let’s play a new game

I didn’t end up even getting 30 questions on that meme that went around last week. At this point, I’ve answered all the easy ones and will have to go back through the others to see if there are any essay ones I can actually do justice to. Meanwhile, I thought I’d toss something new out there….

I have to send a bio in for a conference handout. And I’m bored with the same old, same old. But I’m also feeling a bit tapped out and not coming up with anything new. So,I’m looking for some ideas. The conference in question is primarily for women’s fiction, though I understand there are also a few mystery writers and probably a couple fantasy writers in the group too. I usually try to keep my target audience in mind when drafting these. I’m not sure I’ll get any responses on this. It’s kind of a peculiar thing to try. But I’m wondering…. if you were a writer attending a conference and actually had the time to skim the materials provided at registration, what would you want to see in an agent’s bio? What information is most relevant? Which is most appealing? Which is unhelpful or unappealing? Etc., etc. Curious minds (well mine, anyway) want to know.

32 responses to “let’s play a new game

  1. From a business pov? I’d want to see what clients or bestsellers you have/represent, so I’d know ahead of time whether I’d be wasting my time (and yours) by approaching you with something completely unlike your current flock. Fantasy alone is a big field, after all, and there’s a difference between, say, representing John Ford and Holly Black versus Alma Alexander and Ellen Kushner.
    I wouldn’t want to see yet another statement of “looking for upcoming and exciting authors with fresh new stories!” because, first, that tells me nothing. (No offense, but I think agents have that stamped on a bible somewhere that this is what they’re supposed to say, and it’s useless.) After all, all authors think they’re telling something fresh and new, or else, why bother? And second, well, DUH. The day I find an agent who says, “no, really, I’m looking for dull authors with the same old retread of Lestat and/or LotR…” Riiiight.
    On a personal level? Your suggestions for wine with your favorite stories. Would, say, The Scarlet Pimpernel be Australian shiraz, or a Portuguese green wine? Would you recommend a lovely little-known South African Reisling when tackling Pargeter’s The Brothers of Gwynedd? And so on. I know food ‘n good drink is one of your trademarks, so that’s the kind of personal that gives the more introverted authors an opening, if that’s what you wanted to encourage.

    • I’d know ahead of time whether I’d be wasting my time (and yours) by approaching you with something completely unlike your current flock
      I see your point. And I often will list a couple of well-known clients in a bio. Here’s my concern, though. (And I see several people echoed this suggestion and I hope they’re all reading comments so they can give me their opinion on this.) What if you are actually open to seeing something completely unlike what you currently represent? For example, less than three years ago, I had no urban fantasy on my list at all. Now I have at least three series that are currently under contract and being released. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t want to be typecast. But am I risking that by doing as you suggest here? *curious* The converse issue here, of course, is locking yourself out of an area by people deciding you surely can’t want more of it. I want to stay flexible. And I want to sound that way too.

      • I agree; the risk of ‘typecasting’ is a potential, and that did occur to me while responding. But at the same time, there must be something that’s a cohesive thread through all the pieces that appeal to you, regardless of genre. I know you’ve mentioned before that if you read one more vampire piece you’ll need a hug-me coat (they’re all the rage in DC, I hear). But what is it that bugs you? Maybe such explanation might be more useful than “I represent A, B, and C, and sold the books X, Y, and Z” since the latter example leaves it to the author to figure out the connections. Is it the overused metaphor of sex and power in every vampire novel? Or is it the ultra-romanticism, the velvet smoking gown, the affected Parisian accent? What is it, then, that you can look at in your urban fantasy that relates to authors pre-urban fantasy? I’m sure there’s something.
        After all, it seems to me that if, say, you were to represent me on a second book, this is much like me at the bookstore buying an author’s second book after totally grooving on the first. There’s a level of trust, so speaking of the second book isn’t as good of an example. It’s the first books that turned your head, so that would be the basis of your self-analysis. And that’s what a new author would want to know, because the authors haven’t gained your trust, and need that extra ‘oomph’ to get your attention.
        I guess that means instead of name-dropping, you’d be plot-dropping, or metaphor-dropping.

        • Actually, the comment about vampire books was a facetious example. I don’t remember exactly when I wrote it, but I seem to recall even saying so at the time. There are vampires in books/series I currently represent. The element isn’t the issue. It’s usually the execution. But I’m not sure I actually know myself well enough to pin it down. I’ll have to think about that.

      • Ok, the very first thing that I would like to see in an agent’s bio is “Currently looking for new clients”. Less favorable, but still welcome would be “Currently looking for X new clients.” 🙂
        After that, I like what you said here: (reworked for bio use)
        I am open to representing work that is completely unlike anything I currently represent. Less than three years ago, I had no urban fantasy on my list at all. Now I have at least three series under contract. At the same time, I love the kinds of work that I currently represent. I’d like more of that, too. I’m flexible, and like to stay that way.
        Also, you might want to mention your LJ. Personally, I’d love to have you represent me because of what I’ve seen of you here in your LJ. You seem passionate about your work. I believe that you care as much about our books as we do. *That’s* what I’m really looking for 🙂

  2. I’d like to know who your favorite big-name authors are, to get an idea of whether or not my style of writing would be a good match.

  3. From a business POV I’d like to see something that tells me what you do– along the lines of Agent X currently represents clients in these genres, and in taking on a new author she looks for (insert catchphrases here).
    I’d also like to see something that gave me the sense of the agent as a person. It’s the difference between the agent listings in the Writer’s Digest Guides versus the information in the Jeff Hermann’s Guide to Literary Agents. Both tell me what type of books the agent represents, but the Hermann’s Guide gives me a sense of the person.
    It can be something as zany as “Xname aspires to be a celebrity judge on Iron Chef America” or as mild as “X enjoys muscial theater, and she tries to catch a Broadway show whenever she’s in the city.”

    • in taking on a new author she looks for (insert catchphrases here)
      Anyone have any good catchphrases? Those are actually striking me as difficult to come up with if one is trying to avoid having them sound like cliches…. suggested not asking for “exciting authors with fresh new stories” but wouldn’t “vibrant characters” or things along those lines end up causing the same issue mentioned — that authors will necessarily think their works possess those qualities. How does one narrow it down in a way that’s actually helpful to both sides?
      I like the idea of putting in something personal, but as someone else mentioned in a later comment, not one that would make me wonder whether the person was being genuine by bringing it up, if you know what I mean.

      • one that would make me wonder whether the person was being genuine
        You’re in NYC, right? I think you’d be able to tell if we authors are just cozying up and lying through our teeth! Naw, the reason I suggested a bit of personal is because so many authors I know are introverts. Including something as a carrot gives us an opener to begin the conversation. A hook. A way to start talking instead of just blurting out in desperation, “represent me because I worship you!” which seems quite classless. Rather, “I thought I’d mention if you’re ever in DC, you might like such-and-such a restaurant…” is slightly more graceful and something you’ve indicated you’d find interesting.
        Unless, of course, you do prefer authors prostrating themselves helplessly, bound by the siren-like stare of your agenting power, left gasping as you drop your business card before their bulging eyes. In which case, no personal stuff required, except something like “glossy eight-by-tens available for your personal shrine, only five dollars, ten dollars signed, twenty if personalized…”

        • llamas & ice breakers
          This reminded me of the perils of group interviews. Trying to break the ice during an RWA group appointment, one editor asked a friend where she was from and my friend replied that she was from upstate New York where the only exciting thing was the llama ranch, and the community college now offered a course on “Living with Llamas.”
          Turns out the editor is a huge llama fan, so they chatted briefly about llamas before discussing my friend’s book. When the five minutes were up, the editor turned to the next writer in the circle, who presumably panicked that she had missed some essential step in the sales process then blurted out “But I don’t know anything about llamas!”

          • Re: llamas & ice breakers
            It wasn’t just that they were on a ranch…it was that they were in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, with little shamrocks stencilled on their fur. I mean, come on. ANYONE can have a llama ranch, but how many people have them in a St. Patrick’s Day parade?

  4. Largely what other people have said, but:
    I’d want to see who you like to read (some big names, some more obscure, since finding out that a pro has a favorite obscure author in common with you is cool), who you want to represent, and how, if at all, the two categories differ. I’d want to know some of the things you specifically aren’t looking for, though I know those lists are usually followed by “…but if you can do it well, I’ll like it anyway.” Personal interests or hobbies are always interesting to me, and help in constructing the image of real-person rather than scary-person-who-will-reject-me. I like the above idea about assigning wines to stories.

  5. Oh, lord. Tricky – or maybe not so tricky.
    My own bio read incredibly dull and pedantic, until my husband came up with its present opener, about being able to claim intimate acquaintance with the fleshpots of Europe. At that point, I asked for reader feedback and everyone howled with delight, so I threw caution to the winds and added the closer about not going into the untraditional musicians I knew because I didn’t want them coming after me with lawyers or machetes.
    Point is, I get a lot of superb feedback on that bio, and it’s all been positive. Can you get a bit playful with yours? Is that allowable?

    • I’ve certainly seen some that are quite frivolous in their approach. So I don’t think that’s out of the question. I’m suddenly wondering what I would sound like if someone tried to write a book blurb based on me. Or a Locus-length review or something.

      • The thing is, the body of my bio is good, solid, traditional fact-based stuff. It was goosing it with the entire “HELlo! Here comes something different!” bit at the very front and very back that makes it stand out.
        So maybe just write it as if you were actually writing a blurb about the parts of yourself you’re proudest of, for a fan appreciation site? And that would probably include the fact that you have a Cthulu jones, or at least a Cthulu clock…

  6. Everyone’s said the things I’d look for if I was looking… but I thought I’d agree with them so you know that more than five people think so. 🙂
    In basic:
    Who you represent currently.
    When your last sale was, and to whom.
    What genres/styles you’re looking to represent, and;
    Something quirky/personal.

  7. Mostly what everyone else has been saying: what areas you represent, which well known authors you have sold, will you treat my manuscript like the sacred text that I know it to be, etc.
    I think if you were to bring up personal things, you might inspire a serious spate of brown nosing among prospective authors. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if you anticipate properly. For instance, if you say you like chocolate, you might end up with a slew of query letters this summer that you have to scrape the chocolate “gift” from before reading. If you say you like a certain type of wine, you might stock yourself up ’til the end of the year. (Though I don’t know what the policy of your agent’s guild would be on keeping these kinds of things.) Seriously though, it seems like this would be a way of giving prospective authors a creative way of grabbing your attention.

    • (Though I don’t know what the policy of your agent’s guild would be on keeping these kinds of things.) Seriously though, it seems like this would be a way of giving prospective authors a creative way of grabbing your attention.
      The AAR’s policy on such things aside (and I’m not entirely sure about how they’d respond to gifts — one cannot charge a reading fee so I suspect it falls into a grey area)… there’s the whole issue of accepting presents from strangers. Odd, but true. Heh. On my side of the fence, it somehow strikes me that if I were to put in the bio that I favored a particular kind of wine and then received it, all I’d learn is that the potential client had read the bio, but not really much about them, I think. I’d want a way to make the connection go in both directions, which if they just do what you tell them to do, doesn’t quite work. Hmmm… I’m not sure I’m explaining exactly what I mean here. I guess I’m looking for some way to have their personality come out in their response as well, if that makes any sense.

      • yeah, that makes sense.

      • I’d want a way to make the connection go in both directions, which if they just do what you tell them to do, doesn’t quite work. Hmmm… I’m not sure I’m explaining exactly what I mean here. I guess I’m looking for some way to have their personality come out in their response as well, if that makes any sense.
        How about placing an inkblot at the end of your bio and inviting them to take a mini-Rorschach test by telling you what the see?

  8. Add me to the chorus: some big names you represent, some big books. And perhaps a couple of first novels you’ve sold, too. As far as what you’re looking for–maybe something about what kinds of characters or what kinds of action appeal to you. Give an example of something quirky that you loved in a book you sold.
    For something personal–maybe someplace you’ve been, or something you’ve done. At least that would avoid the chocolate-wrapped manuscripts.

  9. I didn’t end up even getting 30 questions on that meme that went around last week.
    Heh, I bet others had the same thought I did: “Oh, wow, umm… Man, I wonder if I can make intellegent sounds… uhh. Crud. How can I ask her about the whole agenting thing without sounding like a slobbering fool?”
    And so I went for no questions, just hide and see what other people asked.
    But I’m wondering…. if you were a writer attending a conference and actually had the time to skim the materials provided at registration, what would you want to see in an agent’s bio?
    Ditto to what they all said? I mean, ’cause you’re a pretty well-known agent. I’ll definitely agree with what you represent, what you’d like to represent, and then maybe something like, “I went to Rome once,” or “One day I hope to see Antarctica!”
    At the very least, you shouldn’t end up with too much junk food (I say that like it’s a bad thing), and you may find yourself in some interesting conversations if someone has also been to Rome (or, you know, whatever. :D).
    I do like the personal thing, though, because (IMO) it makes (general) you more human to those of us who hope to find a good agent one day. 🙂

  10. I tend to find the list of author’s represented and author’s liked fairly unhelpful — because I never have any idea if the agent liked the things that are similar to what I’m writing, or puts up with them. If someone says Jean Auel does that mean they like the sex, the archaeology, or don’t mind the really long wait time between books? If they represent romance and SF does that mean they’ll be interested in my cross-genre SF romance or do they like their SF hard and their romance undiluted by plot? But if I decide I don’t fit with Terry Pratchett for content I might just be missing out on someone who would appreciate what’s been called my wry sense of humour.
    Er, yes I have banged my head against the desk a few times over this :o)
    I guess that what I’d most like to know — but don’t have a clue how you’d be able to say in a bio — is whether the agent sees themselves as part of the creative processes or purely the sales side, and whether they view themselves as invested in the writer’s career or working commission to commission with short timeframes for any individual project. That’s information which doesn’t seem to be easily available but has caused me to think twice about pursuing an agent, and I’m vaguely aware of a few agent-author kerfuffles that would appear to have that basic a mismatching at their core.

    • Very helpful reply, Kat. I do like to list a couple authors. Usually just to give people some idea of what I rep. But you’re right. It’s not clear why I chose those particular people or what they have in common. In fact, I was discussing the idea with a friend last night and having trouble coming up with something that shows up across the board. I guess I just like diversity.
      Your other point about creative vs. business oriented agents is a good one too. I’m trying to figure out a way to slip something like that in now.

  11. When I was looking for an agent, the information I wanted to know was:
    1. Who they represented
    2. What they had sold recently and to whom
    3. The general genres the agent was interested in and NOT interested in
    4. Submission policies (i.e., query, sample chapters or manuscript)
    5. Percentages for domestic and also foreign; also with whom the agent sub-contracted for foreign/film rights
    What would be of particular interest to me is whether an agent would accept queries via e-mail, as the vast majority of my work these days is done electronically, and frankly speaking having to print things is a hassle. Also, an agent with a well-developed Web presence (and a info sheet noting such) would be of more interest to me than on who did not.

  12. You mention that you’re open to writing different from what you’ve represented. Mentioning that in the bio is helpful (along with mentions of what is typical).
    As an author, I’d find it helpful to know that you’re open to other genres…. but I would also wonder how this is more helpful to me than an agent who specializes in my genre. As someone who writes in different genres, this sounds like it could be a plus to me. On the other hand, if you don’t have experience with a particular genre, will your advice and contacts be the most appropriate?

  13. I can’t remember if I read it here…or if someone told me…but I was relieved to find out about your thesis subject. It made you less scary. Not that I was *really* scared or anything, but the whole deer-in-the-headlights fear of agents in general that goes with thinking about pitching just sort of went away at that point. Not that I’m planning to pitch to you…but you just seemed way less frightening while no less awesome.

  14. Ditto on the quirky/personal
    Fill in the blank with something a bit out there:
    “If I weren’t an agent I’d (probably/like to) be a ________.”
    CIA operative? Neurosurgeon? Treasure hunter?
    “Right now I’d rather be _________.”
    Taking over the world?
    On the serious side, what I’d like to know from an agent is if they can work with a slow writer.

  15. Just chiming in to agree with what a lot of others have said. In a bio, I’d like to see (1) whether you focus in one genre or have diverse interests (which you’ve already said you have) and specifically what they are; I wouldn’t worry too much about feeling like you might miss out on the next big thing by stating your interests – you could always include a caveat (2) if you’re looking for new authors (ie. unpublished) – perhaps how many unpubs you currently have on your list, so a bio-scannee can tell in a glimpse if you’re likely to take on another in the foreseeable future; or, be honest if you’re looking for authors with established track records – yeah, it stings, but it’s reality (3) names of authors you rep who write stuff you’d like to see more of (same caveat about next big thing); (4) how to query – are you open to e-queries or is a hopeful just shooting themselves in the foot by going the e-query route? (5) how long to expect a response to a query, a partial, a full; (6) Personal tidbits – I think they’re great because I believe that the mesh of agent/author personalities is very important when deciding upon representation. Any tidbits that tell me whether you’re someone I think I could get along with are appreciated.

  16. What I’d like to see, in addition to the “I rep these kinds of books” is something about how you like to work with your authors. Do you see it as a joint project, where you are involved in the creative process, or where you’re just the money/contracts person and let the editor/author hash out all creative issues? Is a better feeling of success for you to make a publishing house cave on a tricky bit of contract negotiation, or to make the perfect match between an author and an editor who adores the author’s work? Do you like chatting with your authors and getting to know them as people, or do you only want to hear from them when they’ve got a new project for you to sell?
    Saying you represent romance, or represent fantasy, is a good starting place. Answering some of these questions would help give an insight into *how* you represent it.
    I once submitted to an agent solely because her bio said that her goal was to be a matchmaker between author and editor, and find the editor who would most love the author’s story. That’s an entirely different kind of agent from one who claims to specialize in “feeding frenzy” book auctions.

    • I love what Jennifer wrote – and totally agree. Describing how you like to work with your authors is a great indicator of the mesh-of-personalities thing I mentioned in my previous post.
      Cindy Procter-King

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