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CheshireCat
06-28-2008, 01:13 AM
I mentioned having a career-planning discussion with my agent a while back, and someone subsequently asked me if I'd be interested in bringing up that specific topic for discussion.

So I am.

I've been with my agent a long time, and we've worked together through any number of fairly extreme changes in both the industry and in my own career aspirations and goals. We talk fairly often when I'm working on a book, less often when I'm not -- unless it's contract negotiation time, a new book is coming out (and we're both going through the craziness of biting our nails and watching the bestseller lists for a few weeks), or something else of importance happens to be going on.

Sometimes the "career" discussions -- which tend to be long ones, by the way, often started via email -- are sparked because it's new contract time, or I've lost an editor (I've worked with many; the turnover even if you stay with the same house can be brutal, and if you change houses on a regular or semi-regular basis you can work with everyone in publishing eventually) and we need to discuss options. Other times, it's purely a creative discussion about the work: what, specifically, I'm working on, where I want to go from here, if I'm happy writing the kind of thing I've been writing.

We don't brainstorm ideas -- I have plenty of those and she knows it. What she does provide, however, is a sounding board if I need to talk through something I'm working on. She knows my work better than anyone else on earth save me, so her comments and advice reflect that knowledge, as well as the goals we both have to continue to build my body of work, my reputation, and my status as a lead author.

The most recent career-planning discussion covered most of that stuff, actually. It's an uneasy time for the business, what with the rotten economy and the upheaval in at least two major houses (top people leaving Random House and Harper Collins). It's been obvious for quite a while that changes were coming, and there are a lot of very uneasy people in NY wondering just what those changes might be.

Still wondering, most of them.

Peter Olsen, from Random House, is being replaced by a German (Bertelesmann is a German family-owned media conglomerate of which Random House is a part), reportedly from marketing and a guy who made his reputation by keeping a tight rein on the bottom line production-wise. What does that mean for Random House authors? Nobody is quite sure yet, but everybody is worried, especially those authors who have struggled to make deadlines.

What does it mean for the publishers and editors currently working there? Again, nobody is quite sure just yet, but some heads are expected to roll. If they happen to be big heads (so to speak), where will they land? What houses could use their expertise?

Editors and publishers (and CEOs, etc.) tend to change houses on a fairly regular basis, and some are "teams" in the sense that if one person leaves, several of his or her underlings may go with him/her.

That can change everything.

So we talk about that. We talk about possible repercussions. We discuss strategy. As news becomes less speculative, more concrete, we've generally talked through possibilities and have some idea of what our next move will be -- should a move be required.

Sometimes it isn't. Sometimes we're purely watching from the sidelines, knowing that what's happening isn't going to affect me and my career, at least not directly -- at least not yet.

But it may affect the business. It may affect the house I write for, or one I've got my eye on for a possible change. It may affect friends and their careers. It may affect my agent, because she has a stable of clients, and most of us write for different houses.

So there it is -- the general outlines of "career discussions" one writer has with her longtime agent.

Different writers need/get different things from their agents so, as always, your mileage may vary. If you're just starting out, you need to think about what you expect/need from an agent, because not all of them have the sort of discussions I have with my agent.

Some writers just want a tough negotiator to get them the best deal; some writers need editorial advice/direction from an agent; some writers need both.

What do you need and/or expect from your agent?

Righting
06-28-2008, 01:54 AM
I would say an agent who will give editorial advice and direction - btw thanks for the post, it was good.

JeanneTGC
06-28-2008, 03:58 AM
Thanks, Cece, this was really helpful!

CheshireCat
06-28-2008, 04:34 AM
Happy to oblige.

:)

IMO, one of the things a writer should discuss with a potential agent is the general state of the industry and how he/she feels things are or will be changing. You don't want an agent who is only concerned with selling a book/project; you want an agent interested in growing your career, who wants to be there for the long haul.

Writing a bestseller straight out of the gate is incredibly rare; most of us make it after years of trying, and often "success" comes from a direction we never expected when we first sold. A good agent needs to be able to take that long view, to believe in you and your work enough to stick by you while you figure out what it is that you do best.

Your success is going to be his/her success.

For what it's worth, most of my friends have gone through more than one agent; there's absolutely no guarantee that the agent you sign with to represent you today is going to be the agent you need a year from now, or five years from now.

Which is why you never burn bridges, and you take advantage of every opportunity to meet and talk to other writers' agents at conferences and the like. Just like you take every opportunity to meet and talk to editors you encounter.

Because you never know. And the more people you know in the business, the more options you'll have when one rug or another gets pulled out from under you.

Which, trust me, it will. Sooner or later.

Phaeal
06-28-2008, 05:04 AM
Very interesting. Right now, personally, I'm looking for an agent who's breathing. ;)

Ouch! Man, I hate it when the burning baby fish get too close to my hair.

Kalyke
06-28-2008, 06:01 AM
Well so far nothing has ever turned out the way I planned it, and worked hard for it, so I am really disillusioned about planning. I think that a lot of being published and making it to the top is a matter of luck. I also think if you are writing what everyone else is writing, you will not make it to the top. Finding the next wave is a big part of it.

Karen Duvall
06-28-2008, 08:52 PM
Thank you for such an enlightening post, CeCe! I just got my agent a month ago, so we're still getting to know each other. The agency has been around since 1928, so I figure they have a good handle on the industry.

I've been keeping up with industry news via Publisher's Marketplace, and it does appear kind of scary for authors. However, it's not like publishing is closing its doors. The climate has just become a bit more... dodgy. And more challenging for authors. Now more than ever we need to have confidence in ourselves and our work, and be on our toes at all times. There's never been a better reason to write the best book possible. Competition has never been so fierce.

CheshireCat
06-28-2008, 09:23 PM
Ouch! Man, I hate it when the burning baby fish get too close to my hair.

Flame-retardant hairspray.

It's the latest thing.

:)

CheshireCat
06-28-2008, 09:38 PM
Well so far nothing has ever turned out the way I planned it, and worked hard for it, so I am really disillusioned about planning. I think that a lot of being published and making it to the top is a matter of luck. I also think if you are writing what everyone else is writing, you will not make it to the top. Finding the next wave is a big part of it.

Granted, planning can only take you so far. And how well you're able to follow the plan will depend on many things, most of which aren't under your control.

As for "the next wave," IMO you don't find it, you create it. Otherwise, you really are just writing what everybody else is writing.

That doesn't mean you invent your own genre, it just means you find a unique twist or take on something familiar enough to readers that it touches something universal in people.

As for luck, I've seen enough to know it's a factor -- but don't fool yourself into believing it's the greatest factor involved in selling and in success. Because it ain't, not in my experience. It takes a little bit of luck (right place, right time, mostly), a hell of a lot of hard work, and a ridiculous amount of patience.

It also takes, IMO, a keen eye watching the market, whether yours or your agent's. Not to jump aboard ships that have already sailed, but to learn to spot trends and to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of publishers.

Because some are great at building people -- and some aren't. Some can take a mid-list author and turn him or her into a bestseller with the right book, and some only know how to take a successful author and make him or her more successful.

And, of course, for us it all starts with writing the best books we're capable of writing.

That's all. *sighs*

CheshireCat
06-28-2008, 09:39 PM
Now more than ever we need to have confidence in ourselves and our work, and be on our toes at all times. There's never been a better reason to write the best book possible. Competition has never been so fierce.

Exactly.

lkp
06-28-2008, 09:41 PM
As an author in agented-submission-to-editors purgatory, I never thought about what effect that changes at the top might be having all the way down. If you're afraid you might lose your job, you're going to be even more cautious about what you acquire. And for an author, it might almost be better to get a sale after the shake up muddles through. It would be awful to have an editor buy your work and then get fired and have your book then live in some kind of lonely editorial step-child limbo.

Karen Duvall
06-28-2008, 09:59 PM
As for luck, I've seen enough to know it's a factor -- but don't fool yourself into believing it's the greatest factor involved in selling and in success. Because it ain't, not in my experience. It takes a little bit of luck (right place, right time, mostly), a hell of a lot of hard work, and a ridiculous amount of patience.



I often see the luck factor thrown out as a convenient reason why a project is or is not picked up. I agree with you that luck is a factor, but it's such a minor one that I don't think it's wise for writers to fall back on it as often as some do.

There's a thread here somewhere called "What's the secret to good writing" or something like that, and it's interesting what some people have to say. Lots of good advice is being bandied about. My response is that the answer to good writing is recognizing when you've written something bad. Then you need to know how to fix it. And that's one of the keys to getting that elusive door of opportunity opened for you, IMO. Write a really good book.

JeanneTGC
06-28-2008, 10:18 PM
I agree with Karen.

I think "luck" tends to be what those who aren't in your shoes consider the perseverence through all the stages of learning how to write a book that will sell, finding an agent who clicks with you and your book, and being able to survive rejection after rejection and still soldier on, working to get better and thicken your skin more and more, which creates the opportunity to get an agent and get a publishing contract.

I got an agent in December and a 2-book deal in May, and I can promise that luck had absolutely nothing to do with it, though it could look lucky to someone else (and I do feel lucky to have things moving so well).

CheshireCat
06-29-2008, 01:40 AM
As an author in agented-submission-to-editors purgatory, I never thought about what effect that changes at the top might be having all the way down. If you're afraid you might lose your job, you're going to be even more cautious about what you acquire. And for an author, it might almost be better to get a sale after the shake up muddles through. It would be awful to have an editor buy your work and then get fired and have your book then live in some kind of lonely editorial step-child limbo.

One of the things my agent and I discussed at our last career-planning marathon phone call was our relief that I don't happen to have contract negotiations pending right now. Because we both want to see what happens over the next six months or so.

We both believe several houses are going to be affected by changes; the only question is which ones and how.

As for being "orphaned" by losing the editor who bought your book, it's happened to me. It's happened to just about every author I know. And it isn't a lot of fun, believe me.

Sometimes the incoming editor is as enthusiastic about the work as the one who bought it -- but just as often she/he is more concerned with acquiring stuff that fits their individual view of what they believe will sell than in handling what fit the previous person's view.

I've known contracts to get cancelled and books pulled from schedules and returned to the authors, but that tends to be worse-case scenarios.

In any case, our only real defense against the slings and arrows of the business is knowledge, information, and awareness.

You know -- the easy stuff. ;)

DeadlyAccurate
06-29-2008, 04:01 AM
For what it's worth, most of my friends have gone through more than one agent; there's absolutely no guarantee that the agent you sign with to represent you today is going to be the agent you need a year from now, or five years from now.

Is that more common, to switch agents rather than stay with only one? What are some of the reasons a writer (whose agent has made sales for them, rather than one who hasn't managed to sell their book) might consider an agent switch?

dark_opus
06-29-2008, 04:26 AM
One of the toughest hard-knock lessons to learn in any business is that it's extremely rare for a business to remain static AND successful. Stand still long enough, and something better will surely come along. Hence, lots of motivation to re-invent yourself.

These days, costs of doing business are causing tremendous pain. Oil economics are killing manufacturing and supply chains like never before. Hence, lots of motivation to consolidate, cut, and curb spending.

Risk taking and breakthroughs open up the next big profitable opportunities. Blow those when your business or the economy is unstable though, and you might not survive. Hence, lots of motivation to stay conservative with proven, winning formulas and blue-chip sure bets.

A lot of conflicting forces are coming to bear on a publishing industry that has been struggling for quite some time. All the thoughtful advice on this thread is more important than ever: write your best, know your business, be as flexible as you can, and keep a long-term outlook on what ultimately defines success for you.

I suppose somewhere in there we should add: stock up on Maalox.

CheshireCat
06-29-2008, 05:35 AM
Is that more common, to switch agents rather than stay with only one? What are some of the reasons a writer (whose agent has made sales for them, rather than one who hasn't managed to sell their book) might consider an agent switch?

In my experience, it's a lot more common to switch agents than to stay with the first one for the length of your career -- assuming that career is a long one. Among my friends, I can think of two others with lengthy careers who're still with their first agent. Most everybody else I know has changed at least once, and several are on their third or fourth agent.

Some of the reasons I've known for the switches:

Author wants to change genres, but agent isn't enthusiastic;

Author feels ready to write a Big Book, but agent is convinced he/she isn't ready yet -- or encourages the ambition, only to become convinced that the manuscript needs a LOT of work or simply doesn't fit anywhere in the market;

Agent has a large stable of writers, and author begins to feel neglected;

Agent mishandles money;

Agent is discovered in a lie to author;

Agent and author discover, over time, personality conflicts, and working together becomes untenable;

Author feels agent isn't aggressive enough in contract negotiations, or feels that agent is a little too inclined to listen to and believe the "sales are down" litany that is always trotted out during said negotiations;

Agent retires;

Author retires;

Agent decides he/she would rather handle a handful of top money-earners rather than a dozen mid-list or beginning authors;

Author decides he/she would rather be represented by a Big Name Agency for the prestige (or whatever);

-- and so on.

Lots of reasons.

I know it's difficult for those of you still shopping for an agent to believe, but initial enthusiasm for your work often simply isn't enough. In a working partnership, any number of factors can change how you feel about that partner.

And so you both move on.

My friends tell me it's a lot like a divorce if a longstanding partnership dissolves. On the other hand, I have friends to whom the "firing" of an agent is simply a business matter, devoid of emotion.

Different strokes.

CheshireCat
06-29-2008, 05:37 AM
I suppose somewhere in there we should add: stock up on Maalox.

Don't just stock up on it.

Buy stock in the company.

;)

Aragon
06-29-2008, 06:18 AM
Wow, as someone who isn't ready to get the book finished this advice helps alot for my future.

SnowtheWolf
06-29-2008, 10:06 AM
Very interesting. Right now, personally, I'm looking for an agent who's breathing. ;)


Did "I was sad because I had no shoes until I met a man that had no feet" pop into anyone else's mind? :)

Thread's a good read though.

xiaotien
06-29-2008, 07:13 PM
thanks for taking the time to share
your experience with (most of) us beginners, cece.
i, too, have only had my agent for a few
months, and we went through our first
round of subs with major publishers for my
first novel.

it doesn't matter how much research you
do--you just cannot know how your
rapport will be with the agent you have
chosen. even the "big name" ones who
you think you may know everything about
from the blogs, interviews, etc.

i think agent bill did a wonderful job
in guiding me and with negotiations.
i'd expect long term career guidance as well.
and yes, i would expect my agent to
be on top of the market.

i'm not sure if i'd want to be making the
discussions that you have with your agent
about the publishing industry. it's too much
for my writerly head. i would say tho, that
if i went to agent bill and suggested writing
an epic fantasy on smurfs, for him to tell me,
er, not so much. if smurfs wouldn't be a good
book to try and sell.

having said that, i cannot imagine that i
could ever write to market trends. even if it's
not there (like the YA asian fantasy i
wrote that doesn't have a comparable title)
or already thought to be overdone.

novel ideas do not come easy to me. in fact,
they come ONE at a time. and the next one
emerges after i've finished wrting the previous idea.
it doesn't sound like a smart or lucrative
way to write--i'm not sure if i can change this
in the future. i'm still very new to it all.

i do hope to make writing a career--
but i haven't planned far ahead. because
you just never know what'll happen. every
writer hopes to be a success but i doubt
any of us EXPECT to be. not on the first book.

so we'll see what happens and take it from there.
having said that, i have no idea what's going
to happen when i try to write novel 2.

/noob

:eek:

CheshireCat
06-29-2008, 09:50 PM
i'm not sure if i'd want to be making the
discussions that you have with your agent
about the publishing industry. it's too much
for my writerly head. /noob :eek:

It was too much for me too -- twenty years ago. But, over time, as I became more confident of the writing itself, learning about other aspects of the business, those aspects I had hired my agent to know for me, became more important to me.

In the early days of a career, it usually is about just selling your work. One book (story, short story, essay, article, whatever) at a time. You trust your agent to get you a decent deal, and you hope that his/her advice and recommendations are sound.

But, eventually, you want to understand this highly confusing, constantly evolving business yourself.

Not coincidentally, that's when a lot of writers I've known have changed agents. Because what they wanted and needed from their agent had changed.

Change is progress, usually. Embrace it.

Even if it scares the crap out of you.

;)

xiaotien
06-30-2008, 02:08 AM
well said, cece!
as with all things in life, it's definitely
a journey, you gotta roll with it.

and yes, writers in different stages
have different issues and concerns.
and you're way more into this journey
than i am! admirable!