Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Publishers Marketplace is an information-packed site where agents or publishers can report deals, check to see who represents a certain author, follow manuscript buying trends, or find contact information. It’s a fee-based service of Publishers Lunch, the free, one-stop daily which provides up-to-the-minute information on all things publishing. Many agents report every deal to Publishers Marketplace, naming the author, the acquiring editor, the book title, a blurb about the book and the price range of the sale. Yep, it’s the sell and tell.
I used to faithfully report my sales to Publishers Marketplace but my last reported deal was in 2008. Let me explain why I no longer post.
- TMI— I’m a private person at heart. I’ve been in the business world for more than 35 years and I can’t help myself— I’m uncomfortable about sharing proprietary information. Especially the specifics about how much money changed hands over a deal. A few years back we were visiting with fellow agents at a writers conference when one of the agents laughed and said, “I know exactly how much every agent makes. I study Publishers Marketplace.” Our whole group stood there speechless, gobsmacked by that comment. It reaffirmed my decision. That agent, who was so sure of his method, couldn’t possibly have known how many agents only posted a portion of their sales or the exact size of each deal but it made everyone feel exposed somehow. Or that other agents never sell and tell. Another agent regularly brags that she is the most prolific agent in the industry. Now how in the world can anyone possibly claim that?
- Spy vs. Spy— Much of the information shared is actually proprietary to the publishing house. If every deal were posted, anyone would be privy to what a publishing company has in their pipeline. When an agent posts a deal that signals a whole new direction for a publishing house, that agent is alerting all the other houses to this new possibility. I spoke with one publisher who did not like their deals reported. Of course there is no consensus among publishers since other houses and editors sometimes post deals themselves.
- It’s a Dog Eat Dog World— There are also dangers for authors who may have bright new ideas that won’t come out for a couple years. An unscrupulous author or publisher could easily beat them to the punch. This is where sell and tell can hurt the author.
- Entering the Danger Zone— Touting our sales can be dangerous for the soul. Sometimes you’ll see an agent claim that he or she is “number one in inspirational fiction sales” or that he or she “logs more sales than any other agent.” Those statements are loosely based on the data from Publishers Marketplace. I found when I was reporting deals I became uber-competitive as I hit all kinds of milestones and #1 spots. I found myself checking on stats way too often and comparing myself to others. One day I was brought up short by a verse in the Bible, “Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.” Galatians 6:4-5 (MSG) Don’t be impressed. Don’t compare. *GULP* I have had a number of six-figure deals and even some seven-figure deals. I can’t tell you how tempted I am to trumpet those sales. But just the fact that I long to point to my big sales and am never tempted to share my failures clues me in to the danger inherent in this practice.
- Missing the Goalpost— Our goal as literary agents is to build writer’s careers. If I wanted to have more reported sales than any other agent I could sell tons of projects to small presses or indie houses and report those as deals. Those are indeed legitimate deals but the sales numbers the authors will garner on those mini-deals can become career-killers. I’ve been called to keep my eyes on my clients’ careers and off my own. I need to make the right sales not the most sales.
I could go on and on. There are definite pluses to posting deals publicly but, for me, the downside outweighs the upside. What about you? Do you pay attention to the sell and tell? When choosing an agent do you go to Publisher’s Marketplace to do research? Would you be more likely to sign with an agent who touts “measurable” dealmaking success?