One of the ideas that still seems to be common around the Internet these days is that agents who blog are somehow less serious, less committed to their jobs, or are too busy spending time on the Internet that they should otherwise be spending on their clients.
As someone who spent part of my time blogging about The Hills and other assorted reality television shows, I can see how charges of unseriousness may be appealing! One might even say, “Sweet, my answer is get out of my car.”
But for this first post of 2011, during a time when Facebook is fast becoming the biggest site on the entire Internet, venture capitalists are pouring money into social media startups, and every company on Earth is trying to figure out how to harness the power of social media, it’s just a tad strange to me that people are still denigrating the agents who are trying to use blogs, Facebook, and Twitter to further their own careers and their clients’ careers.
It sure seems like we’re witnessing a revolution in the way in which we connect with each other, including the way we hear about and discover books, and it behooves agents to stay abreast of those changes.
Now, to be sure, situations vary, and I’m not saying that all blogging/Tweeting agents are wholly created equal or that all uses of social media are uniformly positive. But social media is a powerful tool, and there are quite a few agents out there using it as a force for good.
Let’s examine some of the myths about blogging agents, and hopefully dispel them:
Myth: Only small-time agents blog.
Among the many agents who blog include Jane Dystel, blogging at the Dystel and Goderich blog. Among her clients are…… one President Obama. How about Betsy Lerner, agent for National Book Award winner Patti Smith? How about Kristin Nelson? Her numbers for 2010 weren’t too shabby. On Twitter you have Curtis Brown UK agent/managing director Jonnny Geller.
I could go on (and apologies to the ones I’m leaving off this cursory list — you are awesome too!)
There are blogging agents across the career spectrum, from the just-starting-out to the extremely well-established. Trying to paint all blogging agents with one brushstroke is going to inherently be inaccurate. There are agents of all stripes utilizing social media.
Myth: Real agents don’t have time to blog/Tweet/Facebook because they’re too busy
There is enough time in the day.
One of the inevitabilities of being an agent using social media is that your clients follow you and know rather precisely how much time you’re spending online. And if an agent were really spending too much time online instead of attending to their needs: their clients would know it. And they wouldn’t be happy.
In fact, the agents I know personally who utilize social media tend to be among the most passionate and ambitious about their work. These are the people who are working more than full time jobs and still trying to help out the unpublished and promote their clients’ work on top of that. They’re passionate enough to be blogging and Tweeting in addition to their jobs, not instead of their jobs.
But while there may well be agents out there who overdo it, social media needn’t consume one’s life and doesn’t have to take up too much time. While I was an agent I was spending about half an hour writing each post on this blog and another half hour or so reading comments. One hour a day. That’s a TV show. Or my daily time on the bus (during which I usually read comments). And even on top of that I would store up posts on the weekends in case things were crazy during the week.
There really is enough time in the day.
Myth: The fact that a few blogging agents have left publishing is proof that they were more serious about blogging than about publishing
This is the one that I’ve been occasionally roped into for whatever reason.
The truth is that a lot of people have left publishing in the last few years for a variety of reasons, just as a lot of people have decided to pursue a career in publishing in the last few years for a variety of reasons. Turnover is inevitable in any industry, particularly one in a period of transition. And I don’t think there’s any evidence to suggest that blogging agents are more likely to leave publishing than non-blogging agents. I certainly always always knew that being an agent came before blogging, and I took my job extremely seriously. My bosses, clients, and colleagues were reading my blog. If I wasn’t getting my job done because I was blogging, they all would have known it.
Myth: There is one right way to be an agent
Every agent plays to their own personal strengths. Some agents are fabulously well-connected, with ties to elite social circles and are able to hobnob with all the right people. Some agents are gossip hounds, knowing everything about everyone and making it their business to have all the best and latest information. Some agents are mega-readers, and have read every writer on the planet and scour the small presses and lit journals for talent. Some agents have ties to MFA programs and use those connections to find up-and-comers.
Some agents are good at social media, and use that to their advantage to find new clients and cast a wide net.
There is no one right or wrong way to be an agent, and in any competitive industry it pays to utilize your own strengths. Everyone has to find the strategy that works for them, and saying that this or that strategy is unserious or doesn’t work is foolhardy.
But really all you need to know about agents and social media is this: it works. Authors are able to get a preview of an agent’s style and see if they’d like to work with them, agents using social media are casting a wider net and finding the authors they want to represent, and authors using social media are more educated about the business, better connected, and better able to make good decisions about their career.
Facility in social media is a new competitive advantage, and the ones who are good at it are reaping the benefits.
Nathan Bransford says
Happy to have a civil conversation. That was uncivil.
Dorothy L. Abrams says
I am amused by the irony of the concept that some people on the internet say that serious agents would not spend time blogging on the internet. ???
We need not do more than giggle at people who criticize illogically.
(The security word I have to type on this reply is "boott". As in give them the—-. Life is an endless joke!
The agent who said that he prefers to spend his time working on book deals rather than blogging, tweeting, etc. on the Internet has been able to accomplish what very few other agents are able to accomplish these days. He's approached NEW – meaning DEBUT, UNHEARD OF, BRAND NEW – authors, asked them if they would be interested in writing a novel based on their talent alone, and gotten them MAJOR book deals in the HIGH SIX FIGURES, even for literary type novels. In addition to a high six-figure deal for one of his debut authors who wrote a literary type novel, he also negotiated for the dream Editor of that particular author, the Editor that worked on INFINITE JEST. While other agents have been sending out rejections for these types of books and then blogging about how these kinds of books written by BRAND NEW, DEBUT AUTHORS can't easily be sold to publishing houses, he's been repeatedly negotiating these types of deals. Facebook is a place in which everyone gets to be a star, a place where advertising dollars are easily brought in, NOT a six-figure publishing deal for a brand new author. I think the agent being discussed is a genius and people could learn a great deal from him.
Jennifer R. Hubbard says
If anyone's interested in a client's perspective, it's here:
Huge fan of blogging agents! Such a wealth of information that in the past has been shrouded in mystery. I'm surprised to hear there are people who think otherwise. Go to any writers conference and there's bound to be a workshop on social media. Being media savvy is simply good business sense.
Laurie Boris says
I feel more comfortable with agents who engage with writers….whether that's through blogging, writing articles or answering our random questions at writing conferences. Funny, when I glanced at your headline for this post, I thought, "Oh, great, now I need an agent to get my blog published??"
Theresa Milstein says
I've never considered if an agent is better or worse for blogging. I just figured it was inevitable. Since writers are encouraged to have an internet presence, why not agents?
First and foremost, I would like to thank you for taking the time to blog over the years as an agent and now as a writer. I have learned just about everything that I know about the writing industry from you and from people like Janet Reid, Bookends, Betsy Lerner and many others.
Second, to the stalwart opposition of blogging, aka anon, I would have to say that many of the so called unknown writers that don't know a query letter from a personal letter have gained an infinitesimal amount of knowledge from these people you say are wasting their time. I understand that there is a flip side to every coin, but I just don't see what tails has to offer over heads this time.
To all of the agents that may be reading this, even though I know I am posting late, please don't listen to the critics and keep the knowledge flowing. There are people, like me, that are listening and learning every day.
Michael K. Reynolds says
First of all…Social Media is a GREAT way for a wet behind the ears newby agent to get his/her message out. So yes…it could attract those who speak much ado about nothing.
But, secondly…any agent who is not engaged actively in Social Media on a daily basis is probably drifting out to literary pastures as they pine to anyone who will listen about the Remington days.
Social Media is not only a tool for the promotion of publication, it's becoming the new medium of publication.
I like the point you make about social media letting a writer get to know the agent's style. Personally, I wish more agents blogged. It makes it so much easier for me to evaluate whether or not I would want to work with that person. I've been impressed by agents I didn't expect to consider–and the opposite–decided not to submit to agents who would otherwise have been on my list after their blog posts convinced me we weren't a good potential match.
So please, agents and editors, blog on!
P.S. Thank you very much to those of you who do.
Wordver: striess (stree-ess) Symptom of overwork noticed south of the Mason-Dixon line. :p
M.A.Leslie – Where in my statement did I even once express any "opposition of blogging"? I didn't. Nathan had promised to devote a Blog to countering statements made recently by a young literary agent in an interview published by Forbes, in which that agent said that he doesn't find socializing on the Internet helpful to his work, and I assumed Nathan's Blog today is addressing this. My point is that that agent is doing something for debut authors that most debut authors have stopped even dreaming about as a possibility, and maybe there's value in his approach to agenting. He doesn't even use query letters as his primary way to find brand new authors. He searches the Internet for good writing, and approaches talented authors to see if they have interest in writing a novel, and he's negotiated deals worth $600,000+ in advances for them. (We're talking about brand new, unheard of, debut authors with quirky literary type novels here!) Seems to me he's an incredible agent from which others could learn a great deal. So what if he doesn't blog or tweet?
– Anon @3:53 PM
Nathan Bransford says
I think it's great that the agent has found success doing what he's doing. Like I said, there's more than one way to be a good agent, whether that's with or without social media.
The discussion here in which there appears to be primarily two sides ("Yay, online socializing for literary agents" vs. "Boo Hiss, online socializing for literary agents"), rather than a more nuanced consideration of how best to offer debut authors lucrative careers, reminds me of a book published last year by Knopf, YOU ARE NOT A GADGET: A MANIFESTO by tech expert Jaron Lanier. This book is an Amazon Best Book of the Month, January 2010, and the author is described by Amazon as a "longtime tech guru/visionary/dreadlocked genius (and progenitor of virtual reality)". Here's a quote from a Q & A with Lanier on Amazon:
Question: You say that we’ve devalued intellectual achievement. How?
Jaron Lanier: On one level, the Internet has become anti-intellectual because Web 2.0 collectivism has killed the individual voice. It is increasingly disheartening to write about any topic in depth these days, because people will only read what the first link from a search engine directs them to, and that will typically be the collective expression of the Wikipedia. Or, if the issue is contentious, people will congregate into partisan online bubbles in which their views are reinforced. I don’t think a collective voice can be effective for many topics, such as history–and neither can a partisan mob. Collectives have a power to distort history in a way that damages minority viewpoints and calcifies the art of interpretation. Only the quirkiness of considered individual expression can cut through the nonsense of mob–and that is the reason intellectual activity is important.
Nathan Bransford says
Love that quote, anon@8:13, thanks.
Nathan – I love your blog and even though I'm a regular reader I rarely leave comments. This post has driven me to comment because I feel your angst. I, too, am an expert in my field, and like you, I've been blogging about my job for a couple of years.
And I, like you, have been singled out as not being passionate about my career choice due to the fact I choose to blog about it.
What hog wash.
My blog readership has grown and last year I was offered a weekly column in our city's largest newspaper when the editor stumbled upon on my blog and liked what he saw.
So to everyone out there wondering if social media works or not – yes, it definitely does.
The trick is to keep doing whatever it you do for a living with as much passion as you had for it at the beginning. Do not let blogging get in the way as it is meant to enhance your position, not replace it.
As for you, Nathan, your blog is a true gem and is to be treasured by all writers and those interested in the publishing world.
Agents who think all blogging agents are not serious about their jobs must suffer from some sort of envy.
Katherine Hyde says
I am so phenomenally grateful for blogging agents. The industry changes so fast that blogs are just about the only way (except attending expensive conferences) to get the current scoop about how to navigate the treacherous waters of publishing (OK, I'm too tired to come up with an original metaphor!). Anyway, thanks to you, Nathan, and all other agents who blog, and pfffftt to the detractors!
Nathan , there is no need to be defensive. Let's face it. You were a great agent and somehow you grew out of it. It happens. Blogging has nothing to do with it. There is lot of churn in the market today and good people are sought after. If a tech site wants your services , it means that somewhere you have left your mark.
You don't have to defend yourself.
Those "brand new, unheard of, debut authors" are an editor at Forbes, an editor of the literary magazine "n+1", and a Harvard Professor. This may be their first novel published, but they all have credentials which will help sell their work. The agent in question is targeting a specific type of writer. Blogging, facebook, twitter, and emails don't lend themselves to finding that type.
There is no right way to be agent. Just as there is no right way to write a novel.
If an agent's way of working doesn't suit you, then find one that does. There's no need to bash the ones who don't.
My question is what percentage of the current 52% who are more likely to work with a blogging agent have ever worked with an agent before? My hunch is that it's FAR SMALLER a percentage than the 45% who understand it makes no difference.
Laura Campbell says
As a fresh face in the writing scene, I know next to nothing about agents and publishing. My love of reading and dreams of becoming a writer have guided my journey. An agent who writes a blog might catch my attention. Give me the chance to learn a few things about the business and get to know an agent I'm interested in.
without agent blogs, i wouldn't know nearly as much as i do now. thanks to you, Janet Reid, Colleen Lindsay, Weronika and a host of others, i've learned so much about the pubbing world that i would never have known. so i LOVE blogging agents.
Roberta Walker says
It's true, blogging agents are a way to be the proverbial fly on the wall…How would all us aspiring novelists learn about the pub biz without industry peeps yacking about it! Applause is due, I say!
Josin L. McQuein says
Heh. Just saw this on AOL and thought it sounded like something up your alley.
The author loves her e-reader, but she loves her books, too. She talks about the personal advantages of both.
Why my E-Reader will Never Replace My Bookshelf
Abby Minard says
Honestly, I think it's wonderful that agents blog. When I first hear of an agent, I immediately look to see if they blog. It just seems to go with the territory anymore.
Sheila Cull says
If they have time for it, cool.
Nathan, you're the reason I began blogging and since discovered, it's the bomb (in a good way).
I agree with you Nathan. As a writer, I have learned more about being a writer – or, at least the kind of writer agents want to read – by reading agent blogs.
The first thing I do when researching an agent is look to see if they have a website. A blog is even better, because it lets you get to know them a little better, and know whether they are a good fit for your material.
A blog for an agent can be looked at as a professional introduction, a filter, and a marketing tool.
Simply, it's good business.
For whatever reason, people will say bad things about things they don't know much about.
Most of the time it's because they are totally ignorant about how the internet works and how much time you need to maintain a decent blog/website. Since they don't know how it works, they think it's hard. Hence, the idea of being a lot of hard work+time spent on it.
The same goes for other things people think would be hard to do simply because they can't do it themselves.