I’m going to start this week’s post, as I typically do each year at this time, with a recap of my year with respect to clients and deals. But this time, as I’m winding down this blog, I’m going to add a little about the way my relationships with writers have evolved over the ten years I’ve been in publishing. It’s been interesting to mark this evolution, as it’s reflected everything from what stages of my career I’ve hit, to the backgrounds of my clients, to what kinds of authors I’ve attracted based on the genres of books I’ve requested on my website or announced deals for on Publishers Marketplace or discussed on Hey Dead Guy. OK, but first, the numbers:
I currently represent 53 authors actively, meaning if you were to ask them “who’s your agent?” they’d say me. I also have six former clients whose books I still have meaningful ties to. During the past year I’ve added eight clients, while subtracting six (which sounds more ruthless than it was—a couple left me, a couple began working with Danielle instead of me, and a couple were simply cases where, after not being able to sell their projects over an extended period of time, we decided it wasn’t working and they’d be better served finding someone new).
I made approximately 15 deals in the past 12 months (9 are up on Publishers Marketplace; the rest are awaiting announcement because we are finishing contracts or for other reasons). Another six are in the “final waiting” period, where I’m anticipating an offer with a better than, say, 75% chance that it will come through, but it hadn’t happened before everyone left town for Christmas. I currently have 11 manuscripts out on submission to at least three editors (so, not renewals of contracts). Of these, six are authors who have previously published books, where we are trying to move houses; four are first-time authors; and one is an artist who has published his art before but is not trying to be published in the trade publishing world. Eight of the eleven are novels; four of those are historical. Six of the books are set completely or mostly in other countries.
Additionally, I have 11 books not already under contract where I am expecting my authors to deliver their manuscripts in 2017 (again, this is in addition to clients with contracts who need to deliver their contracted books this coming year). So I anticipate that they will go out on submission during the course of the year.
If I sell all of them, along with the ones I mentioned before as being in “final waiting,” I’ll have an outstanding 2017 without anything else. The reality, of course, is that I’ll probably sell some of these; pull a few back for revisions; get less money than I was anticipating for some (and more for others); and simply not ever get traction with a few. It also doesn’t count any unanticipated projects—new clients, existing clients with different projects, or proposals from publishers or production companies for reverse-engineered books (where the author gets the idea from the publisher, rather than the other way around—“IP projects,” we call them).
The picture I’ve just painted for you is that of an agent in mid-career. I’m selling books consistently, have projects in all stages--from awaiting a first draft of a first book to publishing a ninth in a series. I’m now able, after 10 years, to choose to take on a narrower range of book—concentrating more on adult books, on historicals and crime novels and workplace dramas and ones with particular themes. I’m doing more nonfiction now, and while I represent middle grade children’s books, I’m doing much less YA.
I’m also getting my clients from somewhat different sources from how I did when I started out—fewer from the proverbial slush pile and more from referrals by other clients and members of the publishing world. (Doesn’t mean I am not still combing the unsolicited queries; merely that the bar is higher.)
As a result of these factors, I’ve found that what I need to do with the manuscripts I take on has changed quite a bit. I do less line editing than I did at the start of my career, and much more in the way of detailed editorial letters, followed by long phone calls.
And my relationships with my authors—and my conversations with them—have evolved as well since I began building my list in 2008. Because I have worked with several of my clients for upwards of seven years, my conversations with them are more personal, and also deal with different questions from what they did at the start. Instead of discussions of will we get the next one published, it’s should we go back to the same publisher or try to change. With my mystery writers, the contraction of the cozy market by (particularly) Berkley and St. Martin’s has meant a game of musical publishers.
And with a number of my clients, it’s a different conversation. I’m now far along enough that several of my clients are through their first or second contracts and haven’t always had the best experiences (or simply haven’t been lucky), and are now looking for new publishers. That is a point of great stress for them (also for me, but much more for them), and my job becomes part best friend, part shrink, in addition to financial advisor, as I need to keep them on track without destroying their livers or (God Forbid!) going off message on social media.
I’m also offering them new opportunities—ones that didn’t exist when I started out, and which, quite frankly, fascinate me. I’m working with a couple of clients on IP projects like I mentioned before; and guiding us through a new kind of Agreement, and new way of getting Out There, can be a challenge. I’ve also begun to work more with clients who have a real sense of the film and television worlds, and we are able to see how both exciting and difficult it can be to succeed there.
But there is nothing more gratifying—and this has been true from the first time I did it, with Jerry Elias in 2008) than to be able to make The Call to a client to say that there has been an offer on his or her manuscript. The satisfaction of knowing that the book was good enough, the editor and publisher were the right ones, that the fit was correct and the potential for success, great; is the highlight of my job. And when I make a guest Dead Guy post in five years to update these stats, I can’t imagine that this particular highlight will change overmuch.
And now I need to end this—we are in London and it’s dinner time. We have to get a good night’s sleep though—tomorrow afternoon we are meeting my client Elaine Powell and her husband Jon and daughter Angela, and spending the day together. Our kids are friends even though we live across continents, and Elaine and I try to see each other each time we are even close to the same neighborhood. I can tell stories like this about several of my clients, who’ve become more than business associates over the years. At the end of the day, it’s why I love my job.