Eric Ruben is a native New Yorker and an attorney with over twenty-five years of experience. His literary clients are authors in numerous genres. Years ago, he suggested to long-time friend, NY Times best-selling author Suzanne Brockmann, that she write about Navy SEALs as heroes. As a result, he helped create the genre of romantic military suspense. An award-winning performer and writer, appearing in films, commercials, and Off-Broadway theatre, his experience gives him a unique perspective that benefits his clients. He recently reopened his office to unsolicited queries. You can follow him on Twitter at @RubenAgency.
So, as much as I'd love for this to be a "let me tell you how wonderful my agent is!" post, but well you can find out how great he is here and here
I'd rather pick Mr Ruben's brain about the agenty things and help my friends ( you fine folks) out
You are well aware of my Twitter addiction, and the interwebs is a GREAT tool for finding an agent... what are the *downsides* of looking for an agent online?
It can be a little two-dimensional. One key to a successful agent/client relationship is the personality match. You’re putting your career into the hands of another person. Do you need someone with a sense of humor? A cold, calculating assassin? You can only learn so much from someone’s on-line interactions or PR machine. It’s like on-line dating. Eventually you need to meet the person and see if there’s chemistry. And it doesn’t need to be in person. I have clients I deal with on the phone or Skype.
Ultimately, I think you should view getting an agent like getting a tattoo. See who’s happy with theirs and if it impresses you. Don’t walk into a shop you don’t really know and pick one off the wall. It’s a far too important decision. It’s your career.
Remember, when it comes to agent/client relationships, most people get married and then start dating. That result is misunderstandings and miscommunication. You need to determine who the agent really is, not just on paper (or Facebook or Twitter).
Also, there seems to be a growth of shady characters who are taking money for “managing” authors. They take money for editing or grooming authors. That’s not what real agents or managers do. And there are also some people who are editors or publishers AND claim they represent authors. That could be a conflict of interest.
Oy. How can a savvy writer avoid these pitfalls?
Make sure you get a written contract. Also make sure you’re allowed to have an attorney review that contract. Remember, a real agent OR manager only gets paid when YOU get paid. For instance, I have management contracts with some clients for self-publishing purposes. But it just means I get a percentage of their income from sales, just as I do as an agent. The only time I charge people outside of that scheme is when I represent them as an attorney. Then I charge an hourly rate and we have a written agreement outlining the scope of my representation.
You're an attorney-- and an agent-- what's the advantage of that?
Most agents are pretty savvy, but there are constant changes involving contracts and all aspects of showbiz. I think I’m well equipped to deal with those issues. Also, as a lawyer, I think like a lawyer. It’s different.
Additionally, there are few rules governing the behavior of agents. As an attorney, I’m licensed to practice by several states. I’m bound by numerous ethical rules that, if broken, could lead to me being sanctioned or even disbarred.
Some agents move deal to deal. I tend to think of building and shaping a career. That may be because I’m a lawyer, or just because I’m me.
There's a bit of a back lash against "traditional publishing". Many many many people are out there writing their hearts out and the rejections of "gatekeepers" such as yourself can really really *really* sting. With that in mind...
1) What do you see the role of an agent going forward?
Agents need to take care of all the business aspects of a client’s career. Not just selling a book to a big house. Possibly helping guide them through self-publishing, PR issues, marketing. It doesn't mean we do all those things, but we should advise about them, put them in contact with other professionals.
2) What is the next step for the recently rejected?
Depends by who. I’d assess why. Was it the work? Do you need an edit? Are you pitching to the wrong people? Speak with trusted advisors. maybe you queried too soon. Maybe you are relying on critique partners who can't be 100% honest with you (Your mother and your best friend are not good choices) Maybe the genre is played out. Maybe the agent has other clients doing that kind of work. Always remember, it's not personal. Even if I reject this one, I am always happy to see the next one. Unless you get rude or aggressive. That sticks with me.
3) Is publishing dead or dying?
Absolutely not. It’s a part of the entertainment world and like movies, music and TV, it’s going through major changes. There are hardly any record stores but music is thriving. People are reading more than ever. Technology and distribution are changing and we’re figuring it out.
What are some things that writers can do to maximize their chances of getting representation?
Make sure your book is as good as it can be. Also, query letters are only important to me in that they shouldn’t be terrible. Short and straight forward. Don’t be weird or special. Also, make sure I know you’re serious about marketing. Let me know if you have a following on Twitter or an internet radio show. Also, if we can meet in person at a conference, it gives me a better sense of who you are and if we can work together.
What can they do to guarantee they *WON'T* get representation?
Write badly, act unprofessionally. Be pushy, inappropriate, unprepared, drunk. Pay attention to how others are doing, complain, have a negative attitude.
Okay... time for fun! Lightning round! Answer with your first thought!
I'm a complete fanboy over....
Joss Whedon, Aaron Sorkin and Stephen Sondheim. And Alyson Hannigan. And the West Wing. And the Beatles.
My guilty pleasure is....
I don’t do guilt. But I enjoy the show COPS. There’s something about drunk guys without shirts or dental hygiene getting arrested that entertains me.
My ideal client is...
Someone who writes well, has a positive attitude and isn’t afraid to ask questions and view me as a partner.
Favorite book ...
OMG, really? One book? Oy. A toss up between A Christmas Carol and Siddhartha.
Again with this. I refuse. Casablanca, Shawshank Redemption, The Big Sleep, Key Largo, Duck Soup, Annie Hall. There.
Chocolate or Vanilla?
CHOCOLATE. With chocolate stuff in it.
Stupid thing people should know about you?
I sing show tunes to my cats.
Anything you wanna add?
I hope people remain calm and positive. They need to stop running around with their hair on fire. Books are not over. Authors are not finished. We just need to be smart and patient.