Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Agents are Regular People

Agents are almost mythical creatures in this business. They receive all sorts of praise (and gifts) and verbal strokes because they are gatekeepers, the ones you have to please in order to get through a much-wanted door. We are afraid to be ourselves around them. We chew our words carefully, so that we express the right ones in their presence. Heck, we almost part the crowd for them when they walk through a conference hall.

They know it, you know it, everyone knows it. And it's not necessary.

That's why I wish more people read Twittering agents. In my opinion, that's the closest you'll get to seeing the "other" side of an agent. Just like you, they tend to drop comments about their dining habits, their day-to-day events, even their kids' soccer games. They make jokes. They goof up. They screw up. You begin to see them are human beings instead of deities who can strike you down with the flick of a finger. You also get a taste of their flavor - who's full of himself and who isn't.

Like most celebrities, the "fame" that comes with being an agent can alter his or her attitude. There's something about people being "needy" for you that can skew appearance and behavior. As a result, most writers are scared to death about meeting an agent. Some agents handle it well. Some don't.

I didn't believe in pitching at conferences. As "The Shy Writer" I didn't feel I presented my best side to an agent as a bundle of nerves at a conference. They purchase writing, not my personality, right? But these days, agents want to see your persona as well as your work. It's all about sales and platform and the ability to project yourself as an author. I hate to say it, but with some agents, they want a warm and fuzzy about you before they ask for your work. Some agents, including my own, are so swamped with requests, that they are limiting new clients to those they meet at conferences.

I'm an agent watcher at conferences. I like watching to see how they behave when they aren't in the spotlight as much as when they speak or critique. There's one agency that turns me off even now, because I saw one of their young agents sitting at a conference banquet making fun of the various speakers to those on either side of her. Little did she know that I was one table over, hearing every word.

I once pitched to a male agent who read my mystery synopsis and replied, "This reads like a soap opera. Maybe there's somebody out there who might like this sort of stuff, but not me." I'll never recommend him to anyone. And he walked in with a jacket and a plain t-shirt underneath, removing the jacket and flexing, like he was God's gift to...something. Ticked him off my list...forever.

A friend of mine once sat down to meet with an agent (paid for the privilege, mind you) and stated she had a 90,000-word women's fiction manuscript. The agent replied, "Stop right there. If those words in your query crossed my desk, I'd shove it into the trash can." My stunned friend still had the guts to thank her for the enlightenment. Then when my friend said it was set in the 1980's, the agent snarled, "Why would I want to read that? I lived that decade, and I don't want to relive it again!" I suggested my friend put that on her conference evaluation form - to not invite that agent back because of the poison she brought to the environment.

At my last conference, an agent said everytime she spoke, "We don't bite. Don't be so nervous." Well, when an agent reacts too candidly or scoffs at speakers or acts too busy to respect the author, what's a writer supposed to do except fear for her life as she walks up to put her heart on the line? It's like agents are cops. They work for you. They get their income from you to put food on their table, but they wield enough power to make your life miserable.

So do you curtsy or bow when you reach the table where you pitch to an agent? Neither. You be you.

Really, you ask. What's that going to get me?

It'll take you further than if you act like a deer in the headlights. It'll take you further than flinching at someone's ill-spoken words. It'll show an agent who you are, and that you are serious about writing.

Write your best. Present it to your best ability. Be yourself. If that agent doesn't work, pass her/him by without regret. The writer-agent match is a sensitive connection that has to marry successfully to be profitable for both. Pretense on either side does nothing to aid the cause.

Agents are people, too. They can be sweet, caustic, polite and rude, angels and butts . . . just like authors.

Shop for agents, and be proactive about who you'd like instead of settling on who you can get. Choose the agent as much as the agent chooses you. You'll feel better about yourself in the morning.

A few Twittering agents (nice ones):
@Janet_Reid (she tries to act big and bad, but I think I know different)

and the list goes on and on...


Anonymous said...

Great post. off to find them all on twitter

Diva Jefferson said...

Thank you for the information and the Twitter suggestions. :)

Writer Chick said...

Wow, what a great point of view. I've had some experience with agents and you are spot on. They can be great and they can be a nightmare. But as you say, they are just people, not gods.

Hope Clark said...

I've witnessed agents who were made of gold and others not worth the ground they walked on. Now, those in the latter category could have had a bad day, who knows. But just because they have way more potential clients than they could ever ask for, doesn't mean they treat them like bugs. I have three in my head today I don't care for because of their behavior at conferences. If we have to be on our best behavior, they should, too.

Amanda Kendle said...

Excellent, useful post, thanks Hope! I agree that I wouldn't want to work with an agent who thinks they're so much better than me just because they're the gatekeeper. But it reminded me of seeing a very successful agent speak recently at a festival - afterwards my friends and I agreed she would be a great person to have on your side - she was passionate and forthright - but she'd be terrifying to pitch to - for the same reason! I need someone a bit in the middle!

Dianna Graveman said...

This is fabulous. I follow some of these agents on Twitter, but not all. I'll check them out. Thanks for the perspective.

Anthony J. Langford said...

That's great advice Hope and an informative insight. We don't have many of these sort of conferences in Australia. Hell, we barely have any agents. They are hard to snare. But have to push on.
Some people are so rude though aren't they? You wouldn't want them for your agent anyway. At least those ones you indicated presented themselves early and saved you and the other woman a lot of angst. Thank God for the rejection!

Sharon Ring said...

As a *newbie* agent I've found the switch from attending conferences for fun to attending them in a professional capacity a rather huge leap. It's fairly weird to jump the fence, so to speak, and I almost regret that people now treat me somewhat differently.

Still, as the author of this article says, we are people at the end of the day. We go into agenting because we love our chosen genre, we're passionate about getting our authors *out there*, we want to see you do well. My best advice to anyone thinking of approaching an agent at a convention - look for the ones who are genuinely enjoying themselves. If they're passionate about their chosen field, then they'll be just as passionate in promoting you and your writing.

Hope Clark said...

So glad to see an agent chime in. As someone who speaks at conferences, I also find it hard to attend one for myself. It doesn't take long for someone to pull me aside, especially if a speaker recognizes me or I speak up regarding an answer in class. At one conference last year, people pulled me aside to court me for other conferences. So we have to be aware of who watches and listens to us at all times. And that passion is all important. People can read you. They can tell.