Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Money For Something!

STATUS: Speaking of foreign rights, Frankfurt Book Fair is almost upon us.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MONEY FOR NOTHING by Dire Straits
(of course)


It’s days like this where I just love being an agent. Imagine getting a check for let’s say (and I’m making this number up) 25k out of the blue.

One of my clients got a five figure check that she wasn’t expecting—all because of foreign translation sales after earn-out for her titles.

Happy Holidays indeed! Or course being the pragmatic agent that I am, the first thing out of my mouth was pay your estimated taxes on that. Now. Don’t wait.

I know; I should have let the client celebrate a little.

Can’t think of a better reason for selling the heck out of the foreign translation market for any title.

Money for nothing and your chicks for free!

(our catch phrase here at the agency when we get what we call “gravy” money.)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How Agents Make Money—Hint: It’s Not By Attending Conferences

STATUS: And no one ever talks about the late nights we agent keeps.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? CORNFLAKE GIRL by Tori Amos

I have to say I was highly amused to read a hypothesis from a writer that agents make their money from attending conferences.

If that were true, it would certainly be a poor way to make a living.

For the record, the good majority of conferences pay for travel, hotel lodging, and food. Occasionally, a conference will pay a small honorarium. I’ve personally seen remuneration of $150.00 to $250.00. Let’s say an agent attends 8 conferences at that level. That would be a whopping $2000.00. To put that into perspective, that would just about cover my business class internet for the year and maybe one-quarter of my yearly phone bill. As the honorarium stands now, it might cover our yearly office coffee budget for Starbucks and Common Grounds. Big grin here.

Now I have heard rumors of conferences paying anywhere from $500 to $1000 as an honorarium but I’ve never had the good fortune to participate in any of those conferences (although can someone tell me where I could sign up?).

No, agents don’t attend conferences to earn money. We attend conferences in the hopes of meeting an author and finding a project that will, in turn, earn us money.

It’s actually pretty simple. Agents make money by taking a percentage of what authors earn when an agent sells a project on that author’s behalf.

And there are a variety of revenue streams:
1. The initial sell to the US publisher
2. UK sale
3. Foreign translation sales to foreign publishers
4. Audio
5. Film
6. Other subsidiary rights such as first serial, book club, etc.

And trust me, I’m in my seventh year of agenting and this is certainly not the path to get rich quick. However, it’s a more than comfortable living—for which I feel extraordinarily blessed.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Exploding The “Must Have Connections Myth”—Guest Blogger Megan Crewe

STATUS: For a Monday, it was actually fairly quiet. Only one major issue to solve.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? RASPBERRY BERET by Prince

I thought this a pertinent and timely entry in light of a lot of recent discussions I’ve seen in the comment section of agent blogs lately.

Megan’s debut hits shelves this week—all done with nary a networked connection.



I think every aspiring writer hears this message at least once: You don't have a hope of getting published unless you've got connections. I saw it pop up on message boards and websites as I was preparing GIVE UP THE GHOST for submission to agents, and couldn't help feeling nervous. After all, I'd never talked to an editor or an agent in my life. I didn't even live in the same country as most of them! And my close writer friends were currently unagented, so I didn't have a referral, either.

But I'd also read posts by authors talking about getting picked out of the slush pile, and agents mentioning their excitement at finding a gem in their inboxes, and that gave me hope. So instead of digging into my savings to fly off to every conference I could manage, I simply wrote a query letter, revised it, and started sending it out.

Three and a half years later, I have an agent, a publishing deal, and a book that just hit the shelves. I met Kristin in person for the first time this past May, two and a half years after we started working together.

I know now that there's nothing to worry about--people receive offers of representation and book deals without any prior connections all the time. I did, many of my writer friends did, and I've happily told this to writers who've said they're afraid they won't be able to find an agent or get published because they don't know anyone.

Unfortunately, I realized offering my experience isn't enough. Why should anyone believe me over those claiming that it's impossible? Maybe my case was just the exception.

Which is why, last month, I set out to collect solid data. 270 fiction authors from a variety of genres filled out a poll asking them about their experiences selling their first published novel. With the results now in, I say with assurance that the idea that you need connections to get published is nothing more than a myth.

62% of the agented authors who responded got the agent who sold their first book through cold querying--no prior meeting, no referral.

72% of the authors sold their first book to an editor they had no connection to (either by cold querying themselves, or submitting via their agent).

You can find my full discussion of the poll results here.

Can connections help you out? Of course! But if you don't have them, don't sweat it. I'm a Canadian author who signed with a Denver agent who sold to a New York editor without my having any prior connection to either of them, and that novel can be found right now in stores across both countries. If I can do it (along with more than a hundred other authors who answered the poll), there's no reason you can't, too.


Friday, September 25, 2009

A Friday Funny Sort Of?

STATUS: TGIF. I cleared some contracts off my desk by finishing them up. I always feel accomplished after that.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MACK THE KNIFE by Bobby Darin

I got a hilarious email via our query inbox today, but I’m thinking the writer didn’t mean for it to be funny.

The writer asked if I thought revising a manuscript was worthwhile in this current fiction market. Was it worth the time and effort for the writer to pare down a 200,000 word manuscript into 100,000 word manuscript?

And the writer was not writing fantasy either (where at least a heart-stopping book length could reasonably be argued).

Now what exactly could an agent say to that? I’m really curious as to how this writer thinks we would reply (and we only reply to queries so we won't be responding actually but for the sake of argument). What are we going to say? For you, no, definitely not worth the effort.

Sheesh. If you’re passionate and serious about writing, wouldn’t any revision be a worthwhile one? And I know you guys will come back with the idea that the writer was only trying to gauge market viability but that is a moving target of a question. The market is forever shifting. Not to mention, there wasn’t any description of the novel the writer wanted to revise.

I know, I know. It shouldn’t make me smile when the writer is only trying to figure this all out but I just couldn’t help it.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Not Lost In Translation

STATUS: Just working.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I WILL FIND YOU by Enya

When writers are starting in this biz, they probably don’t think too much beyond that first US sale, but selling translation rights can be as equally important (which is one of the reasons I think that agents will always prove beneficial even in an all-digital publishing world).

I have an author who is selling tremendously abroad. So much in fact that the author’s foreign publisher was contracting for future books even though the US publisher had not committed to those same books.

We ended up being able to use the foreign deal as leverage to get the US publisher to reconsider this author’s series and buy the next book for US publication. Not only did the US publisher buy in, they decided to repackage the books to give them new life in the home market.

Borders loved the new look and decided to take a floor display. Needless to say, this is all helping to build new momentum for a series of books that could have easily been written off.

And all of this wouldn’t have happened except the author’s books were selling so well abroad. The foreign push reinvigorated the US stuff.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Agents Get Rejected Too

STATUS: I’m ready for an exciting new project to come my way.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? POEMS, PRAYERS, AND PROMISES by John Denver

I know that writers don’t necessarily think of this but agents get rejected as well. Last week I offered representation to an author for a novel that was really really good.

Alas, I wasn’t the only agent who thought so. The author had several offers of representation and in the end, the writer didn’t go with me.

So how does an agent feel when this happens?

Does the agent feel disappointed? Of course! If you really like something, it’s hard when you don’t get a chance to go out with it.

Does the agent feel angry? Not really. You can’t win them all. At least I was seriously in the running.

Does the agent feel validated? Absolutely. It’s always nice to know that my taste isn’t off. If other agents are fighting for the same project, then I was right on how I felt about the manuscript.

Does the agent feel regret? Only when we see the “good” or “significant” or “major” moniker on the deal posting on deal lunch. Grin.

And what might be surprising to writers is that most agents wish the author well. Strange as that may sound it’s actually true. This may sound a little woo-woo but I do think that karma plays a big part in what projects come your way and what is meant to be.

Otherwise this biz could drive you nuts…

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Does The Size Of The Advance Equal Success?

STATUS: Blogging a bit late tonight. Busy day.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MR. JONES by Counting Crows

The answer is yes.

The answer is no.

The size of the advance paid can increase the likelihood of success as the publisher is more likely to commit significant resources toward a title that a large advance was paid for.

However, the size of the advance is not a guarantee of success for any specific title.

I remember reading an article in Publishers Weekly last year (and I wish I had saved it). The article outlined two thriller titles being released by two different publishers. Both thrillers were in hardcover and the lead titles for their specific imprints. Both titles had a solid six-figure advance. Both titles had significant resources allocated for the marketing and promotional push. Both titles were from debut authors.

One title hit the New York Times Bestseller list. The other title had, in the publisher’s own words, “disappointing sales.”

So what happened?

Quite simply, no amount of money can force a public to want and buy a book. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t. If the publishers knew what created that ground swell to catapult a title onto bestseller lists and a million copy sell-thru, they’d do it for every book.

It’s a dangerous to assume that the size of the advance paid is the only indicator of possible success. (Or that a publisher who has paid a large advance will always pay attention to that title rather than embrace a newly bought title that might sell even better.)

And every agent I know has a story of a little book that could. The book that was a hard sell, that didn’t have a big advance, that had almost no marketing or promotional budget attached and yet defied all the odds.

A great success story that exemplifies this exactly is agent Deidre Knight’s 90 Minutes in Heaven—a book that was not sold for a lot of money and certainly wasn’t released with a lot of hoopla. Initial print run was by no means huge. The hardcover sold modestly well but then when the paperback version released, an explosion happened. The book kept gaining traction. Word of mouth. The ground swell that money can’t purchase started to happen. In the end, I don’t know exactly how long the title stayed on the bestseller list but I do know that it was for more than a year. This book has now sold millions of copies.

So does a large advance equal large success?

The answer is yes and the answer is no. All the stars ultimately have to align.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Earn Out

STATUS: Typical Denver. 75 degrees one day. 45 degrees the next. I actually wore gloves this evening while walking home from the office.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? RAIN by George Winston

Generally speaking, the statistics are rather grim when it comes to authors earning out their initial advances. Of course I don’t have actual numbers at my fingertips, so what I can safely say is this: the percentage of books that never earn out is high—over 50% of the books sold (and probably reality is more like 80% but without actual numbers, why be more depressing?).

Beyond the statistics, there are actual several factors involved with an author potentially earning out.

1. The level of the advance. After all, it’s a lot easier to sell-thru and earn out if you only received $5000 as an advance for your book than if you received $150,000.

2. The format of the book. Hardcovers have a higher price tag so an author can sell fewer books but make a higher royalty percentage and thus earn out faster than authors who are publishing initially in let’s say mass market format. (Although mass markets have a better price point and thus have more potential to sell more copies in general but I think you guys get the picture.)

3. Royalty structure. The higher your percentages are for the royalties, the easier it will be to earn out.

4. How long your book stays in print. Often authors can earn out their advance over time so long as the book(s) stay in print.

For example, just this week, I received a royalty statement for an author who just earned out the first advance for a book that was published originally in 2005. The author is solidly midlist and has consistently sold steady over the last 4 years. The advance was a nice five figures and since the book sold well over time and the title never went out of print, the author is now earning royalties.

Ah, this is how publishing is supposed to work. An advance that is representative of how much a book will sell and then grow from there. It was hugely exciting to cut the check for royalties earned and I imagine that the author was even more excited to receive it!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Editor Rant--Daniel Menaker

STATUS: TGIF and I’m heading out of the office early to do a little reading.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? STORMY BLUES by Billie Holiday

Ah, I couldn’t get the Friday Funnies to work and since I’m heading out, I’ll just have to let Daniel Menaker rant in my place.

If you haven’t checked out his blog posting at the B&N blog, it’s really worth a look.

Warning—this article is not for the faint of heart.

It’s definitely the unvarnished inside perspective though….

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Why Agent Honesty Is Overrated

STATUS: Today is about royalty statements, a submission, and a film deal in process.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SHE DRIVES ME CRAZY by Fine Young Cannibals

Writers on submission always want to know the answer to this question: “Why aren’t agents just honest in their response to my sample pages?”

In other words, if we think the manuscript sucks, why don’t we just say so?

I’ll tell you why.

1. In my experience (and I can’t speak for all agents), any honest reply generates a response from the writer. Unfortunately, we simply can’t get in a dialogue with the thousands and thousands of individual writers who query us in any given day, week, or month. Better to send out the form letter.

2. Sometimes it really is subjective. I’ve passed on manuscripts that I literally hated. Thought the writing was terrible. Yet another agent has taken it on, sold it, and the book did well. Who was right and who was wrong? See? Subjective.

3. I know y’all will disagree but it’s not actually an agent’s job to tell you that your writing needs work. That’s why writer’s conferences can be important and why most writers need a good critique group. The key with critique groups is to find one with writers who you can trust to be honest but helpful with their feedback. I just did a critique workshop at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and it was amazing. I let everyone else in the room speak first to the writer being critiqued. More times than not, I simply said, “I agree with so-so” and didn’t have further comments to add. That’s how good the writers were in my group. I’d recommend them to anyone looking for real feedback.

4. It’s impossible to say something doesn’t work without explaining the why of it. And sometimes the why is so detailed (from grammar issues, to misplaced modifiers, to dialogue not working, to plot issues, to no character development) that my explaining of why would just take too much time. Simply easier to say NO via a form letter or via inclusion of one of the more generic response line. Sad but true. And sometimes, it’s really hard to figure out the “why” if the writing really isn’t ready

5. Where a writer is now is not where he/she might be a year from now. I’ve been to a lot of conferences over the years and have heard many a keynote speech from hugely bestselling authors. In their keynotes, they often will relay a story where an editor or an agent told them it was hopeless—to never write again. But here they are, X many years later on the bestseller list. Uh-huh. Where you are now is not where you may be in the future. Why should I discourage you if writing is your passion? If you’re planning to stick with it, then you’ll work on craft until you get it or until you discover that the cost of getting it isn’t worth it to you.

Granted, for some folks, it will be hopeless. They’ll never learn the craft but I certainly can’t know that from one submission read if the writer is one who can learn or one who never will.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Response Speak

STATUS: Heading out to dinner with an agent friend who is in town.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HOLDING OUT FOR A HERO by Frou Frou

Form response:
Don’t interpret anything. It could mean just about anything under the sun.

Form response with personal comment
Submission was interesting enough for the agent to make a comment. Don’t interpret too much. It’s the nature of the comment that is important here. If it’s “I just didn’t fall in love” that could mean anything from concept isn’t right or writing isn’t quite there yet.

If comment is something along the lines of “see talent here but not right for me”, well that’s encouraging.

Letter with feedback
On to something here. Time is tight. If agents take the time to actually include feedback, they see potential.

Revision letter with request to submit again
Agents are interested. Now they want to see if you can take a potentially flawed work or something that’s not quite ready into something they can get serious about, offer representation, create a revision letter to make the work publishing ready.

Revision letter with offer
You’ve got talent and a great concept. We’re willing to take a risk by getting you on board and then working with you.

An offer
Nothing ever goes out unedited but when an agent just offers, we know that whatever revision might be necessary will only amount to small tweaks.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Florida Attorney General Sues Scammer

STATUS: Today was all about foreign contracts. It’s been stunning. We’ve done 38 deals so far this year in foreign territories. Wow.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LEGS by ZZ Top

As I’ve been out of town, I haven’t been able to read my Publishers Lunch daily. This morning I was getting caught up on my emails and my industry reading when I came across this news item. I couldn’t help but crow in delight. Let another scammer bite the dust.

And be sure to spread the word and link to this so word gets out in the writing community (and especially to newbies) that they should never, never, never pay a fee to a literary agent.

Florida Attorney General Sues Writer's Literary Agency and Robert Fletcher
The state's crimes division "received more than 175 complaints from around the world claiming Fletcher and his associates, who claimed to act as literary agents and publishers, allegedly collected money from victims anxious to see their work published." The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief as well as full restitution. (full article)

I was appalled to read that he was pulling in an estimated $600,000 a year for fleecing writers. Crime certainly does pay—until you get caught that is.

Monday, September 14, 2009

It’s That Time Of Year When All Thoughts Turn To…Quarterly Estimated Taxes

STATUS: It’s after 8 p.m. It’s really time to leave the office.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? DEAD MAN’S PARTY by Oingo Boingo

Just a happy FYI that the deadline for the third round of quarterly taxes is tomorrow, September 15, 2009. If you still need to pay, don’t delay as you’ll want a US Post Office post mark on the envelope so as not to be charged penalty or fees. I’d send certified mail just to be safe if you’ve waited until the very last day to send.

And if you have to make regular quarterly payments, I suggest getting hooked up with the EFTPS site so you can make payments electronically.

And I might as well take a moment to remind authors that it’s not worth getting behind in estimated payments due from book income throughout the year. I’ve heard one too many horror stories from authors who always thought that the next check would pay all the taxes only to find themselves in a major hole later on (as the next check was basically already spent before taxes came around again).

I know some of you are thinking that gee, I wish I could just get paid for my writing to begin with; I’d be happy to pay taxes. (Okay, maybe not “happy to” but you’d be delighted at the idea of having to because you’re earning money from writing.) For all you published authors out there earning income, this is a not so gentle nudge. Pay your taxes, quarterly, and on time. And if you are the kind of person who doesn’t manage money well or just likes the idea of it, sign up for EFTPS and simply have X amount taking out monthly so it becomes part of your monthly budget--an automatic debit you don’t have to think about when April 15, June 15, Sept. 15, and Jan. 15 rolls around.

That way your taxes are paid (and the date doesn’t sneak up on you when funds might not be in the ole checking account).

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Risk of Pitching A Memoir

STATUS: I always enjoy doing my local conferences so it’s no surprise that this afternoon that I find myself at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference. Two conferences back to back, glutton for punishment I guess. Grin.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? DON’T SPEAK by No Doubt

Last conference blog entry, I promise (at least for a little while anyway). This really occurred to me when I was out in Hawaii and I think it really needs to be said.

When you are pitching a memoir, don’t take it personally if an agent declines to look at pages.

I know. Impossible. After all, most people who write memoirs probably didn’t have a happy time of it and thus why they want to write it to begin with.

As an agent, when it’s clear that the memoir is something that might simply be too painful for me to read, I’m between a rock and hard place. Do I ask for the pages even if I know I’m not going to be able to handle reading them? Or do I decline?

One time I did decline and I felt awful because it was clear the writer was on the verge of tears. Even though I explained why I was passing on looking at pages (nicely but honestly), I knew that the writer felt like it was a personal rejection of the validity of the story and what the writer had experienced.

Ack.

So, what do I do for the future? Ask for pages knowing it’s not right for me or do I request them—knowing in my heart of hearts that we are going to pass?

I have no answer and I’m sure I’ll handle it case by case (or pitch by pitch as the case may be).

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Glazed Like Doughnuts

STATUS: Back in Denver after a red-eye flight. A little bleary.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? YOU’LL THINK OF ME by Keith Urban

Last year it felt like I had done about 8 conferences too many. Big Grin here. So this year I was very careful on how many I actually committed to so truth be told, it’s been a while since I’ve had to do pitch sessions. I certainly got back into the swing of things this weekend with over 30 pitch sessions.

Because it’s so fresh in my mind, I have a couple of things I’d love to share with you readers—just in case you are doing a conference in the near future.

1. As hard as this will be to actually do, try not to be nervous. Agents are pros at helping writers through the pitch session. Even if you botch it to start, we’ll help save the session for you so do let us. In other words, don’t ramble on about your project. If you’ve missed, just stop, ‘fess up to it. Chances are we’ll be charmed and we’ll start asking questions to help you get it right.

2. This one is crucial. Limit your pitch to under 2 minutes and I recommend 1 minute if you can do it.

Why?

Because if you talk for the full 10 minutes, trust me, we’ll start glazing like doughnuts and our thoughts will start drifting. It really is hard to focus on someone talking straight for that amount of time without any interaction (and we really try not to glaze).

Luckily, this only happened once for me and when I realized I had lost my focus, I tried to get back into the session. I have no idea if the writer noticed or not. I hope not.

When the glaze is happening, I do look for an opening to see if I can interject and ask a question. Another good piece of advice? If the agent does that, don’t go back to your pitch! Let it ride and move forward from there.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Agents & Editors At Work—Really!

STATUS: Having a day of play on Oahu!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? Nothing, just the sound of the waves.

Try not to laugh too hard as we work hard at the Halekaluni’s House Without A Key beach bar.

From left: Me, Agent April Eberhardt, April’s husband, Putnam Publisher Neil Nyren, Agent Cathy Fowler.


Friday, September 04, 2009

Untitled In Paradise

STATUS: Aloha! Need I say more?

What’s playing on the iPod right now? Kokomo by Beach Boys



Here is a shot of me working this morning before the conference officially begins!

It’s a tough life but somebody has to do it. I’ve got my feet up and my netbook (thank you Ally and Leslie!) ready to roll. As I’ve been working on this little netbook, I’ve had 3 different people stop and ask me about it.

I should get a kickback from Verizon or HP or something. Even though it’s a brand new toy, I’ve got my eye on that new Apple iBook as well if they ever release it this fall.

So what’s happening today at the conference? Opening ceremonies and then the agents and editors are free until the one-on-one consultations begin at 2 pm. I imagine a lot of attendees are nervously awaiting that.

Just remember, keep your pitch short—under 2 minutes—and allow time for the agent to ask questions. Don’t worry. We are pros at this and we’ll do our best to help you relax and make it a good experience (and to pull the necessary info out of you if you botch it!) Grin.

Still, you want to be able to talk about your novel easily so simply practice in the mirror a two sentence sum up of it so you are ready.

Have a great Labor Day weekend folks. I know I will.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

No Prize For An Unblemished Record

STATUS: Tomorrow I head to Hawaii for the Hawaii Writers Conference. It’s a tough job and somebody has to do it and I’m always happier doing it in Hawaii. Grin.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FAMILY AFFAIR by Mary J. Blige (now that I've learned how to code it down to a small playbox, I'm going to try putting it right under the iPod song--just in case you want to listen while reading.)




I’ve actually been mulling in my head how to write this entry. The reason? I don’t agent the same as all other agents so it’s hard to talk about percentage.

For example, in comparison to a lot of other agents, I don’t sell a lot of books in any given year. I’ve never have—even when I started seven years ago. I’m very selective about the projects I take on.

Earlier in my career when I was still feeling out my tastes and what I really wanted to represent, I had a much higher percentage of books that didn’t sell (especially when I was doing nonfiction titles—which I’m hopeless at and hence why I just rep fiction).

When I became more comfortable in the fiction realm and knew exactly what works for me and what works for the editors, my percentage of projects sold drastically increased. I’m going to assume that what is of most interest to blog readers is the percentage of projects sold for new clients (or debut authors) who haven’t been previously published.

For me, I’m looking back on the last two years and my percentage is almost 100% of what I took on sold. Now this sounds like I’m tooting my horn and other agents aren’t good as I am but that’s not what I’m trying to say (although it could be true, I really don’t know). There may be another way to look at this. Maybe I’m not taking as many risks. I don’t perceive it that way as I only take on the stuff I love but maybe that’s it.

Maybe other agents take on a higher percentage of projects because they are at bigger agencies and have to meet sales quotas. Maybe other agents take on more because they get paid on commission only and bills need to be paid (so the higher percentage they take on, the more likelihood that % number of projects will sell). Maybe other agents take on more simply because they love more stuff then I do (have a broader range in their tastes) and not all of it can sell. Maybe other agents are newer to agenting and still feeling out their tastes and what works best for them to sell.

I haven’t got a definitive answer here.

But what I can say because of yesterday’s entry, my record is not a 100% this year!

Now what’s interesting is that when I took on this author, I knew it wasn’t going to be a slam dunk sale. It’s a work that genre blends so didn’t fit squarely into one place or the other (always harder to sell). Also, this work was something very different for me to rep; it was going outside my “box” so to speak (although I like to think I don’t have a box and I’m open to anything as long as the voice is there). And, to top it off, an earlier version of this work had been shopped previously by another agent. We did a major revision and took it out again. Both the author and I knew what we were up against. If I don’t challenge myself now and again, what’s the point? This work is good; it deserves to sell. This week, we were “this close” to selling it before getting shot down in the agony of defeat.

And if I can’t sell this one, chances are really good I’m going to be selling a future work from this client. The author has a great way of nailing characters who are gray-area bad guys but end up being perversely likable. That’s mastery. I’m patient—as is the author.

So no unblemished record for me this year. C’est la vie!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Agony of Defeat

STATUS: I'm really ready to read a submission that really excites me.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SHE TALKS TO ANGELS by The Black Crowes

Do you remember watching the Wide World of Sports and Bogotaj’s failed ski jump clip timed with the words “the agony of defeat”? I think that image is now synonymous with the concept of crash and burn.

Well, this is exactly how an agent feels when a manuscript he/she believes in doesn’t sell. (And I can’t imagine what an author feels like when this happens! Do they imagine that same vision?)

As a general rule, it’s not possible for an agent to sell every single project that is taken on. A lot of times the market isn’t quite right, the timing is off, the submission falls through the appreciation crack, who knows.

But not every project sells.

That’s a fact of life and not why I’m writing this entry. The toughest moment comes when an editor really believes in a project, when the editor fights for the project at editorial board, and then the unbelievable reply comes that despite the editor’s best efforts, he/she won’t be offering for the project. The work, already rejected from numerous houses, is at the end of the submission yet having come so close to almost making it through. So close and yet it might as well be a mile apart.

That, my friends, is the agony of defeat and let me tell you, agents do feel it as keenly as their authors. Well, I take that back. I really don’t believe it’s possible for the agent to feel as deeply as the author does for that lost opportunity. After all, it’s not quite as personal. I always feel incredible sad anyway (and for some reason I run that mental clip through my brain).

I don’t think I’m wrong. Why doesn’t the rest of the world see what I see?

And then I remember that it all comes down to timing and oddly enough, luck.

That can be the most frustrating part of this biz and about as graceful as tumbling through a failed jump.