Wednesday, September 03, 2008

When an Agent Isn't Loving Your Work

A lot of fellow authors I know got an agent BECAUSE of a deal. In other words, the publisher wanted them and the agent came next. The thing is, an author can't know whether that agent is going to LOVE the author's work. I want an agent who will do what Barbara Poelle said she'd do for one of her authors--go to a monkey fight and win to get that sucker published. What do you do if the agent came AFTER the deal? And if the agent isn't really loving your work, isn't it time to walk away? What do you think?

It’s an interesting question because sure, we all want everyone to love our work, certainly our agent and our editor. However, the question I think you really need to ask is do you need an agent to love your work?

It’s ironic really that an agent will often claim the reason for rejection as being that she “just didn’t love it,” which is true to some extent. But what you really want is an agent to fight for you, believe in you and your work, and be your advocate in all situations. Loving? Well, I think you can have a great author-agent relationship without the love. So no, I don’t think an agent not loving your work is necessarily a good reason to walk away. Now an agent not supporting you and your work or believing in your work, an agent who isn’t pushing to get you bigger things and grow your career, that might be a reason. But of course my advice to you would and will always be to have a conversation. Talk to your agent first to see whether or not the two of you are on the same page. Does she believe in you and your career in the way you want her to? Is this the agent you really want or do you think that someone else might be a better fit?

There are two points to this question. The first, which I addressed above, is the need for an agent to love your work. The second, though, is a justifiable fear that I think a lot of authors have. If you get that offer from a publisher and then go agent shopping, there is a very real possibility that you’re going to end up with an agent who only takes you on for the money. Or at least there’s a very real fear that you’ll end up with an agent who is only looking for the easy money. I can tell you now that of all the agents I know there are very few who would do that. Why? Because they are all busy, successful agents and don’t have the time to take on someone for what is usually not that much money. If the agents I know are going to invest time and energy into a new client they want it to be someone who they see a long future (and lots of money) with. In other words, if they are offering representation they are doing so because they believe in you and your work.

So to wrap up what might have become a convoluted post . . . if you ever are in a situation where you have an offer in hand that you are agent shopping with, it’s time to ask the very tough questions. What about my work do you like? Do you see any room for improvement? And discuss your future goals. Is the agent simply saying the right things or is she really saying the right things? And if things don’t feel right with your agent anymore it’s time to communicate and identify why. Is she not working for you the way you’d like or are you simply feeling a little unloved?



Anonymous said...

I don't expect my attorney to love my work. I don't expect my accountant to love my work. They perform professional services for which I pay them.

I think the lines would be clearer if I was able to "hire" an agent, and pay them to sell my work, rather than to have the agent dependent on the sale of the work to make a living. Since that is not the way it works, I'll be grateful to have an agent want to sell my work.

Love? I'll get love from my dog.

Anonymous said...

Oh, gosh, let me add a caveat to what I think was a really good post -- this was a great post IF we lived in a world filled with honest people like Jessica.

But, sadly, a lot of agents, even the ones that sign you on when you DON'T have a waiting pub contract, simply tell you what you want to hear. The whole "career planning" talks and "asking the tough questions" really doesn't mean you are going to get truthful answers. I know from experience that even so-called well-respected agents will go back on their word, in an instant, and indeed, act like they never promised you anything, when it suits them.

Ask all the questions you want, it doesn't mean the answers are truthful. There is truly no way of knowing if an agent is honest or if they are full of hot air until you are already working with them, and by then your book has been shopped, and you are in the middle of it. Whatever "it" is.

Susan at Stony River said...

I loved this post, and found it very helpful as I'm about to start (oh Lord) looking for an agent myself.

Now I have a big long question for you, but will spare your comment section and e-mail it to you.

Thanks again!

Mark Terry said...

A really interesting post. As a reader, I've had relationships, shall we say, with some writers for years and years and not loved all their work--Robert B. Parker, Sue Grafton, Tony Hillerman, Dick Francis, for instance. I continue to enjoy them, to buy their books and read them, but do I love all their work?

No, absolutely not.

Hopefully an agent will respond in some way to your writing and view YOU the writer, not just the particular work in front of them at the time. I suppose that falls into "potential" and I imagine that's hard for some agents to deal with (and some writers, I would imagine). I know that, for me, Parker has the potential to write another "Searching for Rachel Wallace" or "Small Vices," or "Walking Shadow," that Sue Grafton might create another "'I' is for Innocent" or "'G' is for Gumshoe." (God, I hope so).

Still, an interesting post.

Anonymous said...

What he said.

Love? I'll get love from my dog.

Except I don't have a dog.

I'll get love from my wife and kids.

Julie Weathers said...

I don't plan on shopping editors first so it would really be a fluke thing if I had an offer in hand when I look for an agent.

However, it could happen.

Years ago when I first started in real estate, the interest rates were going crazy. Every experienced agent I talked to said we would never be able to sell houses when the rate hit 8%. Me, being an eternal optimist and too stupid to know better, didn't know I should be afraid. I simply loved the houses.

My enthusiasm was contagious I guess because I set sales records for this developer month after month. Then I went out and learned everything I could about "alternative" financing. These radical programs were FHA and VA loans so it wasn't a scam thing.

So what's the point? Enthusiasm and "love" do make a difference in my opinion.

I want my prospective agent to love my work. If they can't love it they at least need to be enthusiastic about it.

Janet Reid said recently in the seventh post down how she gets pages from her "chums". I'm sure she really doesn't do that. I hope not anyway, but doesn't that level of enthusiasm make you smile?

I took one agent off my list because his/her doom and gloom predictions were just depressing and so negative. I can understand why he/she isn't selling anything.

Novels aren't stocks, legal briefs and tax returns. They are subjective things that should generate a level of excitement in the agent even if they can't love the darling.

"But what you really want is an agent to fight for you, believe in you and your work, and be your advocate in all situations."


Jessica Nelson said...

True. I guess they don't have to love my work, but want to sell it.
Great points, everyone.

Jill Myles said...

I think people are mistaking 'love' for 'enthusiasm'. You definitely want an agent that is excited about your work enough to push it to editors, to talk it up, and to ultimately get you the best sale.

I don't necessarily want the phone call that is "OMG I LOVE THIS!" (Though it'd be lovely for the ego!) as much as I want the phone call that is "I know just who to send this to."

Enthusiasm is key, trust me.

Kate Douglas said...

Jill, I have to agree, though with the caveat that it's easier to be enthusiastic when you love someone's work! I don't know how much Jessica actually loves my weird stories, but she was definitely enthusiastic enough to find an editor who loved them, and that's what it all comes down to. On the other hand, having an agent who knows what you're capable of is invaluable when it comes to new proposals. I know the advice I get from my agent, no matter how critical, will make my work even better.

Jennifer McKenzie said...

Great post! Once again, that communication aspect is paramount.

Jill Myles said...

Kate - if you have both, then you have the winning combination. :)

Lorelei Armstrong said...

This is why I shopped the book, sold the book, and the book is coming out in a month, and I don't have an agent.

Anonymous said...

I think a great agent is always honest with her clients. I just sent a proposal to my agent and while she loved the idea, she had suggestions that ultimately will ( and already have) strengthened the piece...when it's finished and she's ready to pitch, it will be so much better because of her knowledge and insight into the business. Because of her honesty. I think she cares enough about me as a writer to do this so I can improve. If she didn't care...she'd just let me write, and pitch and if it sells great...if not, would she even care?
It all comes down to trust...I'm lucky....I trust my agent

Robena Grant said...

The agent/author relationship should be a partnership. What if the agent LOVES this work and is luke warm about the next? Well, heck, there'll always be hits and misses.

I think we as authors need to look at the big picture. Find an agent who can see our potential as a writer in general (not just for one piece) and is enthusiastic about our voice. We'd be on the same page with the same goals of getting the stories published and growing the career.

Diana said...

I had only started shopping for an agent when an editor who judged my work in a contest requested a full MS. I was still waiting to hear back from an agent in whom I was particularly interested, so I dropped her a note to let her know the editor requested the full, and had she made a decision yet?

She told me she "didn't love the work," but she would be willing to represent me if I was offered a contract. I might have considered it, because being agentless and muddling through the contract process seemed really scary. But then she said that if I wasn't offered a contract, we would part ways. She wasn't even interested in finding a publisher. I decided to move on.