Monday, August 13, 2007

Let's Do Lunch!

I've always scoffed at the television/movie cliche of the Hollywood types saying, "let's do lunch," yet now I find myself often doing the same. One of my favorite perks of the job is free lunches/dinners/drinks with agents and authors and illustrators. Today I will talk briefly about what I call an "Agent lunch."

The purpose of the agent lunch is to get to know the agent and their tastes, and help them know you and your tastes. And the side benefit is good conversation with someone who also loves books, and good food (to get to know their other tastes). Many times, this lunch is the first time I've met the agent in person, although most likely I've emailed and talked with them on the phone before. Sometimes the agent is someone I've already worked with, already have contracts with, sometimes it's someone that I'm meeting cold, that I might not know much about. Generally, it's kind of like a blind date.

My very first agent lunch on my own was with Barry Goldblatt. It was five or so years ago and I was a newly promoted Assistant Editor and ready to step out on my own. I believe I emailed Barry randomly (I'm not sure how I heard his name, perhaps on a website or at a conference--our company had never had a contract with him), and we decided to have lunch. I asked him to pick a place near my office, and he chose the Mexican restaurant Hell's Kitchen. We met, we sat down, the waiter asked if we wanted anything to drink, and at this point I believe I ordered something alcoholic, at which point Barry laughed in delight, and did the same. At the time, I figured that agents and editors always drank at lunch--the old "three martini lunch" model--but I quickly realized this was not the case. But it set a nice tone for the lunch, we discovered we were both foodies, and had a lovely meal. I didn't feel that our tastes in terms of books were completely aligned, but I thought there might be something that would work down the line. At the time, he didn't have any available projects; these lunches sometimes work like that--you plant the seed and hope the agent remembers you the next time they go out with that literary novel with award potential, or the big commercial auction project.

(In this case, lunch with Barry paid off five+ years later when he went out with a short story collection edited by Cecil Castellucci and Holly Black titled Geektastic. You'll be hearing more about this in the future.)

I try to have lunch with a different agent each week. Sometimes it's to reconnect with agents I've met with years ago to stay on their radar screen, sometimes it's with someone brand new. Sometimes the agents find me (usually through Publishers Lunch, sometimes referrals, and a few through this blog!), sometimes I find them (in similar ways). When I had lunch with Barry those many years ago, I asked him to refer some agents to me, who I then proceeded to contact, and then it spread from there.

Sometimes the agents are very young, sometimes they're quite a bit older. As I've mentioned, sometimes it's a bit like a blind date, where you hope the chemistry is there. I generally enjoy all of the agent lunches I have--I enjoy meeting new people, getting to know someone's publishing story, talking about the books we love, exchange some publishing gossip. And I love food. I've been bringing my assistant along to most of my agent lunches these days, and as she's a big foodie who enjoys trying new restaurants, I usually let her research and pick the restaurants. It's been fun trying the restaurants in our new neighborhood, including Django, Riingo, and the Grand Central Oyster Bar Restaurant. I love ending the lunches with coffee, sometimes with dessert (Oh, the decadence). At the end of the lunch, generally the editor pays, most likely because most publishers have more generous expense accounts, and also because the agent has something that the editor wants: the next big thing. On occasion I've had the agent pay, though, sometimes because they were the one doing the asking (like dating!).

Curtis Brown agent Nathan Bransford had a great blog post on agent/editor lunches a few months ago. I thought it was interesting that he was under the impression that many editors dreaded the agent lunch. What's there to dread? I guess there are those editors who are more introverted, shy. And I did have one older agent refer to me a few times as "Oriental" during our lunch, but I know he didn't mean to offend me. But overall, the lunches are very friendly, casual, and fun.

Let me know if there's anything specific you'd like to know about these mysterious lunches. And hey, maybe one of these days, We'll Do Lunch!


Nathan Bransford said...

I do know some editors who dread the lunch, but I never understood it either!

And I highly recommend lunch with Alvina.

Anonymous said...


Are most of your authors/illustrators agented?

How do you describe your taste to an agent?

I have heard the agent/publishing house relationship described as adversarial (because they are trying to get the best deal for their clients). In contrast, from a recent posting on Alice's CWIM Blog: These agents also talked about why a writer should have an agent. Agents have relationships with editors that a writer can't possibly have. "We know about their boyfriends, we know about their relationships, we have lunch," said Shafer. "We know if they are cat people or dog people," said Adams.

Do the agents you lunch with know about your boyfriends?

Just curious,

alvinaling said...

At times the agent/editor relationship can be a bit adversarial, but overall, they're friendly. We both want the best for the author, in the end (although are also looking out for our company!).

Funny how you say boyfriends plural! Some agents I am quite friendly with--in fact, I would call them friends. Others we keep the relationship strictly professional. But yes, we'll often talk about our personal lives.

Anonymous said...

Living all the way out here in Seattle, I've never done lunch with an agent the way that being in New York I might. Sometimes I think this might be a gap in my editorial education--and that I might miss out on some good manuscripts coming my way from time to time. But there's nothing you can do about geography! I do try to connect with agents at shows, etc., but as you know, shows are crazy busy for everyone involved, so sometimes it's just a brief handshake and exchange of cards. But I think even that kind of networking, putting a face to a name, is great for helping an agent to think of us from time to time.