet we can compare some notes.

It's been three years for me too on the whole looking for an agent thing.
Nov. 9th, 2008 05:23 am (UTC)
Amazing how much we learn, isn't it? :)
Nov. 9th, 2008 12:47 am (UTC)
I like the sorts of categories you create in describing negative agents--that's insightful.
Nov. 9th, 2008 05:27 am (UTC)
I know everyone has a bad day here and there...but when I can categorize some of them so easily...that's a little scary!
Nov. 9th, 2008 01:34 am (UTC)
Great post, Robin. I'm pretty sure I can name almost all of these agents...but maybe it's because we've shared so many of our querying experiences. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that you find that perfect-for-you agent. I know he/she's out there.
Nov. 9th, 2008 05:27 am (UTC)
I'm sure you can too :) I continue to hope that your agent and you find a perfect match as you work together -- I'd love that :)
Nov. 9th, 2008 01:37 am (UTC)
Interesting. Unfortunately, I can't even think of the names of the A-H but I have my own list that keeps growing, slowly, of course, but it is growing. How sad that we can't have that open honesty without paying a price for it. Great post, Robin.
Nov. 9th, 2008 05:28 am (UTC)
Probably your list and my list is pretty much the same. I think anyone who's been doing this for any amount of time has run into the same struggles. Thanks, Laura!
Nov. 9th, 2008 01:45 am (UTC)
Great Post! Wendy is above and beyond a wonderful agent--seriously, I couldn't ask for a better one--not a moments regret in the year and a half we've been together--communication is so great--that alone gets her heads above so many others. How many agents get back to you within a day--and that's unusual for her--mostly it's within the hour unless she's out of office.

Nov. 9th, 2008 05:29 am (UTC)
It's comments like yours that bring back my faith in the whole process -- just knowing that agents like WS exist and really, really want to be decent people. I'm so glad you mesh with her!
Nov. 9th, 2008 01:51 am (UTC)
Wow-- I can think of agents that fit all of those areas from back when I was querying! Crazy! I remember one specifically who everyone thought was SO AWESOME. This agent loved my idea but had a similar book. Said the other book I mentioned in my query sounded fantastic (this was the one I later sold) and to send as soon as it was ready. So I had it ready and sent it a month later-- all excited of course and the agent said what is this? I have no interest in reading this. Ahhhhh!!! I was like WTH????
Nov. 9th, 2008 05:30 am (UTC)
Oh, that drives me insane! I know they read a ton of stuff, but...well, I guess it just helps us narrow the field, right? :)
Nov. 9th, 2008 02:12 am (UTC)
Okay, I swear I know who some of these agents are. But that's not really important - what's important is writers get stuck with these agents. One of my CPs is starting to query, and I've shared my querying experiences with her. I think, eventually, some of these agents are going to wish they'd handled clients (and potential clients) with more finesse.
Nov. 9th, 2008 05:31 am (UTC)
I hope so! Word gets around...obviously :) And even though we're careful and do try not to bad-mouth anyone, just listing common experiences brings out a lot of truth. (And I'm sure you do know who these agents are!)
Nov. 9th, 2008 02:13 am (UTC)
Great post! I understand agents are human, too, but I don't like every human I meet either. *grin*

Thanks for this post. Three years of hard work have taught you well and I bet it won't be much longer before you find an agent that works for you.

By the way, would you be so kind as to send me the identities of agents A-H? I'll be sending out queries in December. ;)
Nov. 9th, 2008 05:31 am (UTC)
You bet :) I'll e-mail you!
Nov. 9th, 2008 02:35 am (UTC)
I"m glad my agent is on your good guys list! :) I am still crossing my fingers for you and they will stay crossed everyday until it is the right time for you! Hugs!
Nov. 9th, 2008 05:32 am (UTC)
You're sweet :) And I'm so glad that you found an agent who treats you and your writing with the respect and enthusiasm you deserve -- yay!!
Nov. 9th, 2008 02:51 am (UTC)
Over the past couple of years, I've learned more abt agents than I think I wanted to know. I've met "poachers" and have had friends with "promisers" and met one who was really rude. I've watched in person & read (from the source) unprofessional behaviour that makes me want to run screaming "don't do it!"
But blogging abt any of it? Nope. You're right that it would only make the writer look bad.

It's hard though bc what is a "oh no s/he didn't?!" thing for me isn't always that for the next person.

A few agenty thoughts-- Nancy Yost is wonderful. She advised my first agent during my YA deal, and I'd have had her as a one of my first picks, but she doesn't do YA. I hear great things abt both Richard Curtis & Russ Galen. Merrilee Heifetz (my agent) knows her stuff to extreme degrees. I have friends repped by Miriam Kriss (and have met her several times), and she seems to really look after her clients.

OTOH, there is an agent on your list that I've heard not good things about . . . so I guess that just shows how subjective it all is. Back to that whole dating comparison, I guess . . .
Nov. 9th, 2008 05:36 am (UTC)
Oh, one of them might have some lemony moments, huh? Yeah, it is subjective. But I'm hoping against hope that there are people out there who truly do the 'right' thing 99% of the time (if that's humanly possible). Certainly, as you know, the A-H are those about whom I've either experienced or heard repeatedly about poor professionalism/discourtesy.

I'm thinking I know which agent you might have heard something about...there's one I listed who's on the border (in my subjective scaling).

Thanks for more great suggestions, btw -- I've also heard great things about RG and NY. And in all honesty, there isn't a Writers House agent who, in my experience, isn't fantastic!
Nov. 9th, 2008 03:01 am (UTC)
Interesting topic. I think I can identify some of those. But in many cases, an agent will treat different people differently.

As in dating, personal chemistry is very important.

Other agents who are mensches (in my experience): Steven Malk, Stephen Barbara, Danielle Svetcov, Ann Behar, Jodi Reamer.

Fingers crossed that you find your perfect match soon, Robin.

Edited at 2008-11-09 03:10 am (UTC)
Nov. 9th, 2008 05:37 am (UTC)
Thanks, Barb :) It's a tough thing -- even among those you listed, I know of two who have treated writers not well at all (and I was the writer in one case) -- so you're right: it's still so subjective! Thanks for the good wishes!
Nov. 9th, 2008 05:06 am (UTC)
Yeah, stories do get around, in emails and IMs that are like the equivalent of the gossipy whisper in a group of friends. I've heard some scary agent tales over the years--but some of these same agents I've heard others mention as absolutely WONDERFUL DREAM AGENTS who NEVER GAVE UP ON THEM...so...oof, it's hard to say.
Nov. 9th, 2008 05:39 am (UTC)
WEll, I know of one right off the bat (that I think we've discussed before) who did wonders for a couple of people...but others, not so much. It's all on our own comfort level, I think. Some people are really able to keep it all business, in the sense that they look for that business relationship which works for them, and if it doesn't work for someone else, they are able to let it go. Maybe I just think of it too personally (like Meg Ryan, heh -- 'Well, it's personal to me.') -- and when I hear of an agent treating someone I know and like poorly, I'm turned off. It's possible that I'm expecting too much...I certainly make enough mistakes!
Nov. 9th, 2008 09:24 am (UTC)
I just signed with Sara Crowe, and right now I have only good things to say about her. Would you agree that she belongs on your list?
Nov. 9th, 2008 09:32 am (UTC)
Also, I've run into D and A before. Not very pleasant experiences, at all, as you already know.

I sincerely hope you find a fantastic Agent X (X for exceptional) soon; you really never know when they'll drop from the sky. :)
Nov. 9th, 2008 04:55 pm (UTC)
I know you've run into these, and I'm sorry :( I hope things go very well for you now!
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