When you imagine a literary agent behind his or her desk, what kind of expression do you see on their face? Depending on how you feel about your recent interactions with a literary agent, you may imagine a grumpy face, like that “No soup for you!” guy who used to yell at customers on Seinfeld.
Believe or not, literary agents do smile. In fact, today, I’m sharing three situations that light up a literary agent’s face up like a kitten in a warm pile of socks.
As a point of clarification, by “our,” I mean literary agents who care about people as well as doing their job well. Yes, I’ve heard sad stories of people who’ve had less than pleasant interactions with literary agents. For that I am sorry. This is why I’m grateful for Books & Such Literary Management. We care about careers AND people! While that doesn’t always mean that we can meet everyone’s expectations or make their publishing dreams come true, we are committed to treating clients and non-clients with dignity and respect.
- Literary agents light up with joy when writers pitch fresh, new ideas.
Does anyone remember that vintage commercial with the slogan, “Time to make the donuts.” That phrase became a pop culture slang for doing the same thing day in and day out with no joy or excitement. As literary agents, we look at a lot of queries and according to Writer’s Digest, approximately 85% are “derivative” or in polite terms, not unique and only 10% are unique, while 5% are unusable. This means that we see a lot of the same ideas, so when someone presents a fresh, new angle on a popular topic, we’re likely to skip around the room (maybe not skip, but there may be a fist pump or two.)
Since our job is to match writers with publishers, we want to see as much of that 10% as possible! When a writer takes the time to research to see what’s already been done successfully and then adds a fresh perspective, that makes us excited about seeing a proposal or asking to set up a phone call.
- Literary agents are over the moon happy when their clients succeed.
When a client completes a proposal, gets a contract or releases a book, a good literary agent cheers harder than a sports coach on the sidelines. YES!!! All smiles!
As a newer agent, I have a lot of new clients, so most are working on their first proposals or growing their platform. I love cheering every step they take. One of my clients has grown her mailing list by over 2000+ subscribers in the past three months. Does that make me thrilled for my client? You bet
Literary agents love it when their clients take small steps, big steps or are flat-out sprinting toward their publishing goals. That’s the kind of stuff that gets us going in the morning without needing coffee.
Wait…who am I kidding? There better be coffee.*
- Literary agents celebrate when their clients and prospective clients push through adversity.
There’s no writing without struggle. Whether the adversity is personal or professional, struggle is bound to happen. Whatever the situation, a good literary agent doesn’t want his or her client to give up the fight!
An agent can step into some adversities with a client, such as acting as a liaison with an editor or marketing department. However, most of the time, a writer’s journey includes emotional, mental or spiritual battles that must be fought or persevered through on his or her own.
Recently, I spoke with a client nearing deadline who needed some encouragement. As an agent, it’s a privilege for me to pray with and for my clients as they persevere in their careers through health crises, career changes, grief and more. Tears collect in the corner of my eyes as I think of all of the times that my clients have clung to their keyboards in pure faith and grit to finish a proposal or manuscript. I couldn’t be prouder in those moments!
I’ve also been in touch with prospective clients who aren’t quite ready for representation for one reason or another. I’m cheering them on as well, whether they’re writing their proposal or building their platform. They know there are no guarantees for all of their hard work, so I acknowledge and applaud their perseverance.
JOIN IN THE CONVERSATION: First, do you remember the commercial, “Time to make the donuts”? Next, if you could ask a literary agent a question (other than asking to read your project or represent you), what would you ask?
Of all the questions I might ask,
this one seems most apropos;
just how do you see your task
in battling the flow
of sin that’s washed across the land,
of rancid hateful lust
to wilfully misunderstand
that it’s our Lord we trust?
How do you wake up every morn
to face a blinded nation,
to know career just might be torn
by casual cancellation
if you do not heed the prod
not to speak too much of God?
This is not just a modern phenomenon. Nevil Shute addresses something quite similar in his 1951 novel ‘Round The Bend ‘ perhaps his finest work.
This is very thoughtful and weighty. If I interpret the message of your poem, finding the purpose in our work when we’re not sure if we’re making progress can daunting. I’m not familiar with Shute’s work, but your reflection intriques me to look it up.
I’m hearing that even the CBA is looking for more “crossover” stories that will also appeal to the general market. Are you hearing the same?
Janice, that’s a great question! I’m collecting the questions that people ask this week and I’ll ask one of the agents to address these questions in a future post.
Barb, I loved this. Seeing the heart of an agent for their clients is such an encouragement. Reading that you pray with and for your clients really spoke to me. I guess if I had a question right now, it would be two-fold: Is nonfiction easier to “sell?” and which fictions genres are most desired right now?
Hi Jeanne, thank you for joining us today on the Books & Such blog. Thank you for sharing your question. We love it when people share comments and ask us about market trends. Stay tuned for a future post addressing your questions 🙂
I don’t remember that commercial, but I love that you’re a tea drinker. 😉 Perhaps we can enjoy a cup together one day.
Wouldn’t that be lovely?! If we’re at a writer’s conference this year, I’d be happy to buy you a cup!
Kristen Joy Wilks
Ooooh, will the schedule be updated soon so that all of us can plan which conferences to attend to find each of you?
This is my-bad, Kristen. I’ve been working to gather everyone’s schedule, but they keep changing–adding new conferences, conferences going virtual, etc. We’re actually doing little travel this year, but serving as faculty at several virtual conferences.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Thanks, Janet. Sounds pretty crazy trying to nail the schedule down! Our local-ish (3 hours away and 6 hours away) conferences (Northwest Christian Writers and Cascade Christian Writers Conference) are supposed to be in-person … but we shall see. We’ve had last minute changes, too. I am grateful for the virtual options, though.
Hi Barb. How did your client grow her mailing list by 2000 subscribers in three months. What numbers do you look for in prospective clients?
(I don’t remember the donut commercial.)
Kristen Joy Wilks
I do not remember the commercial, but a large part of my childhood did not include TV, so that is not surprising. Hmmm … I’m curious how your client grew her newsletter so fast! Also, I have been on the “too unique” side of things with my proposals before. Any tips on finding something similar to pair with the unique to ground my stories? I have been trying to find a bit of similar to go along with the wild and crazy by continuing to read in my genres, but can always learn more!
Thank you, Books & Such, for these messages. I enjoy them very much.
My question is, how do I have something new to offer when I’ve heard other advice suggesting you need to be able to give examples of the kind of books that are similar in style/genre? I’m new to all this so am willing to learn! Thanks. Jenni