JE: I had three agents, including a couple of luminaries, before I found Mollie Glick, and what I learned is that having an agent doesn’t mean squat. You have to find the RIGHT agent. I was in fact un-agented at the time I started getting bites for “All About Lulu,” and I interviewed no less than a half-dozen reps, all of whom offered to rep me, before I decided on Mollie. I knew within five minutes Mollie was the right choice. She had an excellent idea of what I was trying to accomplish with my work, as well as an excellent understanding of my longterm goals. On top of that, she offered me some of the best editorial insight I’ve ever had. Mollie agreed to let the three guys throw some questions at her, in hopes that those of you on the hunt for a rep, or disillusioned with your current rep, might glean an understanding of what to expect from your agent.
JR: How does a writer who has built a base through blogging, reviewing, and placing his or her work in literary journals, online and in print, get an agents attention? They’ve poured over their prose, and they’ve had it edited, and they know what you represent, and they wrote that ”kind” of book. What are agents looking for? Is there a pedigree? Do you react first to recommendations, and then what? What percentage comes from slush or unsolicited? And does Iowa and Yaddo play into it? Does hype? Or trends? Or is it all just guts and instinct, and if you’re not grabbed by the throat in the first five sentences do you hit reply and say no thanks?
MG: Recommendations play a major role in deciding which projects to read, but many of us still search through our slush piles as well! I receive several hundred query letters a week, and I take a quick look at all of them, although I only respond to the ones that are a good fit for my list. Other than “platform” and “pedigree”– who you know, where you went to school, and what you’ve published in the past– what makes a query stand out is the same thing that makes a novel stand out: great writing. In a perfect world, the pitch an author sends me will be so good that I lift language from it for my cover letter, and the editor lifts that language for the catalog copy.
JE: So then, roughly how many clients do you rep? And what percentage of them would you estimate came to you over the transom? And what percentage are fiction vs. non-fiction?
MG: I represent about half fiction and half nonfiction. And I’d say a good half of my clients came through queries. That’s why I still slog through them, even though it takes a lot of time to sift the gold from the grain… And although I haven’t counted my client list for a while, I’m usually submitting about five projects at a time, working actively on proposals and manuscript revisions with another ten, and in longer term development with another twenty at a time.
JE: You’ve done stuff for me that I didn’t even know was within your jurisdiction as an agent–gone to bat for me with regard to cover design, etc. Good agenting extends far beyond pitching and vetting contracts. Can you tell us what a writer ought to expect from a good agent?
MG: Every agent has his/her own strengths and weaknesses, and the trick is to find an agent whose style matches best with yours. I tend to be pretty hands on and collaborative, and I wear different hats at different stages of the process. Before selling a book, I play the role of editor. When submitting the book, I play the role of sales person. When negotiating the contract, I play lawyer. And after the deal is done, I see myself as a consultant– there to advise and lobby and be the bad cop from time to time so my clients don’t have to.
DH: Mollie, I’ve heard that no aspiring writer will be looked at seriously by a publisher unless they have an agent. Do you see your role that way…as the gatekeeper to the publishing world? Also, it seems like some writers these days, maybe this is just the newbies,are being published in print-on-demand or ebook formats **only**. Do you ever recommend that route for your writers or do you see other agents starting to do that?
MG: It’s true that all of the big publishing houses and most medium sized houses want submissions through agents, unless they have a personal connection to the author or read an article or story the author has published and approach him/her directly. But I haven’t heard about a lot of ebook or pod only deals at these houses…
DH: Mollie, I enjoyed your description of all the different hats you might have to wear as an agent. Since in my job, I’m also a problem solver,someone who puts out fires, I wonder if you could give us an example of an interesting situation that you had to resolve with a publisher or with one of your clients and how you handled it; keeping it generic, of course, and not revealing any proprietary details.
MG: Often it’s just a matter of educating my author about the marketplace. For example, one of my authors published a parenting book this summer, and the cover was a bit of a 90′s throwback. I wasn’t a fan from the start, but since the publisher really liked it, and she’s a total sweetheart my author decided to let it ride for the Hardcover, but now that we’re getting ready to go out with the paperback, it was time for me to speak up, letting my author know that it’s not uncommon to give a book a new cover so that the paperback version gets a new life, and once she was on board I introduced that idea to the publisher.
JE: A lot of agents have a reputation for selling their authors out for the biggest advance, and an advance, after all, is only an advance on royalties, it’s not a bonus. If an author can’t earn out that advance, they’re in a bad position for their next book. It seems to be that to build a healthy career, a writer must maintain some type of equilibrium in terms of advances, and seeing to it they earn them out. Has their ever been a situation where you’ve encouraged an author to think twice about a bigger “front end” and consider the other elements in play with an offer? And what might those elements be?
MG: I think it really depends what kind of writing career the author desires, what his/her financial needs are, and what size publishing house s/he decides to go with. If I’ve got an author who has got one big book in her, the best thing for her career is the biggest advance possible. If I’ve got an author who wants to be writing novels for the rest of her life, the trick is to get her an advance big enough that her publisher will back the book, but not so big that she stands no chance of earning out. I’ve never seen an author whose book sells at auction make the final decision based on a few thousand dollars difference, but for a smaller book sold to a smaller press, every dollar counts.
JE: You wanna’ tell us about some recent projects you’re excited about?
MG: That’s a hard one because I’m in love with all of my books… But one of my favorite authors, Zoe Klein, recently published her first novel, DRAWING IN THE DUST, and it’s an amazing debut. It’s a love story about a Biblical archaeologist who stumbles across the tomb of Jeremiah and discovers that he was buried with a woman. The perfect book club book. We just sold her second novel to Simon & Schuster. Another of my authors, Greg Olear, just published a book called TOTALLY KILLER that’s an AMERICAN PSYCHO for the 90′s. Elizabeth Eslami’s BONE WORSHIP, the story of a young American woman struggling to understand her Iranian father is coming out in January. And next summer I’ve got Ellen Bryson’s THE TRANSFORMATION OF BARTHOLOMEW FORTUNO which is set in the PT Barnum Museum in 1865 and chronicles the lives and loves of the human ”curiosities” who perform there… I pitched it as WATER FOR ELEPHANTS meets GEEK LOVE.
JC: Thanks Mollie, for taking the time to answer a few questions from the guys.