Thursday, May 29, 2014

Allow Yourself to be Treated Well

Yes, I care about the journeys of other writers.  Yes, I tend to particularly "mother hen" those of my colleagues with whom I share friendship as well as writership.

As in, if you hurt, I hurt.  If you're angry, I'm angry.  You know how it goes.  You do it, too.

But I want to channel my latest bout of righteous indignation into something productive, and here it is:

Signing with an agent is a wonderful thing.  But if it ends up less than wonderful for any reason, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

I know that many of you who read my blog are either getting ready to query or have been querying and are firmly entrenched in I-need-to-find-an-agent.  Then there are others of you who are recently or not-so-recently agented, but not yet published.  Like me.

Let me tell you something.  When you sign with an agent, you have not won the lottery.  You have worked hard and made a business connection that will be (hopefully) beneficial to both of you.  Being agented is a STEP along the way.  It is not a mode of being that requires you to stay in a perpetual state of stunned thankfulness.

Don't get me wrong:  I am daily thankful for my agent.  I adore him and he knows it.  And I think he must be at least marginally fond of me, because, let's face it--he's put up with me for quite some time now.  But the bottom line is that Josh treats me well.

Yes, I've been frustrated sometimes (and he knows it--because I've communicated it).  It's almost always because of a lack of communication.  The truth is that I feel "taken care of" when I'm communicated with.  Dark holes of silence?  I don't do well with those.  Not even marginally.  But all relationships, both business and personal, have their ups and downs.  Because nobody is perfect, and forgiveness is key to happiness.  And threaded through the frustrations and miscommunications is a strong sense of being treated well.  Being respected.  And I know--because he's said it--that Josh is in for the long haul.  We are, both of us, imperfect humans.  But I think we've got an undeniable synergy that trumps the hiccups.  Our relationship feels good.

This isn't always the case with agent-client relationships.  Of course, it's not always the agent who's the "bad guy".  Nobody wants to represent an author who is whiny or demanding or full of himself.  Agents are overworked and trying to inhumanly multitask on an almost-daily basis.  If we need respect, then they need it, too.  Respect for their time, their priorities, their private lives (yes, they do have them).


If you feel more angst than satisfaction with your agent, something is wrong.

If you're not feeling supported, encouraged, energized, challenged to be become better, something is wrong.

Mind!  I am absolutely not saying that your agent exists solely to be your cheerleader.  HE DOES NOT.  But cheerleading is part of it.  Letting you know that he's excited about something, or that you've done a good job with the latest round of revisions, is a very decent-human-being sort of thing that needs to happen.

And if you've done something a bit out of line?  Like, maybe you posted something on your blog that's a bit taboo--or maybe you've made an unreasonable demand?  Then your agent needs to communicate this to you professionally and kindly.  If you receive anything less than professional and kind, then that, to me, is a red flag.

(This is assuming that you are also being professional and kind.  Right?)

You need to be treated well.  Not pampered, not coddled, not deferred to on a daily basis.  But simply treated well.

I walked for more than 2 years through a bad agent situation with a colleague who felt unsupported and condescended to by an agent with a reputation for suddenly emailing clients and telling them she no longer wanted to represent them.  This colleague lived in fear that the same thing would happen to her.  When she finally found the courage to "break up" with this agent, she found a new one--and got a book deal fairly quickly.

I've watched colleagues fall apart because their agents decided to call it quits after one try with one novel.  (Which is why it's important to determine up front whether or not the agent you're signing with is a "career agent" or a "let's throw one book at the wall and see if it sticks" agent.  If he's the latter, and you're longing for the former, you're going to end up disappointed.  And you won't feel like you've been treated well.)

And, most recently, I've been privy to one of the most unprofessional communiques from an agent that I've ever seen.  (Not rivaling what I went through my my agent-from-hell all those years ago.  But, truly, there isn't a whole lot that could rival that.)  All because my colleague dared to ask for an update on her submission list.

Here's a disclaimer on that last one:  No one likes a pest.  It's never okay to PESTER your agent.  Weekly emails that say, "Hey! How's it going this week?" are going to drive your agent to the nearest bar before 2 p.m.  But asking for an update after your agent sends you an editor list on the brink of submission and then goes dark is not, in my opinion, "pestering".

You are allowed to ask for updates.  You are allowed to ask questions.  You are even allowed to ask for advice.

You are allowed to be treated well.

You are NOT allowed to be a diva, or to hurl invectives at your agent when he doesn't measure up, or to expect that your project and your needs will always come first.  In short, YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO BE A JERK.

But if you are being a decent, hard-working, non-pesty client, and you aren't being treated well, then it's time to reevaluate your relationship with your agent.

Love yourselves, people.  Love yourselves enough to know when the way someone treats you isn't okay.  Love yourselves enough to trust your instincts when something isn't right.

Love yourselves enough to LEAVE when you are not being treated well.

And that is my mother-henning for the day.  Write well, live well, love yourself so that you can love others well.

Thank you.  I feel better now.


  1. Yes, all of this.

    Also, I think so many people think they know what they want in an agent, but no one really knows for sure until they land an agent.

    I think people need to know that it's okay if you need to change agents. It happens. Signing with an agent doesn't have to be a forever thing. It's more important to find someone who works well with you.

  2. This might sound harsh, but a business relationship is not about having one's ego massaged, it's not about being 'well treated'. It's about making money. An agent's job is to sell his author's books. If he doesn't, if he fails, and several times, like in your case, he's not doing his job properly. He's not treating you well. Think about it. I went through the sme experience, but walked away after a year and two (unsold)books. I didnt stay because she was 'kind' to me. I left. It was a failed relationship. Get grip, Authoress! Go where your (undoubted) talent is worth

  3. Anon,

    I appreciate your input, but you have mistaken the spirit of my post. Of course it's a business relationship (as I stated in the post), and of course "kindness" is not the litmus test for that. But there are certainly instances in which clients have been treated poorly, and yet they stay because they're afraid to leave and start over again. That's what I'm addressing here. And it's true for personal relationships as well. If your "best friend" never returns your phone calls and verbally abuses you whenever you're together, I'm pretty sure she'll lose the "best friend" status.

    Thank you, though, for the backhanded vote of confidence. :)

  4. I agree with Anon. You've made it really clear that Josh is a great agent and you have a very good working relationship with him. However, he has not sold your books and by now I'm pretty sure you know what you're doing, you're writing well and you're producing good product. So... maybe he's not a good match...(don't throw shoes at me).

  5. Whoa, what's going on here people? I don't think Authoress made this post to receive comments on the status of her professional relationship with her agent. That's private. Also, book deals can take a long time--as in years! It's her choice to stay or leave, and I think you guys are jumping the gun--for all we know, Authoress is sitting on big news because it's publishing and sometimes news takes months to be released. My point is you don't know her situation, and it's inappropriate to comment on it without all the details. It reminds me of that saying about what happens when you assume.

    I thought that was a great post about agents and agent author relationships, Authoress.

  6. This is a darn good post about life in general. I see too many people staying in bad relationships of all sorts because they believe in the 'bird in the hand' philosophy.

    If a person makes excuses as to why someone else treats them badly, they probably need to walk away. Life is too short to tolerate toxic people.

    Agents and writers are professionals. They should act like professionals, especially in times of stress. That, after all, is when professionalism is needed most.

  7. For me, I consider the agent-author relationship as a partnership, which therefore dictates our communication and treatment of respect toward one another. My agent is not my boss (and shouldn't feel like one) nor am I my agent's boss.

    Partners support one another in the process. Your post is a good reminder of this. Treat each other well, indeed.

  8. “Love yourselves enough to trust your instincts when something isn't right”

    I think this is possibly one of the best pieces of advice I have seen in a very long time. I recently commented on Nathan Bransford’s blog regarding something similar, but I feel it worth repeating.
    Several years ago an agent I submitted to, wrote back after reading the FULL of my MS suggesting they would be very keen to offer me representation subject to an R&R with particular emphasis on addressing the issues within their notes. Naturally I was over-the-moon. Want another character, or fewer characters, or more dialogue or less, pretty much whatever the agent wanted was up for discussion. Except, the agent in question wanted me to change the setting from Australia to the US. Umm…I’ve travelled throughout Europe and Asia but I’ve never been to the US, how was I going to make this sound authentic?
    But there was more. The agent wanted me to change the ethnicity of my characters also, as they felt the “Croatian Link & history” was too unknown to most people… they actually wrote “You could make them Italian or something like that.”
    I contacted the agent and explained I’d never been to the US therefore I had no real clue of the country, the cities, the people, the naturalness of various dialects etc., and didn’t feel comfortable writing about a culture and country I knew nothing about. I pretty much repeated the same on the Croatian vs Italian and tried to make it clear that this link to a less common ancestry was what made the dark-fantasy aspect more unique; as I had ancient Slavic Gods and mythological creatures most hadn’t heard of. The reply was “Yeah, about that, I really think we’d be better off with a more known mythology, especially for your first book.”
    I politely declined the agent’s suggestions and offer of representation as I wasn’t willing to change the very essence of my MS simply to have an agent. I could tell we weren’t speaking the same language.
    I guess my point is, I’m not difficult to deal with, I’m in fact pretty easy going…but that doesn’t mean I’m prepared to change everything about me, or my novels, simply to have the status of “agented author” and while I’d love to have an agent, I need to respect myself enough, and them enough also, to know what will be a likely successful marriage.

  9. I'm leaving this comment both as an agented author and as a literary agent and I have a few things to say.

    1. Finding an agent is not easy, even if you are an agent, and find one that "gets" your work, that you get along with, that represents all the genres that you write, is not as easy as it sounds or seems, nor is it so easy to "just find another agent" which means that many authors get stuck in bad agent-author relationships (yes, sometimes like a marriage,) but sometimes there's a lot you're willing to put up with because the positives outweigh the negatives.
    2. The grass always seems greener on the other side, but your agent's quirks might be tolerable compared to a different agent's quirks - and you won't know that until it's too late.
    3. Yes it's a business, and yes it's the agent's job to sell your work, but because it is a business, we need to prioritize our clients in a way that makes sure that we will still have a job and still be able to thereby provide our services to you. No agent willfully neglects a client, we are just insanely busy. ALL AGENTS ARE INSANELY BUSY. And they are also working FOR FREE - "on spec" - until they sell your book, or not. Agents often invest dozens of hours into editing projects that never sell, and a fraction of that for projects that sell for big bucks. There is no formula, there are no guarantees.
    4. What you do want is an agent who is in love with your work and will fight for it and for you. And 99% of agents are like this. No agent will take on a client unless they a. think they can sell them and b. love the project or the manuscript. But the second your agent falls out of love with you or your work, that's when it's time to move on - and those are the lines of communication that need to be wide open.
    5. As an author - am I happy with my agent? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. But my agent is human, and so am I, and I don't know any perfect people in the world, do you?

    Great post Authoress, it gave me lots of food for thought. There is no part of publishing that is easy, publishing is ALL about relationships, and no relationship is every easy - if a relationship is to succeed long term it takes LOTS of work - from both sides. There are no easy answers and nobody should "suffer" in a bad relationship, but everyone needs to have realistic expectations.

  10. Thanks for the mother-henning. I hope your friend's able to get into a better situation.

  11. I'm afraid I'm going to have to say that "loving yourself" is not Biblical, and you definitely don't have to tell people to love themselves. Ephesians 5:29 says "For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church." This is not to say that we should allow people to walk all over us or treat us badly, but as Philippians 2:3 says, "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.

  12. Matthew 19:19b says, "love your neighbor as yourself.”

    We cannot love others well if we do not first love ourselves. There is nothing ambitious or self-serving or conceited about loving ourselves--caring for our bodies, our spirits, our relationships. If our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and if we are created in God's image, then we should certainly love ourselves.

    Yes, I believe you DO have to tell people to love themselves, because self-loathing tears people down. Loving yourself does NOT mean "put yourself before others" or "be narcissistic". If we are called to love people, then that includes ourselves. It's healthy, it's godly, and it better enables us to love others.


  14. Love is not the same as self-esteem. To liken the two is to ultimately misunderstand what unconditional love really is.

    You're free to adhere to your own theology, but I do not share it. Thank you, though, for sharing your views!

  15. And thank you for listening. God bless.

  16. I had the experience A mentioned: book was to go on submission and then nothing for five months. I finally contacted my (former) agent and it turned out they had never sent the book because they were injured (wrist). The lack of communication regarding that was not cool, esp since they have a partner who could presumably send emails on the agent's behalf. Then my book was sent out to (one!) editor and it was another four months before I heard (through a nudge of course) that it was declined. The lack of communication and action led me to (amicably) leave this agent. I am still working finding a new one but I have sold five books on my own since. For $$.
    Re: the remark that we are not an agent's "boss" - maybe not literally but they do work for you--the writer! You pay them out of YOUR earnings. Which hopefully they help you obtain through the best deal possible. Note: I have seen many agents get authors deals with non-agent needing and royalty only presses. I want nothing more than to pay an agent big $$ for a great deal.