Monday, December 15, 2014

The "logic" of obtaining an agent is sometimes flawed...

Hi folks,

I recently got an email from a writer friend of mine who’s been struggling to get one of his novels repped and published. It occurred to me when I was answering him that this might perhaps be instructive to other writers who find themselves in similar straits so I thought I’d share my comments and see what you folks thought.

First, here’s what my buddy said:

Hey Les,

Hope this finds you well.

Christmas is just around the corner, I'm taking vacation, and plan to be inebriated for as long as my wife will allow.

It dawned on me the other day that I finished the first draft of the manuscript I sent you a year ago this month.

It’s been rejected so many times I'm about to blow my head off - not a good thing to do at Christmas time.
Gets blood all over the decorations.
This last rejection comes from John Gilstrap's agent.
I write the same kind of stuff he does, so I am without a clue.
I've decided to take a different path regarding the novel.
I want you to know I appreciate that you thought to show the manuscript to your agent, but I think that will just produce the same result. What's Einstein's definition of insanity?  
So please don’t spend your time chasing that down.
No need to do that now.
I am going to publish it through Amazon and see what happens.
Sure can't do any worse than I am at present.
Thanks again for your support and your offer, Les.
Can't wait to meet you in the flesh.

Me thinks there are many beers waiting for us in N. Carolina.
Have a great Christmas, and congrats again on the Keynote gig.
Best Regards,
PS. Know a good editor?

Matt Hilton who writes a kick-ass ex-military character and doesn't share Lee Child's agent...

Here’s what I told him:

Hi ___________,
Some thoughts on your notes...

One, look at the position of Gilstrap's agent... if your work is similar, that really puts him in a bind with editors, no? I mean, he's got to look and figure out which author he wants to send the editor he sells John to and who he sends you to. It can't be both of you and I imagine his loyalty will be with the guy who's been paying his bills to date. It seems logical on the surface to have the same agent as a writer who you're similar to, but actually, I don’t think that's a good thing. Make sense? It's like Lee Child's agent taking on Matt Hilton who has a somewhat similar series character--who is he going to be pushing with Random House? See how I think you've been shooting yourself in the foot perhaps? I'd look for the agent who DOESN’T rep someone like Gilstrap or yourself. Then, YOU become THE GUY he takes to editors. No agent with a brain is going to try to corner the market on all the ex-military superhero characters--that would simply be counterproductive.

What does perhaps make better sense is for the agent to go to the editor or house that publishes work like both of yours. Makes better sense I think than trying to get the agent who reps two similar writers and then try to decide who he’s going to promote to that publisher.

Instead of pubbing it yourself, I think I'd look for an agent who doesn't represent a writer too much like yourself. If you look at the lists of successful agents, often you’ll find a fairly large disparity between the kinds of writers they represent. They’ve got their guy who writes thrillers, their guy who writes cozies, their gal who writes romances, their guy who writes westerns… and so on. There’s no  or little competition within the agency for which author the agent is going to be championing for a particular genre of novel. And, that just makes sense to me. Sometimes, I think a writer who is with an agent who has several like writers doesn't realize he may be getting shortchanged when it comes time for his agent to approach publishing houses... might the agent perhaps be pushing someone else within the agency at the expense of himself? Interesting question...

If it helps, I've made exactly the same mistake in my own past. For instance, years ago, I queried David Sedaris' agent for my Kidnapping novel--thinking Sedaris is a funny guy and my novel is funny, so... twisted logic as it turns out! He doesn't want another Sedaris--he's already got the master! What in the world would he do with me? It was a real eye-opener.

Blue skies,

Sometimes, what seems “logical” is anything but. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you think a writer should seek out the agent who reps the writer most like himself? Or, is this kind of thinking flawed? I’d really be curious as to what agents think about this!

Merry Christmas!

P.S. Just made another "best of" list for THE BITCH! 



Anonymous said...

Thanks for this, Les! The conventional wisdom out there has been to find an author who writes something similar to your's and then query them but what you said makes more sense. I'm going to change my tactics. Always learning from you, my friend!

Les Edgerton said...

Thanks, Dawn. I'd love to see some agents' take on this. I wonder if perhaps some of them have just looked at this the same way most of us have and not really thought about it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Les for sharing. You're always willing to share and it is much appreciated.

Stacy said...

My own take on this is what Janet Reid advises: query widely. Has this guy queried at least 100 agents? And I think optimism comes into play here. If there's even a smidgen of a chance he thinks a particular agent might be interested in his work, he should send the query. The agent represents commercial fiction? Great! Lee Child has proven there's nothing more commercial than an ex-military protagonist! Heh. Seriously, though, the only agents I would avoid querying are those who expressly say they're not interested in the genre I'm writing. I don't think opportunities in publishing follow any semblance of logic.

Also ordered Kidnapping. Eventually I'm going to want it signed!

Suzie Quint said...

Actually, the problem may be that what he's shopping around is the first draft around. Tsk. Tsk.

Les Edgerton said...

Suzie, actually, he's written many drafts--the first draft he refers to is just the first version he sent me, but he'd polished it over many drafts. The point I was trying to make was that it may be a mistake to send it to an agent who has major clients who write the same kind of basic book as he does. Just want folks to think about that--if he gets a mss from Writer A who's a bestseller and a similar one from Writer B who's a good writer but doesn't have the audience of A, guess who the agent is going to spend the most time and energy on? But, if the agent doesn't have a bunch of other writers in his stable that write the same things as Writer B, then his book would get much more of a push from the agent, methinks.

Debra (Feldman) Getts said...

Helpful! Thank you for taking the time to share.