Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Your Agent Is Just Not That Into You

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To the best of my knowledge I’ve never ignored a client, whether published, unpublished, or a pain in the butt.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.



Maria said...

OMG! This just happened to me! My agent was super keen in the beginning of our relationship and submitted my literary Latina fiction to all of the big NYC houses. Sure, we got some mild interest, but in the end, no bites. :( At any rate, I kept my chin up and submitted two further manuscripts--but she didn't show the least bit of interest. When I was offered an erotic romance contract with a well-known e-publisher, she didn't even bother looking at the contract. At that point, I figured she was done with me. I phoned her to discuss my issues and we mutually agreed to end our business relationship. So in the end, I managed to make more career headway on my own than with said agent. Still, I think I'll take the plunge again soon--if I can find the right agent!

bob said...

It's gotta be hard, your basically creating a team. All you can do is hope that both sides are honest with each other and be upfront when it just isn't working.

Anonymous said...

This is so true, and I've seen in other industries. In my day job, I sometimes hire people to work for me as independent contractors, which is wery similar to an agent/author relationship. I have hired people who started out strong, but if the job isn't what they like, they start doing a worse and worse job, and showing up less and less frequently. (Sound familiar?) And yes, one guy did not return my calls. These people hope that I will fire them so they don't have to quit, because quitting is hard. If I fire them, it is my fault, you see? One person actually grinned when I told him that it wasn't working out and I had to let him go.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post. I was hoping you'd address this issue.

My agent has ignored my last three emails.

Dwight's Writing Manifesto said...

Keeping with the relationship theme, last week I saw a Web site called gurldontdatehim.com. This is where spurned and bitter women can talk to each other and rat out the "Playuhs" across the land by name.

Likewise, Querytracker.net is a new site where authors can talk freely to fellow authors about specific agents.

It won't stop bad agent behavior, but it give writers the chance to query goofy agents with query #93 instead of query #3.

Anonymous said...

An agent has no asset bigger than her reputation.

If an agent drops you, she has to admit that she was wrong. "I was wrong" are some of the hardest words to say.

If you quit, however, she gets to say you were impatient, or never satisfied, or any number of things that make it the author's fault. That is much easier for the agent to deal with and a much better way for her to save her reputation.

It happens all the time. It just happened to my friend. Her agent just stopped communicating. I worry that someday it will happen to me.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Jessica, thanks. You mentioned being ignored the other day, and I was wondering: how indicative do you think it is if an agent who's had your full for over six months, but you're not yet signed, ignores your follow-up emails? Does the same thing apply before you're signed? Is it a pretty good idea of what to expect in the future, if we're signed? I have two of these situations going on right now with requested fulls (one of them after seeing the partial), and my gut tells me that I don't want to work with someone like this. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

Hey, green ray, I'm not an agent, but as a fellow writer who was recently in a very similar situation with you -- she did finally respond when I SQ-ed, and she had good reasons for not responding before then...but she ultimately passed. I felt in my gut that it wasn't going as I wanted it to, but it was hard for me to give up on her. However, now that it's all over, I can look back and see that my guy, in this case, was correct. I could sense that her enthusiasm was not as it should have been. Don't know if that helps, but fwiw, that's my story.

moonrat said...

And in case you have trouble biting the bullet and dropping your unresponsive agent...

If your agent's communication style is that poor, imagine how much of a pain editors will think s/he is!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post. I had to fire an agent after 4 months of non-communication (during which the line I was writing for folded - so it wasn't even like I was trying to follow up on an ms. I had SERIOUS contract questions).

This was a "big" deal agent. Had lots of big name clients. I get it. I'm small potatoes. I wasn't asking for daily updates. I wasn't asking for weekly updates. I was basically pleading (which let me tell you isn't my cup of tea)... for 15 minutes to discuss some contract issues and run a potential idea by this person.

What I don't understand about this behavior is why agents don't think writers can't handle the rejection of being fired. We're rejected ALL THE TIME. You get used to it. Or you should.

"I'm sorry. I'm busy. I can't take you on right now. The project I hoped would sell didn't and I'm not that crazy about your new ideas. I think we should call it a day."

That conversation takes 20 minutes. Tops.

Not responding and letting authors linger for months - months that they ultimately lose in this business - that really hurts.

I get the "ignore them and they'll go away" approach for a teenager trying to "break up" with a boyfrind/girlfriend.

I don't get it from someone who is supposed to be a professional adult.

Jessica I heard you speak at RWA. You said you would rather hear from a client twenty times a day than not at all. I thought it was just about the coolest thing I ever heard an agent say and it made sense when you explained why.

Thank you.

Laura K. Curtis said...

A relationship with an agent is just that...a relationship. And I see men and women do this all the time in relationships--I think it has to do with not wanting to the the "bad guy." If the OTHER person breaks off the relationship, you can go on feeling OK about yourself. There may even be an element of guilt involved--your agent hasn't been able to sell your manuscript. She took it on, she has to feel bad about not being able to make it work.

>> 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.<<

I doubt the agents even know they're doing this. They probably say to themselves "I have nothing to report, so I'll call her next week because it's not urgent." Next week comes and goes and they think "oops, I didn't call. I'll get right on it." And it goes on and on and on until the author puts a stop to it.

Think about how easy it is to put off things you don't look forward to. I am sure agents are no different--there's always something more urgent than having the "it's not you, it's me" conversation.

Anonymous said...

green ray -- just went through the exact same thing. No responses to two separate requests for an update, both polite and both sent three months of silence after she requested a full.

Finally, I wrote to her and requested that my ms be withdrawn from consideration because another agent had requested it -- two months ago -- but would only read on an exclusive basis. (Yeah, I know: Exclusives Suck!)

Agent wrote back immediately. Swore she had never received my requests for updates - new email, IT problems, yada, yada, yada.

Regardless, I doubt she had any plans to take me on and I also question whether, as a new player, she'll make it as an agent.

This experience was the best demonstration I have had of the sage advice many writers and blogging agents have given: You're better off without an agent than getting stuck with a bad one (regardless of what constitutes said "badness.")

As for radio silence after your signed: What kind of a "professional" doesn't have the guts to have a frank discussion with a client when the relationship is clearly over? This whole business has a really shady side to it if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

I have a good agent now, but that wasn't always the case. It really is disappointing how many writers go through this.

The thing is, when your agent treats you badly, you tell EVERY writer you know. They're only hurting their own future business.

They complain when an editor doesn't get back to them on time, yet they IGNORE writers, their OWN writers, all the time, until their writers have no choice but to fire them.

So uneccessary. SO unprofessional. I think its about supply and demand. It's so hard to get ANY agent that you feel you can't complain about that agent's unprofessionalism, simply because you know the amount of time its gonna take to find another one.

Anonymous said...

I am in a similar situation too!

An agent expressed interest after reading some of my work and asked to represent me on my next project. I submitted some work, and then nothing for 3 months.

I sat tight and he eventually responded - he was excellent at communicating before this - and he said its good, we got some stuff to work on and he's call me.

He didn't and 4 months later, I have sent 2 gentle prompts - "Are you ready to see my reworked mss" but nothing.

He is at one of the top agencies, and it is hard to let someone go completely in this situation, yet, four months to respond to an email seems unreasonable to me.

I haven't had the chance to show the MSS to anyone else, but I feel ready to go out on my own and query widely. Where do I stand with this agent? We didnt sign anything, I have only showed him my work but he just isn't responding to me at all.

- Donna.

Anonymous said...

Donna, you owe nothing to this guy. Continue to query widely until you have a signed agency agreement.

Anonymous said...

I'm beginning to wonder if it's worth the trouble to try to secure an agent. The relationship doesn't even start with the question "Do you have compatible personalities to create a lasting business partnership?" but with "Do I like your work?" and "Will you accept me?" From the agent blogs that I've read, it seems that even if I find an agent who loves my work, it's often a relationship that's doomed to failure. That "loving spark" goes out and one side or the other decides to file for divorce. Um, decides to end the business relationship, that is.

Worse, I get this feeling from some agent websites and blogs that they want to be the one in control of the agent-author relationship. If I chose to go the agent route, I want someone who will answer my questions about the publishing industry and let me make my own decisions about my career rather than an agent who wants me to blindly follow whatever advice they give. Yes, I realize that many authors willingly go along with this set-up or even want it to be like this.

Hmm, this really is starting to sound like a dysfunctional dating/marriage relationship.

This is depressing, especially since I'm at a point right now of needing to decide to submit directly to publishers or find an agent. There are only a few agents in my genre that sound like good, easy-to-work-with agents, and how likely is it that those agents will love my work and be great to work with?

A question for one of the agents that I think would be great to work with:
Jessica, I write fantasy with very little romance, so you don't accept my genre--yet. You've said on this blog that you're submitting fantasy romance books to fantasy publishers and that you see fantasy in your future. Are you planning to agent straight fantasy books in the future? If so, can I ask about when you see this happening and what contacts you do have currently established with which fantasy publishers?

Anonymous said...

I haven't had the chance to show the MSS to anyone else, but I feel ready to go out on my own and query widely. Where do I stand with this agent? We didnt sign anything, I have only showed him my work but he just isn't responding to me at all.

Donna, you have no obligation to this agent. Don't wait another day--query now, query widely. And don't stop until you get an offer of representation. Remember, you were able to attract the attention of a top agent. I'm sure your project will be appealing to others, too. Best of luck.

Anonymous said...

I'm beginning to wonder if it's worth the trouble to try to secure an agent.

It depends on what your goals are. Do you want to be published with a major house? Then you'll need an agent.

I know this whole agent relationship thing sounds depressing (heck, my agent has ignored my last three emails), but this is a strange business. The more you know, the better you'll be able to handle the bumps and protect yourself and your career.

And it's not all doom and gloom. I've heard plenty of authors rave about their agents. Two of them are BookEnds clients.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments! All in all its been a year since I met the agent and about 8 of the months just waiting. I think I am ready to see what other agents think of my work!

- Donna

Bella Andre said...

I wanted to chime in on this one (it also relates to a lot of the questions people were asking on Jessica's previous post):

I feel very good about Jessica representing me because her enthusiasm for my writing was crystal clear from the first moment - and here's the thing, she rejected my first query because she didn't think she could sell it, so I wasn't a first manuscript wonder, by any means.

But once I had been writing novella length for EC for another year after that rejection I decided to embark on a single title. And my writing was simply better (thank god!). I emailed Jessica the idea, she emailed back and said send the first 100 pages -and the very next day she'd already read them and asked for the whole thing. Straight off the bat I knew I'd found someone who "got me". And 5 contracts in, I still know she gets me and loves my writing - even when she doesn't particularly adore some new proposal I've been working on. Even then, her suggestions for edits are spot on.

I think it all comes down to the fact that she's behind me as a writer, regardless of genre, hooks, etc. - and ideally, I think that's the person we all need in our court. And yes, she's very nice too, which helps a great deal during the long "talks of the soul" about career planning. ;-)