Wednesday, April 08, 2009

What Other Agents Do

I get a lot of blog questions from authors asking me to give them an idea of what they can expect from their agent. For example, “My agent is submitting my material. How many houses can I expect her to submit to?” How should I know? I’m not your agent and I haven’t read your book.

My biggest concern about questions like this is why are you asking? Are you asking just to get a comparison for what you know your agent is planning or are you asking because you really want to know the answer, but for some reason think it’s better to ask me than your agent? If your answer is the latter, I would suggest you get a new agent. The author-agent relationship is probably one of the more important relationships in your career, and if you want it to work you need to start off on the right foot and be able to communicate effectively and honestly with your agent, and I implore all of you to learn to do just that.



Kimber Li said...

I suspect they ask you the same reason women will ask me what to do about their husbands, bosses, children, and so on. They feel *emotionally safe* in doing so. They do not feel *emotionally safe* in asking the people they ought to be asking.

There are two reasons people don't feel *emotionally safe* to ask-

1) In the past by previous people similar to those they ought to be talking to, they were ridiculed, ignored, or in some way abused.

2) In the present, the person they need to ask has previously ridiculed, ignored, or in some way abused them.

In the first instance, the person needs to let go of the past and give the new person a chance.

In the second, like you said, she needs to find a new agent.

Traci said...

My students always want me to predict future outcomes. I tell them to wait while I get out my crystal ball! :-)

Story and Logic Media Group said...

Good post. Thanks

M. Dunham said...

I'm going to take a stab at answering this. As a neurotic writer, between the agents that never answer, the scam artists, the rejections, and the countless hours of rewrites, people can get wound pretty tight in their quest for the publishing Holy Grail.

So, when the day comes and they sign the Golden Contract, all of those hopes are validated while the fears expand. After all of this time and getting an agent, they want to make sure they're still doing it right.

And you're right, they should ask their agent. The agent chose them for a reason, they shouldn't be afraid to speak up. That's why you have the agent-author relationship.

Anonymous said...

Aren't we snarky this week. Maybe she's only asking because she feels you may have some tiny bit of constructive advise/guidance.
Maybe she HAS asked her agent and she still needs a little "validation".
"Unsure", "insecure", "emotionally safe",; these are all legit reasons for getting a second opinion. And how many times have you said it never hurts to ask?
After months and even years she lands an agent and you guys are telling her to find another agent--even knowing how impossible that may be. Incredible.

Anonymous said...

Jessica, why so grouchy ... the agent comment day seems to have poisoned the pond. I'm wondering if there's a connection between the agent fail day and the larger effort of you, Nathan Bransford et al to engage with basically, the world, vis the net and whether that's such a good idea. I'm feeling like the media's diet of "everything's interactive" has been swallowed whole &, tho I appreciate your collective efforts, I wonder where it's going. There's seems to be a need to calibrate everything in a way that's, ultimately, impossible. There's a post on MoonRat or Editorial Ass about a woman caller who gets through and then immediately starts berating the editor. I don't think you can teach people restraint or common sense. I'd be curious to hear where you and other agents plan to go with your blogs, post agent rant day. And if, like newspapers, there's a way to move the discussion towards something between transparency and an effective use of everyone's time. I know this is somewhat of a rant itself, but it's stuff I've been thinking about and today's brought it out.

J.R. Johansson said...

Awesome post Jessica! Are you sure you don't rep YA? ;)

Anonymous said...

So, when the day comes and they sign the Golden Contract, all of those hopes are validated while the fears expand. After all of this time and getting an agent, they want to make sure they're still doing it right.

Exactly. And for those of us who've never had an agent before, we don't know what's "typical" or "normal." Many of us are also a bit intimidated by our fancy New York agents. (I know we shouldn't be, but I was. I later realized that being uncomfortable with my rather brusque agent meant she wasn't right for me.)

Anonymous said...

I can tell you from previous agent experiences (2 major agents) that they are asking because the lines of communication with their current agent are not very open and they're scared to piss off said agent by being too inquisitive. Not all agents are as open and forthright as you are. And many treat the clients who haven't sold a book yet as wastes of time until they do sell something. Writers are sensitive and pick this vibe up, so they're scared to keep asking questions.

Anonymous said...

Somebody's grouchy this week!

PurpleClover said...

Agents that blog are offering free information right? My guess (in agreement with the above poster) is they feel comfortable asking you...but now I'm sure they got the hint. :)

Apparently today isn't a good day to ask any questions.

Anonymous said...

Whenever I asked my former agent reasonable questions like this, I was treated to a major show of defensiveness. "Of COURSE, I'll blah blah blah," etc. Naturally, I stopped asking her questions as I didn't need or want to put her on the defensive.

Note I said "former." It wasn't my idea to break up, but even though I needed her a lot more than she needed me, I felt only a huge, sweeping sense of relief when I learned that this awkward, imbalanced, shot-through-with-distrust relationship was over. Now, the lengthy, and perhaps impossible search to find a new agent begins. Yay.

Kimber Li said...

To reiterate, I think you should take it as a huge compliment that the author felt comfortable asking you these questions in the first place. Given the choice, who do you think the next Stephanie Meyers is going to call when she has a big deal to negotiate?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, please have some sympathy for these poor writers wo are told to feel "so LUCKY" to get an agent that they're willing to put up w/ almost anything. Maybe you should post a standard Q & A list on your website to quiet these "pesky writers"?

To me, the ideal agent makes their clients feel confident and comfortable--not afraid and insecure. If that's what we wanted, we'd all go to work for a big corporation. Give us a break!

Anonymous said...

I don't think it sounded grouchy or snarky.

There are other posts where Jessica is quite blunt without any negative comments posted.
Jessica’s frankness is the reason I read this blog almost daily. I want to learn about this business without any sugar coating, and there are many out there who do just that, which causes confusion.

Keep sharing your opinions and knowledge Jessica because without them I’d be lost!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 3:56 PM--I agree. I love how frank this blog is.

Really, I'm not much into sugar coating, to tell you the truth.

When I read this post, I thought it spot on, actually.

Keep up the good work, Jessica.

Anonymous said...

EVEN IF Jessica's a bit down this week, uh, gee, isn't she entitled just like the rest of us? How many agents take the time to do this for us? Very few. I think you're wonderful, Jessica, and I think the barrage of questions you get (you are also someone who allows us to write anonymously which I appreciate beyond words) is an indication of how rare an opportunity you offer. Day after day, I've been constantly amazed that you're able to keep this up, and at the same time be so upbeat and considerate (yet truthful). I've learned so much about the industry from you, things I'd never have known otherwise, and a lot about writing. I will always be grateful.

Kim Lionetti said...

I really don't think Jessica was grouchy or trying to be snarky when she wrote this post. I think she was just trying to drive her point home.

This is another one of those areas where there isn't any magic answer. No clear-cut right or wrong. The only way to know if your agent is doing right by you is to have a discussion with him/her and find out how and why he/she decided on that particular submission process. If you don't have an open communication, then that's a whole other set of problems.

Juliana Stone said...

If you're afraid to ask your own agent about the status of your ms, where it's been subbed and to whom...for whatever need to look at things closely. You should be able to ask your agent anything and she should get back to you in a timely matter.
nuff said

Anonymous said...

If you're afraid to ask your own agent about the status of your ms, where it's been subbed and to whom...for whatever need to look at things closely. You should be able to ask your agent anything and she should get back to you in a timely matter.

Ah yes... if only all agents worked like this. I am different from ht previous Anon poster with 2 formerly big agents, although I have had two very well-known agents as well who made it very clear that questions of these sorts were unwelcome. They didn't have time for little ol as-of-yet unpubbed me. It's grand and all to get on a high horse and say that if communication isn't open, just leave. but there's the matter of finding another agent, of the projects already on submission (somewhere), etc. It's no all b/w. I'm with a third agent and VERY happy. But it took years.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

I apologize to anyone who thought my post grouchy or snarky although sometimes I do feel both grouchy and snarky I think Kim said it best when she pointed out that I was trying to drive my point home. I'm always happy to answer questions, but the truth is I can only answer from me and how I would do things. How I do things isn't necessarily right or wrong or a true gauge of how the industry works, it's just one agent. My point is that if you have specific questions about what to expect from your agent the only person you can find that information from is your agent. And sure agents can be tough to find, but I'm sure many of you who have been through multiple agents and had relationships that didn't work will agree that it's much better to have an agent who works for you and with you then to feel like you're in the dark.


Mags said...

But you do know that at least half the anons above are the same person, right? There's a style and, frankly, "grouchy" just isn't a word so infused in current vernacular that it'd repeat so liberally...

Trolls happen, and such.

Juliana Stone said...

anon 6:28
I don't mean to sound glib, really I don't. I'm just saying that if I had an agent who "made it clear" I wasn't allowed to ask important questions in regards to my book and my career, well, I'd certainly be looking for someone else. I don't care who or how big said agent is.
what you seem to forget is at the end of the day, the agent is working for you, not the other way around. Open communication is a must, because if not, what's the point in staying with someone who doesn't believe in you?
I'm not on my high horse, I'm just stating a fact that for me, personally behaviour like that from an agent wouldn't do. I'd rather be looking for one of the good ones, then be saddled with the other.

Anonymous said...

anon 6:28 here.

Yes, me too. Which is why I eventually moved!

Kimbra Kasch said...

I think people ask you because, reading your blog, we start to feel like we "know" you. You become a "cyber friend" and-maybe-we writers get a little too comfortable.

But overall, even though it might get frustrating at times, it's really a compliment.

PurpleClover said...

no one is disagreeing with your sentiments (although if I had an agent that I waited forever to get, I can understand the fear of bombarding said agent with questions)

I think it was the final two sentences in the first paragraph that gave the impression you were having a rough day.

Verify word: Elise ( daughter's name - strange!)

Devon Ellington said...

It's a little disturbing that people ask YOU that sort of question instead of communicating directly with their own agent.

I'd much rather deal straightforwardly with my agent than ask another agent what SHOULD be happening. If I don't feel I can communicate openly and directly with my own agent, we shouldn't be a team.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I don't understand the problem here. I DO understand the problem with having to read a 100 pitches a day . . . but when an agent signs someone, presumably they should then treat the author with some respect and be prepared to answer their questions -- lots of them.

I'm just getting interested in this business and, I must admit, I am astounded at the high-minded pettiness and unprofessionalism that seems to occur in agent world.

Not from this blog's company though, it seems to me.