Friday, December 11, 2009

Agent Appreciation Day: Why They Should Say "I Love You" on the first date

So, 60% of agents rejected SHIVER.

Last week or this week or sometime that was days ago but not yesterday, someone asked me about my agent fetching process and getting rejected with SHIVER. And I promised to blog about it. Then I found out that today is Agent Appreciation Day and thought, heh, I will time the post with that! It will look Purposeful.

Here is me, being purposeful. The reason I got asked about getting rejected with SHIVER is because Kristin Nelson blogged about rejecting me, here and here.

She's not the only one. When I sent out my queries about SHIVER, I sent to about ten agents. I only had fifty pages of SHIVER done, because I was actually querying about an agent to negotiate the deal for my as-of-yet-unwritten sequel to LAMENT that Flux had asked for. I already had LAMENT under contract, I had a publisher offer on the table, and I had another manuscript in the works. I at least got immediate responses from all of the agents. In a few weeks, I had four agent offers.

But that also means I got six rejections.

And not once did I resent any of them. In fact, I was glad for them. Kristin, for example, debated for a long time whether she wanted to take me on, and finally explained why she didn't, and I sent her a grateful e-mail.

I already know that there are some unagented writers in the audience who are wiggling furiously in their seats right now, unable to believe a) that an agent wouldn't just snatch up a guaranteed sale and b) that I am being so nonchalant about my rejections.

But hear me out. If an agent's job was just to look over your contracts, then yes, those agents were idiots for not offering on an offer on the table. But that is such a small part of an agent's job. They also negotiate sales, sail the seas of foreign rights, field book cover questions, talk career strategy, coach authors in marketing, publicity, blogging . . . a good agent is not a broker. She's a business partner.

Then there's the matter of passion. This is a hard business to get into, and quality is subjective. So let's say one of those six agents who didn't feel the SHIVER love took me on, knowing they could sell it to somebody for something. That attitude would've gotten SHIVER sold -- but not in a handful of weeks, and not at auction. It takes an agent who is in love with it to convince editors of its worth. And then that old saying: "it's worth what you pay for it?" Not all books that get bought for a lot of money get a lot of house-love, and house-love doesn't always follow money . . . but they generally go hand in hand. So it goes like this:

agentLOVE --> editorLOVE --> houseLOVE --> sales/ marketingLOVE --> librarian/booksellerLOVE

It all starts with your agent and explodes from there. So if you start with an agent who finds your book salable but not incredible, that whole equation starts smaller and ends smaller.

So if you take away nothing from this post, take away this: a good agent is not always a good agent for you. An agent that can sell your book is not always a good agent for you. An agent is your champion. He/she needs to love your work. Love. Not like. Not find it commercially viable.

In the end, I had four agent offers. Well, five really. Because one agent offered to take me on without reading my book. I don't really count that as a real offer. How could she know what I wanted out of my career? How could she even know if she could effectively sell my next book? How could she know if she even wanted to? That's like meeting someone once in a chat room and saying you want to have their babies. SKETCHY. This is a business, yes, but it's creative business. These are not real estate agents -- they have to love what they do.

Which brings me to my agent, Laura Rennert of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. From the moment we spoke on the phone, I knew I wanted to sign with her. She loved all of my writing and she was excited about my future book plans. She was passionate, articulate, and incredibly organized. The agency structure was fabulous (I really like to know what to expect as far as communications and she laid that all out) and she had a lot of sales in my genre. And she had read my book and said "I love you" on the first date. And now, two years later, I still find her incredible, life-saving, and smart. She's also still incredibly excited and passionate about my writing. I would not want to navigate this insane business without her.

So, in spirit of Agent Appreciation Day, thank you, Laura, for helping me to do what I love for a living and for, ultimately, being the most passionate advocate I could ever hope for.

And thank you, again, every agent that rejected me because you knew you didn't love my work enough to be right for the job.


Deborah Paris said...

Great post, Maggie. I'm a professional artist, not a writer, but I have a similar rule about galleries. If I don't think they really love the work and believe in me and my career, I don't go there. Sure, they need to have the right collector base to sell it along with the LOVE. But, they have to have the LOVE.

Frankie Diane Mallis said...

Great post Maggie. I remembered seeing the first Kristin blog and thinking I wonder if that's about Shiver. Anyway great advice and a good thing to remember for those of us about to search for agents!

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Yes, Deborah! I really believe that's true for galleries too!

And thanks, Frankie!

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