Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Victoria Strauss -- A New Agent Blog (Not)

Blogs by and about literary agents are legion. Another one seems to pop up every week. Take, for example, the brand-new Literary Agent News, which launched in October.

According to its little self-description, Literary Agent News provides "Literary Agent profiles, industry news, top agents for every fiction and non-fiction category." The blogger is anonymous--his or her profile reveals only that s/he is in the publishing industry and located in New York--but that's not terribly unusual. The agent "profiles" featured on the blog provide names and addresses, but little other useful information--but hey, bloggers come in all shapes and sizes, including those who pad their blogs with puffery as a method of self-promotion.

And some self-promotion can be pretty sneaky.

In Literary Agent News's October archive, there's a series of Top Agent lists. Young adult novels, business books, memoirs, mysteries, romance--there's a Top Agent list for them all. While these lists do (mostly) include reputable agents, they are not particularly accurate. To take just one example, the list for science fiction agents omits most of the people who arguably are top SF agents, and includes others who don't appear ever to have sold any SF--such as Randi Murray, an established agent whose submission guidelines specifically exclude science fiction.

The lists also recycle names. A lot. Anne Hawkins appears on the Mystery, Horror, and Young Adult lists. Victoria Gould Pryor appears on the True Crime, Literary Fiction, Travel, and Romance lists. Jennifer Dechiara appears on the Horror, Mystery, Literary Fiction, Memoirs, and Romance lists (but not the Young Adult list, despite the fact that she specializes in children's and YA books). Michele Glance Rooney appears on the Mystery, Fantasy, Young Adult, Business, and Romance lists.

Hold on a sec. Michele Glance Rooney?

Writer Beware readers will recognize Michele as a fee-charging agent featured on our Thumbs Down Agency List. She's notorious for direct-soliciting writers, and also for name changes--since 2002, she has done business as Creative Literary Agency, Creative Concepts Literary Agency, Simply Nonfiction, Michele Glance Rooney Literary Agency, and most recently, before being exposed, as May Writers' Group. To our knowledge, she has never sold a book to a commercial publisher. Not one. Ever.

So what's a fee-charger with no track record doing in the august company of agents like Theresa Park, Noah Lukeman, and Daniel Lazar? The same thing your face might be doing on Mount Rushmore if you had a yen for a gag photo and a knack with Photoshop--except you wouldn't be expecting anyone to seriously believe you'd been memorialized on the side of a mountain. Michele must be hoping that people doing websearches on the agents on her lists will find the lists, see her name there, and assume she has been designated a "top" agent by some independent authority. In fact, this is exactly how the blog was found by the Writer Beware reader who alerted me to it.

Michele is no stranger to fake blogging, by the way--she has tried it before. She is also currently blogging using her own name (and an interesting description of her business background).

There's a larger moral to this story than exposing the inept attempts of one questionable literary agent to boost her reputation by fake blogging. Never take Internet-based literary agent listings at face value. They may have been put together by someone without the proper expertise--or, as in this case, they may conceal a nefarious agenda. Even if you are absolutely certain of the credentials of the person who has compiled the list, do some extra research, because bad agents can slip in despite the best efforts even of knowledgeable people. And if the list is anonymous, forget it. Like Literary Agent News, it's probably not there to help you.

17 comments:

Janet said...

You are SO hard on my naïveté. This is, of course, a good thing.

green_knight said...

There's more going on. The entry for 1/11/07 begins
Dawn Frederick is a literary agent with the Sebastian Literary Agency in Wayzata, Minnesota. - the Publisher's Marketplace reads:
[Laurie Harper and] Dawn Frederick offer fee-based publishing consulting services to help you achieve your publishing goals.

Next down is Lynn Seligman, who appears to be a genuine agent - according to posts at Absolute Write anyway - but who has no googleable website and who only appears in context of newbies querying her.

Next down, Mary Sue Seymour, who appears to be entirely above board, AAR membership and all that.

Robert E. Shepard, non-fiction agent with provable track record; Ken Sherman who is referred to on various blogs but appears to have no identify outside that, Wendy Sherman, who has a long history and appears to be entirely genuine...

So whoever put this list together appears to have copied a directory elsewhere. That an F appears in the middle of a list of agents beginning with S could be coincidence, but I would guess that the others are there as a smokescreen; although I can't work out where the listings are coming from.
The rest of the alphabet - with some genuine agents thrown in - appears to be more or less on par with most completely unresearched listings.

There appears to be another pattern in this: the writeups appear to be almost geared towards soliciting negative responses from the genuine agents among the lot. What surprises me is the high percentage of relative obscure agents in this listing.

Dave Kuzminski said...

Well, you have to have some obscure agents to compare your negative record of sales against. Otherwise, how can you be listed on top agents lists for so many different categories?

In the meantime, I agree that it was probably posted by Michele Glance Rooney.

L.C.McCabe said...

Great write up Victoria!

May you have a fabulous Thanksgiving.

Linda

jamiehall said...

From the one link to her homepage, I see "Michele Glance Rooney has worked as a literary agent for 19 years representing both ficiton and non-fiction."

Wow. Ficiton authors!

These scammers can't run spellcheck, it seems!

zizban said...

The Michele Glance Rooney Literary Agency is dedicated to helping you sell your writing projects. The Michele Glance Rooney Literary Agency is a full-service literary agency. We represent a wide range of fiction and non-fiction projects. Writers may e-mail queries to us at [Redacted] Carpe Diem -- seize the day. There is no time like the present to take your writing career to the next level.

Hosted on Tripod. AOL contact email. No listed sales.

No hope.

Carol Burge said...

Very informative post, Victoria (as they all are). Thanks for the Michele Rooney warning, too. As a newbie I could have very well been sucked into her unsavory practices. Especially, since her office is only about a fifteen minute drive from my home.

Here's wishing you and yours a safe and happy Thanksgiving day!

Dennis said...

I always question aol or yahoo email addresses of business people. It's poor practice. If you are dealing on the net, you can afford a website of your own with email. If they can't afford that, what are they doing in business?

Gregory Ludwig said...

I have dealt with a number of the agents on these lists, through queries and/or proposal packages, if not simply by considering them as possible future candidates for contacting, based on their being listed in such places as Literary Marketplace or Writers Market. I have been working in a fairly thorough way in looking for a new agent--over a few years, but this year most deliberately. If nothing else, I work in a methodical enough manner to squeeze out what relevant info about agents I can, and try to glean useful info from responses. I try to have as few initial preconceptions about them as I can (although it is interesting how many list a wealth of genres/subject areas as their specialty in LMP and elsewhere, then they seem to have a deaf ear for one of these areas, as may be evidenced in more than one way). My sources are mainly in libraries and I make little use of the Web for picking agents.
One point of note that helps support what others are saying in this thread, on the phoniness of the blog lists at issue: BookEnds, LLC, is listed a few times, with separate principals of the company as contacts for different genres. Each time it is noted *not to send e-mails*. Yet Bookends' website shows, under "Submissions," that one way to submit to them is via e-mail to a separate agent. Also, I mistakenly sent Kim Lionetti a paper proposal package by mail months ago (in July). This was before I realized their website said not to send any more mailed proposal packages. I got no answer. After their stated response time of 10-12 weeks had passed, I followed up with a simple e-mail letter, then a snail mail letter. No response. For this and other reasons, I look at them askance. They may be a bona fide agency but may be small/amateurish.
In general, the idea that New York City agents with some suggestion of credibility/long standing are best to query to, seems best. From my limited evidence (not to slur New Jersey, where I've lived many years), literary agents in New Jersey by and large aren't top-flight. There are several New Jersey agents on this list.
I could make more, empirical generalizations about literary agents from my experience, but that will wait.

L.C.McCabe said...

Gregory,

Wow. That's an awfully large sized brush you are painting with. You not only name one agency to criticize but include an entire geographic region.

I have not submitted anything to Bookends LLC agency so I cannot speak with authority on the subject of their responsiveness to every query. However, I know they are a busy and successful agency because I regularly read their blog.

One of the funniest things on the "Literary Agent News" blog was the listing for Jessica Faust saying that she did not take email queries. That is so incorrect as you were mentioning.

To prove that point further I point out a post Jessica made recently doing an analysis of the queries she received in one week's time.

http://tinyurl.com/2fl6g9

No one is perfect and when you have a large volume of anything, there will be things that fall through the cracks. I have read on more than one agent blog that some submissions lack any contact information at all for replies and some writers have spam filters that inhibit easy responses by said agents.

While I understand your frustration at not hearing a reply after trying to contact them in various forms, (it happened to me once with a publisher in Chicago where my proposal was requested), I do not think it is fair to call their professionalism into question.

You are probably in the 1-2% of writers whose work became misfiled or lost in a mountain of paper or your SASE fell out of the envelope.

Just sayin'...

Linda

Victoria Strauss said...

Gregory Ludwig said,

...although it is interesting how many list a wealth of genres/subject areas as their specialty in LMP and elsewhere...

A laundry list of specialties can actually be a warning sign of an inexperienced or fraudulent agent. Reputable agents tend to specialize--often rather narrowly--while less reputable or less expert agents try to spread the widest net they can, regardless of skill.

Be careful also of LMP. Compared to other print resources (such as Jeff Herman's book) it provides minimal information, and includes a number of less-than-reputable agencies. It's not a bad place to start, but it needs to be supplemented by additional research.

Also, I mistakenly sent Kim Lionetti a paper proposal package by mail months ago (in July). This was before I realized their website said not to send any more mailed proposal packages. I got no answer.

Busy agents often don't respond to queries or proposals that don't follow their guidelines. This is a source of much frustration for writers, but from the swamped-with-proposals agent's perspective, you can understand why, especially when guidelines are clearly posted on their websites.

I completely agree that writers shouldn't use the Internet as their primary resource for building a list of agents to query--but once a query list has been drawn up, agents' websites are the most authoritative source for addresses, submission guidelines, etc.

BookEnds LLC is a reputable agency with a strong track record.

Gregory Ludwig said...

A few simple answers and concrete data, then a generalization:

Linda:
I wasn't meaning to make generalizations about agents simply vis-a-vis Bookends. But Bookends was one that stuck out in my recent experience.
Based on my experience with agents in New Jersey, and that includes others than Bookends (but also includes another on the blog list this thread is about, and a few others), New Jersey agents seem lesser--in terms of whether they respond and how capable/connected they are.

Victoria:
Normally I have followed guidelines with the agents, as I've done for years. With Bookends I followed guidelines from a print source--I forget if it was LMP or Writer's Market. I only saw their "no paper proposals" on their website, later. Still, it strikes me as less than professional that I contacted them twice in their preferred ways (letter via snail mail, e-mail) and heard nothing. They're busy, per Linda? May be, but so are other agents I've dealt with. Anyway, I still may be the one most at fault here.

Statistics:

For one book manuscript, a nonfiction work on the failings of certain kinds of psychological support groups, particularly when issues of domestic abuse enter into their business, I submitted to agencies in 2005 (1 agency), 2006 (1), and 2007 (50). Of these total 52, 37 have responded. (Some submissions have been recent enough to still require time.) Of the 37 responses, 21 received form rejections; 15 received some form of personalized response (one of the personalized was from Writers House); and 1 was what I would categorize as an "excuse" response--not really a rejection, but more a plea for no longer being able to do her usual thing...

It is hard for me to tell without further analyzing how much personalized responses tend to come from the apparently more successful agencies or not. I know that in the period 1986-96, when I did a lot of direct queries of publishers, I tended to get personalized (sometimes with interesting beyond-the-call comments) from better publishers more often than the lessers.

It would seem that making the dogged effort to send queries and/or proposals and meet with fewer personalized or otherwise promising responses than I did 15 years ago or so reflects maybe a couple things:
(1) the volume of material agents have to peruse today is much higher than for editors 15-20 years ago;
(2) for some reason, (some) agents don't read the material with the same eye as editors did.

I do get the impression I had more appreciative readers in editors years ago.

One big benefit to dealing with agents is that it has forced me to learn how to make a proposal package, which includes your thinking how to *market* a book, something that requires a very different mentality from the refinement, spiritual striving, and all else behind writing the book.

But my general impression is that agents add a layer to the "wall around getting published" that features pretentiousness and poses a bit of a distraction. So maybe the blog phonily listing agents that we're commenting on shouldn't be such a surprise.

Victoria Strauss said...

(1) the volume of material agents have to peruse today is much higher than for editors 15-20 years ago

I definitely agree there. Not only is the slush pile hugely larger than it was decades ago (blame, in part, the computer--no one who hasn't had to type up clean copies on a noncorrecting typewriter, with carbon paper, has any idea how much physically easier it is to produce a manuscript today than it used to be), agents have become the keepers of the slush pile, which was still the job of editors when I started in the biz in the early 1980's.

Gregory Ludwig said...

Concerning Victoria's Nov. 27 11:28 a.m. comment:

"A laundry list of specialties can actually be a warning sign of an inexperienced or fraudulent agent."

What I was talking about regarding genres and subject areas that agents handle is simply the list of such areas that can be seen in LMP or Writer's Market. I have recently sent my most recent proposal to agents who claim to represent some combination of self-help, health, psychology, memoirs, and/or biography/autobiography, along with whatever else they handle. I don't think I've mis-chosen an agent in selecting him/her based on these categories. Most often, I think they are not particularly taken by my own contribution to one or more of these categories.

It seems the info most important to be updated on, usually via the Web, is specific submission guidelines. If an agent bluntly has changed categories/genres she claims in midstream to handle, that would be odd, if not suspicious.

Those Top Ten lists name agents under certain individual categories that may be only one of about a dozen or more quite different categories a printed reference shows them as handling. This Top Ten situation smells.

Gregory Ludwig said...

On the issue of the "slush pile," per Victoria's:

"...agents have become the keepers of the slush pile, which was still the job of editors when I started in the biz in the early 1980's."

What would the "slush pile" constitute today? I remember back in the 1980s, those more or less in the know talked about a "slush pile," as if a beginning writer of books had not much more chance than to end up on that pile of soot. Then when I got personalized responses in the 1980s and 1990s from editors at such places as Knopf, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and Random House, I figured that the vast majority of the time, I didn't end up on the slush pile. Editors in those days had the time and means to respond to queries that were, in their estimation, "above the slush pile." And the concept of the "slush pile" struck me as a boogie man hinted at by those who never really tried to get a book published.

Today, after I've done paid work in nationally distributed publishing since 1990, and hence have more experience in that area that some literary agencies have been in existence, now if a query or proposal of mine to a literary agent gets short shrift, it "hit the agent slush pile"? What kind of readers are those agents, then? And is this an improvement to the trade-book publishing system? (Loaded question.)

Then there's *this* bit of info: It used to be Knopf would look at unagented queries when other big trade houses were starting to require agent submissions only. Then Knopf joined the "agents only" circle. Then I found some info somewhere that Knopf could review unagented queries, but could take months to do it. So I sent a query in late 2006, I think it was. Got an answer about five months later. Handwritten on the form letter was a note suggesting that I take my book (a different one than I am trying to place now) to an *agent* so its writing could be improved. Who would have "thunk," 15-20 years ago???!

Anonymous said...

What would the "slush pile" constitute today? I remember back in the 1980s, those more or less in the know talked about a "slush pile," as if a beginning writer of books had not much more chance than to end up on that pile of soot. Then when I got personalized responses in the 1980s and 1990s from editors at such places as Knopf, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and Random House, I figured that the vast majority of the time, I didn't end up on the slush pile. Editors in those days had the time and means to respond to queries that were, in their estimation, "above the slush pile." And the concept of the "slush pile" struck me as a boogie man hinted at by those who never really tried to get a book published.

I think you've got the wrong idea about the slush pile. The phrase doesn't imply any judgement about the quality of the work it contains, or about whether that work will or won't be published. The slush pile isn't somewhere you 'end up'; it's somewhere you start out. And of course it exists.

A 'slush pile' is just unsolicited and unagented material sent to a publisher or agent. If you sent something to one of those without being specifically invited to submit it, then yes, you were by definition in the slush pile. When an editor or agent or assistant went through that slush pile, your work may have stood out enough to warrant extra time and attention; it may even have been accepted for publication. That has nothing to do with the fact that it came out of the slush pile.

It's not an insult. Honestly.

Victoria Strauss said...

More evidence that Michele Rooney is the author of the fake blog: this Top 10 list on WritersNet, from the period last summer when she was pretending to be Shelly May of the May Writers Group.