Mark Terry

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

I Would Like To Offer Representation...

August 5, 2008
Over on the BookEnds blog, agent Jessica Faust confesses to not being able to quite explain why she agrees or does not agree to represent an author. It made me wonder if I were an agent, what I might think. So here's today's challenge.

Look at your bookshelf and pick  5 or 10 books more or less at random, and tell me, if you were an agent in a tough market, based on your limited time and resources, what books you would and would not represent it they were a manuscript that crossed your desk. (Pretend they're a first novel, not someone with a track record or a known name). Here we go:

Bag of Bones by Stephen King. Yes, I would, but I would have some doubts about the length. Might suggest the author make some serious cuts to the first 100 or 150 pages before I offered representation.

Cold Springs by Rick Riordan. Probably not. I would recognize that it was good, the writing good, but it just didn't work well enough for me. "Didn't quite connect with the story," might be how I would respond.

"Billy Straight" by Jonathan Kellerman. Probably not. Although I recognize the strength of the writing and the concept, I have some difficulties with the subject matter.

"Hugger Mugger" by Robert B. Parker. An amusing, well-written P.I. novel with a backdrop of horse racing. Yes, I would represent this.

"Shark River" by Randy Wayne White. Absolutely. I'd snatch it up.

"Blasphemy" by Douglas Preston. I would have to really debate about this. The technology is interesting, as is the locale, and the ending is strong and thought-provoking, but the book sags in the middle, runs on too long, and tends to be preachy. My agreement to represent this book would depend on how the market was for tech thrillers at the time.

"Utopia" by Lincoln Child. Absolutely. I'd snatch it up in a minute, though I might suggest he cut the prologue before I market it.

"L.A. Requiem" by Robert Crais. Yes, though I might have some misgivings about his mix of first-person and third-person narrative, yet the crispness of the writing, the depth of the characterizations and the overall strength of the story would win me over.

Now, let me say for the record that I own and enjoyed all of these books (some more than others). And I think Rick Riordan's a good writer and I thought "Cold Springs" was a decent book, but if I were an agent and this manuscript crossed my desk, I don't think I would represent it. Over on the BookEnds blog I also mentioned "Bloody Mary" which is also a book I probably would not agree to represent.

What do you think?

Mark Terry


Anonymous Amy Nathan said...

This is very thought-provoking. I guess I've made this type of decision in my head with each book I didn't finish (many). And those, of course, are published books. To me it's a reminder that this is a subjective business.

I recently read Ruby Among Us by Tina Ann Forkner. I read it because I "know" her from a blog/website etc. I knew it was going to be an inspirational/Christian book but I wanted to read it because it was her first novel. That's normally not my thing, probably because I'm a skeptic - and I'm Jewish. So I read it, and I saw the appeal, but it wasn't for me. If I were an agent it would not have been right for me either.

Recently I read Odd Mom Out by Jane Porter (I read women's fiction and chick lit mostly). I was so excited to read this book about a single mom not like the other moms, her tribulations with her daughter. Then the subplots and secondary characters vanished. Literally, they vanished from the novel when the mom met -- you got it -- a man. I felt let down. I thought the book had so much potential as a mother/daughter story and I felt like it was bait and switch. As an agent I'd have suggested a rewrite.

But - Jane Porter is a multi-pubbed author.

So what do I know??

6:58 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I know. Interesting, isn't it? By and large, I really liked the books I mentioned, loved them in some cases. But if I were an agent agreeing to rep them, much of my decision-making paradigm (this is a joke in my family; when you've had a bad day at work and we say, "Have you considered re-examining your career decision-making paradigm" or if you see someone having what appears to be a seriously cool job like "Matt" who travels the world making videos of himself dancing on YouTube--but I digress) would be a mix of "is it good?" and "can I sell it?" and "do I respond to it"

"Is it good?" isn't enough. And in most cases "can I sell it?" might not be enough, although I can see exceptions to that.

7:09 AM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

You must be reading my mind. I have been thinking this same thought lately. People come down so hard on agents or the industry, but sometimes I think . . . you know, it's business. Give them something they can for sure sell.

Looking at my sehlf, I see

GOOD OMENS by Neil Gaiman. No brainer--I'd rep it and assume it would take me forever to get such a blaspehmous book published. Same with AMERICAN GODS.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. Yes, she is a brilliant writer, but the book is very inaccessible in subject matter. Wouldn't rep it.

Peter Straub, THE THROAT. Loved his first books, but if I was just judging by this one, not a chance. It's too contrived.

Everything else in easy grasp is a science book. I'd rep 'em all so I could meet fascinating physicists. :-)


8:29 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I probably wouldn't rep any of Peter Straub's books and I've read quite a few of them. But I think my response in most cases would be "just didn't grab me."

Which is really interesting, because of the number of times editors have said exactly that about my own books. "Mark Terry is a good writer and the story moves right along, but..."

And now, being hard-nosed, I look at my own shelves and wonder if I hadn't actually invested the money in the books, or if I were less obsessive-compulsive about finishing reading the books I start (something I am getting better--if that's the right word--about), whether I would have finished them. If, instead of buying them at a bookstore with real hard-earned dollar, I picked them up by the dozen at the library and decided if they didn't work for me in the first 20 or 50 pages, to drop them off.

At the same time, there are some authors whose books I'm sure I could be absolutely evangelical about as an agent even if they weren't necessarily obviously marketable.

I think I might be starting to get into an agent's head a little bit here.

8:48 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

Alas, most of the books I read are the sort no publisher has bought for about fifty years. I could never be an agent because I could only represent something I liked and almost invariably the books I like strike me as being unsellable today, at least if they were from new authors.

8:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thinking about my own reaction to the books I've read when I was querying agents (and my agent was submitting to editors) helped me a lot.

In the past year, a lot of the books I've picked up haven't worked for me. Unsympathetic characters or flat writing or the story wasn't engaging enough to hold my interest. A number of books I "liked but didn't love." (Gee, how many of us have heard that phrase from agents and editors?) A select few I loved, and if I were an agent, I would have offered representation to the author.

12:44 PM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

Gosh, I'd represent all of them. I just boxed up the rest of them for donation. :-)

Yeah, I know, total cop-out. I hope the bank thing was resolved today! Pleasantly!

8:27 PM  
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