Wow- work is crazy

I can’t believe how time has just flown by. One minute I’m sitting at my dusty desk waiting for the phone to ring ( which it wasn’t), and the next thing you know deals are being made at breakneck speed. I may need to hire a secretary!!

As an agent, I love it when publishers get back to you the same day to tell you that they either have an offer, or they will at least try to meet your deadlines. I love it even more when a prospective client takes the time out on their busy weekend to email me and set up a meeting without having to ask. I love those kind of prospects!!

I was excited this week to receive the fall book selling catalogues which contained several of my sold books- it’s always a step in the right direction when you actually see the results of all your negotiating and unpaid discussions to get a book sold. This past weekend I happily showed the pages to an associate who was equally happy at the thoughts that there might indeed be royalty cheques coming my way.

With all the recent success I’ve been having I took a few days off for quiet reflection and a little sight-seeing with my girlfriend. She flew out here for a few days and we enjoyed the glorious weather walking along Ambleside, eating at La Provence and Memphis Blues ( you should buy those books as well- so that I can afford to eat there more often).

We also got in a few games of tennis, and after a little warm up, I was pleasantly surprised that her game had improved since the last time we played. She doesn’t get to practice much, at least not in comparison to the three times a week I do, so it was great to see that the tips I had given her were paying off. The scores aside, I’m sure any day now she’ll give me a run for my money. It’s also interesting to note that she twisted her knee during one rally, but bravely soldiered on eventually winning that game.

So moving forward, I hope to write a little more on here, and give some insider tips on how to approach an agent with your work. If you would like to hear from me directly, feel free to email Rachel at rachel.of.sentes@gmail.com and she’ll pass it onto me. If you promise Scotch I will most certainly reply.

I bid you all farewell, I have to go and refill the bottles of water in my fridge. It’s a hot one out there today!!

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Agents and the Changing world of Canadian Publishing

Recently I had lunch with an agent friend of mine and the topic of how traditional Canadian publishing is changing came up. There are more writers who are focusing on POD or self publishing routes but who are then seeking out agents to try and publish their second books, and there is great debate about what agent fees and services should now encompass.

In the past, most agents would take on clients, waive fees and just take the typical 15% royalty rate and leave it at that. Not so anymore. It has become quite clear that with the downsizing of staff and editors at publishing houses agents can no longer afford to wait until they sell a book to be paid- the time it takes to pitch books eats up thousands of unpaid hours.

Flat fees for different agent services such as referrals, manuscript evaluations, editing, and the writing of query letters and proposals are becoming common place. You may ask “why wouldn’t I just self-publish if I have to pay for these services?” My answer to that is when you pay an agent for those items you get: quality of work, credibility, and hopefully book sales.

An agent is someone who has skills at speaking the language of books, chasing down editors and publishers who are reluctant to return your calls, and negotiating the best deal for you and your book. They spend hundreds of hours scouring your manuscript, making sure it is free of typos, and presenting the best part of the book to prospective publishers. Self-publishers don’t do that and freelance writers only do portions.

Nowhere else can you expect the whole package- so why not spend a little money making sure you have the best of both worlds?

If an agent asks you for money for certain jobs- don’t walk away fuming. Recognize the time and professionalism that it takes to work on your book and consider paying for those services.
( and if you are so inclined- don’t forget cigars and scotch- that seems to be a trend with me, but hey- I’m an easy going agent!).

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Authors and Agents- How Objective can they be?

The relationship between an agent and an author can be tenuous and precarious, but also filled with amazing success and enlightenment. When you work with an agent our job is to tell the author the facts about their work. Even though an author might say they want a no holds barred viewpoint, when it comes right down to it, no author is really prepared for the criticism and work that might be requested to get their manuscript into salable condition. An author’s reaction can depend on how you phrase the bad news and as an agent I need to be very aware of what kind of person I’m dealing with.

This is where my natural talent for reading people shines through. ( No that’s not my ego talking- just a skill I have nurtured over the years). At this point I’m confident enough to be able to let an author know that perhaps they need to rethink what they are doing. I give them ample opportunity to voice their concerns and opinions about their baby but ultimately they have to have confidence in my professionalism to steer them in the right direction.

I recently had this discussion with a prospective client and we chatted about the question of being objective especially if the client was a relative, a friend, or even a lover. Can an agent be truly objective in that situation? No one wants to be the bearer of bad news especially to someone they are close with, and that can place a lot of stress on the agent and the writer.

If your agent really feels that they can’t be honest with you and your work then what solutions could they offer to make the process work for everyone?

Perhaps the agent could have an external reader ( or another agent) read the potential manuscript and offer their opinion. Then your agent could pitch based on the reviews and not feel like they are treating the manuscript unfairly. Or maybe they could ask a relative or someone close to the client to intervene and give the more distressing news to them-leaving the agent to be the one that can be a support for the client. Or they could suggest another agent that might work better for you.

Whatever you decide, it’s important to know that the publishing world works at a snail’s pace and you have to find the right agent for you. One that will respect your work and give an honest assessment of your skills. And as an author it’s time to realize that you are not perfect and if you can’t take constructive criticism you are in the wrong business!

By the way, on a completely different topic I had the delight of playing a very unique tennis player last week. We played 3 sets everyday for three days in temperatures averaging plus 24, a gorgeous week in Vancouver. Although I did manage to win most of the points, I learned a great deal about different styles of playing tennis and how sometimes I should resist the temptation to hit topspin balls seeing that my height is quite an advantage to the game.

All in all though it was a great week and I was happy to neglect some of my agent duties to take a time out and enjoy all that this city has to offer, especially walking along the seawall after a great dinner at my favorite french restaurant. If you get a chance you should go and sit on some of the benches by the water and enjoy the night air this summer. You won’t regret it.

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Agents and New Clients

Yesterday I signed up a new client. I can’t tell you how exciting it is to do that. It’s so exciting in fact, that I celebrate by going for a long walk, smoking a cigar ( if I have one), and having a nice glass of scotch. Yes that’s the kind of wild and crazy guy I am.

Despite what you may think, the life of an agent is not all glamour and glitz. It’s spending every day on the phone, brainstorming ideas of who to contact to see if they want to write a book, reading manuscripts- some great, some horrendous, and then playing the role of a diplomat between publisher and author. So when an agent signs up a client without any fuss or muss it is cause for celebration.

Our life is a solitary one punctuated by playing the odd game of tennis, watching a movie, or going to a baseball game and if one isn’t careful they can become old before their time. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I like what I do, I just wish there was a regular paycheck involved. But you can’t have everything.

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Advice on Publishing

I was going to offer some amazing advice here, but instead I’m going to quote a few of my favourite people on the process of getting published. I hope you have a sense of humour and take some of these quotes to heart ( especially the ones about getting an agent).

” Do you realize what would happen if Moses were alive today? He’d go up to Mount Sinai, come back with the Ten Commandments, and spend the next eight years trying to get published”- Robert Orben, The Encyclopedia of One-Liner Comedy, 1971

” An author should try to get an agent to represent him. Selling a manuscript cold is the toughest way I know to get published. It can be done, but the odds are against the writer.”- William Targ, Indecent Pleasures, 1975

” For better or for worse, agents have increasingly become the keepers of the gates to book-publishing heaven.” – Nancy Love, Everything you Need to Know About Literary Agents, 1995 Writer’s Handbook

” Until you have canvassed at least 25-30 publishers you haven’t given your book the chance it has to get published.”- Richard Balkin, agent, Writers Yearbook 86

” You have to keep writing, keep submitting, and keep praying to the god of whimsy that some editor will respond favorably.” – Attributed to Peter Benchley, novelist

And some of my favourite quotes:

” This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”- Dorothy Parker, critic, quoted in Wit’s End edited by Robert E. Dremman, 1973.

” That’s not writing, that’s typing.” – Truman Capote, novelist, appraising Jack Kerouac’s work, TV interview with David Susskind, Open End, 1959

And my friend says that this one seems to mirror me, but I can’t think why.

” I often quote myself. It adds spice to my conversation.”- George Bernard Shaw, playwright, quoted in Reader’s Digest, June 1943

And for those that get an agent- make sure that it’s the right fit for you!

” Look, they’re not interested in a talking seagull.” – What Richard Bach’s agent told him after his novel Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1970) was rejected more than 20 times. The book went on to sell 3, 107,500 copies in hardback, and continues to sell as a mass market

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Happy Friday

Since it’s Friday and everyone is already out enjoying the weather, I thought I would jot down a few little things that make me happy. What’s yours?

  • Finding you have just enough bread to make a really good sandwich
  • Getting money back that you loaned to someone and had forgotten about
  • Signing up a really good client that wants to work with you- without you having to call them a billion times
  • Realizing that you have just enough scotch to tide you over until the weekend
  • Extra bacon at Sophie’s- she is too nice
  • Not feeling guilty about taking the day off and seeing a movie
  • Receiving brown paper packages tied up with a blue bow that made them smile on the long drive home
  • Enjoying mini addictions while still maintaining New Year’s Resolutions
  • Knowing that someday all your hard work will pay off
  • Knowing that people out there care about you, no matter what your level of tennis might be
  • Having a cuddle

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Good friends, Good times

Ah, good friends equals good times. When an old friend comes into town, even at my age I like to indulge in a little scotch and recollection over a few cigars. What is it about reminiscing with someone you’ve know for dozens of years that makes you feel that all is right in the world? Is it the excuses it provides? ” No, I’m not working today, I’m going out with my old friend from school” or is it the shared memories of spending endless nights in pubs. Well no it couldn’t be that because I don’t remember the nights in the pubs- too much scotch. But that’s what these old friends are for- not recalling the good old times back in the day.

This week I have the pleasure of catching up with a good friend of mine and skipping out on as much work as possible. We’ve gone out to fine restaurants (not the Persian one- I won’t name names but I will NEVER go there again. Not only was the food mediocre but the service was appalling. Post a comment if you want the name of the place to avoid a food catastrophe), we’ve played golf, gone for walks, watched sports on television and may even watch a few movies. But throughout his visit I very rarely felt like saying “Okay, I’ve seen you -now get the hell out of my apartment”. This could happen if you are a new friend, but with old ones all is forgiven.

As Walter Winchell said, ” A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”

I have to agree. And it’s going to suck not having an excuse to avoid work when he leaves.

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Perfection- is there such a thing?

Yes! When it comes to manuscripts the answer is simply yes. As Voltaire once said ” Perfection is attained by slow degrees;it requires the hand of time.” And so I ask you as a humble agent to please take your time when you submit a sample of your work to be considered by an agent.

I know perfection is tough to achieve but the very mention of the word “typo” sends chills up my spine.
I’ve been told that I’m a bit of a taskmaster when it comes to the written language, and indeed although you may find a few errors in this post ( if you do you can enter to win a great prize package- of what I don’t know but I’ll think of something), but I can’t overstate the importance of taking care to prepare your work BEFORE you submit it to an agent or publisher.

Now occasionally a person gets lucky. Take one of my esteemed colleagues for example. I have the utmost respect for this person and she is a perfect example of everything you need in an agent even though when she first started out she made some errors. ( She won’t admit to them so don’t even TRY to go that route) She didn’t see them as huge errors, but a misplaced comma or semicolon can make the difference between publication or the garbage bin.
Of course in her case she succeeded in selling the manuscript but I think that’s because she is a force to be reckoned with and no one ever wants to say no to her without a very good reason.

For everyone else in the world the rule is SEEK PERFECTION or don’t even think of sending out a manuscript or query letter or book proposal to an agent or publisher. Send it to as many friends, professional editors, or family members you can to catch all of your errors and then read it again.

So my tip today is TAKE THE TIME and go over your manuscript with a fine tooth comb. Or the typo man will be on your case.

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Living the vida loca in Edmonton

Well, I never thought I would say this, but going to Edmonton wasn’t all that bad. It was a quick trip- landed Friday night and back on Sunday but the glimpse was enough to make me consider visiting again. When there are leaves on the trees- strange weather there. I mean it’s May and you just got rid of the snow. And what is up with the WIND? Where does that come from?

I tried to play a game of tennis today and the wind ending up moving the ball four feet every time I tried to serve. It was pathetic. I felt pathetic, and I certainly didn’t give my opponent a very fair game. Half of my serves didn’t go over the net, so she really wasn’t able to play that well. Hopefully the next time I grace the city, the wind won’t cause such a problem and she’ll get a better chance to really play tennis.

So in my short trip to the Capital City I ate at Deewhat restaurant, an east Indian establishment with seats that were comfy, but a little short to lean back on. It certainly improved my posture. The only thing I didn’t like was the music, but the service was friendly and even when the saffron rice was being flicked at me by a person that shall go nameless, I enjoyed the evening. Of course the rice incident was in retaliation for some of my straw throwing earlier- so I suppose I deserved it. I walked down Whyte avenue at night and marveled at the amount of bars located on such a short street. Of course there is a church on every corner so there are plenty of places to repent after imbibing each night. One complaint I do have is Edmonton’s strange aversion to serving Johnnie Walker’s Red Label. They have black and gold, but no red. In 3 places I asked for it- no such luck. I’d love to know the reason for that, but then again at least they had scotch.

I also ate at OPM a kind of Asian fusion restaurant which serves seven flavoured beef and a decent wor wonton soup. The service was a bit slow, but we were in the lounge so that may explain it. Also the music kept going up and down in volume which was annoying but that was a small inconvenience in light of the good food. I had a snack at Hudson’s and a breakfast at Denny’s ( pricey and mediocre food), and then a small brunch at Moxie’s, only because I didn’t have time to wait in the line at Barb and Ernie’s breakfast place-maybe next time.

I also got to walk in the lovely Buena Vista off leash park with three very cool dogs, watching them swim in the river and roll in a seagull carcass. Then we all stopped at the snack shack and they had treats. I would love to see what it looks like in the summer. The weather was spectacular until the wind kicked up.

So why was I in Edmonton you ask? Well I was a guest at the MacEwan Get Publishing Conference. They had asked me to participate in the Foot in the Door Queries and Pitch Camp as a literary agent- which luckily for them I am, so that worked out well.

I was please by all the interest the writers had in speaking with me and it was an excellent networking opportunity. I hope I was able to enlighten them somewhat about the job I do, and why it is so important to support traditional publishers. I look forward to attending another conference in the future.
While in Edmonton, I got a chance to meet some of my clients face to face, speak with some potential clients, and connect with someone whom I’ve always been intrigued by but have up until this point, only spoken to on the phone. It was great to meet the person behind the sultry voice and see that she really was everything I expected. And I’m sure I impressed her with my suavity and sense of humour.

Now that I’m back home in Vancouver it’s back to reality. I was happy to have a short break and reclaim my weekend, because as an agent I tend to have to work every weekend so getting away from it all is certainly welcome. So I would like to thank the folks in Edmonton for having me, and especially to the exceptional woman who drove me to and from the airport. ( What on god’s green earth possessed Edmonton to have one so far out of the city? That’s insane!)

So until I visit Edmonton again, thank you and I raise my glass of Red Label to you all.

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How time flies- Pick up your Phone


Wow, it’s been over a month since I’ve written anything on here. I suppose that’s a good thing because it means I’m working a lot. And for an Agent if you don’t work there is no money to pay your bills.
This last month I’ve been working the ancient art of Diplomacy. I’m not sure that what I do is an art, but I sure do try hard to be a kind and patient person when it comes to negotiating with publishers. Our world is a strange one made up of ideas that are proposed and pitched to a small segment of society that can make or break your career.
It takes tact, persistence, and on occasion, anger to make it as a Literary Agent.
I have to say that one of the most annoying tasks is waiting for phone calls to be returned. I believe I have mentioned that to an Agent a phone is a lifeline, so when it doesn’t ring my life becomes frustrating.
I realize that everyone is busy but I do believe in common courtesy and returning a call is extremely important in my life. Last week I left three phone messages and sent two emails to a person that I needed to hear from quite quickly.
Now barring illness or other misfortune, what is a good reason for not returning my calls? Do they realize that the very food on my plate relies on their voice at the other end of the line? How can I pay for my brisket or Montreal smoked ham if they don’t call me back? How would they feel if I didn’t return their calls?
I realize that in this business you don’t want to burn any bridges with either publishers or the media, but there comes a point when they need to realize that what they do actually can affect someone and not in a good way.

So if you were one of those people in the last month who ‘forgot’ to return my call, take a couple minutes and dial my number or drop me an email. Whether you use a blackberry, a cell phone, or something that has an Application to dial, call me. It’s good for you and good for me. Well I don’t know about you- but I’m thinking of myself and my growling stomach.

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