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The Career View

5 April 2017

From Books & Such Literary Management:

What kind of things do I look for in a new client? Things like being knowledgeable and invested. And writing books that have commercial appeal. And offering fresh ideas and a fresh voice.

I also look for a writer who is realistic and prepared for the career view. When I get a query that insists I look at the “next bestseller,” I toss it in the round file. Yes, there are a number of debut books that became overnight successes. Just like there are lottery winners who recently won hundreds of millions of dollars. But does that mean if you buy a lottery ticket you’ll win millions?

We can’t plan a career around hoping for a miracle. Many fine, fine published books go virtually unnoticed every year. Reaching bestseller status is a convoluted combination of hard work, writing skill, word-of-mouth and that unpredictable  combination of events that take an author to the tipping point.

I’m looking for writers who are realistic– knowing that they are going to have to pay their dues, possibly with very little return in terms of attention and money for the first few years.

. . . .

So I’m looking for writers who are prepared financially for the long haul.  When we have clients who are desperate to make money we have a problem. This industry is not like a job. The money is sporadic and never guaranteed. A writer needs to be able to support himself while he builds his career. Or else you need a “patron of the arts,” as one writer describes her spouse.

. . . .

I also look for writers who have enough years to build a career. As agents, we pour ourselves into our clients. The first several years we may see precious little return on our investment. That’s okay, that’s our part of the financial long haul. If we believe in a writer we’ll work like crazy with absolutely no return in the early years if necessary. But if a debut writer who is seventy-five years old comes to me, I need to be positively bowled over by her book because, even if she writes for ten years, it’s barely enough time to really get a career launched. Of course that’s not to say I wouldn’t take her on if I loved that one book. I’ve done it more than once.

I look for settled writers. If a writer tells me he’s going to be moving to Sri Lanka for a period of five years I have to wonder how we can build a career with an inaccessible author.  Writers who take “writing breaks” to raise children, to care for parents, or to “find themselves” usually find themselves with a stalled career.

Link to the rest at Books & Such Literary Management and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Agents, The Business of Writing

39 Comments to “The Career View”

  1. Again, Books & Such tries to assert its fading role as gatekeeper. “Don’t sub us if you think you have a bestseller–use that word and we won’t even read!” One wonders how many actual successes have been binned in this way and this agency failed to profit?

    “If a debut writer who is seventy-five…” Now this is just sick and wrong on too many levels. Maybe she never heard of Louise Gouge or Martha Rogers, who IIRC made their debuts well over 70. Many a writer who’s spent years honing the craft, only breaks in when they’re older.

    “looking for writers who are prepared financially for the long haul” translates to “don’t bother sending me anything unless you’re wealthy.” God knows poor people shouldn’t be wasting their time writing! Bless their hearts.

    • +3, one for each paragraph.


    • +1 but I’d like to warn against abbreviation here. It’s not sub, it’s submission. Use the full word, because that’s what thrills them. They get off on it. They’re a bunch of literate dominatrices who only feel self-actualized when vermin writers submit to them.

    • Maybe she never heard of Louise Gouge or Martha Rogers, who, if I recall correctly, made their debuts at well over 70. Many a writer who’s spent years honing the craft, only breaks in when they’re older.

      Helen Hooven Santmyer was 89 when her book “…AND LADIES OF THE CLUB” became a best seller in 1984. (The ellipsis and the quotation marks are actually part of the title. It must have been a bitch to look up in the catalog.)

  2. Sounds like he’s looking for a writer who already has an agent….

    • Shorter OP: “Unless you are Nora Robb, George R. R. Martin, Danielle Steele, or Jim Butcher, please don’t submit to us.”

  3. “I’m looking for writers who are realistic– knowing that they are going to have to pay their dues, possibly with very little return in terms of attention and money for the first few years.”


    “I’m looking for writers who won’t expect any results from me and accept 100% blame for failure.”

  4. Such a writer does not need him or his agency, unless the writer’s absolutely terrible at marketing.

  5. Felix J. Torres

    I have to say, he makes a very solid case that writers committed to trapub and looking for an agent, any agent, at all costs should nonetheless look elsewhere. I can’t imagine anybody being desperate enough to actually want to put up with that kind of attitude.

  6. I liked:

    “I look for settled writers.”

    Hate to tell the dummy, but if they’re ‘settled’, then they settled for something better than this joker.

  7. So, she actively practices ageism. Good to know.

    • “And proud of it!”

    • Yes. I’m glad to see the commenters on her blog post are calling her out on that one.

      Age was one reason I decided to indie publish. I didn’t have the time–or patience–to go through years of querying and submissions and waiting for a book to hit the shelves of a bookstore.

      • Same here. I don’t have a decade to burn to “pay my dues.” Especially when after paying those dues, the most likely outcome is to remain unpublished.

        The next most likely result is “had a handful of short stories published plus a bunch of near-misses, but next year someone might finally give me a chance.” Next year is always a year away, of course. But everyone in the writers’ conference circuit knows you by name.

        Third place – maybe 1/1000 odds – goes to “Mid-Lister! Welcome to the land of $3K advances paid over three or four installments, with a guaranteed return to oblivion if your under-marketed books fail to catch on fire.”

        Sure, you might be one of the .0001 percenters and hit it big, but expecting that is like investing your retirement funds on lotto tickets.

        Thanks but no thanks.

  8. I like the part about how they pour themselves into the writers. Takes them years to get them ready for the big time. Ha. What a joke.

  9. As I approach my 50th, I see the ageist comment and want to spit fire. At my age, why would I even bother trying to find an agent when I can do it myself, have myself as a boss (I heard I’m wonderful), invest in myself, and adapt my career to changing times? Good grief. While the post was refreshingly honest, it was also ugly. Yuck. Going to rethink querying an agent for this project I’m working on.

    • I’m about to finish my five-book series that I started in my mid-fifties. Took me until then to figure out how to finish a novel.

      I never did bother with an agent.

  10. No thanks

  11. Ten years is not enough to launch a career???

    I thought agents were supposed to be THE experts on where to send, push, promote, sell your product? Ten years is not enough???

    Maybe that says more about the agent than the writer.

  12. “If a writer tells me he’s going to be moving to Sri Lanka for a period of five years I have to wonder how we can build a career with an inaccessible author.”

    This right here has to be the dumbest thing ever. You can keep in touch with your clients through voice calls, email, faxes, and Skype.

    I never met anyone involved in the publication of my two books face to face. Everything was transacted via email and some voice calls.

    • And before all that mail, which via banana boat works more at the speed of tradpub.

  13. You just haven’t earned it yet, baby
    You just haven’t earned it, son
    You just haven’t earned it yet, baby
    You must suffer and cry for a longer time

  14. > Writers who take “writing breaks” to raise children, to care for parents, or to “find themselves” usually find themselves with a stalled career.

    Yeah, well I took time to care for my parents, who got sick one year after the other (one breast cancer, the other a fatal bone marrow disease), and I think it’s to that and the attention from my siblings that we still have them both with us today. My mother is officially cancer-free the end of this month, and my father has lived longer than anyone expected. He will be 87 on the 30th!

    Before that, I put my children first. That was my job, and I think they turned out better for having my full attention, rather than my career.

    I found myself through living my life, and now, at age 59, I’m doing quite well without snots like this, thank you very much. It was the fact that I was in my fifties that I decided to forego seeking traditional publication and went indie. Best decision I ever made. I’m in charge, not whiny bozos like the author of the OP.

    Gosh, and some people wonder why no one is knocking at their door!

  15. I just took a look at her authors and their publishers — never heard of any of them. Looks like they publish religious and inspirational books. Harvest House, which publishes Christian books, operates with a P.O. box. Very small time.

    • Publishes religious and inspiration books. Says in print that writing comes before family.


  16. Books & Such: arrogant much?

  17. I spend six years taking care if sick parents and a sick spouse. I still wrote and published 5 e-books.


    Uh, no thanks. Pass.

  19. I can self-publish a book and within 72 hours tell you if it’s going to hit number 1 in my genre or not. Agents, on the other hand–and by extension publishers–just cannot compete with me on writing to the market and making a profit. I wouldn’t dare let an agent or a publisher screw up my career or damage the sales of even one of my books. So don’t apply.

  20. I have an agent who handles foreign trans. For many years. Trust. I indie publish without an agent.

    If I still chewed ‘baccy, I would spit to read this clap trap completely infantilizing c about what a ‘writer’ ought to expect and put up with and blah, and more blah.

    Let’s put it a different way, IF an author DEIGNED to take a CHANCE on some agent, the agent better get used to 5%, and not for life plus 70, but for a term of ten years and then we’ll see if we want to re-up.

    And in the meantime, we’d want to see a bona fide list of the actual LIVING CLOSE CONTACTS said agent has at each imprint and publisher, whether he/she has a highplace at Book Expo functions for innovation and courtesies,

    and who like real estate agents ONLY represents the author and NOT bowing and scraping to publishers.

    IF an author decided to get on the leaky boat of an ‘agent’ trying to supplement their flopping incomes, I’d suggest only going with an agent with a proven record for every single one of those he /she reps. No stockpiling authors for ‘maybe’ sales.

    [i’ve noticed, some agents, lol, it makes me laugh, are promoting themselves by saying they can teach people to write, hold classes on it [for money],

    well, gwan flog the bushes, lol, but frankly having had to sit through the end of a couple of ‘agent’s classes’ as a waiting speaker, they are beyond off the mark.

    Sort of like the fruit cart seller trying to tell the grower of acres of produce, weathers and investment, how to grow his crops. Absurd, self serving agent.

    Some newbies become spellbound by this c. While agent puts siphon hose in the authors bank account for life.

    DONT sign with any agent for life. EVER. They are trying to ramp up passive income for life to retire on. On your back. WHile you continue to slave away for pitiful royalties, and they are wining and dining on 15% of your bones and blood.

  21. If ever I go slightly batcrap and send anything to an agent, my first question will be: how can you sell this ONE project, and how soon? Our contract will be renewable after each SOLD book, by mutual agreement. Any book the agency does not sell during the time of our agreement earns NO percentage for the agency. And if I dissolve the agreement, the agency earns NO residual monies on the projects (if any!) it did sell.

    And that’s just the start. And if I go batcrap, somebody talk me the heck out of it.

    • Deb Kinnard I do carry as a matter of course, bat-crap removal spray. Please let me know your martian coding fork number and I will dispatch it to you immediately.

  22. A.C. Clarke sold a few books writing from Sri Lanka. (even if he might have been a pedo)

  23. USAF, my number is 42. Of course. Because life, the universe, everything. Thank you, sir!

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