Friday, March 19, 2010

Bad Taste

White tiger photo by Terry Hall, found at TrekEarth

On Monday, Megan Rebekah asked, would you query an agent with bad taste in books? I think this is a fascinating question and I wanted to bring it over here.

As Megan said, we're not talking about an incompetent agent, nor are we talking about an "I don't like that genre" kind of disagreement. Megan asked what you would do if you discovered that an agent who would otherwise seem to be a good fit, who represented a book that you felt was simply not up to snuff: poorly written. The agent's blog says show don't tell, easy on the adverbs, build character... and then s/he pulls THIS out of the slush pile? What the heck?

I'd like to expand that and also ask if you would query an agent who repped a book that you find distasteful for other reasons. Perhaps it's a book that has fundamentally different values than yours: for example, after my complaints about the pervasiveness of the enfeebled heroine*, could I end up signing with an agent whose list includes several of those kinds of titles? What would that say about me and/or the agent? Could an agent who likes those books enough to represent them truly "get" my book in the way we are told agents should?

I'm sure that some of these questions could be resolved in a phone call: if I ask the interested agent what s/he likes about my book, and s/he says that they love my strong female protagonist, then I probably don't have to worry that the agent will try to turn my book into a clone of the ones I don't care for. And maybe there were other things they liked about the "bad" book in question that could explain the seeming contradictions. (After all, I thought Twilight had some poor writing and weak characters... and I wanted to know what happened next anyway.)

What do you think? Are there any books you hate enough -- for any reason -- that you would pull the agent associated with the book off your query list?

* I got the phrase from a book review by The Rejectionist, and complained about it myself in the final paragraphs of my blog on Monday.


  1. No. I just want an agent. If they want to represent my book, and can manage to sell it, then my work will speak for itself.

  2. Interesting question! Right now I'm reading a book my agent sold for another author and I love it! So thankfully, I'm having the opposite..falling even more in love with agent because I love her taste. :)

  3. This is actually something I've thought a lot about in considering writing for Harlequin. Harlequin publishes some good stuff, and some stuff that I simply can't stomach (not because of themes and characters and substantive issues, but because I think the writing is bad/sloppy/lazy/trite). It's a quandary, and I'd imagine I'd feel the same way about an agent...if *that's* what the agent likes, is my book any good?

  4. I'm still undecided on this issue. I think I would query the agent. But if it came down to a choice between that agent, and another one whose books I adored, I would go with the second one.

    In general though I probably wouldn't be attracted to an agent who repped books that I found to be distasteful. There aren't many books out there that truly repulse me, but I would rule out the ones that did. Haven't run into that situation yet, thank goodness!

  5. Depends-- an agent that reps one distasteful book out of how many? Is this the type of genre to which they are inclined? I think I would assess the agent more according to whether they have a greater inclination to rep books that I admire and fit in with my work.

  6. Bad taste is subjective. I think an agent will overlook crap writing if the story is a seller -- and they know a seller. Many agents aren't editors, so writing mechanics aren't their forte. You'd hope the editor who worked on the project before publication would have helped bring the writing up to snuff.

    But in these days, I think if the story is amazing enough, that's what counts.

    That said, would I be attracted to an agent who sold only sensational stories where the writing is questionable? Maybe, but that propensity for sensationalism would probably color my opinion a bit.

    But that sounds very pretentious, doesn't it. In the end, if the agent is successful and sells books for his or her clients, and loves my book and champions it, then I probably wouldn't care.

  7. I'm with Sierra on this one. Of course, I've made much of the fact that cred as an artiste (yes, the E is important) matters less to me than getting sold and my book into stores. I still want to spin the best tale I can, but in the end I might not pass up an offer from someone I think can sell my work better even if they do rep books I don't like (in my genre of course).

  8. I would sub to them if it were only a one or two books because taste is subjective, as Sierra says. If I was largely unimpressed with their client list, I would pass on querying because that's an indication to me that we wouldn't mesh well in our perspectives.

    There's a saying in the industry, a bad agent can be worse than no agent. It's not about getting published, it's about getting published well, and someone's whose tastes run counter to mine probably isn't the best fit.

    For example, Miriam Kriss/Irene Goodman Agency is HIGH on my list because I LOVE many of her clients and their works (The Deadline Dames), so it would make sense to query her/them.

    Also, you love Rejectionist and hate enfeebled heroines? Let's be friends!

  9. I would not not query them, but they would not necessarily be my first choice. It also depends on a lot of other factors. I think it's important career-wise to have high standards in an agent, but nobody's perfect, and as mentioned above, they may have their reasons.

    For such an agent, I would look closely at which genre this book was in, whether it was a fluke or a trend, and whether it would affect how the agent would handle my own book. I would also consider how well it did, what the reviews were, and how it compared to other books in its genre.

    It's all about the context, I think.

  10. Say you take five years and write an awesome book. Say you get an agent.

    Say you are contractually obligated to finish your second book in ten months, and it turns out to be a giant pile of dung.

    If the publishing house accepts that second book, your agent won't fire you. (Well, she can, but since she negotiated the original contract, she still gets 15% of your advance and royalties on El Stinko.)

    So what's on the shelf isn't the only indicator of an agent's taste. Most of them don't cut clients loose all that easily because they know even the best authors can write the occasional clunker.

  11. There is a book series that I hate so much, I refuse to query any agent at the agency because I don't want to be associated with the author in any way. I'm being childish and petty, I know, but I also know that if they thought 'that' was good, then they will never understand mine.

    They say 'show don't tell' when writing something, and I think there is something very telling about an agent's preferences in their clients' work, and it shows me that I would have trouble having an amiable relationship with someone I'd need to respect and trust the judgment of, but couldn't if they rep'd poorly written material.

  12. Glad I stopped by, there's some really thought-provoking stuff here. Awsome picture, too.

  13. Not to by cynical, but I think agents are asking themselves, "can I sell this?" rather than, "Is this a great book?" Sierra said something similar upthread.

    Maybe it's not so important that the agent is representing someone you think is a bad writer . . . as long as she is ALSO representing someone who writes stuff that matches your type of book? (Hope that makes sense.)

  14. Yes, I totally agree with Rebecca. If they represent a book I love or think is similar to mine, I don't mind what else they've sold. And it may be the same for them with me - they may love the novel and hate the story collection!

    Great post, Carrie! Good question.

  15. I'd also look at WHEN they repped the book... hungry agent at the beginning of their agenting career may make different decisions than after they've been doing it successfully for a while.