Blogger: Wendy Lawton
We often talk about what to look for when seeking an agent. These last few days I’ve come to the realization that it’s important to have what I’m calling a connected agent. Let me explain what I mean by this.
Collaborative– Recently, with my taking a medical leave followed by Janet Grant’s bereavement leave, I realized what a blessing it is to belong to an agency with multiple agents. We are intentionally collaborative. We have weekly web meetings where we put our heads together and bring everyone in the agency up to speed with what we’re doing. So when someone needs to be away or to take a short leave, the rest of us can step in without missing a beat. Besides that, being able to brainstorm with a whole team of agents always yields innovative solutions for our clients. There are some fine solitary agents, but for me, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Collegial– I belong to two different agent groups. The ability to connect to other agents, both ABA and CBA, is invaluable. This week I had a number of emails from other agencies and literary attorneys. It’s such a valuable give and take; I’m richer for it and my clients benefit. If I were looking for an agent, I would look for one who is part of the agent community.
Networked– I hardly need to say that it is vitally important that a potential agent have strong contacts within the publishing community. To do our jobs representing you we need to have a great working relationship with a wide range of editors and publishers. The depth of our Rolodex* matters.
Relational– And it’s important that we are connected with our clients, publishing professionals, and colleagues in a relational, meaningful way.
We spend a lot of time blogging and talking about the writer’s need to be connected; don’t you think turnabout is fair play? How important is it for an agent to be connected online? What are some other ways in which an agent should be connected?
*I know no one uses a Rolodex anymore, but the term ” v-card file” doesn’t have the same punch, right?
Jennifer Major @Jjumping
Good morning Wendy, I hope you’re back to feeling better and happy to be back in the saddle. Or not. In case you hate horses. How about happy to be behind the wheel?
For me, and this popped into my barely awake cranium almost instantly, is that my ideal agent MUST be connected spiritually. If an agent dropped an offer to me right now, I’d immediately pray about it. If that agent was an unbeliever, I doubt I’d take the offer.
I want to be able to pray with my agent, to know that he/she first and foremost wants to glorify God with her gifts as I do with mine. I want my agent to understand that if I say “I do not think this character’s spiritual walk needs to go that direction”, that I won’t hear “What kinda walk is THAT?”
Once the faith issue is out of the way, I want to know that my trusted, Christ-centered agent is a shark at her job and although “fish are friends, not food”, I’d want her to use her business brain to find the best possible outcome for my baby.
Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts
This resonates with me, Jennifer. It’s one of the reasons I love Wendy and the other Books and Such agents and why I love this community of writers. “Fish are friends, not food” sums up the attitude perfectly. Some (most places) are so competitive and even, times vicious or at least disrespectful. There is a true Christian respect, love and gentleness here. It makes a big difference. I don’t think I would instantly think that I need an agent who is spiritually connected, be she Christian, Jewish, Muslim, whatever, but I do think that, for me, it would be a tremendous benefit if she is.
So true, this such a supportive and encouraging environment!
I am feeling much better. Thanks you, Jennifer. Although I’m not officially “back in the saddle” until next week. (Don’t tell my surgeon.)
I couldn’t agree with you more. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last year or so is that no matter how much we talk about marketing and social media and book buzz, the truth is that God is the one who takes our words and uses them. I’ve worked on a couple a books that should never have gotten the attention they garnered–they are the books every editor will tell you they are NOT looking for. And yet, from the moment I first read the book to the huge swell of publisher interest, to a rousing auction– there was a stirring. A mighty stirring.
I’ve made it a significant part of my practice to stay connected to that powerful Wind. I want to sense what pleases him because it often takes us by surprise.
Jennifer Major @Jjumping
Wendy, I thought you might like this old camp song written by an old friend of mine. The video is shot in Vancouver, BC, my home town.
I’ve known this song for a long time and still find myself singing it.
I hope you don’t get seasick!
I hope this link works…
Those words just do me good and make me even more thankful for you, Wendy. I love your heart for His work through words.
It’s very important for agents or anybody for that reason to be connected online. Many agents and authors are connected via Facebook which is great but for the most it is not considered “professional” by the business community. Facebook has always been considered more of a social network than professional network. However, LinkedIn is considered more of a “business” or “professional” network where you can network with other professionals. One is more likely to get a job or a recommendation from LinkedIn than from Facebook.
I signed up for LinkedIn and am bombarded with people who want to connect but I have to admit– I’m not playing so far. There’s only so much time. I’m not looking for a job and that’s not where we connect in our industry.
Am I missing something?
Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts
Lori is accurate in saying that Linked is currently big as a “professional” social media link, but unless you’re job-searching, I’m not convinced that it is worth being a part of it. I joined it actually for job search reasons and I have not been terribly impressed. So no guilt, Wendy. I don’t see that it’s something agents really need to be involved with. But that’s just my opinion.
Of my social media connections, Linked In is the weakest link right now. Even weaker than Google+, and that’s saying something!
I agree with you 100%. I want an agent who gets along well with others and has a lot of connections with editors at different publishing houses. I’d also want someone who is well-known–and respected–in the industry, and for me, who is online via blogging, Twitter, Facebook, etc. I think making personal connections seems to be the way this industry works (of course, talent and trust need to be at work as well), and I would want an agent who is good at making those connections.
Just as we love clients who are relational and connect. It helps tremendously.
I agree with Jennifer–the God connection is the most important. Beyond that, I think what we’re talking about is a person who likes people and likes connecting with them. From what I’ve learned about the publishing business, it’s relationship heavy, so give me the super relational agent! (I can cross-stitch you a shirt with a big “R” on it.)
It’s better than the Scarlet Letter, right?
All of you continue to be in my prayers…and I’m hoping your recovery is going well.
I think the blessing of collaboration is reassuring to a client. Knowing someone else is there to step in and “carry-on” encourages trust and allows writers to continue without worry.
Collaboration implies a willingness to be relational…hopefully extended to include clients, editors, publishers and other business professionals.
The team spirit…working together so that everyone succeeds… is an amazing force not easily dismissed!
It is wonderful to witness the devotion of your agency to one another and your client family! May the Lord continue to bless your work.
Thanks, Kate. I have to admit, it’s one of the best things about us. Can you imagine how much fun we have when we get together? Think Janet, Rachel, Mary, Rachelle, Michelle and me. We couldn’t have a better team. *blessed*
This is what impresses me about Books & Such. You all do seem to work together and have a strong presence where it’s needed. I know that when I’m ready to look for an agent, this is what I’ll be looking for.
Wendy, hope you’re still taking it easy. Surgery ain’t for wimps, is it?
Thanks, Sally. I’ve been very careful since this is attempt #3. I think third time’s the charm.
It’s wonderful to have each other even when we’re all at top speed. It is so helpful to bounce ideas off a brilliant brain-trust. Plus we’re all on the phone every day collecting industry info and tidbits and we have a system to share those, so our reach is multiplied by five.
Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts
Wendy, I have been praying for you (and Janet). I hope that you are feeling much better.
I have said before on this blog that it is wonderful how connected you all are with us. The point that you bring up–that the agents at Books and Such are connected with each other is an important one. Definitely you’re brainstorming together is beneficial to clients but I think that the way that you obviously care for one another is a huge benefit to your clients as well. It demonstrates that you’re not just businesswomen; you are compassionate human beings who genuinely care about others. This illustrates that a client can count on not being just a means to a commission or one more manuscript to read and sell. This is a benefit that a client can’t buy, but it is of immeasurable value. I don’t think that this caring attitude is exclusive to Books and Such but I also don’t think it’s common.
Blessings on all of you.
Even more, we are friends. Best part of all.
I always get a “warm-fuzzy” when you talk about your group. As evidenced by the name of my blog, I love the Biblical concept of the Body of Christ. We are not meant to work in isolation. We NEED each other. That’s why God made us all different. Each doing our part and helping others in theirs.
Good illustration. And like that illustration, each of us is strongest in a different area. It makes for a well-rounded approach.
Wendy, here’s a question on the collaborative aspect of an agency I’ve never heard addressed: If two or more agents at one agency say they’re looking for the same type of stories (whether Amish, or historical romance, or whatever), and one of them declines a query or a proposal, is there any point in tweaking and submitting to another agent under that same roof? Or is a decline from one (or silence, which equals a decline) the same as being turned down from all of them?
Perhaps the answer will vary from agency to agency, but your thoughts will be worth hearing. Thanks in advance!
We each choose our clients independent of one another. I recently signed a client whose work had been looked at by another of our agents who passed on it. Each of us has a distinctly different palate.
Generally we don’t share info on writers we’ve passed on, unless we mention it in passing. And it wouldn’t necessarily prejudice us.
BTW, silence to a query just means not right now for us. If you showed us the same idea at a writer’s conference, say, we might consider again, taking into consideration the whole package. (author+idea+writing)
Agent blogs have been incredibly helpful to me (and I’m sure to many others) for educating me about the industry, who’s who, definition of terms, expectations, etc. I would think (hope!) that this blogging has made your job easier as authors become more informed about what you’re looking for, how to approach you, and what to expect from you. I appreciate the Facebook updates as well. It helps us to know you as people, not just slush-pile-sorters, and thus be able to determine whether we might be a good fit together, at least from our perspective. After reading the other comments, I’m not sure if this answers your questions, but I wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your online efforts.
And actually it gives us a wide pool of friends who become real people to us. It can’t hurt either of us, right?
I agree with Jennifer that I want someone who is spiritually-centered. Not someone who just talks about it, but actually lives it.
Collaboration is vitally important. It’s been my experience that people who talk and compromise with a focus on the final outcome tend to come up with a solution better than any one person came up with on their own. Naturally, having more people to collaborate with and building a trusting relationship with them improves this immensely.
Good way to put it, Ann. We love that synergy.
Your spirit of community at Books and Such is inspiring. I love that. We are so much stronger when we work, live, and follow Christ in community!
So glad you are feeling better, Wendy!
I believe it is vital that an agent be connected to a strong network of agents, editors, and other industry experts. These relationships create opportunities for their clients.
It is also helpful to have an agent who is involved in social networking in some way. They don’t have to do everything, after all, I would rather they are working on selling my books. But it does help to hear a blog from them or see a facebook post. It makes writers feel connected and learn more about their agent, even when they are both busy.
You are right. There is a happy medium. So much of our work is done in confidence, behind the scenes. So we talk about our “Facebook Life.” it only tells a portion. The best stories must remain untold. 🙂
I can’t imagine an agent being effective without
being connected. The impression I get is that
one of the assets in having an agent is all the
editors, publishing houses, etc. she is familiar
with. A good agent has knowledge in these areas most writers couldn’t even dream of, and we need it so desperately.
It’s true. I look at some of the sales legends in our industry. I met one of those at ICRS this year. He’s been in the business forever. His wife reads voraciously– especially inspirational fiction. When this rep tells a buyer a book’s good, they up their order.
An agent needs to be like that. A voice– a “gut”– editors can trust.
I really appreciate this list. I would agree with many others that for me the spiritual connection is important too. Many of my decisions I make in my writing are biased on the belief that this is my ministry. If the agent feels the same about his or her job, then it would add a lot of depth and strength to the relationship.
I recently met an individual that was trying to convince me that I didn’t need an agent to get published. I didn’t agree with his position then and the more I learn, the more I know I wouldn’t want to go on this adventure alone.
That person was right– you don’t NEED an agent to get published, but it can be a lonely road when traveling it solitary.
I also don’t NEED an agency behind me to be a literary agent but I’d rather be a greeter at Walmart than go it alone. 🙂
Wendy, may you and Janet both find renewal.
I agree with Jennifer in that the spiritual connection of the agent is very important. Regarding social media connectivity, what I find most helpful is that one is able to gleam an idea of their character, or at least their personal views on various elements of the industry. For example, there are various agents who I declined to even send queries to after reading their blogs, deciding that their views on certain controversies and accepted practices were too far from my own; not that I did not find their viewpoints helpful into understanding views different from mine, or that they should not have been engaged in ongoing discussions about the industry (debate and dialogue and yes, change, are necessary for any industry), but I simply felt that they would not be a true advocate for myself as a writer.
Though I feel that is a luxuary which writers are not afforded, which is a shame: too often writers will not give voice to their worries or passions regarding various issues (especially if they have yet to find an agent) out of fear that they will offend the Great Gatekeepers and be forever shut out of the world of their dreams. Yet, personally speaking, I would rather know where a person stands before I engage in a contractually binding relationship than to discover how incompatible we may be (as has happened to writers I shall leave nameless). Also, how many relationships are truly void of disagreement? I’d feel more at ease knowing which areas of discussion are open to dialogue getting into such a relationship, than to get a cold shoulder after a long-distance phone-call or email exchange that went sour with my agent. (Do agents feel the same way?)
Those are all questions you ask in the very first meeting you have after an agent has offered representation. You are spot on, Larry. It’s important to get these answers before you invest in an agent (and vice versa).
Everything should be open to discussion. If, say, the potential client has expectations that are unrealistic and is not open to reality or if the client seems argumentative and is unlikely to be a team player an agent might withdraw the offer but I can’t imagine that any subject would be verboten. If it is, then you’ll know this agent is not for you.
Wendy, you mentioned having contacts in both ABA and CBA, and I think not only are the contacts important but knowledge of both sectors is vital. Most agents and editors I’ve met read extensively across genre and “party” lines. I find this reassuring for several reasons. First, they know the broader trends, what’s been done, what could stand to be done again, what’s fresh. And, second, they don’t look at me like I’m nuts when I toss an out-of-the-box idea at them because to a well-read, open-minded agent my out-of-the-box idea isn’t really all that weird. They’re willing to let me brainstorm that kooky idea to see if something comes of it.
I often say to my husband, when we’re rearranging furniture or planning a trip, “Come think with me.” I don’t have his spatial awareness or mind for certain details. And that’s something I want in an agent. Someone who will look at the project with different eyes and think with me.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts today. I’m loving getting to know the Books and Such team through this blog.
Perfectly put. I love your “Come think with me.” That’s what I wish I had more time for– that dreaming together.
Using your guideline, an important question to ask a potential agent is, what have you read this year. Fascinating.
I totally agree about the connectivity of an agent. I mean if we are supposed to be so connected to everything as a writer than why wouldn’t our agent be too. 😀
Also I understand that as an agent considering a new client you would look over my website, social media, etc. to see how professionally I present myself. I do the same when looking for potential agents to query.
I found one agent recently that has a professional reputation, but their website is one of the most unprofessional I have seen. That was an instant “no” for me.
There may be a viable reason for the lack of professionalism on the Web, but this agency is their profession and I want to see professionalism. I would hope they expect the same from me. It is a two-sided deal. 😀
You are right, Morgan. We have a responsibility to model connectivity for our clients. When I tell a client he needs a professional website, I better make sure our agency’s site is up to snuff. (Thanks to our main office, I don’t even need to think about that. Another plus for having a whole team.)
I would add two secondary items to this list:
Visible – Agents who are active in the industry and spoken highly of by other agents (which is how I found this blog) suggests they are top-tier, able to do what other agents can’t.
Giving – Agents who give back to the industry (blogging, podcasting, speaking, writing articles, and so forth) show they want to grow the industry, not just their business or income. In reality this is the best long term strategy.
Good additions, Peter!
Thanks, Peter. You’re right. When I get weary of being on the road, I need to tell myself that without travel we cannot make those lifelong connections. And when we worry about whether we are biting off too much with our blog, I need to come back to your wise observation.
I’m getting on late today but I think this post is just lovely. I am always blessed by the way you agents at Books & Such support each other and the way you support your clients. It’s one of the reasons I follow your blogs – we readers can tell the connections run deep between you all.
I’ve read everyone’s comments and all I can say is that I agree. I loved Jennifer’s point about being spiritually connected – absolutely. And I think one of the positive aspects about you being “social-media-lly” connected is that you’re not just “telling us” what to do, but you’re giving us valid pointers and tips and realistic expectations based on your own experiences.
Anyway, thank you for being you and I’m glad you’re feeling better… but PLEASE be careful. I won’t tell your Doctor if you mind your p’s and q’s.
I’m so grateful to be joining this agency family. 🙂