I hear it from authors all the time and frankly I don’t understand it. You have an agent, she was excited and passionate about your work and you signed on with glee. She submitted and kept you updated on what was happening, but for all of her enthusiasm and all of your hard work the book didn’t sell. Now she’s gone. You haven’t heard “boo” from her and can’t get a response via email, phone or even telegraph (if that were possible).
Why do agents do this and is there any way to predict that this might happen to you down the line?
To the best of my knowledge I’ve never ignored a client, whether published, unpublished, or a pain in the butt. It only makes me feel guilty and causes more stress than just answering the phone or email ever would. But that’s my Minnesota Nice upbringing. Based on what authors tell me, this does seem to happen a lot, and in my opinion (although I’ve never asked agents why they do this) I think it’s the agent’s way of firing a client. Face it. If she’s not returning your calls or responding to your emails she’s just not that into you. She just doesn’t want to be the bad guy. She doesn’t want to be the one to break up with you so she simply makes herself inaccessible and becomes, well, rude. So what can authors do to stop this behavior? You need to tell those agents that you’re not going to take it. Quit sitting around and hoping the phone is going to ring. Whether the book has sold or not this agent works for you, and if she’s not responsive, if she’s not giving you the time of day you deserve, especially after repeated attempts, than get rid of her! Or him.
Don’t wait for months for an answer. How long did it usually take her to respond in the past? If you’ve called more than three times and she hasn’t returned your call, if you wrote more than five emails and she hasn’t responded (and keep in mind all of this should not be done in one day), then it’s not working. You know when it’s not working, you’re just waiting for me to tell you. You don’t need me. Trust your gut. You’ve done it before and it worked so do it now. When you feel that you need to ask this question it’s long past time to send that certified letter. Why do you want to have an agent who is clearly not that into you?
How do you know ahead of time that you are signing with an agent who’s answer to you is no answer? Well, there really isn’t much you can do. I guess you could ask the agent what happens if your book doesn’t sell and if she’s ever acted this way, but you probably won’t get a straight answer. Your best bet is to talk to the agent’s clients. Find out from them how they feel they’ve been treated and whether they know of any instances of said agent behaving this way. If you aren’t talking to other writers now, about agents, writing, and publishing, you should be. When it comes time to choose an agent they can often be your best resource. Just remember to take it all in and know that the more you talk to people the more you learn that with every agent and every publisher you’ll hear a little good, a little bad, and even some ugly.