First, today's goodies. I've got 5 sets of the Fallen series in paperback -- all four books. I'll probably have to limit this to the US because sending 4 paperbacks to Australia or whoever would be just too expensive, but trust me, these books are cool. Fallen Angels whose curse is to drink blood to survive (and I did a lot of research on the purged books of the bible, etc.). I wanted a reason a benevolent and loving god would go around smiting things, and then let horrible things happen, so I arranged the universe to explain it, then filled it with devastatingly beautiful fallen. Yum. Just make a comment and I'll do the random number generator thing.
I'm going to attempt to be discreet here, and not name names. I have only good things to say about my second agent, and I adore my third, but the first ...
That's right. 40 years, three agents. I am nothing if not faithful. Except that brings me to another classic mistake which most of us make - staying with an agent too long and not ending on a professional note.
So here's how I got my first agent. I'd finished the mss. of Barrett's Hill. When I lived in NYC I worked at the Rockefeller Foundation (I prided myself on never working for a profit-making company -- it was the sixties, y'know.) A friend of mine who also worked there had a friend who worked for Cosmo, and she offered to have her read the mss. The response from the editor (or whomever she was) was that Cosmo didn't publish this sort of thing, but I should sent it to Agent X.
Cool. I didn't even realize the value of having a recommendation. I dutifully sent if off to Agent X, who took it on. I've already described my crushing arrogance, so I will spare my own blushes and not repeat it. He sold the book in 9 months (for some reason he never informed me of rejections, and I was perfectly happy with that). Two years later he sold my second book. Then my third, and fourth, etc. etc. Lots and lots of books. I met him once at an early RT convention and he was a very unattractive little toad and to my mind, incredibly sleazy. And then it turned out contracts were sitting in his office for months and months, so that my editors at Harlequin American were complaining and I was turning in books well before they were contracted. (Hell, one time I got a revision letter without being told someone had offered for a book). So I checked with a lawyer and sent him a registered letter following all the rules, professional for once.
I still didn't trust him. Out of the blue a ridiculously successful young lawyer appeared on the horizon, saying he owed it all to Agent X. He dedicated books to him, he even dedicated one of his movies to him just after he died, and I decided I must really be an idiot. If a lawyer (and of course I don't know how good a lawyer people like Grisham and Turow are) thought Agent X was the best thing in the world, then what did I know?
Alas, I knew a lot. Not long after Agent X died it came out that he'd been scamming the mega-million-dollar bestselling lawyer, ripping him off of huge amounts of royalties. Off came the dedications, and a major audit was done of Agent X's books, resulting in a nice, unexpected check for me. Moral of the story -- trust your instincts, not a #1 NYT bestseller's.
My second agent was quite wonderful I wrote one book in between agents, though I'd met agent Y at various RWA functions, had a drink with her and liked her a lot. Then, when Harlequin Intrigue turned down a book they had previously ok'd, I called her, she took me on immediately and got an editor to read the book that weekend. By Monday I had an offer.
We worked really well together for many years -- at least fifteen, I would guess. She wasn't very hands-on -- in fact, I suspected she never read my books. If she did, she never had any suggestions. Not that Little Miss Arrogance would have taken them (I really have improved), but she would get me the most amazing contracts. I don't remember her ever having to go to bat for me, and I wouldn't have expected her to, though in retrospect a little more involvement as publishers kept screwing up would have been good. But I loved her as a friend, which is always dangerous.
She got burned out. She'd lost her edge, she wasn't getting things done, and as things got harder and harder in the business (that's the only way publishing seems to go -- harder) she got disheartened. Finally I came into her office and closed the door and said we need to talk. She said she was burned out on the business but not on me. That she was tired and disheartened.
A wise businessperson would have severed the relationship immediately. But she was my friend. So I waited to see things improve, and instead things became worse, and she was losing clients. So like an idiot I talked with some of her clients at conferences, to see if they were having the same problems (they were). Unfortunately someone got back to Agent Y, she was hurt and angry, and she fired me just as I was writing a letter to fire her.
I botched that completely, but I suspect I paid for it. I was making a reliable six figure income at that point (oh, for the glory days!) and yet I couldn't get an agent for two years. I met with my dream agent and found she wasn't the match I'd thought she'd be (though I still love her). I met with another who talked to me like I was a rank beginner. I sent letters and got either a flat turn-down or no response at all.
And then I found Agent Z, who is fabulous. Much fiercer than I thought I'd like, and yet I adore her. On top of that, she actually reads my stuff, I get advice and suggestions, which proposal idea would work and which wouldn't, confronting editors who are doing me wrong even before I say anything. She's the perfect businesswoman, on top of everything, and she's always got my back. Plus her partner is a fabulous editor, they have an excellent foreign sales department, and I think I've been with her about ten years by now. If I have a problem I tell her (admittedly a little nervously, because fierce can be nerve-racking, but that fierceness is never directed at me, even when I screw up.) I think one problem with Agent Y was that editors loved her. She never upset the apple cart.
So. Three agents in 40 years. One bad (though he sold a lot of books), one very good when she wasn't burned out, and one great. All in all I've been lucky.
Agent X's office was so incompetent that when they got an offer for my first book they couldn't find my phone number and sent me a letter instead. By the time we got an offer for the second book they still couldn't find my number. But the nice thing about that is I still have the letter I got one September morning long ago, the letter that changed my life.