Thursday, December 07, 2006

My Agent - A Necessary Delight

I adore my agent. Her name is Whitney Lee and she is competent, cute, spunky, and is always thinking of ways to further my writing career. Yesterday Whitney and I lunched for 2-1/2 hours at the new French 75 restaurant in Century City. The time flew by and we could have easily spent another 2 hours giggling, gossiping, and discussing plans for my domination of the literary world. However, she had another appointment following lunch and I had to return to my day job with the perfectly nice people in the perfectly nice law firm.

Which brings me to this bit of advice for everyone looking for an agent or anyone unhappy with their present agent: Not all agents are created equal.

Several years ago I was represented by another agent, a very competent woman with a well-known New York agency. But in spite of our being together for nearly three years, it was never a good fit and we parted ways when she called Too Big To Miss crap. Oh yes she did! In fact her exact words to me were: No one wants to read this crap.

Comments like this to an author are about as sensitive as telling a new mother that her baby is ugly. Calling a manuscript crap isn’t constructive criticism, it’s destructive bullshit. There are other ways for literary professionals to tell authors their work is not up to their standards – this ain’t one of them. (By the way, this same Too Big To Miss has received rave reviews and has a TV option. The Best Revenge isn’t living well, it’s getting published to great reviews. Remember that.)

When choosing an agent, make sure that agent fits your personality, your style of work, and your career goals. If you find an agent overbearing and obnoxious, perhaps potential publishers might also. Remember, a good agent will not pigeon-hole you, talk down to you, or berate you. When Whitney doesn’t like something I’ve written, she suggests positive changes. When I don’t hear from her for awhile, I don’t fret that I’ve fallen off her radar. When I explain a project I want to write that is outside of my usual niche, she cheers me on. She is an integral part of my writing career, not a necessary evil.

Whitney has represented me now for three years, the same length of time the other agent represented me. During that time she has sold three of my novels, a TV option, and e-book rights. In addition, she has critiqued a non-mystery novel that I am working on called God’s Apology and is excited about representing it in the next few months, along with another non-mystery novel and future Odelia Grey mysteries.

More importantly, I never feel like I should numb myself with a double scotch before dealing with her.

Three Cheers for all the wonderful Whitneys out there!


patty said...

Wise words, Sue Ann. I love my agent because he's steady and reasonable and honest, which suits my personality to a T.

Kate Thornton said...

Called your book crap! Jeeze Louise, Sue Ann - and taking your money at the same time? That wasn't an agent - that was a shark!

Congrats on your current agent - and lunch at the new place. When you finish up Mother Mayhem, call me & I'll treat us to lunch there too!

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

The good news is my old agent never took any of my money. In three years she never sold anything of mine, so didn't earn anything. We came close, but no cigar. She just dawdled with three years of my life. And even with all the red flags, I was too afraid (and in awe) of her being a big NY agent to make a change. Which brings up another good point: NY agent doesn't necessarily mean a better agent.

Anonymous said...

I am ready to sign with an agent -- have found one who seems good and is interested in working with me as well - but I am rather terrified. However, "terrified" sounds unprofessional....

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

A little fear can also make us cautious in a good way. Just make sure this agent is honest and stable and genuinely likes you and your work. No agent can sell something he/she doesn't like, or at least they can't sell it very well.