So first things first: we still have a hold on queries, I’m sorry to say. We are working through so many good ones and slowly catching up and requesting material, but we need some more time before we can open things up again.
And here’s a new post about age vs beauty, or, what an older agent knows that can hurt you.
As I have started out on my own, inevitably it has brought up memories of the last time I went out on my own. I was 26, and I was working for an agent who was reluctant to let me represent my own titles. Since like most twenty-somethings I was ambitious and impatient, I decided to go work for an agency which did not pay me a salary but let me have a desk and a computer in exchange for keeping a portion of the money I earned.
–I interrupt myself here to say that I am so grateful to everyone who helped me get to that point and beyond, people like Nina Graybill, Elaine English, Michael Cader, and Raphael Sagalyn—
I hate to admit it, but I really had very little clue of what I was doing. I did have a number of people who helped me, particularly Howard Yoon, another D.C. agent. And I learned as I went. But what I didn’t have in knowledge and experience I made up for with boundless enthusiasm, determination and really almost desperation, since I had a mortgage to pay and no other resources available. I worked my a** off. And here’s the other cool thing about those days, and really the whole point of this post: I had no idea what I couldn’t do. Short story collection? Sure, why not? And I did sell a few of them for clients that I still represent. Incredibly moving and very dark memoir about mental illness (in a time when memoirs were just impossible)? Absolutely. And again, I still represent that author. Self-help books by people with very few mainstream credentials? Hell, yeah. My first six-figure deal fell into that category. And it continues to sell very nicely.
So flash forward to right now. I have an extensive client list, lots of great contacts, and I have learned so much. My knowledge has absolutely made me a better agent. In fact, as I look back on my twenty-something self and how I negotiated, etc., I am really grateful to so many editors who didn’t make me feel like the idiot I so often was. (Interesting tidbit: most of the editors who were jerks to me back then are out of the business. And the ones who were nice are now giants: Jonathan Karp, Jordan Pavlin, Geoff Kloske, Laurie Chittenden to name just a few off the top of my head.)
But as I have gained, I have also lost. I feel just as enthusiastic as I ever did (I just remembered another shout-out: Hillel Black. Hillel was great to me back then and I will always admire Hillel for his boundless enthusiasm and joy for what we do in publishing. At this point Hillel has as many years in the business as anyone out there and he is still so excited by what he does every day.) but in some ways I know too much. I know what kinds of books are supposed to be successful and what aren’t. So in terms of what I choose to represent, I have to balance conventional wisdom with trusting my instincts and my passion. I have to be on guard that I don’t turn down a project that’s about, say, peaches, for the silly reason that I tried to sell a different book about peaches and couldn’t do it. Or because everyone is saying that books about peaches don’t work.
So I guess what I’m saying is that as a writer, when you’re searching for an agent, keep in mind that a younger agent may be more open-minded than the old folks. They’re certainly hungrier and often more energetic. And if they don’t know that they aren’t supposed to be able to sell your work, chances are that they probably will. Here I’ll do a shout out to Holly Root at Waxman and Victoria Horn at Liza Dawson who are two agents building their lists and who are as smart and savvy as any agent I know–much much smarter than I was at a similar stage in my career.
And as for me? I’m feeling inspired by that younger, clueless me. I’m keeping myself open to the possibilities and remembering the days when I had no idea what my limitations were.
P.S. Terry Bain, I’m assuming you will provide hyperlinks? I still don’t know how.