Monday, February 18, 2013

Agency Lesson: Trust is Key

So you know how when it comes to querying an agent there aren't any resources available for finding good agents and we don't have the internet, and even if we did, hardly any agents have websites, or blogs, or twitter accounts where we can get to know them. And to make it worse, we don't have anything out there to warn us writers about bad agents, though we should totally have this and call it...um...Writer Beware. Yeah, that would be awesome. Too bad we don't have any of that.

I think you get the idea.

When it comes to deciding who to query there are so many resources that it could halt the entire process if you tried to look at all of them. Seriously, I don't know how writers managed this 20 years ago, but we are some very lucky writers.

Because of this, there is absolutely no reason in the world to query someone you know nothing about. At the bare minimum, you should be familiar with their website and books they've sold. At the minimum. When you ask an agent to represent you, you are asking them to take control of a large part of your career. You are trusting them to know what they are doing.

So why in the world would you query someone you don't trust?

Lately, I've been seeing a number of queries come through containing concern about the security of an author's intellectual property. As in "I've spent years working on this and don't want it stolen, so before I send you sample pages, can you please assure me that they are safe in your hands?" When I see this, it's like a huge waving red flag that says "I want you to be responsible for my career, but I don't really trust you."

Let me tell you, folks. I'm not even an agent yet and I don't have the energy or extra hours it would take to steal someone's idea from a query. I can garauntee the agents don't either. And why would we even want to? All it would take is one writer to make the claim that an agent stole their book and the whole agency would go down in flames (well, maybe not in flames, but there would be some serious damage). Talk about a career ending move.

But this isn't about what agents will or won't do. This is about remembering that a query is not an invitation to like our book. It's a request to form a business partnership. If you can't trust an agent enough to send them sample pages without worrying they'll be stolen, you certainly can't trust that agent to be a business partner.

I'm not saying there aren't bad agents out there. If I did, there would be a dozen comments about someone's critique partner's bad experience and so on. Just like in any profession, there are going to be bad eggs. Lucky for us, we have amazing resources at our fingers so we can avoid them.

So all of this to say, if an agent doesn't give you the warm fuzzies when it comes to trust, then don't query them. And if you don't have any "Danger, Will Robinson" moments, then have faith that an agent is going to treat your manuscript with respect.

8 comments:

  1. Wow, I had no idea people put that in queries. If you do your research on an agent before querying (which you should absolutely do!) then this shouldn't be an issue.

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  2. I've seen a bunch of newbies comment about this on writing sites -- either they're afraid to have anyone but their mom read it (i.e. nervous about asking for feedback from other writers), or they don't think they should ever send a full ms to an agent/editor because their book will be stolen. As I said, newbies. If I were an agent, I'd love someone to ask me "How can I trust you?" in a query. It'd be a quick trip to the rejected pile, diminishing the slush pile, because anyone with that little experience in the writing biz will probably have made tons of mistakes in the ms.

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    1. Yep, definitely a newbie mistake. It really shows a lack of knowledge about the importance of the agent relationship and e thpublishing industry as a whole.

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  3. Why would someone even worry about this? I worry about a lot of things (what is that smell in the fridge? And why does my car make that noise?), but there are so many books out there I'm not particularly worried about someone trying to steal my book. Like you mentioned, it's up to the writers to do their due diligence and make sure they feel comfortable with an agency BEFORE submitting anything.

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  4. Yep, add to this that most writers are woefully undereducated about their intellectual property rights. They don't realize their work is protected the minute they write it down and it can be pretty easy to prove it.

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  5. The first time I queried I worried about this. It's not something I would have said in a query, but I did consider having my work copyrighted first. I come from a legal background. Overly cautious was good. I didn't copyright before I queried, because before I got there I realized I'm important to the process. Meaning my idea without my voice is not the same book.

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    1. Good point, Beth. Even if you ran into an unethical agent who stole your idea, they would never be able to write 'your' book.

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