Mark Terry

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Literary Agents, Part I

March 27, 2007
Literary Agents, Part I: New York City Versus The Rest of the Planet

My friend Robert Kuntz e-mailed me yesterday to ask my thoughts on whether it was important to have an agent in New York City. I gave a fairly long reply and I suppose the bottom line was "no" although hopefully a little more thought went into it than that.

For the record, my agent is not in New York City. She's currently living abroad, and I have no idea if that is permanent or not. When I signed with her she was in New Mexico, then moved to Houston. Her husband has one of those jobs that involves travel and re-location.

Anyway, I have had an NYC agent, in that case, Ben Camardi of the Harold Matson Company. Ben repped me for 6 years and never sold anything, although he certainly tried. I parted ways, reasonably amicably I hope, primarily because after 6 years I sensed a definite lack of enthusiasm whenever I called or sent a manuscript. I thought that was reasonable, actually, although it took me quite some time to hook up with another agent.

Back to the point, though. Do you need an agent in NYC? Well, it sure doesn't hurt. In theory, agents in NYC are always getting together for lunch with editors. I doubt this is really as common as it used to be. Which isn't the point. Is it necessary? No, I don't think so. We live in the age of the Internet, e-mail, FedEx, UPS, cell phones and fax machines. Many editors and publishers and agents are moving away from snail mail and paper manuscripts to PDF files and Word docs and e-mail. If you want to read the manuscript in your hand, print it out yourself and save on postage (and spend more on paper and toner--god given; god taketh away).

And any agent who wants to stay in business is going to have to communicate regularly with editors anyway. That's part of any business, that kind of "networking" thing, staying in touch via phone or e-mail or occasional visits. That way if you deliver a supernatural thriller about underwater Nazi cheerleaders, your agent can call up the Doubleday editor she'd just been talking to a couple weeks ago and say, "You remember when you told me what you really wanted to see was a supernatural thriller about underwater Nazi cheerleaders? Well..."

It has been said, and I think it's probably true, that good agents are about the two R's: reputation and Rolodex. If an agent repeatedly sends crap to editors, the editors aren't interested later. And the agent needs to have contacts.

Most new agents come from publishing at some level. They were editors or were in the marketing department of publishers or were publishers themselves. As a result, they have contacts. If they want to stay in business, they maintain those contacts and work to develop more--by going to conferences, by visiting offices, by making phone calls and e-mails, by reading the trades like Publishers Weekly, Publishers Lunch and the New York Times business section, among others.

So note that the two Rs are not the two Rs & an L--reputation, Rolodex and location.

Do I sometimes wish I had a NYC agent? Yeah, sure. But my agent has done very well by me, she's responsive to my e-mails and phone calls, she likes my writing, and she delivers manuscripts to a variety of editors in NYC and outside and negotiates contracts aggressively. And I know not everybody likes to think much about this, but she also has contacts with other publishers around the world, and although this isn't relevant to my contracts with Midnight Ink, if you have notions of making a living as a novelist, foreign rights sales can be a very, very big deal. (Right, Joe Moore?)

So, as I told Robert, what I think you ultimately need is an agent who responds to your work and is willing to aggressively market it. The location is somewhat secondary.

Mark Terry


Blogger Joe Moore said...

“That way if you deliver a supernatural thriller about underwater Nazi cheerleaders . . .”

Are you saying someone else has that idea? Well, that's just great! An entire day of writing wasted!

And yes, foreign rights are very important. The foreign rights sales manager at Llewellyn is a saint.

8:08 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Gimme a U
Gimme a B
Gimme an O-A-T!
What does it spell?
Gooooooo team!!!!

It's all right,
It's okay,
You'll be ruled by us someday!

8:41 AM  
Blogger Ron Estrada said...

Just change it to underwater Commie cheerleaders, Joe, and stop whining.

Why is it every writer I know is on his second agent? Are there no commitments? Do the vows mean nothing? Did you cheat with another agent before the breakup?

I'll have to practice my lines: "No, really, it's me. I just don't feel that we're growing together."

It was so much easier when I just pretended to be a wrong number.

9:39 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Actually, Ron, I'm on my third, but the first one was something of a one-night stand.

9:59 AM  
Blogger Joe Moore said...

Just did a find & replace. Nazi = Commie. Thanks Ron.

11:08 AM  
Anonymous gregory huffstutter said...

Last week, I signed with my first agent -- Amy Moore-Benson of AMB Literary Management -- who is not located in NYC. In fact, her office is in Toronto, so she's not even in the US.

Her location was an initial concern... but she she came highly recommended by MJ Rose, was a book editor at MIRA for a dozen years, and has made several sales in my genre for Alex Kava, Rick Mofina, and Linda Richards. Plus, she was enthusiastic about the project, responsive to e-mails, and we clicked on the phone.

So my fingers are crossed that a NYC address is no longer de rigeur.

Right now, the only downside appears to be the delay in sending mail, especially manuscripts, which have to go thru customs.

And if she doesn't sell my first book, I can always submit my follow-up novel about an underwater Commie marching band.

12:18 PM  
Blogger Joe Moore said...

Congratulations, Greg, on signing your new agent. It sounds like a good match. Here's a thought on the manuscript issue. My agent is in NYC. There's a Kinkos a block from her office. What I do is upload the manuscript to that Kinkos' location and pay for the printing with my cc. They email me when it's ready and she sends someone down the street to pick it up. Might work if there's one near your agent's office in Toronto. Just a suggestion.

12:49 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

That's a really interesting concept. I'll have to think about that.

1:41 PM  
Anonymous Robert Kuntz said...

Mark's perspective, as usual, seems right on.

Of course, although I asked the initial question, it's hard to conceive a subject that is more completely academic in my particular circumstances.

"Well yes, I AM starving, but I think, before I eat, we ought to discuss the precise distinctions among skirt steak, onglette and churrasco."

A Manhattan address would, at this point, be utterly trumped by a "golly I like this."

I have finally had a request for a partial, so hope springs -- if not eternal -- at least for another few weeks.

2:53 PM  
Anonymous gregory huffstutter said...

Thanks the Kinko's idea, Joe. I'll check it out. And I'll be attending Thrillerfest this July to do some networking... so hope to meet some of you at the bar. I'm buying first round.

9:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amy Moore Benson would be my dream agent, Toronto or not. She's well connected and really knows the biz. You're fortunate to have her because of her Canadianess, not in spite of it.

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