Like many writers (whether they admit it or not), I have Google Alerts set to email me a link whenever my name is mentioned online. Today, it brought me a link to a blog post by Peter Cox of the Redhammer Agency.
The post concerns the question of whether an agent who competes against another agent for business (i.e., solicits the other agent’s clients) is, well, questionable. “What is it about this business that makes us so allergic to the idea of competitive selling?” Peter asks, and then, to illustrate what he identifies as the general perception that competitive selling is Not A Good Thing, quotes me.
Even now, any agent who overtly prospects for business is widely considered to be, well, wide. “Be wary of an agent who solicits you,” cautions the queen of literary scam-busters Victoria Strauss. “Good agents don’t need to advertise—or to solicit. Questionable agents, on the other hand, often derive much of their clientele from solicitation.” No wonder poor old Andrew Wylie is called the Jackal. Clearly the likes of Roth, Bellow, Mailer and Rushdie didn’t realize that Andrew was “questionable” when he enthusiastically chased after their business.
Yeah, that’s me–good old black-and-white Victoria. Soliciting clients is bad. Good agents don’t do that. No shades of gray, no in-betweens. Period.
Problem is, that quote has been taken out of context. It’s only part of what I said; Peter has cherry-picked my words to yield the emphasis he wanted. If you look at my statement in its entirety, the effect is somewhat different. (You can find the statement here, on the Literary Agents page of Writer Beware.)
Be wary of an agent who solicits you.
Reputable agents do sometimes contact writers whose work they’ve seen and liked. This used to be extremely rare, and based only on published work–-but the popularity of blogs and social media have made it somewhat more common. However, it is still unusual. As noted above, good agents don’t need to advertise–-or to solicit. Questionable agents, on the other hand, often derive much of their clientele from solicitation. If you subscribe to writers’ magazines or register your copyright, you may be a target. Fee-charging agents often purchase lists of names and addresses from these sources.
So, in fact, I do acknowledge the possibility that it may not be questionable at all for an agent to approach a writer, and I go on to explain exactly why, even so, writers need to be wary.
More important, in the context of the page on which my statement appears, I think it’s pretty clear that I’m discussing writers who are actively seeking literary agents, rather than the poaching of agented writers by rival agents. It’s not the magazine-mailing-list and copyright-registration soliciters whom agented writers need to fear; their concern, in any attempted poaching, is the poaching agent’s motives. Things may not be all roses for the poachers, either. Like cheating spouses, if a client will jump ship once, they may do it again.
Andrew Wylie, by the way, is far from the only client-poacher, though he’s probably the most famous. I’ve heard any number of poaching stories over the years, some of which worked out well, some of which didn’t. But Peter is correct: this is usually something that happens on the QT, because it does seem generally to be regarded as somewhat sleazy.
Peter finishes his post with a provocative statement:
I can think of no end of talented authors who are today poorly or even negligently represented. Is it fair to deny them the possibility of better representation simply because the more atherosclerotic parts of our industry consider competition to be ungentlemanly?
Leaving aside the question of whether prevailing opinion constitutes “denial,” what do you think?
I do appreciate my promotion to royalty, though.