Agent Monday: Some Depth Perception

Chihuahua Wearing EyeglassesHappy Agent Monday!  I hope everyone had a wonderful Father’s Day weekend and spent time with special people.  Writers are special people…and I spent an evening last week with my own special writing critique group the Rebel Writers discussing our own work (cuz I’m an author as well as an agent). And we had an interesting discussion about our own careers as writers and what we do vs. how we are perceived by agents.  Honestly, before becoming an agent myself, I saw things very differently. I thought the most important thing for me to do was to create that one perfect book and that would be what an agent would want. But now as an agent I see things a bit differently. Yes. I want that perfect book. But I also want more from a writer. More writing, yes, and more from the writer as a pro in the publishing world. I’m looking for depth.  So today, I’m offering you all some depth perception.

But wait, isn’t it all about that book you’d choose to represent?  Isn’t a writer’s job just to get that right?  Well… yes and no. Yes – you’ve got to do it right. But I’m representing you, the author. Not just your book.  So if I take you on as a client, that means I’m interested in you and your career over a span of time. Dash out one book and have no patience to fine tune it before we sub to a publisher – then I’m not interested.  Spent 20 years on your novel and never plan on writing another?  I’m also not interested – unless, perhaps, it’s such an earth-shattering book that it’s all that’s ever needed from you in your life (not likely, though). Write beautifully, but you are difficult to deal with? Then I’m definitely not interested. I’ll move on to an author who is the complete package – talented and professional.

So I’m looking for depth, for the complete package.  A writer who is productive, who is professional in manner and rewarding to work with. Someone who is as serious about their career over the long run as I am. I’m investing a lot of time in a client, and if I’m going to do that, it means I expect them to do the same for themselves and their own writing.  Publishers expect that too.

Think of it this way… An editor falls in love with a client’s manuscript that I present to them and makes an offer. They are doing so in good faith that I am giving them a total package author – one that is talented and that the editor can work with. Not a prima donna. Not an argumentative person. Not someone who won’t follow through on deadlines. Not someone who is difficult at every turn.  The publisher is taking on this writer and investing a crap load of money into them that goes beyond that advance – and they would very much like a return on that investment. They are, in essence, building you up as your own brand and developing your audience of readers. But what good will that end up being if you never write another book, or you take 10-15 years before you complete your next volume?

So here’s the depth perception I’m talking about: you, the author, need to work on a number of fronts to make sure you are the total package.  And here’s where I was wrong in my own career as an author in the past: I was very much a one book at a time kind of person.  I wrote the book, and then worked to market it to an editor or an agent and that was my mission.  But I wouldn’t write another book until that first one was repped or sold. I was single-minded and goal-oriented, something that helps me as a writer when it comes to writing a novel till the end, but it was also problematic.

Selling books, getting representation, it all takes time. By waiting for a return on my time investment, I also slowed my career down.  I should have been more productive, I should have been working on the next book, and then the next (though NOT a sequel, because that is a poor investment of time if that first book never sells).  I am sort of a one thing at a time writer, but once the book is complete and sent out, I should have mentally let it go and moved on to another project – still doing what I needed to market it, but also creating the next project.

Writers who continue to write and produce even as they try to get representation for their work are awesome finds for an agent. Say I read your manuscript and fall in love with it, and give you a call…  I’m going to ask you about your goals as a writer. I’m going to see what other writing you’ve done and plan to do in the future.  If this is your one and only piece of writing and you don’t have anything else in the pipeline, it’ll make me pause.  If you’ve got several other projects to show me, I’m going to perk up. You are serious. You are productive.

The other front – the professionalism part of you – should also be well-developed. You need to read deeply. To have realistic expectations in your dealings with agents and editors and realistic attainable goals for your career. You need to understand the publishing business so you’ll know how to talk to an agent, how to deal with an editor, the do’s and don’ts of your desired career. That means research, getting knowledgeable through conferences and through professional writing organizations, which offer a strong educational component through their events, magazines and online forums. And you need decent personal skills. If you can’t speak civilly to people, if you are rude, or passive aggressive or arrogant in your dealings with others – you’d better work on yourself.

When I make that call, I try to suss out your expectations, your professionalism, and if we can work well together. If I detect some red flags, that offer of representation will not be made.  And if, once we start working together, a pattern of difficult behavior emerges, then representation will be withdrawn. Why? Because my reputation is on the line. If I match up an editor with a difficult author, just imagine how many problems can come from that. How will that publisher regard the next author I might present to them after that? Yeah. Not good.

So, back to my Rebel Writers critique group and our conversation last week.  Those writers in my group have the professional part down to a tee. They are wonderful to work with, and understand the business. Any agent or editor would be delighted to work with them. Could they get their work out into the marketplace more? Absolutely.  Not spending enough time on subbing polished and finished works is definitely a missed opportunity.  Could we all be more productive? Many of us have other jobs. Life throws plenty of obstacles at our feet. And it’s hard to keep producing when that last book doesn’t seem to have found a home yet. But yeah. We all need to keep our creative head in the game, no matter what’s going on with our other manuscripts once they are being marketed. We all need to keep kicking ourselves in the pants and write that next book, and that next one.

Because we can get better with each book we write.

Because it shows how serious we are as authors.

Because it will give us a body of work to share with readers once we do find a home in the marketplace.

Because writers write.

And because agents/editors/publishers are interested in the total package.  They are interested in a writer with depth. And creating that depth is totally in your, the writer’s, hands.


*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.



15 thoughts on “Agent Monday: Some Depth Perception

  1. After reading the email, the one sentence that got me is “Because we get better with each book we write.” I am struggling with one I am writing, but the art thread that runs through it propels me on. I thought it wasn’t a good idea to have other books in mind, but I read otherwise. I have several. Thanks for your emails, Marie.

    • Hi Carole!

      I’m happy this struck a chord. For me as a writer, I think I struggle with my practical side – my “what is the point of spending all this time if there is no payback for it” part of my brain…something you have to put aside as an artist of any sort because there is, of course, all sorts of paybacks for creating your work.

  2. It’s all well and good to knock out one book after the other, (especially if it’s the Romance genre) but if you research the past classic novels, you’ll see that it took Margaret Mitchell ten years to write ‘Gone With The Wind’. The average time it takes the successful literary writers to complete their work is two to three years. However, I do agree that after a ‘work of quality’ is polished and ready, another book should be started. And I definitely agree with you about dealing with difficult writers who can’t take suggestions or direction. Thanks so much for this blog. Since I’m sending my novel out to agents now, it forced me to stop and think about how to present myself and my work.
    Thanks Again,

    • Hi Eileen,

      Glad you found it helpful. Writers do work at different paces, and not everyone can jump right into another novel quickly, but staying productive is an important part of building your career on all fronts and worth striving for.

  3. This is a very well written post that all writers should read. I think that especially as a young writer, I’m hesitant to let myself roam from project to project for fear of never completing one, but I’ve started to realize I actually do better if I get one done, work on another, then go back an edit the old one. Of course, there are always exceptions, George RR Martin for one, but there’s nothing wrong with following this advice first, especially if just focusing on one story is driving you crazy! Thank you for your words of wisdom 🙂

  4. Thanks for the post, particularly the importance of being prolific.

    I find it slightly amusing that writers in the publishing industry would resist working with an editor. Having worked as a writer in the movie industry, I sometimes had to take creative notes from a half-dozen executives or more–very often contradictory notes, from folks who all thought it was my mission to satisfy them first and foremost. Many of them had zero creative credentials, merely the power to participate because they brought funding to the table. It was great exercise though, forcing you to stretch your creative muscles.

    • Hi Joe,

      You’re welcome! And I think part of the challenge we writers are up against is that we work in such a solitary world and are in total control of our creations until we get them out there. But film is definitely a different animal, as you say. Great training!

  5. Pingback: Top Picks Thursday 06-20-2013 | The Author Chronicles

  6. Holy cow! Thanks for giving a succinct and helpful overview of the distinction between writer and professional author. I’m working on my first book and have just begun to learn about the publishing world. So this is germane for me. I have to say, your ideas about professionalism and those who succeed ring true for many other careers as well. No one wants to work with a pain in the butt, even if that pain in the butt is brilliant. Also, you’re only as good as your last sale.
    Many thanks.
    Sue Morgan

    • Hi Sue,

      You’re welcome! “you’re only as good as your last sale” isn’t entirely true. Plenty of brilliant authors who will continue to write brilliant and successful books stumbled with the recession and their titles struggled, for example. I do think you need to strive to write better and better with each book you produce.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.