Recently I received a very flattering e-mail from an agent who was hunting my head. Attached, I hasten to say, to my body - and most important, to the next book I might write. Bit of an ego trip you might say… Why am I posting this blog here and not over at the Beverly Swerling site where I’m wearing my writer’s hat more squarely atop said hunted head? Actually it could have gone either place, but it is, I think most instructive for writers. So it belongs here, not on the blog aimed more at readers.
Why are we constantly telling you how important it is that your agent not be in Oshkosh with a broadband connection and a fax? Here’s one excellent answer.
This minor drama (very minor I admit) began because an agent whom I do not know personally in any way shape or form happened to be having lunch with my editor at Simon & Schuster. Point to note: both are major players. They got that way by learning how to use the necessarily symbiotic connection between them. Editors who want to succeed need the agents who are likely to have the best mss to offer to think of them (i.e. the editors in question) when they are deciding where to submit a book. Agents need to cultivate editors who are A: powerful enough to actually make an offer without having to submit their choice to the veto power of some cockamamie committee, and B: have developed enough trust in the agent’s instincts/taste to believe that what the agent submits will be worthy of consideration. In other words, both need to believe that in the general run of things, their phone calls will be returned.
One way agents keep this relationship alive is to cultivate friendly relationships with the editors. Cutting to the chase - in time honored publishing tradition, they do lunch. Who invites who changes regularly depending on day-to-day minutiae. But a large number of the better restaurants of Manhattan will go out of business if the tradition ever dies.
Frequently at these lunches the editor will drop on the agent a few books the editor wants to promote, or that demonstrate what the editor is looking for at the moment. At the lunch to which I refer,one of the books that changed hands was my City of Dreams by Beverly Swerling. That book originally shipped in hardcover on 9/15/2001, three days after 9/11 if you’ve been off the planet for some time. Almost every writer in the hardcover new release list of that terrible autumn has the same story to tell. In book terms the terrible tragedy sucked the life from everything not related to terror and terrorism. (And this isn’t a gripe. Would that having a book launch fizzle was the worst thing that happened to anyone on 9/11.) But in the case of City of Dreams, the backlist story has been very encouraging. The trade paperback version of the book came out the following year and has done exceptionally well ever since. Further, its sales go up every time we release a new book in the series. So this winter’s hardcover City of Glory pushed City of Dreams into a ninth printing. Which is why the editor gave a copy to the agent.
Who then sent me an e-mail to say she loved the book and though she knew I was represented by Henry Morrison, if I should ever want to change…
She was doing her job. And yes, of course I’m flattered. Even though I have absolutely no plans to change my representation. But if I did have, in the normal way of things I would of course think firstof this agent who took the trouble to tell me how much she admires my work. That is, normal in a world without AR&E where I can find a detailed and objective analysis of her track record since the day she sold her first book.
This very good agent would be a disaster for me. The voices of the best writers on her list are entirely different from mine. Their genres are only superficially similar. And looking simply at a list of her latest sales - i.e. without analysis and evaluation - I wouldn’t necessarily know that.
Lessons learned: When it comes to living with your agent and the two of you being happy together, the meld is absolutely critical and very much a thing of nuance. (Believe me, you’d rather have a bra or a jockstrap that didn’t fit than an agent who didn’t.) Which is why we tell new writers all the time to avoid the lure of falling into the first pair of open arms. And you really have to parse the data to get the information.