Don’t Fail Yourself
- By: Jessica Faust | Date: Apr 20 2009
I’ve been thinking a lot about my AgentFail post of a few weeks ago and the anger and frustration that went along with it. I’m glad I did the post. It was good to hear from authors about what really frustrates you. What I’m worried about, though, is that the frustration overshadowed the real stories of agents who fail. It seems to me that what most people complained about or what the biggest stress was eventually placed on was the response agents give to queries, whether it’s “no response means no” or a lack of response. And the truth is that while these are sound complaints, I’m not really sure these are the stories in which the agents really failed.
The stories that struck me, shocked me, horrified me, and made me actually groan were those of the agents who truly failed their clients. The stories of agents acting outright unprofessionally and stalling a client’s career. These are true stories of agents failing. The truth is, in some of these instances, the author failed as well.
In the cases where an agent sat on a manuscript for months and months, not giving feedback to the author and not submitting the work, the agent certainly failed, and in a big way. But what about the author? Why do you sit there for months and months and allow someone else to put your career on hold? Listen, I know how hard it is to get an agent and I know that once you do you just want to sit back and be able to relax. But this is your publishing career and no one, not one single person out there cares about it as much as you do, so the minute you start to feel that agent is failing you it’s time for you to step up and make sure you aren’t also failing yourself. Talk to the agent, prod her to get moving. If it doesn’t work, terminate that relationship and get moving again. A bad agent is worse than no agent at all.
In life, in your “real” jobs, in publishing there are always going to be people who fail you. There are going to be managers who pass you over for a well-deserved raise, significant others who treat you as less of a person, friends who take advantage of your kindness. We have a choice in life and in our publishing careers. We can choose how people treat us. The only person you can control is you. If others fail you, get angry, but don’t fail yourself.
It’s sad, because I know there are wonderful agents too. However, I find myself passing through sites like Absolute Write and avoiding the Ask the Agent board because I’ve come to think of agents as necessary evils. And I hope to sign on with a publisher which doesn’t require one. Even if it means very little money. Life’s too short.
I’m really sorry to hear that because I think if you really dig through the complaints, and as you can see from both my Agentfail and my Agentpass posts, the complainers are always the loudest, you’ll see that agents are really fabulous. They love authors and love books and what they want most is to build an author’s career and to work as a team while doing so.
Keep in mind that there are literally hundreds of agents out there and when you look at the complaints, it’s really a small minority.
Don’t let the negativity start to read as truth.
Great post! If the agent is working for you and they are not doing their job then you can potentially fail as an employer. After all the stress of querying I would want to relax as well, but like you said getting an agent is one of many hurdles to overcome.
I think the volume of complaints directed at the query system is just a reflection of the readership; most of us are unagented / unpublished author’s and our perspective has yet to be broadened to include the further stages of the agent-author relationship.
I’m glad I have the opportunity to read your blog and prepare myself for representation, so that when it happens, it will happen once and it will not fail.
Your Quote: “…In the cases where an agent sat on a manuscript for months and months, not giving feedback to the author and not submitting the work, the agent certainly failed, and in a big way. But what about the author? Why do you sit there for months and months and allow someone else to put your career on hold?…”
I was one of the ones that complained about an agent not giving me feedback on a manuscript for months and months (and not submitting). If I told you the A-list agent that did this to me, you’d probably be stunned.
It’s not like I “sat around” while I let my agent put my career on hold. I was emailing her, asking her to get back to me. Asking why stuff wasn’t being read. I’d get no response until the third email — only to be brushed off with “I’ll get to you next week.” Next week never came.
We’ve parted ways.
After all the work of writing a MS and finally getting an agent, you want to give the agent the benefit of the doubt, right? Because that person IS saying “they’ll get back to you.” It takes more than a month sometimes to figure out that an agent is a liar.
At the same time, if a client of yours complained every time you said you’d send them X and were a few days late, you’d chastize them for being too impatient.
I swear to God, writers can’t win.
A great post. Nice to know someone was noticing the serious complaints about “malfunctioning” agents, not just the no-response response malarkey.
But outside forces still powerfully stymie good writers with good manuscripts in hand, including those who take their own careers seriously and don’t act like doormats (waiting months for agent feedback? Good grief.).
Right now we’re experiencing the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression. Agents are still making deals, but they admit books are much harder to sell. Publishers are gun-shy, editors don’t have big budgets to spread around.
If you have a book currently on submission, and it is being turned down because it doesn’t look like it will easily pass the money-test, what do you with your book? Has it been shop-soiled forever by virtue of having been passed around in a recession? It seems a very harsh fate for the beloved product of several years of a writer’s life, one that did merit representation by a good house. What does a good agent advise in this situation? Is there any future for my book, now, or is it a victim of the times? I don’t want to “fail myself” but how far can you go to remedy these things that are out of your control?
As an editor, I’ve seen some pretty outrageous Agentfails. The most shocking was an author whose agent had been carrying on collecting royalty checks for four years while telling the author the book hadn’t earned out. He (the author) finally called us directly to verify sales, and was shocked to learn he was owed thousands of dollars. When he tried to contact his agent, she had totally disappeared.
But the point is–agents are in a position to crimp their careers by being outrageous (I don’t think it pays off in the long run, but it’s awful easy to do). So the fact that the overwhelming majority of you don’t–that you’re unbelievably hardworking, professional, and responsive, tireless advocates for your clients, arbiters of a blossoming career (even when it might take years and years to blossom)–makes me sad to see some of the bitterness and agitation toward agents I’ve seen in the last couple weeks on the internet. Just doesn’t make sense.
I think that the truly outrageous stories of Queryfail, Agentfail, Editorfail (should there be one) would be the fun part–“here are the crazy ways people spoil the system!”–but it hasn’t really worked out that way.
Please don’t assume I meant you were doing nothing, but I do hear many complaints from authors who do seem to do nothing. Your example just stuck in my head. And don’t assume I would be surprised by the name of the agent. I don’t know anything about “A-list” or “B-list” agents. I think those should be personal to each author. But whatever list you’re on as a person you can definitely screw up.
I’m also not sure I’d chastise a client of mine for being impatient. If I missed a deadline I would expect to be called on the carpet for that. Please don’t put words in my mouth.
Next Anon 9:28
If your book is being rejected on query alone it’s certainly easy to requery again when times are better, but please don’t blame everything entirely on the economy. Sure it’s tough right now, but I think we should all keep looking ahead because there’s no guarantee it’s going to get easier anytime soon. Work on your next book. That’s the best advice I can give.
Anon 9:28 quote: “…those who take their own careers seriously and don’t act like doormats (waiting months for agent feedback? Good grief.)…”
Oh, good God. For every unagented writer out there, just wait, WAIT, I tell you, until YOU have a “fabulous” agent.
It has nothing to do with being a doormat. I highly doubt anyone in my life would accuse me of that. Just because you are professional and courteous to an agent doesn’t mean they respond back to you in the same way. Some of them lie. They say they’ll read your MS over the weekend or next week. They don’t. They don’t return your questioning emails. They don’t follow up with editors about submissions.
You can’t MAKE an agent do anything. The only thing you can do is leave. I DID leave. But guess what, that manuscript is now dead. No other agent is going to shop your MS, even if it was only sent to five editors.
I think everyone judging a writer for being a “doormat” has just one, just ONE bad experience with an agent, you’d never blame the writer again.
In response to 9:44 Anonymous, perhaps we should recognize the overall blame balance. Sometimes, agents do fail, and that’s what AgentFail was about–a chance to get those stories out there. Okay, so now we’ve vented. Now it’s time to realize that somewhere other writers have allowed themselves to become doormats. Maybe the doormat comment wasn’t directed at you (and it seems from your post that you attempted everything you could with the agent in question). As a writer, I’m sincerely sorry to hear about your manuscript that can no longer be shopped around, but as a writer I want to ask you–so what? Work on the next project and make it better. Being bitter will never help you get published. The system failed you and it’s awful, so if you’re sick of the system, bail out. Otherwise, pick yourself up and move on. Spend that energy writing!
Anon 9:44 a.m. Please accept my apologies for the “doormat” comment. I was not thinking of any specific letter-writer when I wrote that, just responding to Jessica’s original post about writers who are stuck in the waiting game with neglectful agents.
You have all my sympathy because we are in exactly the same boat. I’ve had two “esteemed” agents, and yet could write a book about my shoddy treatment at their hands. You’re right, you can’t make them do anything if they don’t want to do it. Many of them seem to see you as a “winner” up till they get that first rejection, after which they fear you are a “loser” and cannot wait to be rid of you. You can eventually save your self-respect and walk away (also my path), but then you’re stuck with a shopworn MS.
And let’s face it: publishing on the ‘net is still not a desirable option. We’re screwed.
Shae W–great advice. Every book you write means the next one will be better. Writers learn something new on every project, and it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been writing or how many books you’ve had published. Growing as a writer means your confidence grows along with your skills. It’s a lot harder for anyone to treat you as a doormat when you’re confident enough to stand up for yourself.
I was one of those “doormat” writers for a while. After my first agent retired, I thought finding a new one would be easy. It wasn’t. It took me a lot of queries and over two years to find another agent (and that was with three novels through a major publisher already under my belt).
When I did finally find one, I thought this person would do as wonderful a job as my first agent had, leaving me time to focus on my writing. After a year, I realized that wasn’t going to be the case but I hung in there because I kept hoping things would improve (I did communicate my dissatisfaction) and because I dreaded the idea of having to start over again with the whole find-an-agent thing. It can be such a frustrating, time-consuming, drawn-out, ego-deflating process that, for me, tolerating an agent who wasn’t very good seemed like the lesser of the evils for a while, because it allowed me to focus solely on my writing. By the end of the second year I’d had enough and I finally severed the relationship.
Open the floodgates for all the trite advice to “just work on that next mss.”
(Shuts down computer and goes off to stab self with any old thing at hand.)
Whenever this subject came up I’ve had to click off the site ’cause everyone’s complaint was how much of a fail it was. Did they not see the actual #agentfails? Or did they read just a few and thought why bother its a whine fest?
It’s sad the true complaints got lost. But on some level I have to disagree with you. Authors are told over and over that agents are busy. It may take months and months to get back. Stop being impatient. Or worse, agents show examples of why not to “bug” an agent because you guys see that as sign we won’t have the patience for the publishing industry. Those nudges end in rejections.
So, when some are on the receiving end of this we think, “I don’t want to be one of those people.” It’s a vicious cycle.
Me, personally, I wouldn’t wait months and months. If I send a nudge and don’t hear back–nudge meaning, hey did you get it?–I move on.
Anyway, this might be the time for agents to remind people what are true red flags for a bad agent.
10:27 Anon, what else do you say except to encourage working on a new project? Do you honestly want someone saying people should give up after one (or even many) bad agent experiences? There are people who are “bad” in their chosen profession no matter which profession you’re talking about. I’m horrified by the stories I read on AgentFail, but as a writer I feel like the only thing to do is keep writing.
A bad agent is worse than no agent at all.I agree with that statement 100%.
When you’re a newbie writer and an agent signs you, it’s natural to assume the teacher/student attitude. The writer doesn’t know the industry as well as the agent, so when she tells you something, it’s natural to believe her.
With most agents, this wouldn’t be a problem, but with a few…
This why, I think, every writer should study the industry, become educated. There is enough information out there, tons of ‘what to expect from your agent’ posts and websites where you can read or leave feedback on agents. It is possible (and necessary)for a newbie to demystify the process.
Thank you for a wonderful post.
I have to agree with Shae W here and encourage the writing of more than one book. I had a book that gained an agent. It stopped there. Parted amicably with the agent, started working on another book, and still another.
Now when I send out queries I have YA, scifi, fantasy and the original book that started it all.
I actually think my latest work is better than the book that landed an agent, but my point is, my goal is to be a writer, not a writer of one book.
Sure, it can only take one book to make your mark in literature, but you never know which one it will be.
Anon 10:12 —
(I’m Anon 9:44)
Apology totally accepted. I didn’t even mean you as in “you” but just sort of an accumulation of all unpubbed writers who haven’t been through the bad agent thing. I’m sorry I went into a tizzy there for a moment. And I’m also sorry for you own agent troubles. I have so been there.
Shae W. —
See, that’s the thing. OF COURSE I’m working on the next ms. That’s what writers do. Again, there is a huge disconnect here. Sometimes when a writer voices her agent troubles she’s doing it as a wakeup call to those that are unagented — that finding an agent isn’t nearly as hard as finding the RIGHT agent, who holds up her end of the bargain.
Why is that associated with being “bitter?”
I’m not “bitter,” I’m “wiser.” But at the same time I get weary of unpublished writers claiming they’d never put up with such-and-such from an agent. In reality, agents have lots of power. They sometimes use it unwisely.
I think Anon’s dilemma is that once you’ve landed an agent with a great reputation, you’re inclined to give the benefit of the doubt.
Even terrific, well-established agents can fail a client, sometimes through no fault of their own. I think what some agents forget is that any writer worth taking on is also sane enough to gracefully accept that the agent is changing focus to another genre, is having trouble making the sale, or is going to take a year off to seek enlightenment in the Himalayas.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in my own two and a half decades of paid employment, it’s that setting appropriate expectations, even if they’re low, is better than making promises you can’t keep.
But whether the agent fails or succeeds, a writer keeps writing. The publishing business moves slowly, but writing a good book takes time, too. If the agent gets you that three-book deal, you want to have the next manuscript ready. If the agent fails, you want to be ready to pitch something else.
An agent, an editor, or a publisher can fail, but a writer who keeps working on his or her craft can succeed in spite of them all.
Boy, this is a toughie. I definitely have sympathy for those writers out there who end up with an agent who doesn’t live up to their end of the bargain. I believe they are the exception to the rule, but unfortunately, they are the stories one hears the most about. Writers don’t tend to speak up too often about agents who do their jobs well. After all, it’s expected that they are professional and know what they are doing, and have the writers best interests at heart. There are places one can go to research about agents, like the Water Cooler and Writer Beware, but they certainly aren’t going to catch everyone. There are other things one can do though, which have been posted about, like being able to speak to other authors an agent represents. I’m curious if authors ever contact editors an agent has worked with to get feedback or if editors would even be inclined to do so. There are certain aspects of the business that authors can and should be aware of so they can talk to the agent about these. Communication is the key obviously.
You can certainly be upfront initially with any prospective agent about response times. Whatever they give, they should be held too for the most part. Authors also can have certain expectations about how the relationship should function. It’s not a one way street. If you expect emails to be returned within a certain amount of time, you should be able to communicate this with the agent. If you want updates about submissions on a regular basis, communicate this. It’s a partnership, not a boss-employee relationship. Grounds for termination should be established right off the bat. This can be a hard one I’m sure, because agents are so difficult to come by in the first place you don’t want to have to severe the relationship. Like someone said before, it can take a long time to get another one even if you’re already published.
I’m still agent hunting. When I get one that is interested enough in my writing, I’ll certainly have a list of expectations for them, and I’ll expect them to have the same for me. I’ll talk to other authors they rep. I’ll try to dig up as much feedback as I can. I’ll want to be confident going into the partnership that it’s going to work, and not just throwing myself at their feet, thankful that anyone will rep me. I want an agent. I want a career in writing novels that will sell. Even though I know the majority of agents are good, professional, and know what they are doing, but I will go into it with as much knowledge and open communication as I can manage. Success isnn’t guaranteed of course, but I will do my damnedest to lay a solid groundwork for me to achieve it. I will also go into it without any qualms about leaving, because it is true that a bad agent is worse than no agent.
I will also keep writing and trying. This is a tough business, and you can’t ever expect success or assume that it will continue once you get some. You can’t just write good stories and let it go from there. Communication and involvment are important. However, first and foremost is writing a good story. You will go nowhere without that, which is why that ‘keep writing’ addage is said over and over again. It may sound trite at times, but it is nonetheless true. So, I shall keep writing, and querying, and trying to be as smart and knowledgeable about this industry as I can.
Thanks for revisiting this (treacherous?) territory in a more positive light. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of those folks who had a bad experience with an agent starts a website (anonymously, of course!) listing that agent and asking writers who had similar experiences to do the same. If truly negligent agents were “outed,” they’d either change their ways, or become obsolete.
I’m glad to see you noticed the genuine horror stories.
Many agent contracts don’t have an easy escape clause so the author is stuck for the term of the contract, no matter how poorly the agent is behaving.
If there is an escape clause, the author has to ask herself–
How long is too long to wait for feedback or the common courtesy of a reply?
It took me a year or years to find this agent. Is waiting a little longer a good strategy in comparison to possible a year or more of finding another agent?
Will more time put my book at risk of being passe´ as the market shifts?
Should I risk being branded hard-to-work with and unprofessional in the good ol’ agent network of gossip?
Other writers are giving me all kinds of advice, and it’s all different. Who is right?
And the questions with few answers go on and on.
Great point Jessica! 🙂 Thanks for posting. Everyone has a little liability in a bad situation like that.
It’s really a crying shame when you’ve trusted someone with your work and they’ve mucked up and made it useless. And the advice to “no big deal – go write another book” is correct, but it IS a little like being told to go have another baby, ‘coz this one’s retarded.
Fresh ideas in a glutted market, especially ones you’re passionate enough about to spend thousands of hours on aren’t all that easy to come by, and it must be depressing to have your manuscript spoiled by a lazy agent.
On the other hand – what else can you do? Take a deep breath and start looking for the next inspiration.
Jim Duncan brought up a good point and that is to talk to other clients of an agent before agreeing to their representation. What better way to gauge the work of said agent? It’s not full proof but certainly a great way to find out if the agents current authors are happy.
“….When I get one that is interested enough in my writing, I’ll certainly have a list of expectations for them, and I’ll expect them to have the same for me…”
No agent that wants your ms is going to say, Yes, hey, I’m only going to send your ms to five editors and then I’m going to never read your other ms, and after that I’m going to never return any of your emails…
But, sometimes (sometimes!) that is what happens. An Agent snaps you up, heaps all kinds of praise on your work, and then, when you don’t sell in five minutes they are done with you and on the the next writer. A good agent like Jessica isn’t going to do this, but there are so many that do.
And guess what, you can’t find any info on them from other writers — because you don’t know the names of their unpublished writers (because they are unpublished) and I’m betting their clients that have sold aren’t going to possibly ruin their own relationship with the agent by pointing out the agent’s flaws to someone they don’t know.
I’m not trying to make anyone paranoid, but “ideal” situations are often not the norm in client/agent relationship. Because the writer can only write one book at a time, it’s a much bigger deal than to the agent who can sell one of their other 20-50 clients’ books.
I’ve worked on both sides of the fence–I used to be an editor, and now I’m a writer. Over the years I’ve had three agents, and while each was wonderful in his or her way, and had a reputation you could build whole cities on, the first two let me down quite horribly. The third: well, she’s a dream, and I adore her.
I know from my own experience that having not just a good agent, but the RIGHT agent, makes a whole heap of difference to a writer’s life. I always recommend that writers look for representation. But I also understand the heartbreak of having the wrong agent pitch a book, and not sell it, only to see it languishing unsold for various reasons, not all of them my own. I’ve since written several better books: but that other one, that didn’t sell, is still there, and just as good, and just as unread and unpublished as before.
The real lesson that I learned from Queryfail and all subsequent somethingfails is that writing is a hard craft to master, and a hard business to work in as a writer. That doesn’t mean that I blame anyone for the problems that are out there: just that most writers face heartbreak no matter how good and positive, or bad and bitter, they are.
There. That’s lowered everyone’s spirits, hasn’t it? Sorry. I’ll try to be more cheerful next time!
Jane writing is not for the weak. When you finally get a sale…believe me, you feel like you’ve won the war…and some writers are just more battle scarred than others…..but what a feeling when you finally succeed. You gotta keep trying. I do believe that where there is a will, there’s a way….but you must take control, be proactive…
Jane, I meant that you were right! I dont’ want to sound condescending…. :-)….ok, I need to get some writing done…damn blogs and now Twitter…
Juliana, don’t worry, I didn’t think you sounded condescending at all. In fact, I might just hire you as my own personal cheerleader. I want you to sit on the corner of my desk and cheer me on every day, and if you could also stop me from eating quite so many biscuits as I do, that would be a bonus!
Sorry Fawn, but I respectfully disagree with this:
“no big deal – go write another book” is correct, but it IS a little like being told to go have another baby, ‘coz this one’s retarded.
A book is not a person, no matter how attached the writer is to his or her “baby”. While I truly enjoy curling up with a good book, it can never replace a loved one.
Those of us with retarded children and or /brothers and sisters wouldn’t trade them for the world. Their giving and loving spirit rivals many the world calls normal.
Another response to your statement: “…In the cases where an agent sat on a manuscript for months and months, not giving feedback to the author and not submitting the work, the agent certainly failed, and in a big way. But what about the author? Why do you sit there for months and months and allow someone else to put your career on hold?…”
But we get told that we have to wait to hear from you, that we will be automatically rejected if we badger you. It’s very frustrating when advice seems to contradict the advice we’ve been given previously.
Thank you for posting this. I think it’s time for both sides to ‘fess up and admit they were wrong in some aspects. As a new writer we think our agent is there to help us – we wrote the book, now it’s time to sit back and let our agent do the rest, and some agents will use that theory to our advantage.
The most we can say is that the queryfail opened our eyes – on both sides – and its our own fault if we let things rest the way they have.
Anon 1:07 – I believe she was referring to already agented authors. There is still waiting to be done even when you have an agent and they are sending your work out on submission. However I am with Jessica on this one, you have to make sure you’re up to date with what’s going on, communicate with your agent. The good ones will return the favour.
And I want to say that I have never met a bad agent. I mean in person. All the agents I have had the joy of communicating with have been just amazing. There are many good ones out there. Yes there are also crappy ones out there, but to consider that the norm, well that’s just wrong. It’s simply that we as humans would rather vent than praise, so there is more negative out there on the interweb than positive.
Question: Is it possible that a lot of the silence about a query or a ‘request for more info” is because some agents are actually ‘shopping the material or idea’ before giving the writer an answer?
Here’s the thing. As a first-time agented writer, I didn’t KNOW what was “normal” agent behavior. I didn’t know if my expectations in terms of communication were unrealistic or not. I was trying to be a good client, to not bother my agent too much. This was an agent most writers would kill to have: super experienced with lots of sales, and working for one of the biggest literary agencies in NY.
Yes, my agent was enthusiastic. Yes, she started shopping my ms right away (after I’d done some revisions before signing). And she kept me in the loop on responses. All good. But it took her nearly two months to read a proposal of my WIP (after I’d politely nudged her at least once and she’d promised to look at it “this weekend”). Was that normal agent behavior? I didn’t know.
After we signed, it took her an average of ten days to respond to my emails (containing somewhat important but not emergency questions). Was that normal? I didn’t think so but I wasn’t sure. I was trying to give her the benefit of the doubt and to be patient. We’re always told to be patient, aren’t we?
Of course, I when she started giving me the silent treatment after the 11th editor rejection, I knew that wasn’t normal. I terminated our relationship.
You speak truth. I found myself in that exact situation. I didn’t want to press my agent too much so only touched bases every few months. I quit bugging her and concentrated on another book. When it was ready I contacted her and…she informed me she wasn’t going to represent any more of my books. Gosh, wish I had been told a bit earlier. Even so, I hesitated making a move. She said she wanted to continue trying to sell the one book she had. But after several more months and no word, etc. I sent a letter of termination and went looking for new representation. It’s taken me nearly two years and two books to get an agent offer. Now I’m editing that one per my agent’s suggestions. So far I’m very pleased.
Thank you so much for saying this. I’ve seen so many agents responding to the agentfail stuff written by unrepresented writers — stuff about form rejections, etc., but everyone was ignoring the real heartbreak stories: agents who ignore their own clients, agents who don’t follow up on submissions, agents who give up on a book (as mine did) after a mere handful of rejections. These are not scam artists or self-deluded losers — these are big name agents with major sales who just can’t be bothered to treat their clients like human beings. And since no one talks about this stuff openly, it’s impossible to tell when you’re signing — you really have no choice but to hope for the best.
As for why writers don’t dump agents like this — I did, but I can tell you why others don’t. One reason is the fear of becoming labeled “difficult” if it comes out you’ve had more than one agent. I just saw an interview with a group of agents who said they’d be hesitant to sign anyone who had a history of leaving an agent — they gave all the benefit of the doubt to the agent.
Another reason is the truism that no agent will touch a project if it’s already been on submission. A friend of mine’s agent doesn’t respond to emails except once in a blue moon, refuses to follow up on submissions… my friend would love to leave, but who else is going to touch a book that’s already been shown around at seven houses? To have a chance, she’d have to start all over with a new book. I can understand why authors are hesitant to cut bait in that situation.
Anon, I understand your frustrations. I would take issue with that statement that ‘most’ agents are poor when it comes to communication and meeting expectations. I believe most make good faith efforts. Part of it may be priority and workload. I’m sure Jessica can speak far more on this than my meager observations from agent blogs and such, but some agents are certainly more efficient than others at regular communication. Some have greater workloads than others, to the point of being swamped most of the time, while others are still actively building lists and have more freedom to respond to client needs quickly regardless of whether it’s an emergency or not. Established client needs certainly take precedent of new clients. Not saying new clients should be treated less than, but it’s something like a business ignoring its core constituency in favor of the new venture. While they want the new venture to succeed, the core has to be maintained.
Actually be interesting to hear Jessica’s or other agents on the balance between dealing with new and established client needs. Perhaps I’m way off base here, and they are treated the same, or as more likely the case, it depends on the agent.
Certainly authors can try to establish some kind of boundaries when gaining representation, i.e. how quickly can I expect responses to email questions if it’s not an emergency? How many submission rejections will it take before it becomes apparent the book won’t likely sell? If it won’t sell to the main pubs, will it be shopped to smaller ones and are they going to be interested in pursuing that? Because you really want to know if the agent is in it with you for the long haul. Are they willing to start small and try to build or they going to be disappointed in taking you on if they have to go with the smaller money. Because at some point, the return on investment just isn’t going to be viable for them. Agents have to make a living too, regardless of how much they love an author’s work.
Anyway, it is a frustrating business. No two ways about it. Agents vary a good deal amongst each other in how they approach their work. Communication is key. Do your research. If you can’t find out anything about an agent prior to going into a relationship, that should be a red flag.
Dean Wesley Smith here. Great post and I have passed it along to a number of lists I am on. Every writer needs to hear what you just said to get this “agent as saviors” myth under control. My wife, Kristine Kathryn Rusch and I teach professional level writers and we have a sign that we put on the wall behind us. “You are responsible for your own career.”
It sometimes is the hardest lesson we teach.
Thank you for the sound words of advice from the agent side. Very much appreciated.
I just saw an interview with a group of agents who said they’d be hesitant to sign anyone who had a history of leaving an agent — they gave all the benefit of the doubt to the agent.I saw that same interview and almost cried. I tried so hard to be a good client but was forced to terminate the relationship when my agent disappeared on me. And now it’s a black mark against me? Great.
So, BookEnds, when should a previously repped disclose their agented history? And at what point in the query process? Partial ms request? Full? Offer of representation? I’d be very grateful if you could provide some specifics to those of us who are in this unfortunate position.
Or to any writers out there who’ve had more than one agent, how did you handle things?
Anon, I don’t know if it helps, but I disclosed the info in my query that I was ‘previously repped by XYZ agent.’ The agent has a very good name, and I left her after trying very long and hard to make it work. I figured why wouldn’t I disclose that info–it shows that an agent with big name clients thought my work had merit. I wouldn’t have done it if the split had gone badly, or the agent had a poor rep.
I’m now agented again, and my new agent asked about it right away, but not in a negative sense like I’d done something wrong. She knows that not all writing marriages work out–that’s the biz. I think most agents know this, so I wouldn’t feel like you have a black mark against you for being previously agented.
Anon 5:33. I didn’t mention prior rep in any of my query correspondence, partial or full requests. Not until I was offered representation. Only then did I bring it up as part of the full-disclosure ‘getting to know you’ talk-fest after agreeing to representation. And then I emphasized I left on good graces. That was how I handled it as I am fully cognizant of other agents being leery of writers with a past relationship.
Hmmm . . . since I am now going through ‘editorfail’ I can see both sides of the story.
I had an unagented work accepted by a well respected small press. We went through the initial rounds of copyediting and the first editor [just wonderful] sent it on to the senior editor. Over a year ago . . . All of my emails have gone unanswered. I think my contract with them is about to expire. If I’ve been shelved, I would like to know.
Not sure what to do next and I am a lawyer by profession for heavens sake.
I can imagine how other rookies must feel if this has left me in such a quandry.
Very depressing when agents hold all the cards and the writers are at their mercy. How are we supposed to know who the bad agents are when people refuse to mention names (for fear of getting blacklisted)? Agents like to protect their own and writers are too afraid to speak up.
The solution is obvious: Publishers should allow unagented submiussions and have jr. editors or assts. go through the slush pile, just as agents do now…
Then we won’t have to pay that pesky 15%-20% and we all end up more responsible for our work and in control of our careers. Think of the time and $$ we’d all save! Why not give it a try, publishers?
I am one of the people who responded to Agentfail with a story about my agent. Who I swear to god I adore as a person but who can’t seem to sell a thing. (Not just my stuff… anyone’s stuff.)
We were so close to a sale once, with a major editor calling me to rave over the book and how he was looking forward to working with me and still… no sale.
Now I’m about to send another book to the submission process – and I know this one has got even more of the magic than the last one that didn’t sell – but can I work up the courage to let my agent go before I send the novel out?
I feel like I would be letting my agent down by jumping ship just when I have something special to deliver.
How far do I stand with my loyalty?
My question for you is who should your loyalty really be with? Your agent or you and your career? I don’t think authors should just leave agents willie-nilly. I’ve stressed numerous times that communication is necessary and I think the smart authors take the time to discuss concerns with the agent first, but if you are truly and sincerely doubting your agent’s ability to sell your work you need to ask yourself what will make you feel worse. You should also find out from the agent what happened with the deal that fell through. That might make all the difference in how you feel about the next book.
My point of this post is that agents don’t hold all the cards unless you give them all the cards to hold. In addition, keep in mind that many of these stories don’t involve bad agents, but simply agents who fell down on the job at one point or another and for one author or another. Some do it repeatedly, some are just bad instances. In the end, when interviewing agented authors, I think what you’ll find is that most of them are very happy to be paying the 15% and truly feel they have someone on their side. As for names, I will repeat myself and again you will refuse to listen. Go to Absolute Write. Names are discussed very liberally over there.
Writers will always be at the mercy of agents, until we can come up with a system of control that makes things better for us … and if possible cut them out of the loop with the whole publishing process.
Don’t act like you haven’t thought about it.