Thursday, May 29, 2008

Agent City

Posted by Lynne Griffin

It's been a while since I wrote anything about taking the illustrious trip to the place we here at the writers' group fondly call, agent city. A place you dare not go, but must, if you are to be published with any of the big six. Certainly searching out the right agent for you is no easy task, but a recent article by Paige Wheeler on the terrific new blog hosted by agents at Folio Literary Management reminded me it all comes down to communication.

I have a secret. I had an agent before I landed my dream agent. I won't say who, but suffice it to say, we didn't work out. I was naive and held her up on a pedestal. Two years and two projects later, I still trembled when I dialed the phone to ask her where my manuscript was, where it stood, was it viable?

To her credit, she got me into a total of five editorial meetings. Though even with strong interest from the publisher, which included editor phone meetings, she couldn't seal the deal. Believe it or not, I wanted to think it was me. Maybe my parenting book was too optimistic, too saccharin. What was my hook? Where was my platform? If it was something I lacked, I could fix it. I would rewrite, rework, retool.

Then I went to New York for business and orchestrated a dinner meeting. I finally met my agent face-to-face. Our conversation was awkward, stilted and when I walked out of The Tavern Jane, I didn't feel any better having met her. I didn't feel she could speak to my work, my writing, my passion. It occurred to me that if I felt this way, then of course editors would too. Two weeks later, I sent a certified letter informing her it was time to part company. In a way, I was thankful we hadn't landed a deal, because we would've been tied to each other for the life of a book.

Clean slate. A wealth of possibilities. I was afraid. Wasn't an agent on the phone, worth hundreds on the Internet? Amy, Lisa and Hannah bolstered me; they agreed, I should trust my instincts. My husband loved my new spin on my nonfiction proposal; my champion urged me to move forward.

When a sixty page proposal and three sample chapters were done, I started my list. You know, the one you compile after spending hours perusing Publishers Marketplace, and every other site you can find sharing agent details, like who represents what you write and who has a record of selling projects like yours. I had eight on my list. All accepted e-queries. I was tired of waiting.

My fastest response time was four minutes. I sent my query on a Saturday, and said agent was getting caught up on email. My slowest response time? The clock is still ticking on one agent, and I sent my queries out back in February 2006. In short order, I had six requests for fulls. One week later I'd scheduled four face-to-face meetings--yes, I went to New York. I refused to sign again with someone I hadn't met and didn't have a real feel for, as a professional and as a person. Four offers of representation later, I made an agreement with my present agent. She bowled me over then, and the truth is she still does, with the way she conducts business and how much she cares about my career.

The reason our relationship works is because we communicate regularly. Everything from manuscript feedback sessions, to cursory emails sharing news. I never call her unless it's important, but I keep her updated with things on my end, whenever there's something noteworthy to share. She understands my career goals, and the kind of writer I want to be. She neither pushes trends on me, nor does she tell me my work is fantastic, when it isn't. She holds me to a bar as high or higher than the one I've set for myself.

I have no delusions that our relationship will last a lifetime--though in all honesty, I hope it does. What matters, for me, is that our goals remain compatible, our communication remain open, honesty and frequent, and that we continue to see eye-to-eye on the trajectory of my career.

If you're preparing for a trip to agent city, be sure you know what you're looking for. Last year, the wonderful Eve Bridburg, founder of Grub Street and an agent at the marvelous Zachary, Schuster and Harmsworth shared her thoughts about connecting with agents.

My best advice is to do your homework; read, read, read. And when you're absolutely sure you're ready, take the trip. Be true to yourself, and you'll get there.


Anonymous said...

Hi Lynne,
I have so many questions for you with this post, you might want to sit down, it'll take awhile :)
First, kudos to you for having the courage to part ways with your first agent. Second, since I'm in the querying stage, I have a few questions that I'm curious about...
*You scheduled appts after only requests for fulls? They hadn't read your ms yet? It would seem difficult to get them to agree to a meeting w/out their initiation.
*How did you request the appointment? Phone, email?
*What was the appointment's itinerary? I'd imagine you had criteria you were looking for.
*I have a full out right now, and it never occurred to me to precede sending it out with a meeting. (I'd be afraid they'd turn me down and I'd lose my chance!)
Okay, thanks for sharing your story, hope this wasn't too long of a comment!

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Hi Joanne,

First, congratulations on having a full request! And your instincts are right on not insisting on a meeting at this point. I only asked to meet once there was enthusiasm for the project. I said something like, "I'm pleased your interested in working with me, can we get together to discuss it further?"

So long story short, wait until you get an offer before asking for a meeting. But do ask, when the time comes. Make notes or a mental agenda for the conversation. It's an important decision, and will show the agent that you are taking things seriously. Do some personal chit-chat too. You want to get a feel for ease of communication. But keep personal boundaries up, you're not looking for a new friend, you're entering a partnership.

Hope this helps. Don't hesitate to post back. Lynne

Anonymous said...

Thanks Lynne. This does help. You make some very valid points reflecting the importance of the agent/author relationship. I'll keep them in mind, and let you know if and when that trip to Agent City happens.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

I smiled when I saw the post; thank you for getting me revved up along with everyone else at the same stage!


Lisa said...

I really admire your level-headedness and common sense. So many people are so eager to sign with the first person that shows interest and I've never understood why, unless they don't believe in their work. This post makes it clear to me that faith in your work is key to making good decisions. After all, you only have one agent and an agent may be representing dozens of authors.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

You're welcome, Joanne. This kind of support is exactly what we aim to do with this blog. Spread the word, won't you?

Hannah, your bags are packed and I can't wait until you're ready to go. I will give you all the support you gave to me.

Lisa, thank you for your compliment, though I'm not certain I deserve it. You see, the first go around I jumped at the first offer of representation, and only became level-headed after the hammer of doubt hit me several times. Now I see things quite differently and therefore decided to share my story.

Thanks to all for commenting. Lynne