On Friday, our commenter Jennifer asked the following question:
I have often heard agents discuss the fact that you need to "be in love" with a book in order to represent it…let's say you take on a client because you're in love with their first book, but you only like the next, or even the next few? Even my favorite writers are about 50% hit or miss for me. Some I love, some I just like, and some I even outright dislike. I imagine it would be unusual to really love every book someone wrote.
So I guess my question is two-fold. One, as an agent, do you often find yourself liking some stories more than others, or are you so passionate about a writer's style that you tend to love them all, and two, what do you do if you aren't feeling the same passion for subsequent books?
Tricky one, Jennifer! I think it’s completely fair to say that when we work with someone on multiple books, we won’t have an equally passionate reaction to each and every project they work on. If someone writes twelve novels, we won’t be equally fond of all twelve. Of course, chances are the author also won’t be.
The reason we always say that we need to fall in love with something in order to take it on is that we’re diving headfirst into a long, involved process with someone we haven’t worked with before. If you don’t love the book wholeheartedly, it’s a lot of dedication and time to offer something (and someone) without any guaranteed results. As we continue working with clients, we still want to love every book, but the dynamic has changed—we know how we work with these particular authors, how comfortable the fit is, what happened with that first novel, what shape their career might take. We’re still responsible for making sure that the best product possible gets out there, but we also have to make sure that our clients wishes and best interests are well represented.
Sometimes the situation can get tricky. Let’s say we don’t just not love a project; let’s say we actively dislike it. If our feeling is that the audience will have the same reaction, we have to say something. No one is helped by glad-handing. So there have been times when projects need to be set aside, or we make recommendations for other ideas that might be pursued. It’s not the most comfortable thing to bring up, but it’s necessary to be able to offer that kind of feedback. Our authors depend on our honesty and feedback. And we likewise depend on them, not to do everything we say, but to take our thoughts into account. The best agent/client relations are built on an ability to share thoughts and find compromise.
So no, we don’t love every single project the same, but ideally the base of every relationship with a client is deep admiration of their work. Even if you don’t love every single thing they do, you can still support and guide them.