Tag Archives: literary agents

The agent thing

I’ve said this about literary agents many times, but if you still don’t believe me here’s Bob Mayer to reinforce the message:

Most writers just want an agent — any agent.  But a bad agent is worse than no agent.  Not “bad” in terms of them as agents (although they do exist) but bad in terms of an agent that believes “well, maybe I can sell this” versus an agent who believes “I love this manuscript and want to sell the heck out of it.”

My first published book came about through the efforts of my fifth agent. Agent One signed me up about 10 years ago on the strength of another book, a novel, and scored a sale to a major publisher. Agent One took a job in Hollywood and Agent Two, the head of the firm, stepped in. He promptly fumbled things when the editor who’d bought my novel jumped to another house and her replacement killed the contract after a month or so of dicking around. Another agent in the same firm took me on, only to quit to start a family. She confided to me that Agent Two hadn’t even read the manuscript and was caught off-guard when the new editor decided to swing his corporate dick, and advised me to look elsewhere for proper representation.

(People in the publishing business tell me that my experience is the worst story they’ve ever heard. Lucky me, right?)

So goodbye to Agent Two and his company and hello to Agent Four and a different company. After Agent Four marketed another novel without success, I showed her the proposal for a nonfiction book. After much foot-dragging, she said she thought there was the germ of a book somewhere in the proposal but she wasn’t sure how to reach it. Well, I knew how to reach it: I just needed an agent who could reach publishers with it.

So goodbye to Agent Four and her company and hello to Agent Five, who read the proposal and loved it. Through her good efforts, The Last Three Miles was published to worldwide acclaim, with rabid customers storming bookstores to demand their own copies, printing plants running day and night to keep up with the demand, and Brinks trucks leaving sacks of cash on my front porch.

Okay, that last part was a bit of an exaggeration. But the point is that getting an agent isn’t the answer to all your problems as a writer. It elevates you to another, higher level of problems. A good agent can be like a gift of gold. A bad agent can be like an anchor chain around your neck.

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Human writes

The moving finger writes and, having writ, gets a link:

Joe Nassise lists 10 reasons why literary agents are vital. He just broke off with one he’d worked with for seven years. I second everything he says. By breaking off with an unsatisfactory (to him) agent, he also illustrates an important codicil: You have to have an agent, but a bad or unsuitable agent is worse than no agent at all. I’m on my fifth agent. Of the first three, two were good and diligent while the middle one was a lazy hack without a clue. The fourth agent was unenthusiastic about a nonfiction proposal I’d worked up. The fifth agent, my current one, loved the proposal and helped it become my first published book. So be bold.

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Agent intelligence

Yes, you need a literary agent. A personal referral is a good way to get one. Another good way is to do some research into which of the agents out there might be interested in your work. Here’s a video on how to do it.

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Writes and wrongs

I first heard about literary agent Barbara Bauer through the good offices of the much-missed Miss Snark, whose post about Ms. Bauer and her various critics was, to put it mildly, not flattering to Ms. Bauer. The Monmouth County literary agent has now taken up Miss Snark’s challenge and filed a lawsuit against her Internet critics. Here’s the Star-Ledger’s recap:

If you believe her website, Barbara Bauer is a veteran literary agent who has helped get numerous books by award-winning authors published in multiple languages around the world.

If you believe other sites around the internet, Bauer is one of the industry’s “20 Worst Literary Agents,” charging her clients high fees for little work.

The Monmouth County literary agent says the websites, blogs and YouTube videos slamming her are ruining her reputation and cutting into her business. So she is suing a number of sources of online criticism in a case that has caught the attention of free-speech groups and online activists.

The ball apparently got rolling a couple of years ago when Writer Beware added Ms. Bauer to its 20 Worst Literary Agents list. Google her name and you’ll find plenty of complaints about her on various writers sites.

I’m happy to say I haven’t had any encounters with the agents on that list. But I can tell you this: You should never pay any reading fees or, for that matter, any sort of fees up front. Never. This is the rule from which all other rules follow.

An agent takes you on as a client because that agent sees a chance to sell your work, whether immediately or somewhere down the line after a bit more woodshedding. It’s a business arrangement, simple as that. If the “agent” tries to justify a reading fee by saying he has business costs, you tell him: Well gee, pal, so do I, but I’m willing to let you read my stuff for free. Which should be the last thing you ever say to him.

If the manuscript sells, you and the agent share in the benefits. If it doesn’t sell, you take to your bed for a few days and sob into your pillow, or go to a waterfront bar and pick a fight with the first stevedore you see. Whatever makes you feel better.

If you pay a reading fee up front, you are announcing that you are a pigeon looking for someone to take advantage of you. End of discussion. Case closed.     

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