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I keep seeing new writers in search of an agent get hung up on the fact that many agents don’t have much of an online presence.
Newsflash: an agent’s website is irrelevant to how good an agent they are. Some of the top agents in the business barely have an online presence at all.
Think about it for just a second: what is an agent’s website for exactly? It’s not for editors, i.e. the people agents sell to. Good agents already have relationships with editors at all the big houses and many of the little ones too. Editors don’t need to look up agents’ websites. The people who most frequently visit an agent’s site are writers looking for representation. And the good agents do not need to advertise for clients. Thus they do not need a good website.
My agent, Jill Grinberg, doesn’t blog and has a website that’s been under construction since 2006. Yet somehow she manages to be an extraordinarily good agent. I am very very happy and grateful to be with her. Trust me, Jill does not lack for clients.
Time and time again I see newbies comment about how if an agent doesn’t have an uptodate website they must be a crap agent who’s clearly still using messenger pigeons to communicate. So not true. The vast majority of my communication with Jill is done via email. I send her all my manuscripts as attachments. She is entirely in the 21st century. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t communicate with their agent in the same way.
When I see newbies saying they’re not going to submit to Jill because of her luddite ways I have to laugh. The only person they’re punishing is themselves.
I think what many many new writers searching for an agent don’t get is that new clients are not the majority of agents’ priority. Newbies are so focussed on the searching part that they sometimes don’t think about how what they want from agents will change when they actually get one.
When you have an agent you don’t care about their website or how clear their submission guidelines are or whether they take electronic submissions. You care about how fast they get back to you about your problems and how good the deals they make for you are. The stuff that was hugely important when you were looking for an agent disappears from view. You don’t think about it again.
The top priority of an agent is looking after their existing clients. When a new writer finds the perfect agent they’re going to be very grateful for that. They won’t be giving much thought to the state of their agent’s website.
Update: I am not saying agents should not have websites. Or that agents with websites are bad agents. Merely that the fact of having or not having a website is irrelevant to how good an agent they are.
I am also saying that what seems important when you’re looking for an agent won’t be once you have one.
Posted by Justine at 12:21, 6 July 2009 under Bloggery/Internetty Stuff, New York City/USA, Publishing business | 16 Comments »
Another way to state this might be: Are you looking for an agency that spends a significant percentage of its efforts looking for more clients? Or one that spends its time maintaining the careers of the small, focused group of clients it already has?
July 6th, 2009 at 1:12 PM
Maureen Johnson Says:
True! But there is nothing WRONG with a nice website. I say this because my agent has a nice one, and I love her very much. She has one for many reasons: when she left a large NYC agency, she wanted establish her own, separate presence; she enjoys blogging about the industry; and she married a webmonkey.
But you are absolutely right . . . it matters NOT AT ALL if agents have one or not. But some agents do have them, and that’s not a bad sign either. Not that you are saying that. I just wanted to say it!
July 6th, 2009 at 1:29 PM
3. Justine Says:
Maureen: Well, if you’re happy having your agent waste her time with blogging frippery when she could be getting you published in Monaco and movies made for community cable then that’s your lookout!
July 6th, 2009 at 1:37 PM
Clearly, you have not seen her awesome Spencer and Keith slash fic. You’re just jealous because your agent isn’t writing the same kind of stuff FOR YOU!
July 6th, 2009 at 2:01 PM
This is so true. I had a discussion with a writer just this weekend who was trying to convince me that how an agent words a rejection letter is a reflection on how she treats her clients.
I still don’t understand the logic of that.
July 6th, 2009 at 2:20 PM
6. Justine Says:
Maureen: I would be jealous if you weren’t MAKING THAT UP!
HWPetty: It’s a mystery. I think when you’re searching for an agent you start to go a bit crazy. Of course once you have an agent and are published there are all sorts of other things to drive you crazy.
July 6th, 2009 at 2:23 PM
Michelle Sagara Says:
Just wanted to point out that there are a couple of comments on your LJ feed about this as well (the feed is: http://syndicated.livejournal.com/larbalestier/366906.html? for that article).
One person did point out — and I semi-agree — that the agents who have a big web-presence are also the agents who are interested in taking on new clients; many of the very established agents are not, at this point, or they get clients through referrals, either from other clients or editors.
July 6th, 2009 at 3:38 PM
Well my agency has a pretty nice website,though we aren’t lacking for clients, we do run a couple of conferences etc, and it is nice to be able to advertise those. That said, we also have a person to run the site — if WE had to keep it up, there’s no way it would happen.
July 6th, 2009 at 3:40 PM
Keren David Says:
I’d rather my agent was selling my stuff than blogging. But I do love reading blogs by other agents. And I think a good website tells you something about the style of an agency and also makes it easy for all those lovely people who (one day I am sure!) will want to know whom to contact so they can ask me to speak at their literary festivals, commission me to write stuff,etc etc. For newspaper reporters (that’s also me) it’s very useful to have an agent’s website to be able to identify how to contact a particular writer. The websites aren’t just there for potential clients.
July 6th, 2009 at 3:41 PM
OH! I should also say, we do have illustrators as well, and our illustrator page is very useful for art directors etc who want to go to one place to link to all of them.
But again – if we didn’t have it, it would never be a dealbreaker, IMO.
July 6th, 2009 at 3:45 PM
Stacia Kane Says:
I totally agree. My agent’s agency doesn’t have a website or a blog; they don’t have much of a web presence at all. They very rarely bother to report their deals, either. But they’re a large and venerable agency with some amazing clients (not me, lol, but amazing clients). It drives me crazy to see writers focusing so heavily on who has a cool blog or website, as if that’s the measure of an effective agent, instead of looking at ALL the agencies out there. (Which isn’t to say I dislike blogging agents or think they’re ineffective, just that Blog is not the only thing to look at or for in an agent.)
Sometimes I think it would be fun if my agent blogged, but it’s certainly not a priority, and I can’t exactly complain about the amazing deals he’s gotten for me.
July 6th, 2009 at 4:27 PM
Diana Peterfreund Says:
Well, actually what was important for me when looking for an agent is exactly what is important to me now I’ve got one: what you said about deals and looking after me. I am baffled by the newbies’ insistence on unimportant details. When I went looking for agents I didn’t care if they took electronic submissions or wanted everything carved on slate by carrier pigeon, as long as they were good agents who got good deals. I sent them what they asked for.
My agent had a perfectly passable website when I signed with her, she’s got a bang up one now, and I really couldn’t care less. I mean, it’s pretty and all, but I can’t remember the last time I went.
Ironically, someone was complaining to her about the website today on Twitter — saying they should not only list clients (which they do) but specify which client is with which agent at agency. Do your research. a quick glance at pub marketplace answers THAT little question.
July 6th, 2009 at 5:36 PM
Well, I think they should have a minimal website – as any small business should – but I am a computer geek.
Really as a writer looking for an agent, if they provided some basic information such as, if they are currently taking on new clients, what they like to represent, submission guidelines, a way to contact them, things like that, I would be happy.
Just like I expect my landscaper to have a website with contact info and what services he provides.
Do I expect or even want them spending time blogging? Nope.
I agree that having or not having a website has nothing to do with their ability as an agent. It just makes researching them harder – which they might prefer if they keep a fairly full client list.
By the same token, if ‘my agent’ is blogging everyday, but not getting back to me on something I consider pressing – we have a problem there, too.
July 6th, 2009 at 6:46 PM
Fabulous post, Justine. I can definitely see how a web site wouldn’t matter once a writer is agented.
And I agree that big-name agents don’t need a web site when they have the word of mouth and track record, but I think they’re almost essential for agents who are lesser known and/or actively building their lists and need that slush coming in.
Just like I think it’s realistic for writers to think their chances are better with someone actively building their list (a lot of perfectly good agents are), and to want a base that they can touch down on to get information before querying.
Personally, I wouldn’t feel confident querying someone I’m not familiar with based on a blip in a market guide. I need good word of mouth, a web site, and/or a Publisher’s Marketplace page.
July 6th, 2009 at 7:25 PM
Er… I didn’t mean for that to read like I need all three. I need the word of mouth (like Jill has) or I need a way to get more info on them (web site, PM page, etc).
It helps to have accessible ways of narrowing the search down and prioritizing. Then you can get down to the nitty gritty with a phone or e-mail interview.
July 6th, 2009 at 7:44 PM
Carolyn Jewel Says:
I do agree with this post, with one tiny “but…”
My agent happens to have a very nice website that I saw a couple times when I was looking around for new representation and then once more when I’d signed and my picture and bio went up. I haven’t been to her website since.
She also, however, has a pretty high profile blog, and she uses that to announce client news (among other things) and often has her authors guest post. Both those things have been VERY beneficial to me. My guest post on her blog got lots of comments and was linked to all over the place. I know a lot of editors and agents read her blog, so it’s another way of getting my name recognized.
None of this would matter much if I didn’t believe she was a great fit for me as a client. But since she is, her blog and her newsletter, too, are great perks.
July 7th, 2009 at 11:00 AM
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