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.