Saturday, February 25, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- When An Agent Calls...

From the comments section of my last post, courtesy of Anonymous:

So, what would you say about an agent who is contacting dozens of electronically published authors? She's always very flattering about their novels, and asks if they have representation. She's personable and polite, but the only web information on her is that it's believed she once worked for (named) reputable agency. The website for her agency only says "coming soon". And has said that for several months now. I know all this because I'm one of the people she contacted. Some of the people on the email lists I'm on seem inclined to trust her simply because she's nice.

Don't get me started on trusting agents just because they're nice. Or rather, do get me started...but that's something for another Makes Me Crazy post.

A new agent with the proper background really shouldn't need to be soliciting clients. If she did work for a reputable agency before setting up on her own, she might have brought clients with her; other than that, all she needs to do is to send an announcement to Publishers Lunch, or put up a membership page at Publishers Marketplace, and she'll quickly be beating off manuscripts with a stick.

That's not to say that agents never solicit clients. Sometimes they do (I've also heard of established agents trying to poach other agents' clients, but that's another story). But they tend to be pretty selective, which is to say they don't do it a lot. If an agent is contacting "dozens" of authors to offer her services, you have to wonder why. This actually makes me think of the agents who troll manuscript display sites, many of whom are obscure or marginal enough that they have trouble keeping a full client roster. Not a good sign.

I'm also concerned that she's contacting electronically-published authors. Epubbed authors don't need agents--nor, since most epublishers don't pay advances, are reputable agents much interested in working with epubbed authors. So what's the deal? Is this agent promising to take these authors to print publishers? Even looking at this in the most positive possible light--i.e., these are authors the agent likes a lot and believes deserve a wider audience--it's a very odd way to acquire clients.

Then there's the matter of credentials. "It's believed she once worked for (named) reputable agency." Well, did she or didn't she? "Believed" and two bucks will get you on the subway. Unless the credentials can be confirmed, either independently or by asking the agent a direct question (in which case you should also ask what her position was [agent or assistant agent is good, receptionist is not so good] and what books she sold while she was there), they're meaningless.

As for the website, there could be all kinds of legitimate reasons why she hasn't gotten around to constructing it yet. On the other hand, if she has been actively recruiting for several months, she should have a client list by now and have started to make submissions. While the absence of a website isn't alarming by itself, when you put it together with the other factors, it does contribute to a feeling of unease.

Of course, there might be perfectly reasonable explanations for all of the above, and the agent's credentials could be completely bona fide. However, based on the information I've been given, I'd say that caution is in order. Anonymous, please feel free to send me the agent's name via Writer Beware email. I may be able to comment further.

2 comments:

Jennifer Ashley said...

What a wonderful blog. Thank you two for posting these very helpful warnings and tips. I just finished teaching an online workshop in which one of my lessons was "beware people who try to scam writers." I am going to post a link to your blog for the class. I think they'd find it very helpful!

Miss Snark said...

I can count on one hand the number of times I've tracked down a person and asked if they had a book in hand. BOTH times were from news or "big concept" features in the press.