Thursday, February 27, 2014

Guest Post: Todd Strasser on Water Seeks Its Own Level: Finding the Right Agent

By Todd Strasser
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

A number of years ago Twentieth Century Fox went into production on a script based on my novel, How I Created My Perfect Prom Date (Simon Pulse).

This, as I’m sure you can imagine, was pretty exciting stuff, and, I imagined hopefully, possibly even an opportunity to improve my visibility among the Hollywood decision makers of the day.

My agent at that time was a nice enough fellow, but he worked at a small agency, which, though well-regarded, was not known in the movie world as a heavy hitter.

After speaking to a number of book editors and other contacts, I got the names of two prominent agents at top tier agencies, the sort whose agents movie stars often thanked when receiving Oscars.

I contacted both, explaining that I had written a number of other novels, and asking if they would be interested in seeing them. One said yes, the other never replied.

Filled with aspiration I packed a box with the novels I thought had the most movie potential and shipped them off to the agent who’d said yes.

After hearing nothing for a month I sent the agent an e-mail asking if he’d had an opportunity to read my books. He didn’t answer. A few weeks later I tried again, and again, received no answer.

 Once a few more weeks had passed, I tried calling and got his secretary who promised she’d give him the message.

Days passed, but he never called back.

Meanwhile the movie, now called "Drive Me Crazy," had been fast-tracked, and it wasn’t long before the premiere (my kids got to meet Britney Spears when she still wore underwear) – followed by tepid reviews … and a disastrous box office.

A week later my box of books arrived in the mail without a note. It was difficult to discern whether it had even been opened.

This was not the first time I’d reached high for an agent. In New York, I’d had connections at the biggest agencies, and, at various times had been briefly represented by some of the top literary agents for specific – usually adult -- projects.

But, as I said, these were short sojourns, usually ending when the project didn't sell.

On the other hand, my longest and most successful agent relationships -- each lasting a more than a decade -- were with agents who, like myself, were consistent and reliable performers. They might not have been at the top of their fields, but then, to be honest, neither was I.

These days, being in the fifth decade of my writing career, I’m quite glad to have a young agent who’s very comfortable and familiar with what’s going on in the business. When we got together six years ago, he was less established than he is now, and hungry.

Together we’ve made good progress. My advances are larger, and he’s expanded his stable of authors to include some who are quite well known.

Having been in this business a long time, and having had some super-hot, as well as some comfortably warm, agents, I’ve come to believe that having a “big” agent isn’t always the best way to go, especially if that agent has a lot of "bigger" clients than you.

As the old saying goes, “water seeks its own level,” and you may find that in the long run the agent who’s best for you is the one who takes the time to answer your e-mails, return your calls, and, most importantly, thinks of you as a valuable client.


LinWash said...

Wow! What a story! It just goes to show that landing an agent is difficult, even if you have had an agent in the past!

Kate Hannigan said...

Great post. There is such a frenzy around book selling and marketing that I can understand the urge to grab for the big name, heavy hitter. But ultimately, as with so many things in life, it comes to down to developing a real, meaningful relationship that respects the human connection.

Elizabeth O. Dulemba said...

So true!! I've experienced the same thing. And oftentimes, the "big" agents don't have time for their "little" clients. I like having a partner. :) e

:Donna Marie said...

This is a very timely post, Cynthia, seeing as I'm about to start of round of "finding an agent" lol I'll be keeping this in mind as I go! Thank you, Todd!

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