Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Speaking to the dead . . .

Apparently, I speak to the dead . . .

OK, not really – just the assistant to a dead agent. Here’s my story and the lessons learned. As you all know, I have a facebook account as well as a presence on other networking sites. Well, one day, I get this friend request on facebook. I accept the offer – because I usually accept friend requests these days, however, after this – I may think twice.

Anyhow, a day or so after I accept and say thanks for looking me up – I get a private message asking if I’m a writer. Now anyone who has read my profile page knows I’m a writer. But instead of pointing out that obvious DUH – I say yes and go through the rig-a-ma-roll of introducing myself and that I have written 8 novels in the span of 2 years and am in heavy edit mode. She then tells me she’s a new agent, just starting out on her own and looking for clients.

Lesson #1 – Always be leery of being approached online in this fashion.

I asked if she had interned at an agency – the answer was no – she studied for this and was just out of school opening her doors. I scratched my head at that but OK; it takes all kinds, right?

Well, she went on to say once I was done editing she’d be happy to take a look. I saved that away and when I was ready, I sent out my query to her along with the first ten pages. I had a response within an hour to please send the full manuscript. That was on Sunday night. OK – she moves fast – so I sent it along at almost 11pm.

Monday rolls around – a very unusual Monday because I wasn't online at all until the wee hours of Tuesday morning – after 1am. There in my inbox is a note from said agent with a time stamp of Monday 12:30pm:

Your novel is wonderful and well written and you clearly have a voice of your own. You are a very talented author. I will send your novel to my contacts at the publishing houses and let you know of their responses once I receive them. I am pleased to be your agent.

My initial reaction was Wo Nelly – not so fast! I have a ton of questions and besides, I haven’t agreed to have you represent me yet. I wrote a quick note asking that the agent call me (I gave my vacation home phone number out) in the late morning to discuss the questions that I have and went to bed, undoubtedly excited.

Lesson #2 – Be suspicious when a contact replies so quickly – what’d she do, read through the night? My only other experience like this turned out to be a full-fledged scam!

Morning comes – and I have an email in my inbox stating that she does not give out her number until an author has signed with her and she would be happy to answer any question I have via email.

Lesson #3 – This was a big uh-oh and I should have left it at that and withdrew right there. If an agent is not willing to speak with a prospective client via a phone call – that’s a BIG RED FLAG.

So I sent my list of questions and in the meantime notified one of the agents that asked to be given a heads up before I make any decisions if an offer was put on the table . . .

Lesson #4 – wait until you have all the facts before you give a heads up to those with your manuscript – you have all the time in the world, so don’t make a rash decision.

I got a response to my questions, although some of it did not sit well, so I sent another batch of questions. That was at a little before noon on Tuesday.

When we got back from the beach in the early afternoon – I sent a couple inquiries to some of the facebook friends asking about their interactions with the agent – following up on digging a little deeper – after all the only online presence this agent had was facebook, My Space and Linked In and a listing on US Literary Agents part seven that basically said anything sent in writing to the address listed will be thrown away – another scratch of the head here – but I figured they’re running paperless – OK – good for the environment.

Lesson #5 – listen to your gut.

At 4:45pm on Tuesday – I get a notification from the Agent’s assistant:
This is to let you know that XXXXXX has passed away. She had a heart attack and died in her sleep last night. Please let me know if you need a letter of recommendation or direction to find a new agent.

Ok – now was it my second list of questions that prompted this? Is this a brush off because now she doesn’t want to represent me? If she really died, who the hell was I going back and forth with all morning?

Lesson #6 – hold off on reacting – or at least make sure you’re saving that scathing email to draft and not hitting the send button by mistake!

Needless to say – the last question was the one that went out. And I sent a note back to the agent saying I got a really bizarre message and was wondering if her email account had be hit by a hacker. I’ve gotten some really wacky things from folks in this same situation – and after all, I had been going back and forth with the agent all morning.

The response I got set me off. While all the emails were signed with the agent’s name, they were all written and sent by the assistant "acting on behalf of the agent", but I didn’t know that when I was going back and forth, and had I – it wouldn’t have bothered me. Agents are busy – they have assistants, but in all my communications with agents, any time an assistant answered, they signed the emails as such. So this masquerade seemed just a bit underhanded. Red flags went off big time. And I really went nuts when the assistant informed me that the agent had been in the hospital for a few days.

A few days? WTF? Was the offer of representation even real?

That type of dishonest behavior makes my skin crawl.

I searched the papers for the obit and couldn’t find it. So I went ballistic and crafted the email that lesson #6 lists – a big oops on my part because it was really, really a nasty rant, one that not so nicely stated I wanted written confirmation that the email with my attachment was deleted and that called her out on posing as the agent herself.

In the meantime – I thought it was fishy enough to send the history of interactions to Predators and Editors. They agreed it sounded odd and were going to look into it.

Later in the evening I got a response to my angry rant back – just as scathing as mine, which is understandable - I replied to say I’m sorry for upsetting her but the whole chain of events was just so bizarre that I overreacted.

That message came back – the email account no longer existed, the facebook page was gone as well as the MySpace and LinkedIn page. Off the face of the internet. Bam. Now it’s like the agent never existed.

I still don’t know if it was just a case of bad timing, an overzealous assistant or a scam of some sort. But the timing of all these things has me scratching my head and the cynic in me is thinking I have somehow been had.

Lesson #7: Don't let your vision get clouded by someone just because they throw a few nice words at you. Make sure you do the research on an agent BEFORE you query them and if you can't find any information outside of networking sites - BEWARE!

On retrospect, I was a little naive and should have recognized the signs. I hope this little recount will help someone with the same hopes and dreams not fall prey to the scoundrels out on the web!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

101 Questions for the prospective Agent

You’ve got that agent hooked and they want to represent you. Now what? Well, it’s always wise to do you homework and ask a lot of questions before you settle into a contract.

Do I have 101 questions? No – just 16 at this point that I’ve collected through my own experience and that of some very astute authors - but if you have questions that are not on the list and should be, I would welcome any thoughts you may have on the subject matter:

1. How long have you been in the business?

2. Latest significant sales in the same or similar genre?

3. How many authors do you represent?

4. May I contact any of them as references?

5. Fees – what are your customary contract fees? Do you have any other charges that I should know about up front? (copying, mailing, editorial service fees – beware of the last one).

6. Can you tell me the extent of your experience in negotiating publishing contracts?

7. Do you have any experience with publicity and what do your recommend an author do in this space?

8. Are you associated with any literary organization – for instance AAR?

9. Do you sign a client agreement? If so, is it for one book or all work?

10. What other services does your agency offer?

11. How do you handle film and foreign rights?

12. When it comes to editing and generating ideas with your clients, how active are you in the creative and editorial processes?

13. What makes you want to represent my book?

14. What publishing houses do you have contacts with? And which ones were you potentially targeting for my book?

15. Do you think the book is ready to go out on submission?

16. If it needs revisions, how does that process go? What revisions do you suggest?