Friday, March 03, 2006

Agents Who Write Books--A Conflict of Interest?

There are many agents and editors out in the market who are also authors. After all, they come to the publishing game because first and foremost they love books, then somewhere along the way—like many other writers before them—they keep pounding at their craft, and finally write a publishable book. A dream is realized! They’re gosh-golly-darn AN AUTHOR.

Since my own agent sold THE PARALLEL SERIES for me last year, I have been regularly asked if I perceive a conflict of interest between writing romance and representing authors in the genre. So after reading Miss Snark’s recent column on the topic, I thought I would speak to the issue. Miss Snark argues that an agent writing is directly in competition with her clients for limited slots; this viewpoint is predicated on a faulty analysis of how the publishing process works. For that matter, also on how the agenting business works. Let’s take a look.

Every publisher has slots that an agent can potentially slide books into. Are they finite? Yes. But are they equally fluid, i.e. are some authors being dropped, dying, moving, or going insane so that new slots—-even in a full list—-are perpetually coming available? Yes again. If Miss Snark’s hypothesis were correct, the publisher’s lists would not be fluid, but instead as recalcitrant as a slab of concrete solidified around a mobster's feet. And the situation would be every bit as hopeless for authors everywhere as it is for our drowning good fella’.

In that scenario, here’s how things would look: There would only be, say, 20 slots a year at the publishing house, and once they were filled, that would be that. In this model, it would be dang hard for agents to ever sell anyone, since all the slots would get gobbled up, leaving no more pie. We'd shop out new authors and hear, "Well, the publisher and editorial director loved this project, but unfortunately, we have ZERO slots here on the list through the year 2010."

The publishing terrain I work in every day is far more fluid, with opportunities ebbing and flowing as lists change, authors move or change genres, markets transform, and so on. It’s a constantly shifting climate, not an inflexible place where a set number of slots get swallowed up. That’s why I can happily keep so many agent friends—-because even we don’t view ourselves as being in competition with each other. We all recognize that opportunities abound to sell new authors, and there’s room for all of us. It’s no different for an agent who writes while representing authors. In fact, I’d even argue that having an agent who writes is a supreme benefit. For just one example, because of my own publicity efforts for my series, last fall I had an opportunity open up to arrange for several authors to attend a national bookselling conference. Had I not been spending the money myself, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity.

Back to this idea of a limited number of slots, some of which would be potentially seized by the agent-as-author. Here’s the main thing—I have never had a publisher turn down a book that everyone at the house wanted to buy. If they pass, it’s because someone in the chain of command doesn’t think the book will work at that house. Nor do authors miss sales opportunities because other of our clients—or me for that matter—took a piece of finite publishing pie. They reject books because they don’t think they’ll work on their list, or in the market, or because the writing isn’t great, or because they just don’t love it. But if I send an editor three fabulous books, and everyone at the house loves those three books, I will then sell all three. If that’s the case, how is it that an agent also writing “steals” a slice of pie out of a client’s mouth? (terrible analogy, but hey, maybe I’m NOT a writer after all! LOL!) The fact is that it doesn’t.

Having an agent who is also an author gives the client some wonderful benefits: great empathy for their pain, a different way of brainstorming ideas (I’ve personally titled a TON of my authors’ books just b/c I’m good with titles—if I weren’t a writer, I might not have been able to do that), an understanding of publicity. Contacts at media outlets and book chains etc. I can honestly say that I am a better agent today than I was a year ago when I made my first sale as an author. For instance, I now put stronger emphasis on what an author really has to do for publicity—after all, if I’ve spent my entire advance on publicity, I can fairly suggest that the author do so.

Some imagine that the agent’s work is being shopped, head to head with the various clients’ works when in fact the reality is far different: they find their publishing home and settle in to write the books. In other words, my agent isn't sending out new material day after day after day. I’m writing for NAL, delivering the books I’m contracted to write, end of story. And every day I'm shopping my clients' works. End of story.

Here’s some hard data, too, in terms of whether my books at NAL shut our clients out of potential opportunities. I’m published by NAL, sister company to Berkley. In the past year since landing there, we have sold the following to both NAL and Berkley:

Fiction:
Women's/Romance Maureen Child's DUSTING FOR DEMONS, in which a very unexpected birthday gift leaves a thirty-something single mom dealing with the chore of demon killing amongst her daily to-do list, to Rose Hilliard at NAL, in a nice deal, by Pamela Harty at The Knight Agency. Deidre.Knight@knightagency.net

12 January, 2006 Fiction:
Women's/Romance
Renee Luke's SWEET TREATS, a single-author anthology of three erotic love stories, to Tina Brown at NAL, in a nice deal, by Pamela Harty at The Knight Agency (world English).
Deidre.Knight@knightagency.net

8 July, 2005
Fiction: Women's/Romance
Nalini Singh's SLAVE TO SENSATION, about a young woman born to a race without emotions and her encounter with a group of sensual changelings, and a second untitled book, to Cindy Hwang at Berkley, in a nice deal, at auction, by Nephele Tempest of The Knight Agency (NA).
Nephele.Tempest@knightagency.net

28 June, 2005
Fiction: General/Other
Debrah Morris's ORPHANHOOD, a humorous 1955-era novel in which two young orphans set out on a road trip and find a new life, and a second untitled novel, in a nice deal, to Ellen Edwards at NAL, by Pamela Harty of The Knight Agency (NA). Deidre.Knight@knightagency.net

28 February, 2006
Non-fiction:
Religion/Spirituality
Don Piper and Cecil Murphey's 90 MINUTES FROM HEAVEN, a devotional follow up to the bestselling (more than 500,000 copies in print) 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN, to Denise Silvestro at Berkley, in a significant deal, in a three-book deal, by Deidre Knight at The Knight Agency (world).
Deidre.Knight@knightagency.net

24 January, 2006
Fiction: Women's/Romance
Jaci Burton's WILD, WICKED AND WANTON, an erotica novel about three best friends who make a bet and each wind up enjoying a life-altering weekend of sensual abandon, to Kate Seaver at Berkley for Heat, in a nice deal, in a two-book deal, by Deidre Knight at The Knight Agency.

8 April, 2005

Fiction:
Women's/Romance
Shelley Bradley's first two eroticas, one about a personal security specialist who lures his enemy's sister into a trap he's set for revenge -- only to find that his trap is a two-way street, and the second about the sexual lessons an idealistic ingenue seeks to learn at the hands of a brash ex-Special Forces soldier, to Louisa Edwards at Berkley, by Deidre Knight at The Knight Agency (NA). Deidre.Knight@knightagency.net


23 March, 2005
Fiction:
Women's/Romance
Chris Marie Green (AKA Crystal Green)'s VAMPIRE UNDERGROUND series, about a stuntwoman turned slayer as she searches for her missing father only to uncover an erotically charged vampire society that languishes below the streets of Los Angeles, to Ginjer Buchanan at Berkley, in a very nice deal, by Pamela Harty of The Knight Agency (NA).
Deidre.Knight@knightagency.net

9 February, 2005
Fiction: Women's/Romance
Shelley Bradley's STRIP SEARCH, about a CPA determined to avenge his past when he goes undercover as an exotic dancer in Vegas, working for a sexy Mafia Princess who may not be innocent in all the ways that matter, to Louisa Edwards at Berkley, by Deidre Knight at The Knight Agency (world English).
Deidre.Knight@knightagency.net


Nineteen books are represented by these deal announcements, including one significant deal for half a million dollars (illustrating very well that my ability to negotiate toughly has not been undercut at my own publishing house.) Not one of those editors said, “Wow, we’re all out of room because in February 2005 we acquired Deidre Knight’s romances.” Business went on as usual, book buying and selling went on as usual, and along the way my clients were serviced with the exact same level—if not better—of service they were accustomed to at TKA.

I think the above goes a long way toward illustrating my point. But let’s consider something else—-the argument that an agent will be selfishly pursuing her own interests to the detriment of her clients’ successes is built on another misconception—-that the agent isn’t equally vested in making commissions and building her agenting business.

I’m sure there are plenty of authors out there who would find it uncomfortable to sign with an agency where one of the principals is also writing; in fact, a client of mine fired me right away. A client, by the way, who I had stood with for about two years after she was dropped by her publisher, finally selling her in single title for the first time in her career. Loyalty is such an interesting thing in this business, isn’t it? Her words were that she wanted an agent “focused fully” on her career. Hmm, does this mean agents can’t have children? Read for pleasure? Agents should be machines, focusing only on their clients’ careers, not perhaps gardening or enjoying movies on weekends. So long as the agent is at the office, handling her workload, responding to emails, etc, she/he IS focused on that author’s career. But she’s got another 40 other clients she’s also focusing on, so it’s never a matter of doing so “fully.”

In the end, I think the real answer is to consider the ethics of the agent in question. I’m sure not all agents should write; some may have a decline in their job performance or get behind on reading or might shamelessly self-promote. There are always bad apples growing out in the orchard. But if you examine the fruit of that agent’s labors—have they been selling like mad (we’ve sold 43 titles already this year!), do they have an impeccable reputation, do their clients rave about them—you can easily reach the correct conclusion about the conflict of interest question.

Part of our mission at TKA is to give warm and encouraging support to each client; it’s also about helping make their dreams come true, and taking their careers to the heights writers dream about. Maybe it’s because of that nurturing, author-focused climate, which I have worked hard to create, to maintain, and to pass on as a vision to others, that I find Miss Snark’s column so frustrating.

Thanks, and I welcome all open discussion here.

Deidre

44 Comments:

Anonymous Maureen McGowan said...

Great post, Deidre with well thought out and clear arguments. You should be a debater, or a writer. ;-)

As a brand new client of your agency (yippee!) (Hey, we have the same agent. I have the same agent as Deidre Knight! Cool!) I'd be lying if this wasn't something I considered... I actually didn't submit to another agency because of this issue... But one has to look at the evidence in each situation and to me, the evidence proving this wasn't a problem at TKA was overwhelming:

The volume and variety of great sales your agency lands; the great author friendly atmosphere you've created via your website and this blog; and (most important to me) your agency's many very happy clients I've met (either in real life or on-line).

All of these things made me conclude that in the case of TKA, the fact that you are an author was so not a problem.

Can't wait to read your book!

Maureen

Friday, March 3, 2006 at 8:23:00 PM EST  
Anonymous pennyoz said...

I agree with you. In art school we had a saying...
"Those that can, do. Those that can't, teach."
Note the placement of the comma.
I have always wondered about the motives of some reviewers. And wanted to say "Okay, since you're so good at it, give me your book, and show me your kishkes too."
If I were an editor, and knew that the agent was also a writer, my gut instinct tells me that I'd think that this agent has an eye for a good yarn.
It's almost like saying a good Mercedez Benz sales person would never drive one. Just doesn't have any logic. Simple as that!

Friday, March 3, 2006 at 8:26:00 PM EST  
Blogger Shannon McKelden said...

It should be pointed out, also, that many EDITORS are also writers. Wonder what Miss Snark thinks of that?

Shannon - who is completely happy for your writing success and the fact that when I'm whining on your shoulder you HAVE to understand where I'm coming from. :-)

Friday, March 3, 2006 at 8:39:00 PM EST  
Blogger Jennette said...

Thanks for posting this! I like seeing your take. I have to admit, I've heard several authors say "agents should be agenting, not writing" and I thought it was odd - don't agents have a right to a life outside their day job too?

Friday, March 3, 2006 at 10:21:00 PM EST  
Blogger Deidre Knight said...

Maureen, Shannon, thanks for the client's perspective! Maureen, it's particularly helpful to read how YOU considered working with an agency where one of the agents also writes. And, heck yeah! We share an agent! A KILLER agent, at that!!

Penny and Jennette, thanks so much for posting. I'm really eager to hear from people on this particular blog because I've really held back on making this post until I could address the issue thoughtfully.

It's been an interesting year since we placed my series, too, in terms of the agency exploding to whole new levels, and that's been a perfect statement on what an absolute NON-issue my writing career truly is.

Well, ironically enough...off to write! :)
Deidre

Friday, March 3, 2006 at 10:26:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Jessica Madden said...

I think it depends on the angle. If you say, had written your book and then your sales dropped dramatically, I could see where a client would worry.

But you've put your money where your mouth is (so to speak) and it looks like your sales record is just as scarily fantastic as ever.

I think you're in the clear. *g*

Friday, March 3, 2006 at 10:33:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Maureen McGowan said...

You're welcome Deidre...

And to clarify, when I "considered it"... It was for about 10 seconds way back when I first submitted and wasn't in terms of conflict of interest at all. It was more, "Wow. When will she get the time to do everything that she does?"

It didn't take much (just taking a look at your website/blogs and a few searches on PM) to realize that it wouldn't be a problem, since aparently you were superwoman! (Well, very highly motivated and efficient, anyway...) Plus, I was impressed that you and your business partners were smart enough (and confident enough) to hire some great staff to support the agents, too.

Maureen

Saturday, March 4, 2006 at 3:50:00 AM EST  
Blogger Nonny said...

*applaud*

Miss Snark is dead-on in many of her colums, but not so much in others. I never quite got the "conflict of interest" (nor the "writing communities aren't helpful"); it's always seemed to me, just as you said, that having an agent who's also an author would only be more beneficial.

Thanks for posting this. :)

Saturday, March 4, 2006 at 7:37:00 AM EST  
Anonymous ButterflyLane said...

Maybe in some genres an agent who writes would be competing more, but in womens lit/romance/whatever there are so many different kinds of stories, so many different kinds of readers... yeah. I had a point, I think. Now I'm not so sure. Hang on, need more coffee.
*****
Okay, where was I? Oh yeah, maybe Miss Snark had a point about agents writing in some genres, but considering the sheer number of romance novels I own, I'd say that there is plenty of room out there for another great book. (Heck, I've read a fair number that I wouldn't even classify as good, and if they got published, I know there's room.)

Saturday, March 4, 2006 at 10:12:00 AM EST  
Blogger Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

I think this is an important issue and one that Deidre has addressed well. I, too, am repped by TKA, and have had none of the problems Miss Snark describes, nor do I expect to. I also don't begrudge anyone their right to write. After all, a NYTimes poll showed 81% of Americans say they have a book in them. That said, I can see where having an agent who writes can be problematic and have had sad personal experience with same.

Once upon a time, I had an agent, a very high-powered agent, who was also a writer. We'll call this person Agent X. Agent X's books were not in direct competition with mine, so there was no conflict of interest there. But here's where the problems did arise: Agent X went on tour promoting Agent X's own books/workshops at least one week out of every month; during those times Agent X was essentially out of reach. When Agent X was in the office, emails were not answered in a timely fashion. Agent X didn't get the work out. Agent X seemed to forget from one contact to the next what had been decided upon in terms of projects, edits, etc. Things would be promised and then not followed up upon. I could go on. Hell, I could write a book.

Here's the point: If your agent is a writing agent, whether that work directly competes with yours or not, if that person behaves like Agent X, your interests are not being properly served.

Here's the bigger point: In the time I've been with TKA, I've found everyone in the organization to be professional. My emails get answered in a timely fashion. My work gets out there. My work gets sold. I even get my hand held when I suffer one of my many crisises of self-faith. What's not to love?

Yes, having an agent who is a writer can be hugely problematic. But it needn't be. And TKA proves this. Every day.

Btw, my agent of record is Pamela Harty and I just love that woman to death.

Saturday, March 4, 2006 at 11:08:00 AM EST  
Blogger Patrick McNamara said...

While there may be agents and editors who are writers, there's also a large number of publishers who are writers. (Though many of those get into publishing to publish their own works.) It's all part of the same business. It's like actors who become directors, writers or producers.

Saturday, March 4, 2006 at 11:25:00 AM EST  
Anonymous Cindy Procter-King said...

Hey, Deidre, you don't have to convince me! I'll admit that when I first heard you'd sold, I wondered about the conflict of interest bit. But it only took one email from one of your clients to convince me that my conflict-of-interest concerns were unfounded and that you being a writer actually works IN YOUR CLIENTS' FAVOURS.

My advice is not to worry about it. If writers don't want to query you because you're also a writer, hey, so much the better for those of us who see the positives!

Cindy

Saturday, March 4, 2006 at 1:20:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Cindy Procter-King said...

Lauren,

Your story is so inspiring. I'm so glad things are going well for you now!

Speaking of Pamela Harty...I've attended TKA chats with both Deidre and Nephele Tempest, but I don't think I've seen one with Pamela before.... Did I miss it?

Hey, Deidre, can you convince Pamela to hold a chat? I have good impressions of our 2-second meeting in Reno (I don't expect her to remember, but it was at the Chicklit party and you introduced us). I'm sure I'm not the only TKA-client-wannabe out here who'd love the chance to get to know Pamela and her agenting tastes better. Everyone I know who has her an an agent just raves about her.

Cindy

Saturday, March 4, 2006 at 1:27:00 PM EST  
Blogger Jaci Burton said...

Deidre

When I signed on with TKA, you were already a contracted writer. You and I both write in the same genre, making us what I guess some would call 'competitors'.

Yet I never once felt in competition with you. When I work with you, you are my agent. When you and I are talking about me and my career, it never even occurs to me that you're a writer. You always have behaved as my agent, and when you're in the mode of my agent, we talk about my books, not your books. We talk about what's best for my career, not your career.

You have made some pheonmenal deals for me over the past 7 months. You are always there for me via email, telephone, whatever, in a timely and professional fashion. I feel I can come to you about anything and everything having to do with my career and it is handled by 'my agent', not by another competing writer.

But one of the really cool advantages is that I also look to you as a fellow writer. I am so incredibly lucky to have an agent who also has the empathy of a writer, who can feel the angst, the self-doubt, the nervousness...who knows all the questions a writer may ask because you're walking a mile in my shoes. What's not to love about that.

You are the utmost in professionalism and I thank my lucky stars for the day I was fortunate enough to be aligned with you and your organization.

Those who feel that TKA won't best serve their interests....too bad for them. Because in my opinion, they're missing out on one of THE top agencies out there.

You're the best, D! Thank you so much for what you've done for me. And I hope you hit the bestseller lists with PA!

Saturday, March 4, 2006 at 2:02:00 PM EST  
Blogger Natalie Damschroder said...

Over the years, a wide variety of details have convinced me that TKA is the agency that would be my best fit. I've gotten defensive at times on behalf of TKA when discussion turned to negative perceptions on things like this and not being in NY.

But after reading Miss Snark's blog and seeing the comments, I have a different perspective. Let all those judgmental wannabes think what they want! Then they won't be submitting and wasting the agents' and staff's time, freeing it up for client advocation, writing, and searching for golden nuggets in the submissions by mature, intelligent, non-judgmental writers! :)

Saturday, March 4, 2006 at 2:05:00 PM EST  
Blogger Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

From upthread, thanks for the kind words, Cindy. :)

Saturday, March 4, 2006 at 3:14:00 PM EST  
Anonymous pennyoz said...

This basically is a debate about ISM.
In this case professionalism.

In my experience people who earn a living in the same industry in which they also participate as, let's call it "the artists", take a great deal of care not to let the two conflict.

IF you take a quote and slip it into context here just use this one:
"Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done."
In other words, the Agent who writes will probably, in fact, be working overtime to make sure that any slur on "conflict of interest" cannot be put at their doormat. Same goes for editors who write and publishers who write. Often even not publishing in their own houses for fear of being judged as taking advantage, which would be a horrible slur to live with - and deny them artistic integrity.

I feel sorry for people who could be stuck in an industry and not feel the right to participate in it as an artist if that is their inclination. Fancy being a lit agent and not being allowed to write the story that is bursting inside you for escape, simply because it's just "not the done thing". And who knows... Maybe there are a few people that might have a secret life just like Clark Kent did because they feel that they may rock a boat they don't want to.

I wonder whether there isn't a certain amount of envy creeping into the yes debate. For instance, it absolutely drives me bonker bananas when I see a celebrity turn out a book. In fact at the moment I often joke that its easy to get published. All you have to do is become famous and you can get yourself published! But publishers are businesses. And names sell. I feel sorry for a lot of the nonenities that have probably ghost written a good deal of them and bemoaned the fact that there but for the grace of God, goes their own book...

Maybe the conflict of interest is a way of saying "wish I could too".

What I really am saying I guess is that a good agent is a good agent, a bad agent is a bad agent, whether they write is irrelevant.
Bad agents don't keep good writers. Publishers are not stupid and eventually a bad agency will implode on itself and fall into the black hole.
I'm surprised this is even a debate!

Saturday, March 4, 2006 at 7:31:00 PM EST  
Blogger Judson Knight said...

Well, naturally I was the very first person to read this particular post, and at the time I wanted to comment but thought I would let some other folks do so before I--Deidre's husband--added my own rah rah's. Obviously, I wasn't the only reader who agreed with her. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, everybody!

Not only as her husband but also as her partner in The Knight Agency, I have a vested interest in saying that Deidre's writing constitutes nothing but an advantage to our clients. But I also possess a unique perspective, and I know that it's not in Deidre's nature to treat her challenges as somebody else's problem. (That's one of many, many things I love about you, hon!)

Saturday, March 4, 2006 at 9:00:00 PM EST  
Blogger Mel Francis said...

Here's how I look at it...many of us writers have a "day" job to pay the bills while we pursue our passion of writing. Many of us are lucky enough to have two passions...our day job and our writing--like my friend Maria. She's a Labor and Delivery nurse and loves her job. Loves it. She's also a damned good writer and loves that. Deidre has two passions...her day job: agenting; and her writing.

Like Jaci, Deidre was already a contracted writer when I signed with TKA and I never gave it a second thought. Generally, I think Miss Snark is dead on in her analysis and her advice, but this time, she was dead wrong. ISTM that TKA's (and Deidre's) outstanding reputations and history with their clients should silence this debate without question.

Saturday, March 4, 2006 at 9:43:00 PM EST  
Blogger Deidre Knight said...

Just made a lovely post, answering so many of my FABULOUS clients and friends here, and blogger ate it. Sigh. I'll try again tomorrow! But the main gist of it was THANK YOU. Hugs to all

Saturday, March 4, 2006 at 11:17:00 PM EST  
Blogger Maura said...

I am not currently repped by TKA, though I hope to change this in the future (feel free to let me know what kind of chocolates to attach to my submission to be sure it's opened promptly).

I believe that my agent and I have an business arrangement between us and we each have a job to do. My agent's job is to try to sell my work and assist me in whatever manner we both think is mutually workable.

The only time I would think there would be a problem would be if my agent - for any reason - didn't have the time necessariy to adequately fulfill their job. But my expectation would be that since we are both professionals, the agent would TELL me that something was interfering and we would come to so other agreement or simply agree to part ways.

It sounds to me like there have been people burnt perhaps by agents who did not have the time to fulfill their end of an agreement and didn't work that out with their client authors. I would definitely have issues with someone who was unable to approach me professionally and tell me that they were now devoting one quarter of each month to promoting their own book and ask if I was okay to continue our relationship with that in mind.

The same thing would apply to me - if I had things come up or was suddenly traveling for my day job and it was possible that it would make me unavailable or slow to fulfill my part of our business agreement, I need to have the professional courtesy to inform my agent of such and make sure we can work it out.

As far as taking business away from their client authors.... I don't believe that any agent can write enough books to take up a possible slot for me. Unless my agent took MY work and put her name on it or took an idea that I floated by and quickly pounded out a book before I could and got it submitted first, I can't see a problem.

I like that TKA has agents who are also authors. You understand the bouts of "suckitis." You understand the neuroses of needing news on what's going on. You "get" it. That's really valuable, honestly. Especially for a newbie author like me who still needs some guidance on things that will later become more of a routine.

My technical agent is also a non-fiction author and he was great when I needed to run a few things by him!

Keep on writing! I'm looking forward to the book - already pre-ordered!

(before anyone thinks I'm too much of a ditz, the chocolate offer was meant as a joke - I think my work can stand on its own. Unless it's requested, of course. "Please send a full + 2lbs of Godiva dark chocolate.")

Saturday, March 4, 2006 at 11:33:00 PM EST  
Blogger Maura said...

P.S. Don't try to type long messages with a four year old's assistance. Sorry for the typos.

Saturday, March 4, 2006 at 11:34:00 PM EST  
Anonymous pennyoz said...

Maura you're supposed to have typos on the internet - otherwise you look anal.
:-)

Sunday, March 5, 2006 at 1:09:00 AM EST  
Blogger Bernita said...

Well said, Deidre, and thank you.
A subject that needed to be explored beyond the superficial.
I must say though, that it smarts a little to receive a promo for an agent's book, after the agent has turned you down, however kindly and courteously.
No matter how well one understands it's just business.

Sunday, March 5, 2006 at 10:27:00 AM EST  
Blogger Deidre Knight said...

One thing that occurs to me after reading some of your posts, which would indicate that there could be a feeling that as an agent, it was easier for me to publish (using the celebrity idea that Penny mentioned)...some probably think it was easy for me to publish. What they don't know is that I've been rejected by every house in NY! Grin. Pamela shopped a first novel before this series, and although many loved it, nobody bought it. And this series was rejected by a number of places too. What it reinforces is what I always, always tell our clients: You just need ONE house to fall in love with your work. That's it. Then the readers decide.

Within RWA professional jealousy is a huge issue. Backbiting, gossiping, unhealthy competition... as much as I think it's a great organization, it also proves a breeding ground for a lot of unhealthy attitudes. An author's success depends ultimately on one thing--their determination. You can argue that talent, having a great agent, the market etc are all factors and they absolutely are, but it all begins with the author.

But for many, seeing one person's success as stealing their own opportunity is a permanent way of thinking. I'm not sure it's not bred into them along the gossip chains within RWA. Whoa. That may get me flamed, but I stand by it.

Take the poster on Miss Snark who said, "It's bad enough that I have to compete with other authors, I don't want to compete with my agent." I'll refer back to my original post--any author's success on my list does not therefore detract from another's. Great books will always find homes. And if any writer stays at it long enough, with enough determination and willpower to improve, I think they have a fair and equal shot at success as the next author. That's just my own agent philosophy and always has been.

Thoughts?

Sunday, March 5, 2006 at 11:47:00 AM EST  
Anonymous Kris Y said...

Thank you so much for shedding light on this topic. Although I can't speak for all un-agented writers, I must say that I tend to listen to what Miss Snark has to say, even if it's done behind a guise. She seems to answer questions that seem so out of reach to those of us who are so far from the publishing world. I've heard nasty stories about a particular agent who is also an author (probably Agent X as mentioned above,) and I have to be honest that before reading this post, I may not have considered an agent that was a writer. Be it blindness, lack of judgment, or listening to a particular agent that wishes to remain anonymous, querying an actively writing agent just didn't sound like a good idea. You've changed my mind, Ms. Knight.

Your time here at the blog is much appreciated, even for those of us who aren't your clients.

Sunday, March 5, 2006 at 3:21:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Cindy Procter-King said...

I tend to look at writers who sell as people I *no longer have to compete with*. :) Phew! Once you've sold, you're competing with all the other published authors already out there, not the unpubbed or epubbed. So I don't understand the thinking that when someone sells, it's stealing a potential slot from me. If it were my slot for the taking, I would already have it, no?

I think some writers "blame" just-sold writers for taking their potential slots because it's easier than looking at the reasons why they themselves might not be selling. I'm a strong believer in what I call TPT--Talent, Persistence and Timing. Tons of us out here in unpubbed/epubbed land are in fact talented writers, and no one's denying us that. But if you don't persist and if the timing doesn't work in your favour(lines closing, trend you love to write is on the down-swing, every editor you ever submit to quits or is fired or goes on mat leave 2 days after your requested manuscript arrives in her office), then naturally it's a lot harder to sell. The only thing that makes sense is to keep on keepin' on. Blaming others or the industry is easy, because it takes responsibility away from ourselves.

Cindy

Sunday, March 5, 2006 at 3:36:00 PM EST  
Blogger Deidre Knight said...

Kris Y,
Thanks for the honest remarks. I should point out that we’re all fans of Miss Snark here at TKA, and I think most of us read her blog with steady regularity. That said, opinions from anyone in this business are always subjective—every agent has their own unique outlook, their thoughts on what’s selling or what isn’t, just as editors and publishers have their individual philosophies. I don’t think any one’s opinion should be interpreted as pure gospel.

On this particular issue, obviously my opinion and Miss Snark's diverged (and I have disagreed with other of her postings, most recently about agent agreements, perhaps I'll tackle that next). Nor do I think I'm an "ICKY" agent because I write. Our agency reptuation speaks for itself out in the marketplace. But that, too, is my own opinion, just as Miss Snark has hers--you're going to find that there's a diversity of opinion out in the pub market.

TKA fires my passion and dreams—more so with every passing year—and I can’t imagine shortchanging my clients or TKA because of my writing, not when I’m so passionate about agenting. I meant to share in the original blog entry that our sales last year were up 38% over those in 2004 (which had been a wonderful year too!) I find it interesting that we sold my series the first of February, so in a year where I was a “publishing” author, we increased our sales that dynamically. This year, man, we’re already off the charts, having placed the 43 titles I mentioned in the original blog post.

Cindy, as for authors blaming those who sell for taking a slot, I think that’s probably a lot easier than taking a long, hard look at themselves. After all, which feels easier: To point a finger of blame at someone else or honestly look at your own burning envy?

Thanks for all the great posts!

Sunday, March 5, 2006 at 4:05:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Pennyoz said...

Today I have a very sore forefinger. I am typing on a handicap. I have a hound dog (silkie terrorist) who has his own manual on Dogs Behaving Badly. He loves me but instead of biting the burglar he bites me to warn me. He is inbred and neurotic and (really!) his father's kennel name was Elton John... his mother's (I kid you not) was Gypsy Rose Lee. So it's laboriously slow getting this out.

Publisher slots. Pardon?

(1)Luck. Big part of it. Right person. Right time. Right need.

(2)Persistence. Big part of it. Editors change once a fortnight - gross exagg but you know what I mean. Or Murdoch likes the list so much he buys the company. New policy. New list. So yesterday's cream is suddenly today's sour cream. And some empire builder comes in with a new broom and sweeps out the old list (the good with the bad) ready to flex muscle and prove themselves worthy of this new power they have... Different tastes. New ideas. You have no idea all this is going on behind the scenes. You just stumble in at the wrong time, or the right time. Your rejection or acceptance could swing on a wisp in the wind... you lurch in abject misery or woop around in seventh heaven totally unaware how close you came to the precipice - which is why you need an agent who is in on the industry gos or in a network that has the gos.

Talent: Major dose. You have this and the slot principle doesn't exist. But it also needs the persist factor and the luck factor to land in the right target, which is why you need the agent.

It drives me nuts when I see authors forgetting the basic fact that a publisher is not a committee sitting handing out fat grants for your submission on "THOUGHTS ON CHAIRMAN MAO FROM A SURFBOARD". They are businesses with bottom lines. They breed on good stories. They sell books. They sniff a good book they want it. Might not be the same publisher you had envisaged for yourself, but that's why you need an agent.

In actual fact Deidre, it wouldn't surprise me if it's just a little harder to sell YOUR m/s because you are under a bigger microscope if you see what I mean. If you were Madonna or Joan Collins or Oprah Winfrey then you are more famous than fame itself so that is different. But in your case the average reader would not know who you were other than a name on a book... but in the industry people would be looking at your stuff a little bit closer than normal - don't you think? So I say good on you!

I came across a great quote the other day. Attributed to Isaac Newton, but it applies to writing and the need to persist, to find luck, and to believe in yourself for long enough to keep inflicting this self imposed masochism:

"Ouch!"

Sunday, March 5, 2006 at 5:40:00 PM EST  
Blogger Jordan Summers said...

I'm actually glad you brought this subject up. My friends and I have had this particular conversation on many occasions without being able to come up with a satisfactory conclusion. It keeps circling like a merry-go-round year after year.

I think most people go into this business blind. You learn from your experiences and from the organizations you choose to join. I know when I first joined RWA there were a few 'rules' that you needed to follow with agents. If I remember correctly, they were never sign with an agent outside of NY, don't sign with an agent who writes, and don't pay more than 15%. LOL! Obviously, a few of these things are out of date. With the internet comes accessibility. :-)

In the end, I think you need someone who gets your writing, who's looking out for your best interest, someone who doesn't want the rights to your books for the life of the copyright, and someone who understands the business. Geographical location and outside interests shouldn't matter as long as the above is being met.

Thanks for taking the time to post this so we can finally put the subject to rest.

Sunday, March 5, 2006 at 6:58:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diana Peterfreund said...

Great post, Deidre!

My story (for the readers): I signed with TKA right after Deidre announced her sale. It was so early that I didn't yet know where the pieces were going to fall. I'd been trying to snare Deidre for a while (over a year, right, DK?) and I was really worried that this development was going to screw up my chances. In fact, the very day she offered me representation, she'd blogged that she only had room for "one more client." ACK. But this time around, I made her an offer (read: offered her a project) she couldn't refuse. :-)

Of course, now, looking back on it, my fears seem hilarious. A week after I signed with her, she ran a six way auction on my partial and netted me a six-figure deal. I think her concentration was in the right place.

In the past year, I get a lot of questions from potential clients of TKA about how it works with Deidre as a writer. I always say the same thing: Sometimes, I have to remind myself that she is a writer. When we talk, it's about *my* books, about *my* career. If we talk about her books, it's only because I asked. "How's it going with your writing?" "Is your website up yet?" Etc. I feel like that's "socializing" time, same as if I was asking her about her kids or her latest shoe shopping spree (except, more personally interesting to me, because I'm in teh same industry). It's not cutting into her agenting of me. And that's what matters. 2005 was the agency's most successful year yet, so it doesn't appear to be a detriment.

My thoughts are, if it doesn't affect the agent-client process, she can be a writer, a professional skeet shooter, whatever.

Sunday, March 5, 2006 at 7:25:00 PM EST  
Blogger Kate Pearce said...

Okay, you might have a head start in knowing exactly who to send your book to among the publishing houses-but you obviously wrote a darn good book Deidre-publishers are there to make money aren't they? You wrote the good book-you deserve the same chance as any one else.

Monday, March 6, 2006 at 1:12:00 AM EST  
Blogger Pamela Harty said...

Excellent post, Deidre. Just a few comments from your agent.

Deidre is a dream client. She is incredibly talented, wrote a fabulous and creative proposal which she turned into an even more fabulous and creative manuscript. I have every reason to believe it will be a huge seller. hmmmm......

Not once during her personal publishing journey in these past 12 months have I seen any conflict with her clients.

I have worked with Deidre for 5 years and have know her for over 40. She is one of the most principled people I know and has an immpeccable work ethic. Period.

She and I both have an entirely new perspective on the author's journey. We got alot of NOs before we got our YES, and I now have an even greater empathy for my clients as we go through the submission process. I learned alot that I can share with them. We both did.

There are some bad agents out there and maybe even some who are published authors, but it all comes down to professionalism.

I often agree with Miss Snark but not this time.

I need to do a chat. Look for a time and date to be posted.

Monday, March 6, 2006 at 1:10:00 PM EST  
Blogger Monica Burns said...

Deidre,

As one of your "yet to be sold clients," here's my perspective.

1. I had you on my A-list from the beginning. Why? REPUTATION. When we talked representation, and you told me you had just sold to NAL, we talked about it, and your up front manner in a single email was all it took to reassure me you would be behind me all the way to a sale. I've done a lot of stupid things in my life. Not signing with you would have been the mother of mother lodes of stupidity. Thank God I have a brain and actually use it on occasion. *grin*

2. IMHO, an agent who is pumped up about my writing is exactly what will improve the odds of me selling. I've done sales work. The more you love and believe in a product, the more apt you are to sell and sell big. You love my work, plain and simple. Your encouragement and support are as important to me as making a sale. Especially for the moments when I'm questioning my ability as a writer. I'd be crazy to give that up.

3. Integrity, trust, honesty and open, frank discussion is critical for me. You have demonstrated all of these qualities with me in spades.

Trust, especially, doesn't come easily to me. So I'm not likely to take advice or counsel from people who cloak their identity, no matter how useful the info might be. I'm sure Miss Snark has her reasons to hide her identity, but for me personally, I need people to be up front and forthright in their dealings with me. That I can count on with you.

As my husband says, "yeah my wife wears the pants in the family, but she's an erotic romance writer and I'm happy."

So I say, "yeah, Deidre Knight is a published author, but she's a terrific agent, she my agent and I'm happy."

Monica

Monday, March 6, 2006 at 1:26:00 PM EST  
Blogger MariaGeraci said...

Wow! Your sales record is very impressive, D, Congratulations!

Your blog is one of the most informative and entertaining in the industry. I've never seen another agent toot their client's horns as loudly as you do. IMO, actions speak louder than words. And your actions reveal you as one of the most successful and hardworking agents in the business.

Monday, March 6, 2006 at 2:19:00 PM EST  
Anonymous kathie said...

Wow, you've got one hell of a schedule. I think some people need a creative aspect to their day and in nurturing that she can do a better job all around. I'm sure your clients are very happy with your work! Congrats on the book deals...yours, I mean.

Monday, March 6, 2006 at 3:46:00 PM EST  
Blogger Natalie Damschroder said...

There was one comment buried way back (and I'm so late on this comment, probably no one will see it. :) ) about RWA being a breeding ground for unhealthy attitudes.

I have to say, I think that's not true. RWA as an organization does not provide anything but a forum for people who ALREADY have unhealthy attitudes. I see more positive than negative within the organization, and plenty of the same backbiting and bitterness from authors who write in other genres, too. RWA's programs (mainly Internet associated) just make it more accessible.

Monday, March 6, 2006 at 4:02:00 PM EST  
Blogger Deidre Knight said...

I'd reply to all these fine posts, but I'm currently on a 538 city author tour and unavailable to respond. :)

Ahem, seriously, first off--Natalie! You're up first b/c you posted last, and because you were actually replying to me. I'm the one who tends to think that RWA is a breeding ground for bad belief systems (not attitudes, necessarily.) I've just seen it happen over the years, the way certain opinions circle around, become "Holy Writ" and this would be a prime example, i.e. "Don't have an agent who writes."

"Don't have an agent outside NYC."

Whatever other commandment that gets translated into common currency. Part and parcel with that, at least to me, is that it does tend to allow some attitudes of jealousy and so forth to fester. I'm not bigtime active in other organizations, but it seems more pointed in RWA. But maybe you're right--maybe it's just people who already have bad attitudes spreading their love. Quite possibly I haven't been looking at it just the right way.

BUT, I should go on record here as saying that I love RWA. Love it. For one thing, the level of professionalism in the authors who approach us and are affiliated with the organization is amazing. Another, because it also shines as a great example of how fellow authors can support and lift one another up. There are down sides to all formally organized groups.

Pamela Harty, my wonderful agent, sister, and best friend...thanks for going on record to speak up for my integrity. I LOVE YOU!

Monica, thanks for the great post. These wonderful testimonies from my clients are MUCH appreciated.

Maria, thanks for the compliments on our agency and the sales. I'm thinking maybe even a year's look at all the deals we've posted, period, not just within Penguin Putnam might be a great idea.

What do y'all think? Kind of an interesting survey look at what's happened in a year's time and since I sold the books.

Hugs, D

Monday, March 6, 2006 at 4:10:00 PM EST  
Blogger Cai Stephan said...

Having read your book, I am certainly glad you are writing. I have heard writers wonder why editors and agents write, certainly. However, the ones who seem to do the most worrying about it are the unpubbed. And not all of them worry. Some of us see benefits such as you have listed here. I doubt that your being an agent sold your book.

Like any writer, you had to write a good story, right?

It is like saying that a mother can't be a wife and work as well. She has to choose one and stick to it. To hell with that. Be everything you can be! Add author to your name and keep on keeping on! And for goodness sake, don't stop writing! :-)

Tuesday, March 7, 2006 at 10:43:00 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hope I'm not weighing in too late here. Forgive my anonymous post. While I want to share my story and experience, I also believe in good karma and don't want to bad mouth my former agent.

I was with an agent for two years. This agent was also a writer. She had many, many book deals in the genre I'm targeting. When I signed, I was promised not only her expertise as a critique partner, but her connections to her editors. I got neither.

Now, while you still have to produce manuscripts that the editors want, I thought her connections would at least get my manuscripts read in a timely manner. My response times were anywhere from 4 months to a year. A YEAR for an agented submission.

In the meantime, whenever we'd talk, it was always about HER writing. HER contracts. How much money SHE was making. How such-and-such publisher gave her another deal. How this editor called saying they were starting a YA line and did she have any clients. Yeah...herself. She pitched herself over all her clients and SHE got the book deal. Never told the clients about it until after the fact.

When I would call asking for the comments that were promised me on my manuscript, there would always be reasons -- HER deadlines, HER line edits, HER book tour. And every example of how I should "fix" something was always, "well, in my book, NAME OF BOOK, I did this..."

This really left a sour taste in my mouth, not only because she was putting herself ahead of the clients, but she was getting book deals in the genre I was targeting, she was pitching herself over me (and other clients) and she never gave me the time I felt I deserved as a client. It was a bit of a bait and switch, in my opinion, for signing me, yet not getting what was promised.

Needless to say, I left this agency. And I found a WONDERFUL agency that not only gets me and my writing, but they put me first (or make me feel that way) any time we correspond. Even though I've gotten rejections, my response time has been amazing and the feedback thorough and helpful. And, this new agent writes as well. I would never know it, though, because never ONCE has she talked about herself or put her writing ahead of mine. In fact, I forget that she's a writer until someone else reminds me of her books.

So, see, that first agent really DOES give agents who write a bad name because she couldn't remove herself and her writing from representing her clients and getting THEM sold. My new agent DOES. It's just a matter of finding what's right for you and what works for you and your agent.

There are agents like Deidre Knight, quite the stellar agent, I hear, who can do it and do it well. Other agents could take a page from her book.

Thanks.

Friday, March 10, 2006 at 9:43:00 AM EST  
Blogger Deidre Knight said...

Cai, what a wonderful comment. Thank you! :)
Deidre

Saturday, March 11, 2006 at 12:13:00 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd rather enjoy having an agent who has one foot in an author moccasin. :-)

And I like hearing about a fluid, expanding, non-competitive universe where any good book eventually finds its home. But ... what about the frequently-heard wisdom that "A rejection may mean just that the timing was wrong, they had just bought something similar"? And what about when a genre is shrinking?

Sunday, March 12, 2006 at 7:12:00 PM EST  
Blogger Deidre Knight said...

Hmm, anonymous, sounds like you're quoting me.

First of all, I've never actually mentioned this during this discussion, but I did not shop this series as a romance. I shoppped it as paranormal women's fiction or sci-fi. I thought it would go to someone like Del Rey. Know what? I don't have a single sci-fi author on my list. Not pure sci-fi/women's fiction. I thought, when I created this series, that it would be sold in a different genre. However, when NAL stepped up to the plate, they felt that although it's not a traditional romance--recurring characters, ongoing world (I still don't really think it's a standard romance myself), that it was the best place the books could fit in the market. I had thought that they'd put the books on the Roc or Ace list. Not so. The heavy sensuality, to them, qualified it as a romance. It's always hard to say how these things will go.

So now let's look at scifi romance and our agency's list. I do not have a single sci-fi romance author that I rep. Gena Showalter comes close, but her books are paranormals and urban fantasies. Not sci-fi.

Would I still shop a sci-fi romance author to my home publisher of NAL? Absolutely. In fact, I'd argue that if my books do well in an incredible difficult genre (until recently, nobody would pub sci-fi romance apart from Dorchester), then it will open the way for MORE books like this. It's not like I've gobbled up a small slot for alien romance in anotherwise saturated market. This was something "out there" and differnet, my own thing, and we didn't have any authors even writing something close to it.

So that's my take on that. Further, if you read this original post, anonymous, it was all about how many books we've considered selling to both NAL/Berkley, so it can hardly be argued that I took some slot in a market and nobody from TKA has been sold there again.

Monday, March 13, 2006 at 12:26:00 PM EST  
Blogger Gena Showalter said...

As someone who also writes alien romance, here’s my take: When Deidre told me she was writing a book with aliens, I did not have a single moment of upset. Why? Because I had already sold mine – nope. Because I was secure in my publishing house standing – nope again. One, I was due for another contract. Two, I only had a few books out so I didn’t have concrete numbers to give me job security (so to speak). I was happy for her (and still am) because she is, at heart, a writer and *every* writer deserves a chance to tell and sell their story. Isn’t that what everyone here wants for themself? The chance to sell? Deidre’s an agent – so the hell what. That does not mean she is forbidden from living her dream.

Do I fear that she'll snag the editor I want and there will be no room for me? No! If an editor likes my work, that editor will find a place for me.

Do I fear people will buy her alien romance and decide not to buy mine? No! When I go into a bookstore, I buy the authors I love to read. I don’t shelve the JR Ward because I’m already holding a vampire book. Each author has their own voice, their own spin, and it makes a new and different read.

Hands down, Deidre wrote a kick ass book. *That’s* why it sold.

Monday, March 13, 2006 at 3:05:00 PM EST  

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