Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Any writer who wants an agent knows how hard acquiring one can be. Online discussions at times suggest an agent acquires new clients only periodically, when he finds his list isn’t full. But that isn’t true.
Here’s the skinny:
- Most agents are always open to new clients. It’s a matter of being the right kind of client.
Who in Agent-ville would say no to an author whose books regularly appear in the top 10 on a best-selling list? Well, if that author wrote cookbooks, and the agent has never sold a cookbook, nor does he know any cookbook editors, the agent might not see himself as being able to serve that client well.
- Agents generally want a balance of types of writing they represent.
Yes, agents, especially in the general market, have specialties. The general market is so large that if an agent were open to representing any sort of writing, she would find it difficult to keep track of which editor is working at which publishing house, what each editor is looking for, and how to cast a net wide enough to establish and maintain relationships with all those editors.
In smaller markets, such as CBA, agents tend more toward representing both fiction and nonfiction, and often they have clients in many genres and categories. These agents often want a balance between genres and between fiction and nonfiction.
An agent’s list might be “full” in that he has as many historical novelists as he thinks he can place in the current market. Or his list might be “open” if he is aggressively looking for more memoirs.
Agents are clear on their websites as to what they represent and don’t represent, but within those confines, an agent can decide to ramp up the number of clients in a category that’s growing or to slim down clients in a genre that’s not getting much traction with publishing houses. But that does not constitute a full list, by any means. Only the agent is likely to know the ways in which she wants to shift her client base.
- Agents generally think in terms of a potential client’s career level and seek a certain balance of clients.
Each level in a career–debut, mid-list, building, established–requires a different sort of effort from the agent. For example, one of the hardest tasks an agent ever undertakes is placing a new writer with a publishing house. Lots of heavy lifting is involved, including working closely with the writer in preparing a proposal that will garner a yes from a publisher.
A mid-list author nowadays is being squeezed hard by the industry. Fewer publishers are willing to stay with a mid-lister if sales aren’t nicely trending up. That’s a very different kind of challenge from a debut writer, but the task of keeping a mid-list author contracted still is a time-consuming challenge.
A building author also needs a lot of attention because, with focused effort, this writer could move onto a much more significant career.
An established author has so many opportunities and so much that can be done with ancillary rights that great chunks of an agent’s time are soaked up with serious detail work. Even the task of coordinating efforts with the rest of this author’s team takes a lot of time.
For an agent, this way of categorizing clients leads to conclusions about whom the agent can effectively represent. If a newbie writer approaches the agent just as an author moves from the building level to the established level, the agent might respond that his list is “full,” meaning he doesn’t want to distract his attention from a critical time in a client’s career. Or, if an agent has mostly debut and mid-list clients, she might not want to take on additional clients in those levels because her list isn’t balanced.
- Every agent understands that her list should not remain stagnant.
Each publishing house must buy a certain number of new titles every year. Each editor is expected, on a regular basis, to bring money-making proposals to the publishing committee. Both of those truths add up to a wonderful equation: Agents need to consistently offer new, exciting projects. And that means agents almost always are open to that new client the agent can introduce to the publishing world. Not to mention, this is one of the most satisfying parts of being an agent. All of these needs cause an agent to be reluctant to ever declare her client list full.
- You should never assume an agent’s list is full until he tells you it is.
Sometimes, if a writer is connected to others in the publishing industry, she will put out feelers about an agent, asking writing friends if So-and-So is open to new clients. How would anyone but that agent know? Considering the delicate balance the agent is trying to achieve with varying types of clients, being “full” or “open” is an ever-shifting condition.
In what ways does this post shift your thoughts about agents being open to new clients? Have you ever held back from connecting with an agent because you assumed that person’s list was full?
Why a lit agent’s client list is never full. Click to tweet.
How does a lit agent decide if her list is full or open? Click to tweet.
Photo from FreeDigitalPhotos.Net by Kittikun Atsawintaragkul.