Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The agent diatribe

I've been getting a flurry (really, something between your standard storm and a blizzard) of questions about agents lately. Which is cool, by the way; part of the joy of anonymity is telling tales out of school and giving my opinion on which agents are angels and which ones suck.

First, let me say this: Getting an agent is not the same as getting a book deal. So many writers tell me, "Hey! I got an agent!"

To which I respond: *yawn*

Unless you tell me
Binky signed you up (and even then . . . ) I will tell you that the situation is very encouraging but that you should now get busy writing another book (or a multitude thereof) while you wait for your agent to pile up the rejection slips.

Sound negative? Whatever. Truth be told, you have an exponentially improved chance of getting published by landing an agent--any agent. But these are not perfect people. In fact, they are not even close. They are not the answers to your prayers. And they are not going to save the world, not even your little piece of it.

My agent? Angel. And as I am blessed, I certainly have no basis for this particular rant. But rant I shall.

I should mention (and I will certainly get a lot of flak for this) that many folks who entered the world of agenting did so because they were unsuccessful editors (translation: built a list of midlist titles) or were squeezed out of an editing position due to a corporate takeover. Granted, the money is better, which will lure some folks out of the crappy-paying, high-stress job of editing, but for the most part . . . the odds are good (like 3:1) that you're dealing with someone who couldn't cut it or didn't want to cut it.

These are the ones who don't (or are slow to) return your calls and emails, submit to inappropriate editors, shotgun your proposal or manuscript (sending it out to everyone they know at once), spend time attending conferences nonstop (some hit 4 or 5 a year!) instead of working to sell books, give up all the rights to a book out of the gate just to make a deal, can't seem to command an advance above $20K, and--worst of all--have lost every iota of passion for books they might've once had.

In case you have never read
Lauren Baratz-Logsted's story on Mad Max's blog about landing an agent (she is on agent #6!) you should check it out. It is an eye-opening journey on how long it takes to get published and how many agents you may need to go through before you ink a contract. Then go buy one of her books, by the way--she's a clever and talented writer; you have to be good to attract an agent in the first place, never mind six!

Then check out, on the same blog,
Jessica Brilliant Keener's commentary of agents as well. Come to think of it, while you're at Amazon, buy her book, too.

Anyway, you can scour the Internet for a year and find countless stories of writers going on and on about agents (and now you can add this one. *sigh*) Let's be honest, the only agent that matters is the one that sells your book--and represents it well. DO NOT waste your time reading the instantly outdated agents guides. (Case in point, Nicholas Sparks ended up sending some queries to dead agents.) Everything you need to know is online. Jeff Herman's poorly vetted guide is particularly ridiculous. In one edition, back in 2003, there is actually an agency listed in Michigan whose agent is Paige Turner. C'mon, Jeff. Not to mention the prominent listings by some well-known scam agencies, like Mountainview Literary out of Arizona.

Now--another truth be told--nothing would be more fun than creating a list of agents that really suck major wind and letting the chips fall where they may. But perhaps it would be more useful to list as many agents that I can think of (and know, or have dealt with, or have consumed too much alcohol with) that would be great people to have represent your tome.

So I shall.

Please understand that I do not know everyone in the industry--but I'm surprised at how many I do know (though a lot of info is received via friends with agents.) And as with acknowledgments in a book or an acceptance speech at the Oscars, I will certainly leave some people out, so please do not be offended. Much.

You can't go wrong with (in no particular order):

Alice Tasman
Mollie Glick
Jeff Kleinman
Amy Williams
Julie Barer
Elyse Cheney
Joe Regal
Noah Lukeman
Christy Fletcher
Jennifer Unter
Paul Cirone
Felicia Eth
Farley Chase
Pamela Harty
Diedre Knight
Linda Chester
Kristin Nelson
David Dunton
Simon Lipskar
Dan Lazar
Ginger Clark
Ira Silverberg
Karen Solem
Nicholas Ellison

Matthew Guma
Richard Pine
Kim Witherspoon
Jenny Bent
Douglas Stewart
Claudia Cross
Suzanne Gluck
Jay Mandel
Jennifer Joel
Lisa Bankoff

If you have an agent with a great story, I'll be happy to add him or her (and, likewise, if you have a horror story about one of the agents listed above, let me know!)

Good luck. Happy hunting. And drink up.