How Not to Talk to Agents

010Jackson loves to sit on the kitchen garbage can to supervise all food preparation. It’s his special stool. So funny.

My lovely agent, the vivacious and Bookalicious Pam, keeps a Tumblr where she generously answers publishing questions. I amuse myself by reading through it. Not long ago, an aspiring writer asked her a question about whether Pam wanted to see a book from a particular genre. The writer said:

Should I send it your way (you are my top pick from Foreward), or to one of the other Foreward agents? Thanks.

*minor note that the agency name is Foreword

This triggered a memory from college. One evening our apartment phone rang and I answered. Now, this was in Ye Olden Days and we had a landline phone with a verrry long cord. Six of us shared an apartment suite with six bedrooms off a super long hallway. We’d drag the phone into our rooms to talk. But we all shared this one phone. I just happened to answer this particular time.

A guy on the other end invited me to a fraternity dance. I only vaguely knew who he was, but I was flattered to be asked. Sadly, I had a scheduling conflict and couldn’t go. When I told him as much, he said “Oh, well how about one of your sorority sisters?”

Ouch.

I mean, not only was I more or less interchangeable with my sorority sisters to him, but he didn’t even specify which of them he might be interested in spending the evening with. Because, well, it ultimately didn’t matter to him, right? He needed a date for the dance and any girl would do.

I think my analogy here is obvious.

You know – I get this. I really do. I felt this way back when I was first seeking an agent. They all seemed pretty much the same to me. One big sorority of faceless people who could bestow the boon of their efforts upon me or not. I wanted to go to the Publishing Ball and I really didn’t care who escorted me.

I just wanted to BE THERE.

One of the things you learn over time, however, is that it really does matter how you get to the Publishing Ball. You can buy your own ticket and go. Maybe you’ll be invited as a special guest. But I can tell you this – if you go with the wrong escort, that can suck way worse than staying home alone. At best you might be miserable. At worst you might get date-raped in the parking lot.

Seriously. I don’t think I’m taking this analogy too far.

So, that’s one piece of it. Pick your agent carefully. It may seem that any one will do, but that’s just not so. And I’m saying this as someone who does not believe in the “Dream Agent” concept. Nor do I believe in True Love. Just as I believe any of us could find any of a number of people to make delightful life partners, I think any number of agents would work out great for a given author.

But don’t treat them that way, okay? I mean, that guy who called me up so long ago clearly didn’t care a whit for actually dating me. He never asked me out again or made any effort to get to know me. So far as I know, he planned to ask out whoever answered the phone in our six-sorority girl apartment. Now, WE all know that he missed out BIG TIME, but he wasn’t looking for a life partner. If he was, he went about it in absolutely the wrong way.

What if I might have been the girl for him? Maybe True Love did await us and we would have hit it off, found a delicious mutual accord and gone on to marry right out of college and have brilliant careers, a scintillating social life and a passel of over-educated kids.

(Hey – I write fiction, run with me here.)

The way he treated asking me out, that one incidental time, ruined that possibility forever. I couldn’t go that night – just as an agent might pass on your book because it’s simply bad timing – and by treating me like I was unimportant as a person and interchangeable with any of my random sorority sisters, he not only blew it with me, he blew it with everyone in my sorority. Because OF COURSE I told them about it. It became a running joke that this guy said this to me.

Agents gossip, too. Especially when someone treats them carelessly, as less than an important individual in their own right.

Something to contemplate.

Have a great weekend everyone!

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