Friday, March 21, 2008

Freakishly Unresponsive, Mysteriously Silent, Information-Withholding, Possibly Jekyll-and-Hydeish, Raging-Headache-Inducing, No Good, Very Bad

The title comes straight from the questioner herself. It’s so brilliant I had to use it . . .

Here’s the deal. I received a question from a reader in which she’s dying to fire her agent. She really wants to fire her agent, but said agent won’t answer her phone calls or emails . . . in over seven months. I must be in a mood today because your predicament, while obviously horrible and frustrating, made me laugh. I’m constantly asked about agents who don’t respond, but it never dawned on me that when they don’t respond you can’t even fire them. That is really annoying!

Send a letter. Send a certified letter announcing her immediate dismissal. If you have a written contract, use that as your guide. In the letter demand that she send you, within 14 days of receiving the letter, a list of publishers who have reviewed the proposal as well as those who might still have it or have rejected it. And, since she’s so unresponsive (and kind of mean, based on your email), I would insist that she pull all submissions currently under consideration. In other words, I would break all ties cleanly. Get out from under her thumb altogether.

You also asked if you should consult a lawyer for the list. That’s up to you. Is this a proposal you’re hoping to take to another agent? You could threaten a lawyer. If you haven’t seen the list after your letter is received, you could follow up with a letter insisting that the list be sent or you will be calling your attorney. Something like that. I don’t know why it can sometimes be so difficult to get this information out of an agent. I supply a list the minute the submission goes out and keep my clients regularly updated on where else it might be, who else has requested it and, of course, when the rejections come in. It’s a team effort and team efforts don’t work unless everyone knows the plays.

If it is a proposal you want with another agent, the submissions you pulled should be able to be re-sent at a later date. If not, let it die out and move on to another agent with another book.

I apologize on behalf of agents everywhere for this person’s behavior and hope that your next will be as wonderful as me ;)

Just kidding! (See, clearly I’m in a mood.)

Jessica

20 comments:

Diana said...

I love the title of this thread. What's really scary is that I've worked for people who could wear that description on their name badges.

Julie Weathers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie Weathers said...

"I supply a list the minute the submission goes out and keep my clients regularly updated on where else it might be, who else has requested it and, of course, when the rejections come in. It’s a team effort and team efforts don’t work unless everyone knows the plays."

Agreed. That's what the agent who had my children's book did and I adored her for it.

Anonymous said...

When I "fired" my agent a number of years ago, she never responded and never sent me any rejection letters. I suspected she was lying to me about where it went, so I called up one of the editors and he told me he never saw it! So I got to submit to him directly (which ended up being a rejection). After many polite attempts, with no answer, I stopped trying to contact her. Sometimes the reasons for firing the agent make the aftermath equally difficult. Thanks for the smile at the end, Jessica. I do hope my agent will be as wonderful as you!

Jen said...

wow! that headline was my chuckle of the morning! thanks! (and best of luck to the poor writer)

Shaun Carney said...

Don't forget to check web sites like "Writer Beware" (http://www.sfwa.org/beware/)before signing any contract with your agent. There are a lot of crocodiles out there in the water, and sites like this give writers a nice little band to put around their snouts :)

Shaun

Anonymous said...

Sites like "Writer Beware" will only warn you of the scam artists, not the reputable agents who, for whatever reason - too many clients, life stresses, alignment of the planets - just fail at doing their jobs.

That's what is happening with my agent. She's just not doing her job - I have to nag her to follow up about money, nag her to read my submissions. I'm tired of it, and I'm not the only one since she's lost several other authors of late.

Aimless Writer said...

"It’s a team effort and team efforts don’t work unless everyone knows the plays."

Love that.

Anonymous said...

Not to be morbid or anything, but has the author checked to see whether this agent has died? Agents die too, apparently, just like the rest of us.

-Sarah

Christie Craig said...

Wow, Jessica.

This just makes me appreciate my agent. Seriously, it can be scary to trust your career to someone, and if you don't think that person is in your corner, it can really be scary.

nlnaigle said...

...and it's entries like this (we love you when you're in a mood!) that has you on the top of my "Best Agents" list.

Communication is key. You're so right, it's a joint journey and like a bad husband, divorce is sometimes the right answer.

Thanks for the candid sharing!
Nancy

Karen Duvall said...

Hey, Anon, about the dead agent thing. I heard CJ Box speak at a luncheon in Denver and he told us about his experience of becoming a published author. He hadn't heard from his agent in over a year, all his emails and letters went unanswered, and he couldn't reach the guy on the phone. Finally he got a call from someone else at the agency letting him know the agent had died the year before. So yeah, it does happen.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Loved the title - a fudge sundae of frustration, a banana split of fed up with it. Good info, insight and encouragement in post itself.

To follow up another commenter, the chuckle of my afternoon.

Nadine said...

I feel so bad for that author! Just when they thought they found the dream agent, she turned into a nightmare!

Anonymous said...

I can't believe that a professional would ignore correspondence for seven months.

I hope everything is all right with the agent. If not, then that's just rude.

Laura said...

I would definitely check the obituaries, but I have to say, that would drive me bonkers.

That poor author!

Anonymous said...

My "Very Experienced Agent From A Big Literary Agency With A Cool Client List And Lots of Sales" shopped my book to about a dozen publishers, and showed enthusiasm for my WIP. Then . . . silence. I contacted her on a monthly basis, trying to find out if the project was dead (or she was dead). She ignored me. After six months of this junk, I sent a certified letter terminating the contract.

Ignoring clients in hopes they'll go away is ridiculously unprofessional and disrespectful. And it wastes everyone's time. Why, why, why do some agents do this? Why not just send me the termination letter and be done with it?

The good news is, I learned some valuable lessons I can apply to my next agent search.

Janet said...

I would also suggest that anyone dealing with an unresponsive agent like this post the details, complete with name, somewhere online so the rest of us can be warned. No histrionics, no adjectives, just facts.

I know it's not cool to publish frustrations with your agent online, generally speaking, but just clean, honest facts could really help someone else.

Anonymous said...

Janet, I hear what you're saying, but dissing my former agent in cyberspace isn't something I would ever do, even anonymously. I doubt it would be helpful, anyway. If I read something online about a well-known agent's bad behavior, I would wonder what part the client played in the scenario.

In addition, I've been in direct contact with two of my former agent's clients, and they adore her. One is a member of my local writers' group, who's been with this agent for nearly a decade. I've also heard second-hand raves about my former agent.

Clearly, she isn't the proverbial "bad agent"--she was a bad agent for me.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I would totally want to know about agents behaving badly. Do the rest of us a favor and post the details: name, agency, affiliations, and what they're doing wrong. These bastards should be outed where everyone can see it. I don't consider it any more "unprofessional" to call an unprofessional agent unprofessional, than to call malpractice on an attorney or doctor who fails to live up to professional standards.