Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Location: Books & Such Main Office, Santa Rosa, Calif.
Unfortunately, the list of involuntary manslaughter murders that agents commit on clients’ careers goes on and on. Continuing from my previous post, I would also add:
- Made an easy choice that left the client temporarily content–but ultimately killed the career.
What am I talking about? An agent has tremendous pressure asserted to get a contract–any contract–for a client. The pressure comes from the client, publishers, and the agent him or herself. The client certainly can’t move forward in his career without a contract; the publisher expects an agent to present publishable material on a regular basis; and the agent needs not only to keep good relationships with clients and publishers, but he also has financial and peer pressure to sell a certain number of projects each year.
Yet those pressures can lead to serious missteps. An agent can decide to present projects only to smaller publishing houses, knowing he can rack up a significant number of sales each year. Those sales keep his clients happily writing, the publishers he works with happily publishing; and with enough clients, the agent making a decent living. Plus, to say you’ve sold 50 projects in one year sounds downright impressive.
And yet…eventually the client realizes the size of his advances are still bargain basement; his sales number are likewise in the dingy bottom. In other words, his career is going nowhere fast. And those low sales figures will follow him, like toilet paper attached to a shoe, through his entire writing career. Pulling a career out of this spot is very difficult to do. Not impossible, but it takes a lot of skill, a sense of timing, and just the right sort of project. Lacking all three of those items, involuntary manslaughter was committed the minute the agent said yes to a contract that took the author nowhere.
That doesn’t mean you should reject a small advance or writing for a smaller house. Sometimes that’s the perfect place to start, but if your agent is just making an easy choice rather than executing a thoughtful plan, it’s still the death of a career.
If you’re writing for a smaller house or targeting smaller publishers, what can you do to help assure a lively writing future? What do you like about working with a smaller house? What do you see as the downside?