Friday, January 25, 2013

Friday Fricassee

Many of you are in the middle of the Grand Agent Quest; others of you are making furious plans to enter the fray soon.  And I want to remind you of something important:

It's a relationship.  It may also be a Stepping Stone, an Accomplishment, a Victory, or a Goal Met, but mostly and maybe-forever, the agent thing is a relationship.

As such, it's two-sided.  Once you sign that contract, it's not about you sitting there trembling and twitching and wondering if it is-or-isn't-okay to ask your agent this or that question.  Communication is at the foundation of any healthy relationship, and it's going to be equally your responsibility to keep that communication going.

No, that doesn't mean be a pest.  Or an emotionally draining burden.  Or a needy, care-for-me-or-I'll-die client whom your agent will rue daily.

It does mean ask questions.  It does mean being clear about your expectations and professional goals.  And, yes, it does mean being a good listener and remembering that your agent is human, too.  (Well, usually.)

For nearly two years, I counseled a friend to leave her agent.  Communication was abysmal--the agent wasn't even letting her know which editors had her stuff, and my friend was too intimidated (and sometimes too downright angry) to ask.  I watched her shrivel up creatively, so unsure of what to write and if it even mattered any more that, toward the end, I hardly knew her (as a writer, that is).  This gal is a strong writer with a vibrant mind and more ideas in a week than I would have in a decade!  I wanted to see her thriving, and she wasn't. 

Yes, she finally left (it was amicable).  The final insult was discovering that the editors her agent had led her to believe had been subbed to, never had been.  For months, my friend had been biting her nails FOR NOTHING.

This is an extreme case.  I'm delighted that my friend can now begin fresh, and I believe she will be successful.  It was merely a case of BEING IN THE WRONG RELATIONSHIP. 

It doesn't mean my friend was a dud client.  And it doesn't mean that the agent was a dud agent.  It was a COMPLETE MISMATCH. 

It happens.  And the better the communication, the more quickly this sort of thing can be uncovered and dealt with.

A word to the wise.  Because I want you all to find the RIGHT FIT.

If you don't?  Divorce papers aren't necessary.  Contracts have exit clauses (unless, of course, you're my first agent-from-hell, who never provided me with one); use when necessary.  It might be terrifying to jump into the sea after all the fishing you've done, but the old adage is true:  The wrong agent is worse than no agent at all.

Now, go get 'em!  And have a wonderful weekend.


  1. Thanks for the reminder! I'm not yet at the querying stage, but hope to get there with my current project. If I work superhard, it might be ready for the Baker's Dozen.

    And kudos to your friend for finally leaving a mismatched relationship!

    I have to admit, however, that from where I stand, misrepresenting who has your work is a sign of a dud agent. I don't know the circumstances, of course, but if that happened to me, you can bet I'd be (professionally) letting my writer friends know that maybe they ought to avoid said agent.

  2. I have several friends who have parted ways with their agents, for a myriad of reasons.

    Now, if I could just get that first agent ...

  3. Wow, your friend's experience is quite similar to mine (wonder if it was the same agent)!

    I agree with what you say about it being a wrong relationship. Sometimes it doesn't work out. The hard thing is that you probably won't know it right off the bat. When you are talking to potential agents on the phone (after they've offered representation), keep in mind that they are trying to woo you. They'll put themselves in the best light and try to convince you that they're the right fit--even if they aren't. And, to be fair, they probably fully believe they are the right fit when they're talking to you.

    But all relationships take time and work--and the author/agent relationship is no exception. Just as in other relationships in our lives, the author/agent one doesn't always work out either.

    In my case, the agent said she was sending my work out, but never gave me proof of this. To be fair, I thought I didn't want it at first, but when I changed my mind, the agent said I'd get the info by a certain date. That date came and went, but no list of submissions was in my email. This pattern of promise and failure to fulfill the promise continued for several months. There were always reasons as to why the agent wasn't able to get the work to me, but it became a source of frustration. After almost a year of being with this agent, we parted ways.

    It was a difficult decision, and I felt exactly the same as Authoress says her friend did--afraid to "bug" the agent with questions and concerns and afraid to dive back into the fishing pond. But I finally did it.

    It hasn't been easy to start fishing again. I've had a few nibbles, but haven't yet hooked a new agent. It's especially difficult since I never got the list of submissions from my old agent and can't query with the manuscript that landed me the agent the first time. *sigh*

    Now, I wouldn't necessarily call my former agent a dud or a bad agent--she's done wonderful things for some of her other clients--and maybe she communicates better with them, I don't know. All I know is that it wasn't the right relationship for me. And I knew it wasn't working within a few months--but it took me too long to get up the courage to toss the agent back into the pond and start again.

    I'm hoping for a better relationship the next time around--and I'm more prepared because I know exactly what I want and expect from an agent and won't settle for less.

    Thank you, Authoress, for sharing your friend's experience and your thoughts about it with us. Best of luck to all my fellow fishermen/fisherwomen. ;-)

  4. Great post! And communication was one of the top issues I brought up when talking with agents. So thankful I did. (And so thankful I signed with my agent).

    But I will quibble with one thing you said...that *was* a dud agent. Incompatible communication styles are one thing. I have friends who get frustrated when their e-mails go unanswered or their agents prefer a different communication method than they do. But it sounds like that agent flat-out lied (or at least misled). That's unethical.

  5. Authoress: another great post, thanks. Vitally important to find the right agent, one that matches both your work and peculiarities – and insecurities! Heh heh.. As part of the Great Unwashed Unpubbed, I’d much rather wait to land the right agent, than to sign with the wrong one. I need an agent who can sell me cross-genre and who’s got both honor and grit, who’ll be honest and bracing with me, but not snide or brutal. By this juncture in my life, I’ve met the famous and worked with high-ranking types – yet there’s still evidence you can remain a mensch and retain your soul… no matter what your income bracket is. Graciousness and manners seem in short supply these days! Thanks again for your insights.

  6. Well said. It's got to be such a hard decision to leave and throw yourself back into the void, but sometimes it must be done.

  7. As my favorite auntie likes to say: "It's always better to hug your pillow than be in bed with the wrong man!"

    Thanks Authoress!

  8. The true measure of an agent is how they treat their unsold clients, which is why I think every writer needs to talk to and/or e-mail at least one unsold client of any agent who offers. You need to go into an agent-author relationship with your eyes wide open, and you can't do that if you don't have all the information (or at least as much as you can get).

    Also, I agree with Karen--your friend's agent was a dud, even if he/she's sold things for other clients. I suspect you're trying to be diplomatic out of respect for both your friend and his/her former agent, but part of the reason writers wind up in these kinds of situations is that we don't talk about them enough and call them out for what they are.

  9. Yes, I was being diplomatic. Fortunately, folks are drawing their own conclusions. ;)

    And you're SO right about observing how agents treat their unsold clients. So very right.

  10. Um...they're usually only human? I had a feeling some of them were aliens, but it's so hard to tell from twitter.

    I crack myself up.
    No, it is a very serious topic and I think one that most writers hope hope hope they won't ever have to deal with because they will have a wonderful relationship and everything will always be hearts and flowers.
    And everything is not ever always hearts and flowers.

  11. Thank you for this - I'd emailed a question to my agent over a week ago and was starting to panic because he hadn't written back...even though there haven't been any warning signs or anything. (Paranoia seems to go so well with the writing profession.) Anyway, your post prompted me to email him again, and he responded within a couple hours. Again, thank you!

  12. Perfect post. Yes yes yes! And what Krista said is just right as well--how the agent treats her/his unsold clients is so important.

  13. Thanks for sharing your words of wisdom and I agree whole heartedly. I was offered a contract last spring and of course got all excited and told everyone. But then when I received the contract the title was wrong. I told them as much and asked that it be corrected before I sign. And then they dropped of the face of the Earth. No returning of emails, nothing. Luckily through connections I made through blogs a wonderful author emailed me and said she had made the mistake of signing the contract and was now stuck. THey were putting her off and not following through. I listened to her story and waited to see if they would ever contact me again. Five months later i got an email saying they reorganized and weren't sure where in the process I was but would like to send me a contract now. I got the contract and have yet to sign it. And four months later they have never contacted me to see why I never sent it back. So many red flags! Now I know a contract isn't what's important...getting the book in peoples hands is and if the contract doesn't do that it isn't worth it. The biggest lesson I learned was to not announce a contract as soon as it is offered. Now I feel pressure to get another one to make my friends believe I really do have a book. As if the pressure of getting a contract isn't hard enough.
    Anyway. I can't ditto your comments and plead with all to search out current authors to make sure you are getting what you need from a publisher/agent.