Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Location: Books & Such Central Valley Office
If you frequent agent blogs or follow agents on Twitter you’ll see plenty written about the many ways writers fail. From terrible queries to brash behavior, from craft errors to marketing omissions, from lack of skill to lack of ideas– all have been skewered online. I figured turnabout is fair play. Last week I attended a question and answer session at the Sierra Foothills Christian Writer’s Conference. Several of the questions form the basis for this series of blog posts.
The first four days of this week I’m going to open the curtain to let you see how we fail. Consider it my personal mea culpa. Today and tomorrow I will talk about how we fail those of you who are not yet our clients. Wednesday and Thursday I’ll talk about how we either fail our clients or inadvertently hold them up. And on Friday, by contrast, I’ll talk about bad agents. (Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as a bad agent.)
So let’s get started. . .
In a perfect world a literary agent would not only be a talent scout but would help develop that talent. She would spot potential and mentor that fledgling to soaring heights. Unfortunately we live in an imperfect world. Let’s talk about the sad realities.
- Talent Scout. Here’s where we do the best we can with the time we have. Honestly? I’d have to take a failing grade here. There’s so much talent out there we can’t even begin to scratch the surface. I’ve talked about the broken query system in post after post, but we use queries to see if we spot that combination of brilliant concept, engaging writer and above-average skill. If you think writing a winning query is hard you should try to predict potential success based on a query. In that aforementioned perfect world we’d forget queries altogether and just read the manuscript and meet the writer. But here’s the truth: If we have a full client base we barely have time to look at queries at all, let alone get into the meat of potential project. I hate it! The writer wants to know why we can’t at least give him a little feedback or even an answer to his query. Again, the truth: there is no time. The upshot is that we miss out on some wonderful books and amazing authors and there’s not a one of us who doesn’t mourn this loss.
- Talent Developer: I was at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference when a writer pitched her idea to me. The title alone sold me– high concept with enormous commercial possibilities. I took a look at her writing and immediately saw that her skills were no match for the idea. There was no way she could pull it off. In that perfect world I would have taken her on, helping her develop her skills. But when I’m already having to turn away ready-to-publish authors, is it fair to my clients to take on an author who will require that much time to develop? Sadly, that book will probably never be published. Give me a #fail on this one as well.
You can see that I keep defaulting to a lack of time. That’s the sad reality. An agent needs to spend the bulk of her time working for her clients. The more successful clients an agent has, the less time an agent has for those writers who are not yet clients. Here at Books & Such we’ve made a commitment to try to help mentor non-clients by our commitment to daily blogging and by attending writer’s conferences. A writer who follows agent blogs can often get his question answered by asking it in the comment section. And, as he comments, he begins to get his name known as well.
Insider Tip: A writer stands a much better chance with a new agent who is in the process of building a clientele. Here at Books & Such we have a brand new agent, Mary Keeley. She’s got a depth of experience in publishing. In fact I used to pitch client projects to her when she was a nonfiction editor at Tyndale. If you have one of those fabulous projects, you can reach her with a query at firstname.lastname@example.org. Put “For Mary Keeley” in the subject line.
We talked about that perfect world. If you were to design your perfect agent, what would he/she be like?