Monday, 16 July 2012

DEAR CRABBIT: agent touting on Twitter?

An interesting question has come from one of you.
Dear Crabbit
We hear all the time about how enormous agents’ slushpiles are. So am I right to view with suspicion an agent who uses Twitter to invite submissions, and/or one who is running a competition where the prize is representation? I don’t want my cynicism to stop me from pursuing a genuine opportunity but I’d hate to think I’m wasting valuable writing time and energy. And the competition, by the way, requires entries to be made on an exclusive basis, i.e. novels are not to be on submission to any other agency. Which doesn't sound much like a competition to me, more like a normal submission.
I agree that this doesn't sound normal. I wonder if there's a good and explained reason, though I assume not, otherwise you'd have said.

I'm not sure if you're talking about two separate things:
1. Agent touting on Twitter? Very unusual. I question (as you do) why a good and experienced agent would need to do this? Perhaps the agent is new? (Everyone must start somewhere but I'd want to know the background and expertise in commissioning books.) Is the agent also putting info on blog and thus merely using Twitter to highlight? (I would see no problem in this, if there was a good reason.)

2. An agent running a competition to flush out some classy submissions? Advertising the comp on Twitter wouldn't be a problem per se but what exactly does this competition entail? Let's have a look:

"the prize is representation"? - as you say, isn't representation what is going to happen anyway if the agent likes your submission enough?

Also, is the agent simply going to offer to represent the best one, even if the best one still isn't good enough (as is entirely possible)? If so, the agent sounds a little desperate. And if the MS isn't good enough, it's not going to sell even if the agent represents it/you.

It is possible that the agent has just decided, perfectly correctly, to introduce a little spice into the proceedings, something to flush a whole load of great submissions out of the woodwork. Exclusivity isn't unknown or unacceptable, by the way, leaving aside the competition aspect. (How long is this exclusivity for, though?)

Perhaps it's a newish agent, or one who has left a larger agency and is setting up on her own? Again, if a competition were conducted properly, it could be fine. But I'd want to know the rules of this competition.

And more importantly, FAR more importantly, I'd want to know if the agent is any good. Either as shown by a record as an agent or by substantial experience as (ideally) a commissioning editor or some other role within a decent publisher.

So, your instinct of suspicion is a good one but not necessarily flagging a serious problem. You are right that good agents have groaning desks and generally don't need to solicit publicly, especially as Twitter would be a very unfocused and possibly problematic way of doing so. But there's nothing inherently wrong with it, if there's good reason. Anyone entering any competition should be wary of the rules of conduct and exactly what the "prize" entails.

What if you win and decide you don't like the agent, by the way? Even if this method might elicit a good MS, this is not enough to sign a client, I'd say.

So, those are my rather randomly expressed thoughts, all boiling down to: Caveat writer. I did also wonder about mentioning barge-poles, but decided not to. After all, I don't know enough detail of this particular case to know whether a barge-pole is necessary.


Nick Green said...

One advantage I can see - if it is a competition, then presumably there must be a closing date AND a date by which the prize WILL be awarded (unlike with a traditional submission where you may wait till the crack of doom). So I'd make sure you get it in writing (or up on their website) when you can expect to hear by - i.e. the date after which you can submit to other agents. If you can't get such a date, it's not really a competition. If you can, then great!

Derek said...

It may be, in the main, a PR / profiling raising exercise - and there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that. Some time ago, an agent held a competition and one of my novels was longlisted on the basis of a succinct manuscript sample. The comp created a bit of a buzz and even though I didn't make the shortlist, it made me think happy thoughts of the agent. So much so that I then subbed something to her via the traditional route - and promptly never heard from her again!

Anonymous said...

One other aspect of it being a competition as opposed to a standard submission - it presumably guarantees your entry will be read; it's another 'prize' for everyone that their m/s will go straight to the top of the slush pile to be read next - not next month or next year.

Nicola Morgan said...

Nick - excellent extra points, thanks.

Derek - I agree that there's nothing inherently wrong with that.

Anon - I agree with that, too.

My only worry with all this is that the important thing is not actually being read/getting a reply, but being read and getting a reply from a GOOD agent. And that is what any writer signing up to something like this needs to establish first.

Anonymous said...

If it's the agent I'm thinking of, it's because it's a new agency.

Nicola Morgan said...

Anon - I genuinely don't know which agency it is. I agree that that would be a perfectly ok reason to act in this way, and I'd simply reiterate that the only really important thing is whether the agent has the knowledge and experience to do a great job. He/she absolutely could have such knowledge and experience but that's the question an aspiring writer must ask him/herself. Hope that makes sense?