Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Agent Who Knew Too Much

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.

Monday, April 20, 2009

ALERT: A Temporary Hold on Queries

As of right now, the queries@thebentagency in-box is completely full and if you send e-mail you will receive an error message. I'm asking that people please hold off on querying for a week or two (and please don't send directly to my e-mail or to info@thebentagency.com). I'll let you know when we've gotten everything caught up. We are working through over 1,000 queries. Thanks so much to everyone for thinking of me.

Friday, April 10, 2009

life, the universe, and everything

I love blogging because I can subject everyone to my long, boring, pointless stories. :) This one is about Corelle. Corelle is a kind of unbreakable dishware. If your mother ever bought a set of dishes at Kroeger, chances are it was Corelle. I would say there is less demand for Corelle these days, but that may be because I live in New York, and people can be a little snobby in New York. If you are a New Yorker you can't be mad at me for saying that, because of course I don't mean you.

Anyway, some time ago I decided I had a desperate need for Corelle. The why of it does not matter but it was not entirely frivolous and kind of benevolent. But I needed it a whole lot. And I couldn't figure out where in Brooklyn or Manhattan I could buy it. Flash forward a week. We are driving home from Vermont. We need to pull over rather urgently and we stop at the discount mall called Woodbury Commons. The first thing I see as I walk into the mall? A Corelle outlet! I kid you not. Who knew?

So I needed Corelle and a week later the Corelle was mine. I know this is sounding kind of silly. But you know that it's happened to you before, right? And for bigger needs than just some silly Corelle (although I did have a good purpose for it). You say it, you think about it, and somehow you get it, whether it's the universe at work, or a higher power, or the power of positive thinking, or the secret, or whatever you want it to be.

So, if you are a writer, what is your Corelle? I think it's really important to articulate it. Figure out your end goal. The NYT list, the quitting of the day job, the Edgar Award, the Oscar, whatever it is. And then work backwards from that to figure out the steps you need to take. I'm not saying that it will be handed to you in some sort of bizarre writing award outlet at an insanely busy outlet mall off the Jersey turnpike. But I do believe that you'll never get it unless you figure out exactly what it is that you want.

Now back to me. Here's my latest Corelle: I need some interns who like to read commercial fiction. So if you are one, or know one, e-mail me at info@thebentagency.com with a resume and a cover letter with reading interests listed. Oh, and New York area is a plus but not essential.

And I need some good suspense/crime submissions. I like Lee Child, I like Elmore Leonard, I like Jonathan Kellerman, I like Ruth Rendell, Tony Hillerman, early James Lee Burke, C. J. Box, Tana French, Robert Ellis, just to name a few. I like clean, clear writing with very little embellishment. I like scary and I like dark. Email me at queries@thebentagency.com and put "suspense/crime" in the subject line. Don't forget to include the first ten pages in the body of the e-mail.

Just a little boring anecdote/pep talk/selfish listing of my needs on a Friday of a holiday weekend.