Thursday, March 09, 2017

So, should you query a young agent?

This is a screen shot of the upcoming New York Times bestseller list for the week of March 19, 2017




#1 is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.  Her agent is Brooks Sherman at The Bent Agency

#2 is Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth. Her agent is Joanna Volpe at New Leaf Literary

#10 is Frostblood by Elly Blake. Her agent is Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary.

I was privileged to meet each of these fiercely talented, ferociously effective agents at the start of their careers.

Back before anyone knew them.
Back before editors recognized their names.
Back when they answered queries overnight because what they had to offer was speed, rather than sales.

They built careers that have earned the respect of the entire publishing industry.

To see all three represented on this list is a moment I will never ever forget. It is a moment of indescribable joy.



Your takeaway from this: there are young agents out there who are hungry and hardworking. You'd be nuts to overlook them.

56 comments:

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Ah youth...driven, hungry, smart.

I was young once, and now...rode hard, never satiated and about as smart as I was when I thought I knew it all and actually did, but didn't know it until I was too old to care.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

How cool is that? There are always new agents in the making. I may have given birth to one. Well, if nothing else, she's a top notch bartender so she'll likely serve up some inspiration to a fair few writers, editors, agents, and such in New York.

Now I must seek coffee. I came into work early so I can get off early to help the kid load up her rental tonight. She leaves for New York at 5:30 am tomorrow. I fear she will never long for snow again.

Colin Smith said...

Of course, the caveat is to look at where these bright shiny new agents work. Are they lone prospectors, out to find gold among the desperate hills of unpublished writers? Or are they with experienced miners who know the terrain, and can help locate the best seams? Brooks, Joanna, and Suzie all got their start under Janet's fin within a reputable agency. That's not to say new agents on their own, or with very small, new agencies, are not good. But there are a lot more risks signing with them than with someone who has the support of a good horse and good tools. And lots of baked beans. Wait... this analogy's running away from me. Cup of tea time!

Colin Smith said...

EM: Wow--what an adventure for your daughter! All the best to her! :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Yes, Colin is right about where shiny new agent cuts his or her teeth. That makes all the difference I would surmise as that a good mentor will foster good habits and contacts.

DLM said...

Aww, Goldsmith Jr., Agent Extraordinaire. Wouldn't that be so great!??

ALL of this gives me a smile inside.

Kitty said...

My takeaway from this: Boy has YA reading changed since I was that age. I was still reading Nancy Drew.

Amy Schaefer said...

Back when I was looking at profs to apply to for grad school, I had a long talk with one of my professors. He was a few years from retirement and had built a big name for himself in his field. And he strongly suggested I find a younger professor to work with. He pointed out the young ones are still full of ideas and energy and, more importantly, they have time - time to spend with students, giving guidance and just being a thought partner.

And the same reasoning applies here. Yes, older agents are seasoned and have the advantages that come with experience. But the younger ones will become those seasoned agents someday. As always, choose carefully, find a compatible partner, and you're giving yourself the best chance, whether your agent is young or slightly less young.

Mark Thurber said...

If agenting worked like Amway, Janet would be one rich shark!

DLM said...

Mark, that looks like a good quote for the top of the page here ... :) Heh.

Mark Thurber said...

DLM, haha, I agree, but I think it would be too self-aggrandizing for Janet to use. But seriously, Janet, this must be so exciting for you!

Colin Smith said...

Mark: Just from my brief visit to New Leaf I can tell you Janet is very proud of how well those she has mentored are doing. Of course, she takes very little credit for herself, and it's true to say that she has been blessed with smart and driven young talent that can take her guidance and run with it. But who knows where they would be today without that nurturing, without someone seeing the potential and giving it wings?

There's a life lesson for us all...

Claire AB. said...

Congratulations, Janet! I'm so happy for the writers and agents at the top of this week's list, but wow, what an accomplishment for you, too.
Everyone needs good mentors -- you can't reach your full potential without them. I'm sure these agents are so grateful for everything you taught them.

And, yes, we can't overlook young agents. It's a little intimidating to me, though, that so many of the new agents out there are young enough to be my kids! I'm just now re-entering the querying trenches, so Colin, I'll be heeding your advice to stick with youngsters who have someone like Janet looking out for them.

Amy Johnson said...

Wow, Janet, That is big for you. Seems like something you might want to make a copy of, put it in a box or drawer or file of special things. And when you're having a not-so-great day, you reach into your grab bag of goodies, and maybe that'll be what you'll pull out. Hey, I have done some good in this world.

Richelle Elberg said...

I think the point about agency is really valid. I signed with a young, unproven, independent agent in Italy a few years ago. She LOVED my first novel--this was the first warning sign that I myopically ignored. It wasn't fully baked and all of the agents who'd read it (several requested the ms) obviously saw that. About a year later she dropped all of her clients. Oh, and English as a second language isn't great either. Her book and marketing materials she wrote to take to the London Book Fair, just wasn't good. I wanted so badly to edit her description of my novel but didn't feel comfortable saying anything.

Colin Smith said...

Claire AB: It's a little intimidating to me, though, that so many of the new agents out there are young enough to be my kids! I KNOW! It's frightening!! Though I think part of that has to do with the realization that time didn't stand still when I hit 40. :)

The challenge that those in the over-a-certain-age crowd face, and I know it because I've seen it, is not looking down on these young people because of their age. Yes, it might seem odd to be taking advice and career guidance from someone who's young enough to be your daughter/son/granddaughter/grandson. But many of these people are sharp, some wise beyond their youth, and have earned their agenting stripes. Personally, I'd be honored to work with anyone who has a passion for my work, regardless of age.

Colin Smith said...

Amy: Of all people, Janet has least excuse for self-doubt. This NYTB list. Her client list. THIS BLOG for flip's sake, and the number of writers she has inspired and helped over the years who ended up signing with other agents and having writing careers. I think we can say Janet has left her teeth marks on the publishing industry. And she hasn't let go yet! :)

RosannaM said...

What an uplifting start to the day! It is encouraging to know a little of the back story to success.

RosannaM said...

And totally off topic, but technology has finally caught up to the brilliant mind of George Orwell.

My little brain is in a tizzy over the verification that our machines are spying on us.

kathy joyce said...

Kudos to Janet and the other agents! A little reminder to these new, young professionals: Older authors have a lot to offer too, including world-experience, nuanced perspective, thicker skin and acceptance for criticism, and maybe more time and focus to write and edit. Oh, and there's a huge cadre of older readers too. Don't dismiss us oldsters too quickly!

Claire Bobrow said...

Fantastic news for those agents and authors, and major encouragement for the rest of us to submit to the young unknowns out there.

How wonderful to be having a moment of indescribable joy, Janet! I hope there are lots more of those moments to come for you, and for all of us!!

Now it's back to the salt mines. I have a plotting problem to work on today. (There has to be a better expression than "salt mines," though, cause it's kinda fun...)

Colin Smith said...

Kathy: One of the positive things about the querying process is it's all about the story. No-one asks your age. No-one wants to see a photo (thank the Lord!). All they want to know is what your book's about and why they should request pages. Both questions should be answered in the blurb. I'm sure there are plenty of agents who could tell stories of how their clients were not at all as they pictured them when they first met--and many agents don't meet their clients until long after a contract has been signed. Some never meet them in person.

Amy Johnson said...

Of course you're right, Colin. My post wasn't intended to suggest otherwise. :)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

E.m. coldsmith so is she looking for clients?
Just asking.

Colin Smith said...

Amy J: My response wasn't so much aimed at you, but as a reminder to our dear Shark. I'm sure she has those moments, as we all do. :)

Claire Bobrow said...

E.M. - good luck to your daughter!

Kitty - haha, I hear you :-)

Lennon Faris said...

This is very true. I guess (as others mentioned) it's nerve-wracking trusting someone with your career who hasn't proven themselves yet. But, I know a new agent would be taking a chance on an unpublished writer, too.

Richelle I am so sorry to know that, but that story is super helpful to hear. It would be difficult to NOT be blinded by an agent absolutely loving your story.

The Sleepy One said...

Is this list really for the week of March 19th? The bestsellers list is for the past week, right? (The post says 19th).

I saw the date and had a brief freak out. I have a talk and a few events leading up to the 19th that I hoped I hadn't missed.

Richelle Elberg said...

Thanks Lennon. I want to add that I would probably still give a new agent a chance--as someone pointed out above, they are also taking a chance! These days I try to just stay focused on writing the best novel I can. I know I got very impatient with my first effort and then just self-published when no one recognized my brilliance. :P BUT, that's another warning sign I ignored--she took me on as a client even though I had already self-published. I'm pretty sure the shark is very opposed to this!

Rena said...

I have a wonderful agent who is very young. My book was her first sale, and it was a good one. She works at a top agency, which, as someone else pointed out, was very helpful. She had the time and energy and enthusiasm to put into my debut that others may not have had with a larger client list, but the wisdom and mentoring of those who have been in the business much longer. I always used to put the well-established, well-known agents at the top of my query list, but now I encourage people to research the newer agents (always research!) and give them a shot. There's risk involved, yes, but all the greats started somewhere :)

Colin Smith said...

Just think, even Janet was once a rookie with a first client...

Richelle: "Very opposed" might be a bit strong. I think Janet, and most agents, wouldn't rule out taking on a client who has self-published. However, because of the potential baggage that comes with a client who already has a published work in the world, I think there would have to be something particularly compelling about it. In other words, an already self-published writer is a harder sell to an agent, but not impossible.

Stab me with licorice sticks if I'm wrong, Janet, but I think that's the gist of what you've said in the past.

Casey Karp said...

I agree with Colin and the others who have suggested looking for those young agents at a well-established firm, but I'd also consider a youngster who's put in time at a W-EF, and is now out on her own.

That kind of self-confidence--the "I've learned from the best, and now I'm ready to spread my wings" attitude--is highly attractive.

YMMV, naturally.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I've owned horses longer than our beloved equine vet has been alive. Her enthusiasm and up-to-date knowledge is priceless.

I would query an agent who is young.
I would query an agent who is old.
I would query an agent who is mellow,
and I'd query one who is bold.
I'd query an agent whose skin is red or yellow or black,
or one whose skin pigmentation doth lack.
I would query an agent who swims in the sea
or one who prefers to swing from a tree.
But first... I must finish my noveldy-dee.

Richelle Elberg said...

Interesting, thanks Colin. I have only read Janet's blog off and on over the years, so I imagine you are correct! Which begs the question--WHEN my WIP is ready (many months from now), should I remove my self-published titles from Amazon?? I have a web site too which links to Amazon. I worked really hard on that web site--now I'm wondering if it could become a negative when I'm ready to query next time. :/

Colin Smith said...

Richelle: I'm not an agent, and I only know what I've read, but if it's at all useful, here's what I suggest based on what I recall of Janet's advice in the past (and others feel free to correct and/or add to this):

* Write the best novel and query you can. An awesome novel covers a multitude of sins. :)
* Mention your previous self-published works in your query. There's no point in trying to hide them, and it'll only reflect badly on you if the agent is interested and does her research. She'll find out about them eventually.
* If your self-pubbed works have sold well, that's a good thing, and probably worth mentioning sales figures in the query (agents like to know that you have a ready audience). Bad sales aren't necessarily a deal breaker, but they will diminish the value of your self-pubbed work--you should mention them for full disclosure, but leave it at that. Don't apologize for them, just state they exist.
* If your new novel is dependent on the self-pubbed novels, that's not good. You should query something new and separate from your self-pubbed novels.
* If your self-pubbed novels are in a different genre to the one your querying, that could work in your favor.

How am I doing, Janet? Fellow Reiders? :)

Colin Smith said...

Clarification: you should mention them for full disclosure--I mean, mention the books, not the bad sales figures.

Donnaeve said...

Melanie Sue Bowles! That was creative and GREAT!

The first thing that jumped out at me are all the ages listed.

(*not the agents - haha, the books!)

I though YA was...well, I'm not sure I knew what YA is age wise. By why all the variation? Some is only a year's difference (13 and up) and (14 and up).

I thought YA was i a consistent age bracket, like 18-25 and below that would come Middle Grade, i.e. ages 12-17 (just guessing here) and anyone below 12 = Children's books.

Either way - yes, just like with any job, you gotta start somewhere, and once upon a time, QOTKU was only a little sharklet herself. :)

Donnaeve said...

Sigh. Can you tell I'm writing Southern Fiction and still in the head of my character?

"Some is..." Lordy.

Some are

Colin, you done good from my POV! (and I meant to "say" it that way)

Joseph Snoe said...

Perfectly done, Melanie Sue Bowles.

Having witnessed and heard back from former students who’ve made a mark in the world, some far above what I dared to accomplish, some following in my footsteps, and some being good citizens or celebrating minor victories, I get more joy hearing about their successes and knowing I was a part of their development, than I do my own meager accomplishments (which tend to happen slowly and methodically).

Colin Smith said...

Donna: IIRC, MG = 8-13; YA = 14-17; NA = 18-24. Of course, these ranges are guidelines for tone and marketing. Plenty of people outside these ranges read across the board. And not all YA books (for example) are suitable for everyone within that range.

Richelle Elberg said...

Thank you Colin! I think you've outlined things well and it aligns with what I have seen here in Janet's blogs. (I have not yet read all the back posts, which I know is strongly advised!) The good news is that the new book is not at all related to or like the 2 self-published ones. :)

Your first point is no doubt the most important. It was my New Year's resolution to dust off this 6 years old and counting effort and getterdone this year. But I am NOT going to start querying the minute I type that last word--something I may have been guilty of previously.

Colin Smith said...

Why, Ms. Donna, I sure do 'preciate that! :D Oh, and "Children's Literature" essentially covers PB-YA. Again, marketing categories, not necessarily indicative of readership.

You're welcome, Richelle! :)

Jenny Chou said...

So happy to see Angie Thomas's AMAZING and IMPORTANT book at the top of the NYT Bestseller List!!!!!!!

P.S. If you'd like to win a SIGNED 1st EDITION, check out my Twitter give-away. I'm @JennyC2323.

Kregger said...

So, passion for a manuscript is key as well as an experienced support staff for fledgling agents.

As I have researched agencies in the past year, the term "boutique" pops up often.

Can anyone tell me the difference between a boutique and a full-service agency other than the number of agents under employ?

Are there any common pitfalls inherent with a boutique agency that we as future Carkoon residents should know?

Kregger

Colin Smith said...

Kregger: For some reason, the word "boutique" makes me think of hairdressing salon. "Here's my query. And could I have a rinse and a perm too?" ;)

Claire AB. said...

Just to clarify, I'm 100% on board with querying young agents! It just feels a little strange -- and yeah, kinda depressing -- that I'm so old by comparison. But I'll get over it! Especially if they'll take a chance on me as a client!

Colin Smith said...

Why does today's Shark Tank feel like a retirement home? Not sure. Anyone for Scrabble? ;)

Craig F said...

On of the pieces of one of the dreams of one of the thought trains of one of the beasts that all come together to be me is to be the Writer who graduates a New Agent into a Bonafide Agent.

I would hate to come up with a busy agent who has something like 50 Shades of Baby Shit take of while what I have toiled with and made much better than the Shit gets relegated to being just another fish in the pond.

If I remember correctly Joanna Volpe was a New Agent when she started New Leaf.

Congratulations My Queen for you job as a training. I think I can see the glow from here.

Colin Smith said...

Craig: Joanna started out as one of Janet's minions over at FinePrint. She then graduated to literary agent at Nancy Coffey, which, I believe, is where she was when she sold Veronica Roth's DIVERGENT. Maybe a year or so later, she left NC to start New Leaf. Which has an awesome conference room.

Not that I've been paying attention or anything... :)

Colin Smith said...

As an aside, I wonder how much agents really understand the extent to which aspiring writers "stalk" them (in a good way, you understand)? As I told Janet after she introduced me to the New Leaf team, I've known them all by name for a long time--Joanna and Suzie especially. I've followed their careers, particularly because the last couple of novels I queried were both YA. And I know I'm not alone. For many of us, these agents become legendary. Names you read in the Acknowledgments of your favorite books, in PW, in blogs and Tweets and Writer's Digest and in interviews.

Anyway... just an aside... :)

Beth said...

A young agent asked for a full on the first story I queried. She rejected the story, but said some nice things about my writing which gave me confidence to keep trying. I truly appreciate that she took the time to do that.

BJ Muntain said...

I queried Suzy when she was just starting out. She responded in TWO HOURS. Granted, it wasn't the response I wanted, but... TWO HOURS.

Richelle: Taking on a self-published client isn't a warning sign. Agents do take on self-published clients if they like the work enough. I just wanted to say this, in case someone reading this thought they were completely out of luck because they once self-published. Self-published authors are not impossible to sell. They just have one strike against them when it comes to the market. (I know Colin said something similar, but I'm saying it differently. :P)

Melanie! Wonderful Seussian poem!

Lennon Faris said...

Melanie - that was hilarious!

kdjames.com said...

Janet, congratulations on the moment of indescribable joy! Well earned. It's little wonder that New Leaf absconded with you to serve in the role of mentor. And congrats as well to these three agents for having the good sense to be mentored by one of the best.

On first read, I somehow overlooked that this is a "Young Adult Hardcover" list and was really puzzled, and more than a little daunted, that the top ten on the NYT bestseller list were all geared toward the same age group. Duh.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

I'm happy if my agent ends up being young. After all, I've got another 50 years to go on my career.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

kdjames-I did the same thing and thought, I'm tough out of luck for not writing YA!

Another great comment trail to follow.

Thank you, Janet, for mentoring and for pointing out the sharkly babies you nurtured to excellence and independence. Of course, none of them will take quite the same kind of chomp out of us that you're capable of doing! The joys of being QOTKU!