Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Denouncing the Spirit of Agent Awe

Brace yourself. I'm not softening this one. In short:


Yes, they are busy. Yes, they work hard. Yes, when they graciously accept my invitation to be a Secret Agent, they are sacrificing time for the sake of others. BUT SO IS EVERY SINGLE PERSON WHO CRITIQUES HERE.

For that matter, so am I.

We are ALL giving our time in many areas: jobs, family, writing, community, friendships, hobbies. Life is all about the time we spend BEING and DOING.

There is nothing inherently special about an agent's time. And there is nothing inherently amazing about an agent's level of busyness. We are ALL BUSY.

Why the rant? Comments like this:

How in the world does he find the time to be the Secret Agent? He is one busy feller.

(No reflection on the person who wrote it. Just one example of a pervasive perception problem that I'm attempting to debunk.)

Of course Nathan Bransford is busy. Very busy, even. But so is Ginger Clark. And Holly Root. And Kate Testerman. And Lauren MacLeod. And Josh Getzler. And every other agent, Secret and non-Secret.

And every other publishing professional.

And every other NON-publishing professional.

And every other skilled craftsman.

And every other stay-at-home mom.

And every. other. human. being.

Okay, I've surely made my point.

Why am I making the point in the first place? Because this is the root attitude that leads to an unhealthy view of the agent-client relationship. An author should never feel "smaller" or "less important" or "less busy" than his agent. If he feels that way, he's going to think it's okay if the agent consistently ignores emails, doesn't return phone calls, or doesn't actively shop the author's work. He's going to roll over and play dead when things feel wrong, assuming that the Mighty Agent is Simply Too Busy and will get around to the languishing author in the proper time.

That's a big pile of ocelot doo.

Mind you, there are dozens and dozens of agents who would never exhibit the above behavior. Scores and scores, even. So don't even think about accusing me of agent dissing. I'm not.

I love agents. Especially when they love me. *smile*

But the whole Bigger Than Life perception of literary agents has got to stop, dear writers.

If you struggle with this and you KNOW you want to break free, grab a copy of AGENT: DEMYSTIFIED right now. Because the entire e-book can be summed up in three words: AGENTS AREN'T SCARY.

Or something like that.

So please. Don't ever hesitate to thank an agent for his time. But don't fall over backward while exclaiming how amazed you are that he was able to give a mere ounce of it to you. He's not from Mount Olympus. And his life isn't more important or more demanding than your own. Every calling has its own "hard spots" and "easy spots." Don't fall into the trap of comparing yours to someone else's and assuming the other guy has come out "on top."

Okay? I love you guys. I want you to succeed. And success starts with the right attitude and perceptions of what it is you're trying to succeed at.



  1. I know it's true, but as someone trying to snag an agent, I feel a lot like Dorothy on her way to the Emerald City. Maybe one day I'll see the normal person behind the smoke and mirrors, but right now, I just see a huge, smokey, disembodied head with the power to send me to another world if they so choose.

    At least we have Twitter, where we can witness agents joking, eating, and complaining about the weather like everybody else. That helps.

  2. Well said Authoress. I'm with ya.

  3. I think it's blogs and places like Twitter that make authors scared of agents with things like #queryfail and agents regularly snarking on writers. That being said, when writers publicly complain about agents, they are not pleased. No wonder writers shake at their keyboards.

    I'm aware agents are human - and try to remember that as I query.

    Today I decided to consider a query I sent 6 weeks ago "dead." I use Query Tracker and could see that this agent has replied to TWO queries since the beginning of January 2010 and I needed to move on. Yet, I was apprehensive at first, not wanting to offend someone who has for all intents and purposes, ignored my query.

    Strange dynamics when one wants an agent, that's for sure.

  4. You HAVE to think of an agent as a potential business partner, and approach him or her as an equal. My agent represented huge authors, and everything I read about him said "accepts very few new clients" - I'm a first-time novelist, and probably should have assumed I was wasting my time approaching him. As I dropped my query and sample in the mailbox I thought, Well, it's just $1.90. He called me the next week to ask for the full, and it marched on from there.

  5. I agree. Well said.

    And Anon - are you sending out exclusive queries? Why wait for a response before sending out another? Or are you waiting?

    Some agents are now of the no-response variety. No answer means No. It's a bit of a pain when I want to close out that particular entry in my spreadsheet, but I can't have everything. The longest response time I've had was over 400 days (from an editor - for a requested manuscript).

  6. Wow! That was an excellent post. Agents are people too. Of course, they are. :)

  7. Thanks for coming right out and saying it. It's a great thing for us to keep in mind as we work on querying them. We're interviewing them too.

  8. I love twitter! It has humanized agents more than anything else out there.
    I hope you're having fun with the query process.

  9. After receiving rejections, it's hard not to feel like little ol' me is not in the same league as the seemingly all-powerful agents. I'll try to take your word for it.

  10. Wonderful post! Agents are people, just like writers. We need them and they need us. It's just a matter of finding the one to have that mutually benefitting relationship with. I'm new to the agnet query game, but I've queried four agents in the past two weeks and received three personal rejections with beneficial information in each response. It's all part of the process to find the right match. I have faith that the right match is out there for me. I just have to keep researching and hitting send. :)

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  12. ACKKK…This reminds me of the day the teacher yelled at me for calling another kid a donkey. But, I didn’t use the word, ‘donkey’.

    ‘Busy’. Although we are busy with our harried lives, not all of us blog and keep a website up to date. Or, on our convoluted journey to acquiring representation, critique every submission to Secret Agent, which was in my mind at the time.

    Thank you, Authoress, for this venue. I accept your opinion, but I appreciate every posting and the time it takes, not only the agents, no awe intended.
    Please don’t send me back to the principal’s office.

  13. Wow, sorry if I find this post rather rude. I think we can all agree on the basic point: agents are no busier than anyone else, no one should use busy-ness as an excuse to put off work, authors shouldn't their agents. No doubt. Worth keeping in mind.

    But man, when did simple expressions of gratitude become obsequiousness? Maybe I'm just feeling all needy after spending my Saturday judging your contest, but I definitely appreciated the comments that were, I thought, just niceties, and not in any way meant to be taken as a sign that I literally think I'm busier than anyone else or that the authors who left comments were hopelessly in thrall to agents. We can all give each other atta boys without being accused of pathology.

  14. I know I appreciate the extra time and effort you put in on this, Nathan. You give a lot to us authors - especially with your very popular blog and all the SCBWI events you attend.

    There are some authors who see the word agent after a person's name and assign automatic attributes to that person without checking to see if they are a good match let alone reputable.

    I might be wrong, but I think that was the point of this post. Perhaps the timing might have been a bit better.

  15. To chime in to what Nathan said: authors thanking Nathan (and me, back in September) for taking time to come by and leave comments is polite and civil. It's not fawning or "falling over backward." I agree that authors should not view agents as residents of Mt. Olympus. But to write this on the heels of Nathan spending so much of his free time giving detailed critiques is bad form. If you had written something similar after my visit back in September I'd be offended.

  16. Nathan and Ginger,

    I have expressed to you both my sincere and deeply felt thanks for your time and expertise. No one, perhaps, is more appreciative than I am for what you've given here.

    My post today is not a reflection on what either of you have contributed here.

    It is, in fact, a problem of almost epidemic proportion that authors fear -- yes, fear -- agents. And, were you regular readers of my blog, you would understand that part of my "mission", as it were, is to debunk the myths of agenthood so that aspiring authors can approach this prospective business relationship with poise and professionalism. You would also, perhaps, be accustomed to my use of hyperbole to make a point.

    A careful reading of today's post makes clear that I was in no way lessening my readers' words of thanks. I did, in fact, encourage them to express their thanks to agents. It's something I have often encouraged them to do.

    (Actually, now that these contests have gained their own momentum, they do it on their own.)

    I also did not use the terms "fawning and falling over backward" in reference to thanking Secret Agents on the blog. My advice was, in fact, to thank, but NOT to fawn and fall over.

    I suppose I find it difficult to understand why reminding aspiring authors to view agents as equals is in any way offensive.

    At any rate, I have obviously offended both of you, which was not my intention. Please forgive me.

  17. I look at this and the remark that started it all as comparing Nathan to other agents.

    Are agents any busier than most people? No.

    But Nathan, with his blog and all, seems busier than most agents; yet he still has time to respond to all his queries. In my case, the answer came within hours. So, I had a similar thought- wow, how does he do it all? Not, as in "He's a god!" but in comparison to the agent whose had my full for 5 months and hasn't got back with me. Or the one whose yet to reply to my query sent in November.

    Just goes to show we're all unique.
    Nathan seems really good at time management.

  18. I agree with susie--I think there is a question floating around the writing blogosphere--specifically, how does Nathan do it all? He is unique in his timely query turn-arounds, his reading of every comment on his blog, and all sorts of amazing, time consuming things that everybody knows that he does.

    When I read through this post, and through the comments, my heart sunk a little.

    I felt anxious, and protective, of Authoress. I don't think that she was in any way trying to be disrespectful or offend.

    And, I can definitely see how her reacting toward that comment at that time would make Nathan feel as though his freely given time was devalued.

    And then when the author of the comment chimed in, my anxiety level increased.

    However, the difference between this snafu, and most internet, blogging snafus is that every single person involved here came to this issue from a respectful place. I hope that everyone involved can see that respect. What can I say? I think sometimes intent matters. Nobody here intended any disresect.

  19. What strikes me is that Nathan critiqued 50 entries and only 21 people chimed in to say, "thanks." (And a couple of the thanks came from people who didn't enter).

    I'm not in awe of agents (well, maybe Nathan, a little, 'cause he does amazing things), but I think the fact that they donate some of their free time to do this contest is INCREDIBLY GENEROUS!

    And it happens every time. I know, I've been here a while. People don't say thanks and that's not nice.

  20. While we all know that agents are busy, when people wonder "How do they do it all?" I often think they can do it because they organize their time well and because agenting is their job of choice, which means while the rest of us are working at retail or construction or whathaveyou, agents are reading queries, talking to editors or clients, and so forth as their job demands, just like the rest of us do what our jobs demand.

    As for how agents (any of them) have time to blog, well, obviously they do it because they want to, so again, they choose to set aside a bit of time to ramble/discuss whatever they feel like posting on that day. None of them are forced to do it. They do it by choice, so obviously they have time.

    And this is in no way to belittle their time or anything else, because I, like many others, do indeed appreciate all those goodies on agent blogs that tell us writers so much about them, what they like, and how they operate. It rocks.

    But I understand completely what Authoress was going for. Agents are awesome, just not untouchable, ethereal beings like some writers believe. Everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time. :)

    On a completely different note, I have to say that I love that you used "ocelot doo." Of all the animals you could have chosen... How I love the randomness.

  21. *sigh*

    As one of those bad authors who did not say a timely 'Thanks' - all I can say is I've been down with my seventh head cold of this season (and I don't even have kids!). Thinking is not one of my strong points at the mo'.

    But thanks again, Nathan. :-)

  22. Authoress, thanks for the post, your fun, helpful blog, and the contests. You, and the agents who help with the contests, have made me a better writer:)

    Thank you from a stressed-out teacher, mom, and writer.

  23. heather and susie-

    I definitely appreciate the sentiment (and thanks to others who have chimed in), but I have to say that I don't believe I'm busier than other agents out there. I just happen to be living my agenting life publicly (due to blogging and the query response websites) and because my main hobby (writing) is also a public one. But that doesn't mean I'm running harder or faster than other agents out there who are hitting the proverbial treadmill out of the view of the Internet. Anyone who becomes an agent knows it's a more than nine to five job, so it's all part of the job. And if there's anything all writers know, it's being busy.

    And Authoress, I appreciate the response and I definitely never intended to suggest that I think it's a bad idea to remind authors that agents are equals and shouldn't be put on a pedestal. I agree with you! I was just wishing that someone expressing simple thanks hadn't been the prime example of obsequiousness. But I appreciate all the time that you spend here to help aspiring authors.

  24. Nathan, I read your blog almost daily. You give out a wealth of information that is much appreciated. The only contest I've entered of yours was the agent for a day and it took me two days working continuously to write personal letters to each entrant. I admire agents and writers alike. It takes a special person to create a book and another special person to recognize the potential in that writer. Until I began querying agents, I was terrified of them. So I understand why this post could ease some of the anxiety potential queriers have. We are all looking for our place in this world. I am grateful to the blog world for sharing its insights into the writing world. That is my thank-you to Nathan and all the other agents that participate in the Authoress' blog and of course to the Authoress.

  25. Having benefitted from a previous Secret Agent contest, and the very valuable comments of said Secret Agent (not Nathan, but if he would rep MG, I'd be there in a heartbeat!!), I greatly appreciate the time Authoress and the Secret Agents put into making these contests available to writers. I'm grateful to Authoress in all she does for writers, and Nathan for all he does for EVERYONE in this business. I've teased Nathan before about being an android, because he does seem to have superhuman time management skills, but I WAS joking. Besides, I like androids.

    One point I'd like to make, that was kind of hinted at and I think is really important . . . I think writers need to understand that agents are people just like them, and to try to put themselves in agent's shoes. Understand how hard it is to search through the slush pile, hoping to find that shining gem that could make a writer's dream come true. Know that agents love good stories, fabulous writing and a good book deal just as much as writers do! In short, we're all really on the same team. And knowing that will make working together to getting books published a lot easier and less stressful for everyone.

  26. Thank you, Nathan. =)

    And Huntress -- Do forgive me for picking your comment out of the hat to use as my example! I think that was the crux of the problem here. I could easily have found other, less "fresh" examples. So no, you are not being sent back to the principal's office. ;)

  27. Authoress: um, yeah - thanks for the spotlight **groan**.

    If we can’t agree on the purpose of my original comment, we can agree on respect for the other’s opinion. :)

    Thanks again for a great place to gather with like-minded folks.

  28. Authoress - I'd like to hug you right now. Querying is hard :/

  29. And let's not forget each other when thanking busy people! I thanked Nathan and Authoress, but a big thank you to all of the other contest participants and blog readers who took time from their own busy lives to read through and offer crits on the entries.

  30. Wow. This is one fiery comments section! I really enjoy this blog and I feel sort of bad for Authoress, but I also hope to query both Nathan Bransford and Ginger Clark and any other agents who should be reading these comments, so I take no sides! None! I have no opinion regarding the disagreement here. Furthermore, I feel all agents are amazing, wonderful people who by the magnificent fact of their mere existence affirm that there is a God and He is a booklover. I also agree that I should not place them on a pedestal.

    This comments section fills me with fear of the internets. I can’t imagine authoress setting out to offend Mr. Bransford or any other agents—but I take no sides! None! I don’t know her, of course, but it just doesn’t make sense to me that Authoress would set out to do that, especially after Mr. Bransford so kindly agreed to make himself available to all of us blog readers (thanks regular guy who is not a god, but definitely cool for taking the time!).

    If anyone is looking for a great blog topic, I would love to hear some agent or anonymous author thoughts on what writers should and should not blog about. I run a website, as my sign on implies, and to keep traffic coming, I sometimes write book reviews. Lately, I’ve been reviewing books that are written by writers who are dead or are too famous to pay little old me much mind. After all, the publishing world is a small place and I get nervous writing those reviews as I have never written a book review that didn’t criticize it in some way. What would be the point in writing or reading such a review?

    Stephen King probably won’t notice that I hated Blaze (though I adore most of his other books), but there’s a good chance Courtney Summers would have noticed if I had written a bad review of her debut, Cracked Up To Be (impossible! It’s great!). Her agent might have noticed, her editor, someone who did publicity, her childhood librarian who writes important reviews for some publication... who knows?

    If anybody, ahem, wanted to blog about that, I would really love to know your thoughts. Also, I would like to mention once again my abiding love for agents everywhere.

  31. I have to admit I'm one of the people who possesses the basic awe of Nathan in particular. Not so much because of his agent work, but because of his genuinely outstanding blog.

    I recently started a small blog devoted primarily to reviews of online resources for writers. My first review was Nathan's blog. I said in part:

    "Judging by this blog, Nathan appears to have the kind of energy that people write superhero comics about. Not only does he put out quality posts on a daily basis,but he has assembled an archive of useful content that would easily be priced at the high end if assembled and published as a book."

    So my take on Nathan is that he does what we would all expect from a good agent AND PLUS he maintains one of the best blogs in its niche.

    This is less agent-awe, or even blogging-agent-awe. It's really about Nathan. (And did I mention - he writes?)

    I totally get your point about demystifying agents, and I'm sure Nathan puts his pants on one leg at a time like the rest of us. And I don't hesitate to go on his blog and make smart-ass comments that stop just short of inappropriate. But he really is good at what he does, and that's probably what sparked the response you noticed.

    Hugs back,


  32. Did I read this post wrong? Did it somewhere say it was wrong to thank or appreciate agents? It lobbied against obsequiousness. And said Don't ever hesitate to thank an agent for his time. I think Authoress made an excellent point - I've seen this sort of "agent awe" lead writers to make some bad mistakes when querying.

  33. I completely agree with Heather Kelly's brilliant comment above, esp when she makes the point that no one intended disrespect, and intent does matter.

    Authors DO sometimes fear agents, and hold them in too much awe. And agents often tell them not to do this. I remember an online query critique (Miss Snark, maybe), where the query letter closed with, "Thank you for your valuable time," and the agent crossed out that line and said, "Your time is no more valuable than mine."

    I think this is similar to what Authoress was getting at.

    Blog comments are tricky, and we should be careful not to make assumptions about the intent or emotions behind the comments. But knowing this, we also have to be careful to be gentle when bloggers do seem to make assumptions about the comments, because we all do this sometimes.

  34. There's a lot of misunderstanding in the publishing industry. Authors get to thinking of agents and editors as some being of an 'other' world. It's quite natural because these people are the gateway to the ambitions and hopes and dreams of a group of highly imaginative, creative, motivated people.
    But one thing everyone forgets that publishing is a business. That there are ledgers with red and black pens. The accountants are probably down in their dungeons thinking of all of us:
    Agents/editors/authors as loopy-loos making life down in the dungeon very difficult.
    But in fact the trio upstairs are all coming from the same angle. Love of the written word. Of course the perception is that out of the trio, the agent and the editor have the strongest position. But in actual fact, it is a wrong perception. It's the quality manuscript they aspire towards. The author is no less important. I dislike intensely when that silly saying, stupid as it is, that all people have a book inside them. Codswallop! A very small percentage of the human race has a book inside them. And a minute number has the ability to execute it.
    So the agent and the editor has to sift through a lot of hogwashed people who took that saying seriously, to find the manuscript that will make the accountants in the dungeon smile in the darkness of their ledger-filled desks.
    I think the emphasis is wrongly placed on all the queries, synopses and imbalance placed on the importance of these. What you must do is recognise that what you present prior to the manuscript is a business proposition.
    Nobody should be grateful for attention, nor should they ever take anyone of this trio for granted.
    I personally am grateful to Authoress for the venue, to the agents who donate their time, and to ambience of this site.
    I think if I ever wanted to start a business it'd be writing synopses for authors. :-D. Most of them do a terrible job because...
    ... they can't see the forest for the trees.
    But I'd hate to be the editor who missed J.K. Rowlings.
    It's a hard job.
    And then...
    oops here come the bean counters again.

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  36. *A typo corrected post*

    Looking over both sides of the point, it looks like there is some confusion present. This blog is an act of volunteering by many people--Authoress, the Secret Agents, and the posters.

    Of course, this volunteering has more tangible rewards than normal volunteering--Secret Agents have access to well critiqued or self-critiqued, potential new clients, Authoress gets promotional networking value, and posters get critiques or learn from them.

    My point is--I can see both sides of the argument. I can see how the agents, especially Nathan Bransford, can read what they saw into the post, since it came so soon after his Secret Agent commitment. I can also see that this was a post that Authoress has been thinking on for a while and she has a good point. After all, good agents don't want a "yes sir, right on that sir" type of client. They want one that will hear what they say and use his or her creative abilities to take the agent advice one step further to improve whatever he or she is working on. Fear or awe does not help anyone in the agent-client relationship. Partnership does.

    I'd like to end this 2 cents post by thanking all three types of people involved, the host, the agents, and those who take the time to post submissions and critiques.


  37. If a writer was offended by an agent (in a blog post or on twitter) there is really no recourse because writers don't want to be shunned/blackballed or part of a scary #queryfail or a #stupidthingswritersdo Twitter extravaganza.

    I'm sorry anyone was offended by a post meant to help writers.

  38. Note: I'm not sure Authoress gets "promotional networking value" for all her hard work running these contests, as I believe she approaches the agents anonymously. I've been interviewed by her, and I have no idea of her identity.

  39. Sara,

    I meant for her self-pub book she has listed above. Usually, a blog is promo device for any writer. Sorry for not being clearer.


  40. I am a big fan of manners and simple kindness. I say thank you to everyone, just because it is the nice thing to do. I say thank you to the bus driver when he lets me off. I thank the post man. And when an editor rejected my ms, I wrote her a letter and thanked her for all the time she had given me. I told her how I knew I would grow as an author because of the advice she had given. And you know what, she wrote back to me and changed my rejection letter to a revision letter.
    I did not thank her to suck up. I thanked her because I was thankful. But I think there is a lesson in there.