I’ve talked about agents here and here, and figured I’d pretty much put this particular discussion to bed with a mai tai nightcap and beer nuts. But there is something else that I think is important to pass along; recognizing when your agent is masquerading as The Artful Dodger or Dumb and Dumber.
As I’ve stated in prior posts, I adore agents for the way they streamline my job. However, I never take anyone for granted, and I research the agents who submit to me. “Cool,” you say, “but how does this affect me?” Well, it affects you because your work may be in the hands of one of those agents I’m researching. Again, you say, “Whoopie doo, knock your bad self out.” Now wait, don’t grab another handful of beer nuts, and quit sucking down that mai tai…this impacts you, the author, so wipe your fingers and get comfortable.
Okay, what are the things I look for in an agent?
- First, I read the submission to see if the story scratches my literary itch.
- Then I go to the agent’s website and look over every page of their site. I do this because I want to get a feel for who I’m dealing with. I would expect that they would do no less of me.
- Lastly, I ask around. We’re a gossipy lot, and word spreads like a squashed Twinkie.
AAR Member: Case in point; a couple months ago I inspected an agent’s site and found some inconsistencies that raised a couple flags. Their FAQ had a question regarding whether they are a member of AAR (Association of Authors’ Representatives). This is a yes or no answer, folks. You’re either a member or you’re not. The agent’s dodgy reply was that he abides by all AAR standards. So he gives the impression he’s a member, but is he? It’s purposefully evasive when it shouldn’t be. I really hate evasive.
Publisher relationships: Continuing through the site, I noticed a long list of impressive publishers they’ve worked with. Read my lips – worked with. He wants everyone to think he’s sold to these publishers, but, in reality, he’s only worked with them. What’s that mean? It could mean anything from thinking about these publishers while nicking his face with a rusty razor or sending them a submission. My agent buds tell me that it takes consistently solid manuscript submissions and sales to establish relationships with that many editors, so how has he accomplished this in the course of a year that he’s been in business with no verifiable sales? A submission does not mean “working with,” and the two should never be confused.
Bio: “Ah come on, Price, pop some Maalox,” you’re saying, “maybe the guy has a publishing background and has a lot of friends.” Yes, this could be true and if it were, I’d be willing to bet my daughter’s iPod that he’d mention it in his bio. But there is no bio! In place of a bio, he talks about how nice he is and that his client list comprises of new and experienced authors. Who cares? I want to know whether he’s the next Super Agent with oodles of credentials or a bug exterminator who smelled one too many batches of Rodent Be Gone. Reputation goes a long way. (Yes, I’m a snob. I admit it. I’ve signed up for a twelve step program next week.)
Sales: Nowhere on his site does he mention actual sales, so I believe he doesn’t have any. Oddly enough, I found a single sale on Publisher’s Marketplace, but I couldn’t confirm the sale on the publisher’s upcoming titles even though it’s due to publish in 2008. Others I’ve investigated have sold their clients to less than appealing publishers – those who have been sued for financial mismanagement or publishers who have no visible means of distribution.
Author Risk: Someone who is economical with the truth in order to inflate their reputation puts authors at risk. How, you ask, as you continue sneaking my beer nuts? Let’s take this agent as an example. He submitted an “explosive” manuscript that was sure to “blow the minds of the American public.” In short, it was a conspiracy-in-high-places-type book that involved big names.
It’s possible that a manuscript with huge possibilities can land into the lap of an untried agent, and I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. But I’m far more likely to consider a manuscript, especially if it’s controversial, if the agent is solid and I can verify his actions. I’m suspicious by nature. Any agent who comes out of the woodwork and tells me their client’s ms exposes the truths behind some of the biggest national incidences in America and that this will blow the lid off of life as we know it, I always ask myself three questions:
- Why me? Not that I’m denigrating myself in any way, but please…I’m a small publisher and know where I fit on the publishing food chain.
- Why did the large publishers pass on the project?
- Has he properly vetted this client/author?
These are easy questions to answer, and this is where the agent makes or breaks my trust and bullshit-o-meter. Their answers have to be logical.
Vibes: How does all this affect the author? Well, I passed on the project due to the overall vibe I received from his agent. Given the ambiguity of the agent’s website, I didn’t trust anything he had to say, and that black mark leeched over to the author. Will other editors feel the same way? Maybe. I’ve considered that I am paranoid because they really are out to get me. Regardless of my character flaws, I do believe that a dodgy agent is worse than no agent at all. The sad part is that I’m sure the author has no clue of the slippery impression his agent projects.
Stupid or cunning? This agent’s heart is probably in the right place and has no ill intent other than being dumb. On the other hand, he’s purposely vague. Again, why should I care? Because I work very closely with agents and authors, and it does me no good if I have to sleep with one eye open. Besides, I look horrible with those dark blue bags under my eyes, and it worries my mother. I can’t be constantly worried whether I’m being lied to about promo plans or promised cover blurbs/reviews. And who loses? The author. It’s always the author. Always, always, always.
When you’re looking for an agent:
- Be sure to check their site with a fine-tooth comb. Check for dodgy wording. You know what I’m talking about – it’s like politicians who never answer a direct question. They dance around the facts like my dog does when I put peanut butter on the roof of her mouth.
- Check their sales. I can’t say this enough. Check their bio. If they say something like, “I wouldn’t know a good manuscript if it bit me on my droopy little hiney,” then at least they’re being honest. Their site has to have substance, not feel-good tripe. Who are the publishers they’ve sold to? Are these folks who have solid sales and distribution or do they consistently sell to questionable publishers who have made the news for royalty misdeeds? Your agent MUST have a solid reputation. Why? Because we don’t want to work with an idiot, and neither do you. Take the steps to ensure you look like the consummate professional.
- Check Publisher’s Marketplace. Every author should be a member. You can check to see if the agent is a member and verify their sales. Not only can you find a huge list of agents, you can list your manuscript on there. I have a friend who struck a three-book deal by simply listing her work there. An agent came along (a good one), snarfed her up faster than greased lightning, and sold her work to Random House before she could remember where she parked her car.
Oh yeah, check the email address. Come on…a Yahoo email account?? Real agents have real email accounts. Now, pass the beer nuts, willya?