Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Losing Faith

I'm sure you've all taken on clients that you love the writing and the book, but have a hard time getting editors to feel the same way. Does this make you lose faith in your client (their work) in any way, or do you just become more determined to see that book (or another of theirs) hit the shelves?

I think from every agent you ask the answer to this question is going to be that it depends. One of the reasons agents are so picky and often use words like “love” and “passion” when taking on new work or even rejecting a project is that we know getting published and staying published is a long haul and can be difficult for both author and agent. If I love a voice and a client’s writing it’s a lot easier for me to keep the faith for however long it takes. If I take on a project because I think it will be an easy sale (like that exists) or because it’s okay, I’m not going to have the passion it takes to stick it out for what could be months or sometimes years.

The very real and honest answer to this question is that both things happen. I do lose the faith, but not so much in the client as I do myself. There are definitely times when I wonder, in situations like this, if maybe I am doing something wrong and not guiding the client in the right directions. And then I just get mad and decide that everyone else is an idiot and with renewed vigor I start over again.

It’s not easy for a writer to face rejection over and over again and it’s not easy for an agent either. When I offer representation I am making a promise of sorts. Sure, I never directly tell an author that I will have no problem selling her work, but it’s implied that I will sell her work and it’s important to me to live up to those expectations.

I think that writers have so much to worry about the last thing you need to add to the list is whether or not an agent will lose faith in you. If it happens you’ll sense it and it will be terrible and you’ll know it’s time to move on. Hopefully though you’ve found or will find an agent who believes that passion plays a key role in every author she takes on and has the fortitude to keep that passion going no matter what it takes.

Jessica

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is a lovely post. Thank you.

Debra L Martin said...

Thanks for the reality check Jessica. There are no guarantees in life and especially not in writing and publishing. We just need to keep working hard and get through the tough times because you never know when something absolutely wonderful will surprise you.

Anonymous said...

I think an agent is just like any book lover--either it resonates with you or it doesn't. I pick up many best-sellers and quickly put them down because they don't engage me. I'd rather have someone who loves my work instead of an agent who considers it their bread & butter.

Keith Schroeder said...

A post straight from the heart. I like it.

I think writers sometimes forget how tough it is from the agent's side. The agent takes the bulk of the rejection body blows. Sure, the writer faces massive rejection when sending queries. But, once an agent represents an author, the cold hammer of 'no' is smashed into the agent while Gentle Writer massages the muse.


I am within 60 days of sending queries and treat my writing as a business. PubRants has a good post on the subject.

SM Blooding said...

I really love seeing this side of agents. Thank you so much for this. It's posts like this that show writers that agents are...human, I guess?

ChrisH said...

Thank you for telling it the way it is.

DebraLSchubert said...

Jessica, I have a question. If you've agreed to represent a writer and you love her voice, story, and writing style, if that particular project isn't selling, would you then suggest she keep writing and you'll work on getting the next novel sold? (There. I've completed my run-on sentence quota for the day.) Thanks.

Mark Terry said...

I would think agents in this situation must really start to second-guess their taste and judgment. God knows writers do.

Reesha said...

As the Bible says, Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the essence of things not seen.

Believing that the magical yes is around the corner is easy...until you round a lot of corners and it isn't there.

You are absolutely right. It takes passion to keep peering around corners, even into dimly lit alleyways to see if the yes is there. Even after searching an entire city full of corners. The cool thing is that, well, it's a corner: you won't be able to see it coming until you've turned it and then it will be right there. So lack of signs that it's coming doesn't mean it's not going to happen.

Kate Douglas said...

DebraL--That's what happened with me. Jessica took me as a client for a book that didn't sell. She did have one offer, but it would have meant a major rewrite in a direction I wasn't willing to go. However, she continued to represent me for years after that first project, even though I wasn't sending anything to her. (I'd started selling on my own to epubs) When I finally came up with something we both thought might fly, she was finally able to get me a contract, but she hung on to me on the strength of that first project and I never stopped considering her my agent.

DebraLSchubert said...

Kate, Wow! Thanks so much for your response - that's exactly what I was wondering about. Good for you and for Jessica. What an inspiring story.;-)

Anonymous said...

If an agent has sold one book but is unable to sell subesequent books, it seems natural that the agent would lose enthusiasm after working for little or no financial return. I'd think even with best intentions, the agent would lose some of the spark and the client would lose priority on the client roster. How many unsold manuscripts would be a sure sign for both parties that it's time to move on?

BookEnds, LLC said...

Anon 10:33

You're assuming that all agents and all authors think alike. There are so many variables in that question that there's no answer. I struggle with my own self-confidence when I'm having difficulties selling an author, but that is very different from losing passion for an author's voice and her work.

There are a million reasons a book doesn't sell, none of them mean the author is unpublishable.

I think like I said in the post, it comes down to the individual and how both author and agent are feeling about the situation.

--jhf

Anonymous said...

Thank you Jessica. I know what you mean about struggling with self-confidence, given I'm in this situation. I'm sensing my agent, who I like and respect, isn't excited to go out with my current ms. I guess it's time for a heart-to-heart with my agent.

10:33

Stephanie Faris said...

What a good question! I've never thought to worry about that but I'm sure it was something I would have worried about once I had an agent. Okay, so I'll still worry about it but these are comforting words nonetheless.

Robena Grant said...

Thank you. It's reading posts like this that keep me going. I'm off to do my daily affirmations before knuckling down to write a difficult scene. : )

Philangelus said...

My first agent lost faith in my book after he got three rejections. I could see the moment he lost heart, and he never got his groove back. He simply stopped sending it anywhere and stopped pursuing the leads he already had. We parted ways six months later at his prompting.

My second agent lost faith in himself. He still believed in the manuscript, but he was so frozen by the idea of not sending a perfect proposal that he never sent it anywhere. We parted ways when he closed his agency.

Vivi Anna said...

Great post Jessica.

Mira said...

Thank you for this post. What a complicated issue! It's clear that you try to struggle with it with integrity and honesty, and also, empathy.

This, again, gives me a view of what it's like to be an agent, some of the difficulties you face. It must be hard sometimes to weigh and balance your commitment to all the different aspects - the writer, your agency, yourself. Sometimes hard calls have to be made, and I can really appreciate how you would try very hard to avoid a situation where you have to make those hard calls!

Marsha Sigman said...

Great post! I was actually wondering this same thing just yesterday. This makes a perfect point that you need to choose an agent that is passionate about your overall voice, not just your current work.

If Jessica wasn't everyone's dream agent before, I think this post along with comment from Kate Douglas, proves she should be.

Not trying to be a suck up, just stating a fact.

Kelly Moran said...

I love your blog. You guys have sold to my first choice in publishers, Hachette, and you give great advice for us aspiring for the great publishing beyond. Keep up the great work. As soon as my critique partners and I are through tearing apart my current WIP, I'll submit to you!
This is not an easy market now, and you ground us.
xoxo

PurpleClover said...

Another great post!

Glad to see agents deal with the same worries but it looks like you have a good way to overcome them.

Anonymous said...

Q: Isn't it better to stick with an agent's strength's and preferences? e.g. If an agent is known for romance (like you), don't editors expect to see more romance mss. than say, a mystery or thriller? Won't it help authors chances if they go w/ agents who widely represent that genre? I assume they'd have more contacts in their special area, right?

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