Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Why I Am An Agent (Jane)

by Jane

Looking back on why I wanted to be agent is actually fun for me.

I remember in one of my first jobs--that of permissions editor at Bantam Books--I wanted to learn more about what went on in the subsidiary rights department--“the rights department” as it is commonly known. But the woman who ran that department at Bantam at the time really didn’t want me to work for her and, of course, being who I am, that sparked my interest even more.

When I was thinking of leaving Bantam, I interviewed with a major literary agent who never even got back to me. (I still remember who that was, and I learned from that experience always to respond when anyone inquired about a position with my company.) I also interviewed with two publishers to work in their subsidiary rights departments, but because I was the daughter of the President of Bantam Books at the time, neither position was offered (the people interviewing me actually let me know this). Still, I grew more interested in the rights area of the business.

Finally, a while later when I had been a fairly successful publisher of popular reference books for a number of years, I began once again to explore the rights area, this time on the agenting side. I felt that I had done most every other job in book publishing (except perhaps being in the actual production department) and I was ready for a big change.

I began talking with a number of agents about the field and, interestingly, even then, over twenty years ago, most of them were very discouraging. They told me how hard it was, how much I would have to work and they predicted I wouldn’t be able to really get on my feet as an agent for three to five years. That didn’t scare me though and after talking with many people over a period of ten months or so, I met Jay Acton, a very successful agent at the time, who decided to take a chance on hiring me to join his company.

Moving to the “other” side of the desk, so to speak, was very scary in the beginning. I had been a big corporate Vice President and Publisher, and now I had no safety net at all--I was also a single mother with a young daughter to raise. But I wanted the opportunity to work with creative people as opposed to always doing budgets and carrying out administrative duties (which is what my publishing job had become). I had to learn entirely new skills: editing from a selling perspective, coming up with new book ideas, helping writers, and meeting acquisitions editors for the very first time, most of them, people I didn’t know. And I had to find projects to represent. With Jay’s encouragement and some great cheerleading from my father, I finally managed to sell 22 books that first year, although the money I actually brought in was very little. Slowly, over the next several years, my client list grew and I felt more and more confident in what I was doing.

I developed a bunch of systems to help my business operate efficiently and finally founded my own company in 1991. I have never looked back. Being an agent has often been difficult but it is always exciting and the challenge and serendipity of the job is what I love.

I am always eager to hear what our blog readers have to say about their feeling about agents and how we do our job. What do you all think about agenting?

12 comments:

  1. I love agents. I'm really looking forward to that stage in my writing career

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  2. Well, at the risk of running this into the ground, I gotta say... Damn, Jane, you're convincing as well. Okay, YOU'RE HIRED!

    (I love growin' a business).

    Haste yee back ;-)

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  3. Wow, Jane. I am really impressed. I love your story.

    I love that you didn't give up when everyone tried to discourage you. I think that most people don't realize when you are passionate about what you do you don't care about the obstacles. You will fight like hell to climb those brick walls until you get to the other side.

    A year ago I didn't have a clue about the craft of writing or the publishing industry, but the day I fell in love with writing my life changed forever. A shift occured, and a passion awakened in me like I'd never experienced before.

    Everyday now I spend studying the craft or the publishing industry, reading agent blogs, practicing with short stories. From Six AM into the night hours I plot, I write and poor tears into my beloved characters. And now I have this beautiful, polished novel with characters I am bonded to for life. A whole new world that I created! Its like I just birthed my first child and I want to kiss all over it!

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  4. Great post, Jane. Thank you for sharing!

    I think agents are great, and I am looking forward to having one myself! ;)

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  5. I was glad to read this because, as a big fan of a number of the books you've represented (have I gushed about THE SPARROW on this blog yet?), it's interesting to read about the path you took to get in the position to represent them. We writers always hear (and like to complain) about how difficult it is to break into the industry. It's nice to hear that we're not the only ones who have to try and struggle. It definitely reinforces a feeling of empathy with the agents we seek, and assures of that they must be passionate about good writing if they took such difficult paths to get where they are.

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  6. I too liked your story. As a writer who's very interested in the business side of writing, I can definitely see the draw. But I would have a terrible time trying to sell anything, so thank God for DGLM hiring Michael! I am more than happy to let him do all the stuff he does for me. But it's an intriguing business too...I could ALMOST see myself interested in agenting, but not quite!

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  7. I'm on track right now to finding an agent. I had one a few years back but she retired so I've been on my own ever since. I still sell books, but I'd like an agent in my corner -- especially one who is with me in making my work the best it can be. So I have to say, I love agents, I think I appreciate what a tough job it is and more than worth the 15%.

    Now, back to writing and getting my ms ready to go out to the agent who just requested it.

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  8. Fascinating post, Jane! Knowing you, I'm not at all surprised to hear how passionate and tenacious you were in order to become so successful as an agent. Having you represent me is an honor indeed!

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  9. I think agents are necessary. I don't understand the fear that some folks have of agents, or the idea that the agent is there to get in the way of publishing. I'm not a b ig fan of self-publishing either.
    The agent is the subject matter expert. I'm not going to try to defend myself in court. Why would I try to sell a book on my own? An agent knows whats good for my career, and theirs.

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  10. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. For me I feel like an agent would be necessary. They are the professionals and an author's bridge to the publishing world. I'm not there yet but I am hoping to be there real soon. My goal is to find the agent who will walk with me across that bridge because it is not something I want to do alone.

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  11. Thank you allfor your comments. Being passionate and tenacious is very necessary in being an agent. And, if I may say (again) having an agent is essential to all writers who want to be published in today's publishing climate.

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  12. David G. Dahn15/2/10 11:59 AM

    First off let me say that I understand that you most recieve numerous e-mails and letters on a daily basis from people looking for an agent. However, as someone trying to get thier first book published, it seems like agents are almost afraid to take a chance on people like me. I have been looking for an agent for almost three years now and I find myself getting more and more discouraged. Many of the agents that I have contacted state on their websites that if they don't respond then they are not interested. But this makes me wonder if they even got my e-mail query to begin with. I've thought about doing the self-publishing thing that I've seen advertised. The only problem is that if I go ahead with the self-publishing any agent that contacts me I'd end up view as nothing more than a leech trying to attach theirselves to my success. And one of my biggest problems is that I am highly intuitive to the point that what I say will happen seems like precognition. My family and friends have witnessed this on numerous occasions so when I say that my book will be a New York Times best-seller I'm not being overly optimistic I'm telling you what will happen. And I know you're wondering how I can be so sure. All I can say is that sometimes I just know things and this is just one of the things I know.
    David G. Dahn, author of "Jason's Journal", Yet to be published. e-mail: toocool_77@hotmail.com

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