Meggosaurus Rex – Megg Jensen and the Jurassic Park Agents

Day Twelve

So what is it about agents these days? Anyone would think they were an endangered species.

In fact I was going to open with that observation even before Anne R Allen’s latest post Literary Agents: An Endangered Species? went live at the weekend and really put the cat among the industry’s pigeons.

Simple fact is, of course, they are. The days of the agent we knew and loved / hated are coming to an end.

That’s not to say they will all become extinct. Just that those that survive the e-publishing revolution will have evolved into some entirely new creature from the agents that, along with the Big Six, reigned supreme over the publishing world until incredibly recently.

The e-publishing revolution is the equivalent of the giant meteorite strike that caused the mass extinction in a bygone era. Except this time it’s just Planet Publishing that is being hit.

Is that a good or bad thing? It certainly seems good for readers and writers so far. But who’s to say? The only certainties just now are first that nothing is certain, and second that some agents are a lot more clued up than others.

As Anne explains in her post (see link above) some agents are turning predator. And it’s not  a pretty sight. Others are turning to new business models. Most just seem like startled rabbits in the headlights of the oncoming truck.

David Gaughran

For anyone still chasing agents, Anne’s post is  a must-read and has numerous links to other must-read posts. To those I would add David Gaughran and Joe Konrath. David is fast becoming the most significant industry commentator this side of the pond. Anyone not yet following his blog is missing out on some serious and valuable debate.

The other JK

Joe, of course, is known to everyone, and it seems loved / hated in equal measure. But one thing you can’t do is ignore him.

Not here to go over the issues they cover. Just to say those sites are where you should be if you’re still hankering for an agent, or even just wondering what the future holds. Joe’s latest has some useful insights from Barry Eisler too.

Two agents sites I must mention here though, as fine examples of likely survivor and definite dinosaur.

One is Rachelle Gardner. She did a great post entitled Will Self-Pubbing Hurt My Chances, and came out with a resounding NO!

Read it and rejoice. There is a voice of reason among all the vested self-interest clinging to the old model.

And speaking of which…

Another agent (NOT Rachelle!) ran a post this week on criticism, critiques and editing, which basically was the same hoary old urban myths about how agents are the gatekeepers that ensure quality, and that without agents and editors the cultural world is doomed. Needless to say I disagreed. I’m not going to dignify the site with a link here, just to say she began her post,

Do you take criticism well? I don’t, really.

Well, fair enough she did warn me!

But I posted a comment anyway, as one does (isn’t that what blogs are for?) and another reader debated my comment. I responded. But apparently this particular agent doesn’t want debate. It seems anything except hero-worship is unacceptable.

Comments regarding the usefulness of editors, agents, and other publishing professionals, when posted on a literary agent’s blog, cross a line. My blog is not your soapbox. Future comments that seem deliberately malicious or provocative will be deleted.

As I say, she did warn me with her opener. 🙂

Those of you who follow MWi will know provocative is my middle name.

If we don’t debate and argue, how will we ever get to the truth? 

But as for being malicious… Not that is offensive.

Why does a literary agent run a blog if they don’t want anyone to disagree with them? Stick to a standard website.

And I love the way this literary agent proclaims to the world her role and who she works for, and then says all opinions are her own. If her opinions are her own, why make a big fuss about who she works for at the top of the site? Would she tell us that if she was stacking shelves at Wal-Mart?

I’d like to ask her, but that would be malicious and just get deleted. 🙂

But it comes back the the issue of old-school agent dinosaurs. If this agent doesn’t understand that a blog that invites comments is a place of public interaction then what hope her understanding the needs of her clients in the new world of e-publishing?

Late edit extra: Prue Batten over at Mesmered has just run a post on Rachelle Gardner’s latest blog on what a Big Six marketing team can offer. Rachelle  Gardner is the sensible one of the two agents referred to above, I hasten to add. 

But Prue’s response is provacative to say the least. Rachelle lists an impressive array of things the Big Six might (note the might) do for an author. Indie author Prue is already doing most of them. And as Prue says,

if I can do a good proportion of the above, plus help run a farming business, look after acres of garden and write other books, I wonder if that raises issues about the efficiency and efficacy of what a publisher’s sales team actually does.

Now that’s what blogs are for.

Provocative, but not malicious. I’m sure Rachelle Gardner would be happy to debate that. The other agent would probably be on the phone to the thought police.

~

But now, back to today’s guest, Megg Jensen. Back in May Megg ran a lovely little post about her desire for an agent. That isn’t her guest post (that’s further down), but it seemed appropriate to steal part of the earlier post and reproduce it here, just because of the self-portrait. Don’t tell her!

In 2010 when I was searching for an agent that was me:

<———-

That’s how I looked at agents. Me, a respected freelance journalist who dealt with editors on a regular basis under a purely formal guise. Those magazine editors were my employers, not objects of desire.

Yet for some reason when I began to query, I got all foamy at the mouth, googly-eyed, and starstruck. I look back at myself and I get embarrassed, for me and for the agents.

Since I told myself last December that I would no longer query and I would take my career into my own hands, I’ve mellowed, A LOT, when it comes to agents. Do I still want one? OF COURSE. What self-respecting writer wouldn’t? Yes, it’s awesome to be an indie writer, but there are things we just can’t do. Who’s going to show your book to the movie execs? Who’s going to sell it to other countries? Who’s going to help you move up the ladder? Even Joe Konrath has an agent. Authors may be turning away from traditional publishing, but they aren’t, and shouldn’t be, turning away from agents

Megg’s last point is interesting. A lot has happened since early May. Perhaps Megg can let us know if she still feels that way after reading some of the posts mentioned above.

BTW, for those following Saffi and my own dealings with agencies, we reported a month or so back how we were approached by one of the planet’s most prestigious agencies over in New York. Just to say here we are still in discussions with said agency and we will make a formal statement next month on our position.

Meanwhile we would urge everyone to read the posts referred to above, and not to rush into anything, no matter how tempting it may seem at first glance.

Back to Megg:

First, Jurassic Park. OMG, I was in high school when this came out and I saw it in the theater three times. Can you say LOVE?! Before I saw it, I wanted to become an archaeologist. After I saw it, I knew I wanted to be an archaeologist. I’m not, but I did graduate with a minor in anthropology!!!!

Relevance? Well, a tenuous link with Anne R Allen’s post, as above, of course. But actually Megg just happened to do  a post on Jurassic Park and I happen to be a huge fan of Ariana Richards and Stephen Mazzello, the two child actors who upstaged both the adults and the dinosaurs, and made Jurassic Park a true classic of cinema.

And yes, I’m a fanatical about children in the cinema, as past posts testify. Any suggestions that I’m just trying to get in Spielberg’s good books, on the off chance he’s in need of an e-book to turn into a film, are totally without foundation. Steven my email address is on the site. And yes, I can cause my co-author to mysteriously disappear, but not until after the next book is finished.

No, the reason I dragged Megg here was to talk about finding reviewers – a subject dear to all indie-publishers’ hearts. After all, getting our books reviewed is key to finding an audience and hopefully a market.

When I first approached her I had no idea Megg would have her new book out this week. A happy coincidence for all, but honestly, it wasn’t planned that way.

Anyway, here’s Megg again:

Megg Jensen - definitely not a dinosaur

When Mark asked me to guest blog, I was totally surprised. I’m still not sure where he picked me from, but perhaps it’s better not to know his stalking methods. No matter, I was pleased. Stalker, fellow writer, fan – whatever I’ll take it.

Mark asked me to blog about review sites since, as he put it, I “mastered that aspect of the game well.” I laughed when I read his email because up until a couple months ago I had review sites all wrong. When Anathema (February 2011, DarkSide Publishing) debuted I sent out zero book blogger requests.

I didn’t know I could request a review. I didn’t know bloggers might be interested in Anathema. I didn’t know because I made an assumption and never checked out how it worked. I thought bloggers randomly reviewed whatever book they felt like reading. Was I wrong!

What every indie author needs to know is that there are book bloggers out there who will happily read your novel and review it. Let’s forget the frightening aspect of a potentially horrid review and focus on finding a reviewer.

I found most of mine on Twitter through other tweeps. I didn’t request reviews immediately. I wanted to get to know them so when I did send Anathema out, I knew I’d be sending it to a reviewer who not only liked YA fantasy, but also was a fair judge of books. If you troll reviewer sites you’ll find they run the gamut from snarky and mean to overenthusiastic. I wanted a good match for Anathema and I hand-picked each potential reviewer.

As a plus, I’ve now become friends with some of these bloggers. Many of them are writers too and we have a lot in common. My hope is that they remain impartial on future reviews because the last thing I want is for a reader to think, “Well, they’re friends with Megg so of course they’re going to like her book.” That’s not really fair to the reviewer or me.

Since then I have received reviews from people who’ve bought Anathema and from bloggers who’ve requested a copy. The vast majority of them are great reviews, and even the reviewers who gave me lower ratings had good reasons for it. Reading is a very personal experience and no author can expect everyone to love their book. Talk about unrealistic!

I’m still seeking out reviewers for Anathema, but now I’m switching to offering a free copy of both Anathema and Oubliette (coming June 2011, DarkSide Publishing) in exchange for a review of Oubliette. With nearly 60 Goodreads reviews under my belt, I’m now tackling some of the larger review sites. They don’t always take self-published books, but my hope is that with a positive track record I’ll be able to break into them as well.

I’m not Amanda Hocking, but I’m still able to slip my books into every review site that will have me. It’s great publicity and I’m meeting amazing people along the way!

Mark asked me to add a little about me. Well, Megg Jensen is a pen name. Why? I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. There’s a small chance it could be because in real life I’m a journalist and I don’t want the two careers to mix. But that’s boring so let’s just say I’m with a secret division of the U.S. government that does NOT exist.

Anathema is my first novel, Oubliette has just been released, and the third book in the Cloud Prophet Trilogy will drop this fall. I have releases lined up for the next three years. Prolific is a bad word to describe my work ethic; manic might be better.

I live in Chicago with my husband, two kids, and insane schnauzer, Ace. Yes, I named a character after him. If you knew my dog, you’d know why.

Thanks, Megg. And you’re right. It is better not to know my stalking methods.

Megg refers to two books there, Anathema and Oubliette. Click here to go to Megg’s site with full links for both e-book and paper versions. I’ve just bought Oubliette and its on my Kindle top-list. The reason being I have read the previous book of Megg’s, Anathema (hence my inviting her here) and was very impressed.

Regular visitors will recall I was host to Michelle Brooks at the beginning of the month and praised most highly her debut YA novel Bone Dressing. I said then that Bone Dressing and Megg’s Anathema were two of the best YA books I’d ever read.

I stand by that. Two superb examples of indie-published YA. Neither anything like the other.  Both unbelievably good.

As this is Megg’s guest post I’ll end with Megg’s own summary of Anathema.

Reychel is a slave girl surrounded by magic, lies and manipulation. Her best friend disappears in the middle of the night leaving Reychel to face her fifteenth birthday, the day her master burns his brand into the back of her bald head, alone. She’s sheltered from the outside world and doesn’t have any hope for escape, but when people desperate for freedom ask for her help can Reychel learn to believe in herself?

Irresistable or what?

To close, back over to you. What’s your experience of agents? Of getting reviews? Of reading YA?

Feel free to be provocative! Malicious? Go on, I can handle it. Unlike the agent above, I take criticism well. Sadly I’m used to it.

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  1. Awesome post! 😀

  2. Heh. My experience with agents is a bucket load of rejections (though I did get so far as to have some ask for addition pages – THEN reject).

    Reviews? I haven’t really tried much. Were Vamps Romance gave me a 5/5, which was awesome. My plan was to get the book out and published, THEN worry about getting reviews. So, this post is particularly helpful.

    Provacative and Malicious… Uhhh… can I get back to you on that one?

    • Only a bucket-load of rejections Shea, you’re just a beginner!

      For big-name writers and celebs it’s usual for ARCs (advance review copies) to be dished out by publishers to suitably friendly reviewers. This raises a host of issues about reviewer integrity.

      True, some ARCs are given to “the public” and they have a chance to respond honestly. But most ARCs go to reviewers that count: Media reviewers.

      Have you ever noticed how the big-name reviewers in newspapers, magazines, etc, give glowing reports to many books which we then read and find are pretty dire?

      Is that in any way linked to the fact that these reviewers would see their supply of free books suddenly vanish if they gave honest, negative reviews? Or is that just me being provocative?

      Is it any different with e-book reviews?

      To the extent that most e-book review sites are not run by paid reviewers, yes.

      The problem is, as soon as you are receiving pay for reviewing then your response will be coloured by the need to make sure you still have that job next week. Upsetting the Big Six sales supremos by being negative about one of their babies would be a sure way out of a job.

      • Absolutely! I recently read a book that contained a cover blurb from a very well known Big 6 pubbed author claiming it was fabulous. It was mediocre at best. But what cracked me up about it was the blurb was really just the famous author pimping herself.

        Epic fail.

        I would NEVER pay for a review. How is that in any way honest?

  3. Mark,

    From now on I must insist that everyone refer to me as Meggosaurus Rex. It’s the BEST nickname I’ve ever gotten.

    Do I still want an agent? OF COURSE! I’m not stupid though. If I ever sign on with an agent, it will be for the right reasons. My DarkSide Publishing gals & I talk about this a lot – our wants, our needs, and the dealbreakers.

    Oh, and to be totally honest, I have been approached by an agent. Not saying who though until I see how & if things work out. It’s a brave new world out there and I love being part of the ride. I’m must glad this ride doesn’t include a hungry T-Rex, but I’d love to see the baby velociraptors.

    As for choosing book bloggers, I kinda throw caution to the wind and offer it to anyone who’s interested. I already have a list of 20 bloggers who want to read Sleepers (coming out at the end of July). All they’re getting is a free ebook from me. The best I can do is cross my fingers & hope for the best.

    Megg

  4. Sounds like you’re well organised!

    Definitely a brave new world.

    Interesting that you say you’ve been *approched* by an agent. Wasn’t so long ago most agents didn’t want to give us writers the time of day. Now they send us query emails.

    So tempting to email back and say, “please send me the first thre pages of your contract. If you don’t hear back from us you know you were not successful.”

    Sleepers out end July? Same time as our next one!

    • Mark,

      Well then we’ll just have to throw a big party for our new novels. 🙂

      By the way – you rock. This post was amazing!!!

      RAWR!

      MeggosaurusRex

  5. I’m not sure what an agent can do for anyone who is already self-published. Or does everyone secretly want to be taken on by a ‘real’ publisher? An agent is certainly needed for that.
    If eBooks and self-publishing are really the way of the future, surely agents are definitely a thing of the past? You mention some things they can do for us, Mark, but I can’t see that any of these are things writers can’t do themselves.
    Very interesting post, as always.

    • Hi Gerry,

      There’s TONS an agent can do for someone who’s self-published. Way too much for me to go into here.

      I feel one of the most important aspects for me, at this time, is to maintain control over the rights to my work. Without my rights, I’m helpless – which is a big reason I chose not to pursue a traditional career.

      I was a freelance journalist for many years and made the bulk of my income off of reprints. Without the ability to resell my work, I would have made far less money (and been much crabbier). Having an agent in my corner to help me sell as many rights as possible – foreign, audio, movie, etc – would be amazing. I’m hesitant to seek out traditional publishers simply because they take away many rights, and much of the income.

      I’m not totally against traditional publishing, we all have to remember that they need to make money too, but perhaps it’s not the best path for the novels I currently have out.

      As for doing it all ourselves, yes it can all be done by us. However, I don’t have all of the connections and pull a well-established literary agent might have. Do I want to spend years building that up, or take advantage of someone who’s willing to help me with it? I think that’s an individual choice – a choice we didn’t have a year ago. It’s a great place to be!!!

      Megg

    • Thanks, Gerry.

      The issue of “needing” an agent is THE big question just now. As Megg says in her response, there is plenty they can do, and of course they have contacts and can open doors.

      Most writers are not business-minded. The business-end of being a writer can usefully still be handled by an agent, even if just e-publishing. Foreign rights, etc, are an area where an agent could really be useful.

      And while the writer CAN do it all themselves, do they really want to? It’s time we could better spend writing / marketing.

      In the right circmstances it would be well worth paying 15% or even more to an agent to handle translations, contracts, foreign royalties, etc. Moreso as foreign-language ereaders take off.

      We can have our books on Amazon.de, for example, but if we want a German translation an agent would be ideally place to know where to get a reliable translator. Sure we could do it ourselves, but at substantial up-front cost and time. Multiply that by a few dozen different countries and languages and going it alone becomes less attractive.

      Receiving foreign income can be a nightmare too. Even US dollars can be a problem getting transferred.

      You’re right that the old-style agents have almost nothing to offer. But the agents who are adapting might well be worth their fifteen per cent.

      Time will tell.

  6. Mark! Mark, Mark, Mark! Last time you had me mixing with Men in Tights, now I’m an Agent Provocateur!

    I think agents will actually re-invent themselves very quickly, far more so than publishers. I would still love to have a contract with an agent/consultancy who could facilitate the high-end grooming that any title needs before it is launched on a potential e- or POD readership. If I had to forgo a slight percentage of the earnings to have that, that’s okay as my confidence in presentation of my work is a fledgling thing.

    I think agents/consultanices are totally able to guide independents, much as they now guide mainstreamers. But the cost of such service will be a force to reckoned with. Having indies be so ‘independent’ has shown that we know a fair bit about what’s required and can do it if we really have to. Agents’ percentages will hopefully reflect that.

    But here’s a thing: Megg, I was just today decrying the lack of reviews for my work despite an upward step in sales and I have often wondered how to send out an e-ARC and who to send it to. Your words are timely and inspiring so thank you and best of luck.

    • Hi Mesmered,

      YA bloggers are booming, so it wasn’t too hard for me to find someone to review my work. One thing you might want to do is see who’s reviewing other writers with books like yours. Web searches are always great, but you can’t beat a personal recommendation from an author you admire or trust. Good luck!!!!

    • The problem just now is knowing who to put your faith in.

      David Gaughran has been through the issue of agency becoming consultant / publisher in some detail and explained why there could be a conflict of interest. Kris Rusch is absolutely against it. Anne R. Allen has covered both sides in her posts, suggesting there are good and bad.

      You say, “I would still love to have a contract with an agent/consultancy who could facilitate the high-end grooming that any title needs before it is launched,” but does high-end grooming *necessarily* mean a better book?

      I reproduce here an example I used elsewhere of high-end grooming. It’s *not* an attack on the author, just an example of where either high-end grooming fails, or the high-end groomers didn’t bother, because they thought the author’s name would sell regardless:

      John le Carre is a huge name in writing. A professional with years of experience and all the services of a Big Six publisher, including professional and experienced editors.

      His latest novel Our Kind Of Traitor has 88 reviews on Amazon UK. Thirty of those are one and two star. Another twelve are three star.

      This is an expensive ebook, not a 99p impulse buy. Readers are paying good money, and most will be returning fans.

      But the reviews show they are deeply unhappy. These are mostly in-depth negative reviews from readers who have enjoyed le Carre in the past.

      Clearly having years of experience and a professional team behind you is no guarantee of quality.

  7. Ms C******* M*****-C****** really doesn’t take criticism well, does she? I reckon, as an agent, she’s got used to fawning comments on her posts from writers, and you came as something of a shock. I used to marvel at the toadying that went on at Nathan Bransford’s blog when he was still an agent – clearly a nice chap, I used to wonder how he stood it.

  8. Thanks, Lexi.

    The toadying that goes on at some “celeb” blogs is depressing to say the least and just fuels the delusions of the gatekeepers.

    But as I said over on your blog, the only indispensables now are writers and readers.

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