5 Real Reasons Agents Are So Darn Picky

I think some of you swear when you say that line to yourself, but I’m keeping it PG on the blog. Really, why are we so #&$%(&-ing picky?

It’s not only the volume, but that has something to do with it.

We’re picky because we have to be. We wouldn’t be able to stay in business unless we were choosy about everything we signed up. So here’s the truth if you’re still wondering what happens at agents’ desks…

5 Reasons Agents Are Picky

1. Because editors are.

All we hear from editors is how much they have to read, how passionate they have to be in their editorial and acquisitions meetings, how much marketing and sales has a say in the books, and how they have to have a clear vision for projects they take on. So guess what, agents have adopted all those criteria too. It’s true, in this internet age the most important thing is being able to make projects stand out amongst all forms of media. So we’re looking for super special things.

2. Because the recession happened.

I wish we were still in 90s publishing when debuts got $250,000 advances. (Yes, I think we all do.) But the reason publishers don’t give out those advances anymore is because they looked at the books during the recession and thought, Hey, most of these books aren’t earning out. So why are we paying them that much? As much as I’m sad debut fiction doesn’t get that kind of up-front financial support I’m glad that publishers are thinking about royalties, authors earning out, and helping authors plan for a sustainable career–not a blockbuster model.

3. Because we care about the big picture, not the small one.

Good agents aren’t thinking next month or this year when we sign up a client. We’re thinking 5 years from now. We are thinking about all the wonderful things you’re going to do in the long run and how your career is going to grow with our support and guidance. If we thought about the short term we’d be more spontaneous and have more authors–when really it’s important for agents to dedicate our time to current authors on our roster and give them all our attention.

4. Because it’s a business.

Most agents I know are lovely, friendly, wonderful book-loving people that I enjoy spending time with always. But when it gets down to business we are tough cookies. Yes, we are creative individuals too, but when we put our agent hats on it’s all business and that means making choices that people don’t always love. Agents have made peace with that a long time ago. (You wouldn’t be able to dream up the things that get written to us in the horrible slush pile responses.) You don’t want an agent that doesn’t treat this like a business. So that’s why it’s worth the wait for the right agent. We’re picky because we invest our time. We’re not publishers so we can’t woo you with money–our time is all we have to give. And we’re serious about who we give it to.

5. Because being an agent in today’s market is demanding.

This job has never been easy. But the role of the agent has changed. We now have to be fully equipped with knowledge we never thought we’d need to have: consumer insights, meta data, marketing, publicity, social media, ebook technology and much more. If we can’t consult our clients on these things then we’re not doing our job. So it requires agents to have more industry awareness than ever before. Agents’ sole jobs used to be talent spotting and management. Now it’s managing on a more intimate level because publishers have gotten busier too.

With knowledge comes power! Some of you might know this already–but the industry changes daily–and agents have to stay on their toes!

Webinar: HOW TO GET AN AGENT May 14th, Writer’s Digest

Picture 1I’m back at Writer’s Digest doing another great webinar. This time: HOW TO GET AN AGENT. Sign up here for the May 14 (1pm EST) session. 

Many writers think getting a literary agent is the hardest thing they’ll have to do as a writer. They think agents are looking to turn away writers, when actually many agents are actively looking to sign new talent. How do you find these agents that have open doors?

Literary Agent Carly Watters works with many debut writers she’s signed from the slush pile who have become successful multi-published authors. She’ll share the industry expectations of debut writers, how to find agents that are actively looking for new writers, and what questions to ask to make sure you find the right agent for you.

Learn what agents are being told by the industry and how that shapes the debut projects they sign, why you need an agent, and where to find agents that represent what you write. Do you want know how to hook an agent? Carly will make sure you’re fishing in the right pond.

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN:

  • What an author/agent relationship looks like
  • How to find an agent that’s right for you
  • How to show agents you’re a ‘career author’
  • How to stand out among other querying writers
  • What the state of the industry looks like for new authors
  • How agents approach the slush pile and writers conferences
  • The important steps to writing a successful query letter
  • Why you must query an agent with what they ask for

WHAT’S IN IT FOR YOU:

  • Live access to the webinar to ask questions, OR if you’re working, still sign up because either way you get the webinar emailed to you and you get your critique.
  • A critique of your query! From me!
  • 1 Hour of Instruction
  • 1/2 Hour of Q & A

WHO SHOULD ATTEND?

  • Writers who are crafting their first book
  • Writers who have completed their first book
  • Published writers who do not have an agent yet
  • Writers who want to learn more about the author/agent relationship looks like
  • Writers who want to learn an agent’s role in the industry

Sign up today!

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Querying as a Debut Author

I really enjoy talking about debuts.

Many debut authors are nervous about their credentials (do I have enough? do they mean anything?), their contacts (who do I have to know? what if I don’t “know” anyone?), and their book (what if it’s not good enough? what if it’s the best I’ve got?).

I think it’s time debut authors gained their confidence and started to tap into the excitement that agents feel for them.

Here are 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Querying as a Debut Author:

1. Agents look forward to your work. Any agent who is building a list is looking for work. Not all agents are building a list however, so save yourself the heartbreak and query agents who advertise that they’re looking for new talent.

2. Your credentials aren’t holding you back. No bylines? No problem. I never brush off writers who haven’t been published in literary journals or newspapers. Everyone starts somewhere. And, as an agent whose talent is breaking out authors, I’m looking for writers at the early stages of their careers. It’s okay to tell me in your query that this is your first novel.

3. You don’t have to know anyone. Yes, referrals get you in the door, but agents still have particular tastes. The best way to get an agent is to query properly. The only people you need to know are authors whose work you love and then see who represents them. Start there.

4. You’re the best advocate for your work. (Don’t hire a company to query for you.) I feel sad for writers when I see that someone has queried on their behalf. If you’re too busy/scared/uninformed to query your own book then agents aren’t inclined to work with you. You, the writer, are always the most passionate about your own work so why would you outsource it? You can’t outsource ambition.

5. Someday you won’t be a debut anymore. Yes, I’m sure you knew this, but what I mean to say is right now it feels rough. But, the most important thing is making good business decisions early on in your career to set you up for success later. Don’t be swayed by short term gains for the sake of your future career goals. A bad agent fit (either not passionate about your work, doesn’t have time for you, or doesn’t share the same vision) is worse than no agent.

The Break-up: How to Leave Your Agent

I’m a believer in positive thinking and I try to keep things inspiring on my blog, but from time to time we have to get real and talk about tough things. What happens when you want to leave your agent? How should you do it? What’s the order of things?

Every scenario is different and this isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, but here are some tips and suggestions to make a healthy and professional break. 

Leave your agent first. It’s always better to leave once you know things aren’t working. And no agent wants an email from an industry colleague saying “your client is querying and aren’t you still representing them?” It’s a bad scenario for everyone. Make a plan, part ways and then get back to your query letter.

Querying again might not be so hard. It’s up to you whether you want to say “previously represented and have amicably parted ways with my old agent” or whether you want to query with a blank slate. But if you got an agent once, you can do it again. Don’t let the slush pile keep you from leaving a partnership that’s not working.

Get your information: sales figures, submission lists etc. As soon as you’re querying again agents will be asking about these things. So as you’re parting ways make sure to ask for all the ammunition you might need. It’s better to get it right away than track down a former agent months later.

Remember it’s a small industry. Bad mouthing anyone or keeping secrets isn’t going to fly. Agents want to work with people they get along with, whether they’ve had another agent before or not. So push the trash talk away, and focus on what didn’t work, why, and how you can prevent your new partnership from falling into that old pattern.

Keep it professional, not personal. When it’s time to say goodbye it’s okay to do it by email. You don’t need to pick up the phone if you don’t want to. Either way, keep it classy.

If you want to, make sure you did everything you could. There’s no point putting your head in the sand the minute things don’t go your way. When you sign with an agent in the first place you should feel a sense of whether you can work with this person when things are great and when things are tough. (However, we all know situations change and people change.) Before you leave make sure you let your agent know when you’re having trouble in case your issues are resolvable and you don’t have to leave after all.

Don’t…

  • Write a blog post about your experiences. Some things you need to keep to yourself.
  • Keep secrets. If you’re not happy speak up before the relationship unravels. Or keep secrets from your new agent.
  • Start your new query letter with the negative. Avoid telling new agents how your old relationship went sour. Save that tidy line “amicably parted ways” for your author bio.

Managing your career is about knowing what’s best for you and your work. Sometimes even the best intentioned partnerships don’t work out in the long term and that’s okay. A well-built writing career is a long one.