Monday, April 30, 2012

Chicago RWA Spring Fling Agent Panel Reflections

I like to do this following a panel discussion, especially for those of you who might not have attended the workshop or discussion, or might not have been in the room (and yes, even for those of you who completely spaced out during the discussion). We had a fantastic agent panel discussion with Ginger Clark of the Curtis Brown Agency; Cory Deyoe of the 3 Seas Literary Agency; Sara Megibow of the Nelson Literary Agency; Marcy Posner with Folio Literary Management, and myself. So, here were some of the higlights from the questions that were posed to us.

For the most part, we all seemed to be in agreement with everything that was asked.

Why don't people submit after a request for material?
This one came up afte we discussed the fact that so few writers actually submit stories to editors adn agents after a request. We all noted many of the same things here. First of all, there were many authors who simply were not ready to pitch. This might be due to the fact the story isn't finished, but in many cases, it was because the writer was not mentally ready to make the jump.
Moral of the story  - Be ready and don't let anyone make you do something you aren't ready for. Along the same lines, only submit when the darn story is finished. No exceptions.

What is the one thing an agent can do that writers cannot do on their own?
Obviously we all discussed the fact that we can help you out with those contracts. We know the business and we know how to get you the best deals and how to take care of all of those "rights". Along the same lines, we all noted that we are more than just the business side of things. We are cheerleaders, shoulders to cry on, guides for career planning and certainly there to help out with building your craft.
Moral of the story - Sorry to say it but agents are not going to go away. Can you do this on your own? Yes. The question is - do you really want to?

How do agents meet editors and how do we decided who to send a project to
This question comes up with a hint to the whole idea that only the good agents are in New York. In an age with so much electronic communications, we all noted this was far from the issue. We all do everything we can during conferences and meetings to build those connections for potential future writer deals.
As far as where we send the project to, we all agreed that this was always on a book by book basis and it is built around the idea that your story has a voice that has to match with the publisher. Along the same lines, we did note that there are certainly editors we like more than others. This means if an editor has done something that didn't quite match with what we like as an agent, the odds are the project will not go to them. This is not a fixed rule, but it is business.
Moral of the story - Your story is special to us when we sign you and we will do EVERYTHING we can to sell that story.

What is the length of time with writers and why do agents and writers break up
We did note that many of us have writers who have been with us from the beginning. We did note that if a break up occurs, in most cases it is due to different visions for the author's career. In some cases, it is because we simply cannot do anything else for you. As much as we like you and your work, sometimes a different leader will help you along better.
Moral of the story - We want to work with you but, as agents, we don't ahve super powers and yes, sometimes we just cannot help you. This is not personal and we have no hard feelings. This is simply a business.

Market trends (of course) Sorry, no firm answer here.

Moral of the story - Writer the best dang story you can and make sure it is marketable. If the story is amazing we can certainly sell it. It may take a while but we can do it.

Qualities of a successful writer
I'll just list the qualities we highlighted: Professional, willing to learn and adapt, discipline
focus, belief in self, thick skin, and sense of humor.
Moral of the story - It is more than the story.

Expectations of a new client
We spent a lot of time on this topic but the nice thing is that it all came back to the single issue. Open communications. We want to know what you are doing, where you are going and what you want out of this relationship. You simply cannot just come to us when you have a problem. This is a partnership.
Moral of the story - While writin may be a solitary activity, publishing is far from it. The more we know, the more we can do to help.



  1. Although I was there, I found your summary helpful.
    Something else that made an impression on me was the agent who loved a 140,000 word manuscript she thought was unpublishable but the time came and she sold it. I saw how much an agent really needs to love the manuscript. Do you find that to be true for you?

  2. Yes Cathy, very true! But there is also another element. I may love the premise of the story, but it has to be well written and marketable. Simply a love for a project isn't enough.

  3. I was shocked when I heard the statistic "30% of the writers who are invited to submit material do not follow through." Whatever their reasons are - Wow! I wanted to say thank you for all your wonderful information and taking the time to meet with us.