lessons in geography 101

I used to do this thing where I kept a list each week of which query was from the furthest away. Some of the locations were really exotic. One or two were even from countries that had locations I only had vague impressions of. I never signed any of them up. I’m not even sure I ever asked to see pages. But it didn’t have anything to do with where they were from. It had to do with the content of the query.

At least three people yesterday asked questions about location. Either theirs or mine (well, agents in general).

Is the location of the author an issue? As someone mentioned, Miss Snark has said that overseas clients are undesirable. I’m not sure I’d go that far. Plus, I have some. It’s true that it requires a bit of awareness. But one has to do that with clients in California too. They don’t get up until 3 hours later and they always want to have conference calls when they get home from their day job (which is usually after dinner for me). Will it be an impediment to promotion? Sad, but true, publishing knowledge: most publishers aren’t going to provide you with much support in that area regardless of where you live until you are already on your way up and climbing the bestseller lists or “breaking out overnight.” You’re probably going to have ARCs sent to some reviewers and perhaps a shared ad in an industry magazine like Locus or Romantic Times. The rest is up to you, the author. Luckily, the internet has given many authors a way to interact with their readers without leaving home either with mailing lists, newsletters, forums, or blogging. As for setting up signings, most authors do only local or conference gigs. I’ve had a few autograph bookplates or bookmarks and mail them to bookstores to be given away with books. Really, it’s all about creating buzz and there are a myriad number of ways to do so. In that respect, geography might be challenging but not limiting. I certainly think if the book I read made me stay up all night, it wouldn’t matter at all where the author lived.

Does it matter where an agent is located? Only if it matters to you. I can easily name a dozen agents I highly regard who are scattered around the country. They have clients who have made bestseller lists, won awards, and published multiple books. It would be just as easy for me to come up with several in Manhattan (or the 212 as the esteemed Miss Snark likes to call it though it should now be the 212/646) for whom I have little respect. And, yet, this question seems to arise time and again. I have heard well-known and popular writers vehemently proclaim that only a New York agent will do. The rationale behind this is contacts, really. If someone with an office in midtown can dash out a moment’s notice to meet with your editor, surely that is an advantage. Except that I don’t really know anyone who has dashed in said manner. Because of editors’ busy schedules with production meetings, sales conferences, and so forth, lunch dates tend to be planned days, if not weeks, in advance. Every once in a while a high profile client might require emergency rescue, but there are probably few issues that cannot be handled over phone and email. And for those, there’s frequent flier miles. I don’t remember which agent said it recently (might have been that Miss Snark again), but there are times when you feel like you get to spend more time chatting up the editors at conferences than you do over lunch. So, while that expensive square footage address on West 52nd might be appealing, I don’t know if I could honestly say it’s crucial if your best match happens to reside in, say, Denver.

Anyway, I hope that covers the questions that arose in the other thread. But if it prompts some more on this topic, have at it.

6 responses to “lessons in geography 101

  1. My agent (based in NJ) had no issues with my location (other side of Atlantic). It was some time before we actually met, but we emailed and spoke on the phone on a regular basis. I am used to dealing with different time zones, because I worked for nearly a decade for an educational company that had clients in China, Central Asia and the States, among others, so if I had to make phone calls in the middle of the night, so be it. I still do, in fact, as we have a lot of US customers in my current business.
    I think this is related to the school of thought that says you have to schmooze regularly at conventions, award ceremonies, etc, to get anywhere in publishing. I don’t believe this to be necessarily true (I was published both in novel form and short fiction by people who had never met me. Come to think of it, they still haven’t – I’ve never yet met the Night Shade team). Attending events does get your face known, but that is, let’s be diplomatic, not invariably positive in all cases.

  2. Because of editors’ busy schedules with production meetings, sales conferences, and so forth, lunch dates tend to be planned days, if not weeks, in advance
    And cancelled on both sides the moment something comes up, or the weather turns nasty….
    One of my best agent relationships was with a woman who worked out in the San Francisco area. She was (still is) sharp, funny, savvy, and pegged what I liked/needed to buy within six months. She comes out to NYC several times a year for meetings, but half the time we lived the sterotype and drank martinis and talked shoes – all the business had been done via phone and e-mail already.
    And the Bad Agent in Manhattan storie are legion….

  3. Thanks for the thorough answer!
    ~Mary

  4. I think geography can be an advantage when…
    …creating ‘buzz.’ If the author happens to live in an interesting place, it adds to his or her uniqueness. I’d love to know more about an author living in, say, Ireland, for example. I love Irish. I love the art, the language, archaitecture, history, culture, and so on. It would bring more dimension of the story, I think.
    Kimber An
    starcaptainsdaughter.blogspot.com

  5. Good food for thought in this post. I too have heard the “if it isn’t a New York agent, don’t bother,” argument. It’s interesting to hear a countering opinion.

  6. Gee, who’s this person in Denver? 😉

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