There’s an interesting blog post over at Writer Beware where Victoria – apparently now Queen Victoria [I shall bow to you every morning, Vic] discusses agent/author poaching.
The point is whether agents competing over an author who is already represented is a good thing or just plain smarmy. As always, Vic presents both sides of this coin succinctly. If an author is already represented, then why would she jump ship? Well, perhaps BigShot Agent came along and whispered sweet nothings in her ear. “Darling, I can get you that Hachette contract AND a million dollar advance.” The author’s head could be turned.
On the face of it, one could say that trying to poach an already-repped author is smarmy. With all the authors roaming the literary tundra, why do they feel the need to poach? The only thing that comes to mind is that the author is one hell of a writer, or very famous.
Let’s take the case of Jane Author, who is repped by Agent Wow, who sold her to HooHa Publishers in a three-book deal for a cool mill. Suddenly Jane gone from unknown to being an industry sweet spot. And just like the non-profits who circle the latest lottery winner in hopes of relieving them of some of their winnings, a BigStuff agent circles around the new literary darling with the intent of relieving Jane of her agent. After all, where there’s one big sale, surely there are more to follow.
Face it, everyone wants to rep a winner, and if BigStuff Agent feels he can do better for Jane than her current agent, then why not give it a try?
Thing is, is poaching right? Eh, it happens. Not often, but it does happen. I’m a fan of competition. Not long ago I told an author that if she chose not to sign with the publisher who had offered her a contract, that I would love to sign her. All’s fair in love and publishing. There were no signed contracts, so she was still fair game as far as I was concerned. And Pricey won that day. Yes, I’ve been on the losing end as well. It. Happens.
My feeling is you either you gots what it takes, or you go home. But I can say that because I’m an editor, and we’re bound by these pesky contracts that are very hard to break. Agents don’t have that luxury. So if I were Jane’s current agent and feeling the pinch of competing agent, I’d be beyond pissed. After all, I spent months working this three book deal and getting her a million dollar advance, and this is the thanks I get? Tossed out to the gutter by a bigger named agent? Ungrateful wench!
But in the long run, what am I going to do? Jane can break her contract with me at any time. Sure, I’ll still get the percentages off her three book deal, but I lose her future books. If she truly believes BigStuff Agent is the answer to her dreams, then I have to consider what that says about her. I got her a great deal, and she jumps ship? Hmm.
Fraught with danger
And this is where I think Victoria brought up a very good point; if Jane Author can jump ship once, she can do it again. How reliable is she? Vic used the cheating spouse example, and I agree. If she’s cheated on one agent, what makes the poaching agent think he won’t be her next victim?
And let’s not forget that Jane is used to working with her former agent. They probably got on quite well. Suddenly what seemed like a good idea in the blush of excitement of being fought over now seems tarnished in the glare of the morning sun. Sure as there are margarita-mixing beagles, Jane is going to start making mental comparisons between her old and new agent. “Gee, Agent Wow never did things that way.”
The other side of the coin – can Agent BigStuff deliver?
So let’s say Jane leaves Agent Wow and goes with Agent BigStuff. Right out of the gate Jane has a much higher expectation of BigStuff’s ability to grab that golden ring. After all, she left a good agent who got her a very sweet deal. This puts added pressure on both Jane and BigStuff, which can either bring about a higher level of marketability for Jane or a quick erosion of their relationship.
How much time is Jane going to give BigStuff to make a whopping deal? Is Jane going to expect BigStuff to be at her beck and call because, hey, she’s royalty, dammit!
Of course, it could easily work out that this is a new match made in heaven and Jane’s star could reach epic heights. But it’s a gamble, just like everything else in publishing. Sometimes the grass really is greener on the other side. And sometimes it’s dirt clods.
Authors should tread carefully, which was Victoria’s point.