Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Bad Agent Alert

I’m a published author who recently signed with a new agent. I love her. She responds quickly to all my emails, keeps in touch and moves quickly. Lately though a few things have come up that make me wonder if I’m being scammed. When looking at her web site it seems I’m her only published author, and the books she’s promoting she didn’t even sell. My biggest concern is that recently she was getting ready to submit my proposal and told me that she could not make multiple submissions, that she’d been talking to an editor who told her that if editors learn a book is out with other houses they will simply throw it away. She said that it’s a rumor among authors that agents can make multiple submissions, but it’s not true.

Let me explain first that this is one of those cases where it’s possible you aren’t being scammed, but definite that you are in the hands of a Bad Agent. I’m not sure this agent is intentionally trying to stonewall your career, and since you didn’t mention it I’m going to assume you didn’t pay any money up front; however, this agent clearly does not know or understand how the business works. In my mind a bad agent can be as destructive as a Scam Agent, sometimes more so since a scam agent is clearly breaking the law, and a bad agent is “only” damaging your career.

Let’s look at this case logically. In reviewing recent deals made by agents I regularly see postings about auctions or pre-empts. None of those things could exist if it weren’t for multiple submissions. Let’s also look at what your friends and their agents are doing. My guess is that if you ask any of them, their agents are making multiple submissions. How can it be a false rumor if everyone else is doing it?

My advice, get out. Now. It’s not your job to teach Bad Agent how to do her job. It’s your job to look out for you and your career. Bad Agent isn’t doing you any good, and if she doesn’t know how to submit, how do you expect her to negotiate a contract.

Jessica

27 comments:

Ann Elle Altman said...

Great advice.

Thank you for your blog.

ann

Anonymous said...

RUN. Run fast. Run now.

I had a bad agent and it sidelined my writing for well over a year. You don't owe loyalty to someone who doesn't know how to do their job. Especially if they can ruin your career.

I think the natural assumption is that if an agent isn't on Preditors and Editors site that they are okay -- I know that's what I thought. But a clueless agent can do just as much if not more damage, because it takes you that much longer to figure out how inept they are. If you are also new to the business, there's so much you just take their word on.

My bad agent wouldn't submit to multiple houses, told me to write in Courier 12 point -- thereby bloating my ms by fifty pages a whack, had me send hardcopy mss to him/her "just in case an editor didn't want it sent as an attachment," and didn't think negotiating was "polite" so demanded I take the (very low) advance offered for the one thing he/she sold -- because otherwise no one in the industry would want to work with me.

The agent is still out there, happy little website, signing people.

Anonymous said...

RUN! Run like a citizen of Tokyo fleeing Godzilla!

My BadAgent didn't want to submit multiply either. He also said, "It's not professional to follow up." (After months had passed since his only contact with the editor.) I had to hound him to do either of those things. When we were inches from a deal and the publisher suddenly withdrew it, he refused to make a phone call to find out why. "I don't want to irritate them," he said. Why? What's going to happen--we might get rejected?

Because of my Bad Agent, other agents didn't want to touch that manuscript afterward because it wasn't fresh. He derailed my career by a couple of years by doing what your agent is doing. RUN!

Falen said...

ugh. I'm stressed out just reading that post and these comments.

Anonymous said...

I wish we could get the names or at least initials of these agents so we won't waste our time & careers with them, but I know J likes to protect her peers...talk about AGENT FAIL!

Mira said...

Very helpful post, thank you.

As far as I can tell, agenting is one of the few completely unregulated professions. There's no requirement - no education, no credential, no licensing. Any one who wants can hang out a shingle and say they are an agent. There's also little accountability.

That said, if I ever get an agent, I will thoroughly research them first. I will also insist on meeting them in person prior to signing for representation. Randomly querying people and signing with someone you've never met just strikes me as dangerous - especially if you plan to have a long-term career in writing.

I imagine that it's so enticing to finally have an agent say 'yes' that people just jump at it. And I bet I'll feel the same. But hearing stories like this makes me want to move much more slowly and thoughtfully.

Mira said...

Oh, that's not to say there aren't agents out there that I truly respect and would love to work with. But they may not choose to work with me, so I might be searching outside the agents I know.

But in dealing with the reality of the situation, I'll be careful.

Vivi Anna said...

Always do your homework on an agent before you sign with them.

Talk to their other clients, ask questions about hwo they work, for example, how they send out submissions.

And when you get an offer, talk to the agent on the phone, and have a list of questions to ask. If and only if they answer your questions to your satisfaction do you sign with them.

It's your career, take control of it right from the beginning.

You are in the driver's seat. You are the boss.

writergrrrl said...

I wish we could get the names or at least initials of these agents so we won't waste our time & careers with them, but I know J likes to protect her peers...talk about AGENT FAIL!

There are wonderful resources out there for writers regarding bad-apple agents: Preditors & Editors, Victoria Strauss's awesome website, and the AbsoluteWrite board.

But the best resource is ourselves. We need to take control of our careers and educate ourselves so we know what a reputable agent looks like: Even a new agent should have a solid background, either working as an assistant to a reputable agent or working previously as an editor at reputable publishing house. They should have a list of sales to publishers you've heard of, not micro-presses or vanity presses. An agent who offers representation should be willing to share his/her client list with you, so you can contact them and ask questions.

I think the best protection is to not allow ourselves to become so desperate, we miss the signs and red flags.

Anonymous said...

I met a wonderful Agent at an expensive conference. In less than five minutes, I gave my pitch as was told to send a submission package. I politely e-mailed the Agent every month with a request as to the progress of my submission package. After almost six months, the agent admitted they couldn't find the submission package, please send it again.

Within a week, I was told my manuscript would be too difficult a sell at this time, thank you very much.

I was devastated and wonder about Agents in general at this time.

Gwen Hayes said...

There is nothing inherently wrong with new agents. Sometimes the fresh perspective and "fire in the belly" makes for a really good match. A new agent has more time to devote to their smaller client list, and often they are more willing to take chances.

What isn't okay is an untrained new agent.

If I were to walk into McDonald's right now, I'd need to be trained to work effectively. I'd need someone with experience to show me the ropes, how to use the headset, how to make sure I didn't kill someone by serving them undercooked food, etc. An agent should have training credentials too. An ongoing relationship with a mentor, an internship at a credible agency, and experience and education in the publishing world. These are things that can be sussed out during the interview phase...but being new doesn't mean not being really good.

Marsha Sigman said...

I think agents are held accountable for their actions. The word gets out soon enough, they can't get any clients, and it only takes a little research to find this out.

A safe bet would be to only deal with them if they are AAR members.

The Voice said...

My agent (before I learned things on my own) was so bad he directed me away from an editor at Ballantine Books that wanted my manuscript. Story on my blog. I have spent years backtracking.

Donna Lea Simpson said...

OMG, ruuuun!

My bad agent story (many years ago): After one rejection, she quit the business! Quit. After one rejection! Yikes.

Can't stress enough... do the homework *before* you sign with an agent! Know his/her track record of sales.

Inspirational Sayings said...

Excellent information. The only agent that so far has requested a full from me has a great reputation. Guess I should count my blessings!!

Richard Mabry said...

Thank you for sharing this story. I hope it prevents others from falling into the same trap.
Since I'm fortunate enough to be represented by an excellent agent, it makes it even more distressing to see stories like this. I echo the advice already given by others: run like the wind.
I'm wondering if your questioner ran the name of this agent on the Predators and Editors site.

Krista G. said...

Wowsers. Just goes to show that no agent is better than a less-than-awesome one.

Philangelus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

To previous commentors -- the problem with publishing the names of "Bad Agents" as opposed to "Agents that are doing Illegal Things" is that one is criminal, (kickbacks for referring to edit sites, charging reading fees for ms they don't read, etc...), the other is not.

I had an agent dump me after I complained about her lack of response -- she never returned emails, didn't submit work, if she did submit it, she refused to follow up on subs. Editors had my ms for over six months, but she was put out when I asked if she'd nudge them. I found out after I left that she'd treated many writers this way. It wasn't just me.

BUT, she also has big clients, and has had big sales. So, clearly, those clients are happy with her. Which client would you believe? The one with a quarter of a million dollar book deal or the one who can't get her emails returned or work sent out?

There's three sides to every story. Two sides and the truth.

Steph Damore said...

Well said writergrrrl--writers are the best resource, as are awesome agent blogs such as this one.

You don't just want any agent, you want the right agent. Remember, you're the one doing the hiring.

writergrrrl said...

I was devastated and wonder about Agents in general at this time.

Anonymous 11:33: Unfortunately, stuff like that happens sometimes. It's frustrating, but you just have to keep going. Don't pin all your hopes on one agent. Keep querying (and if you don't get any bites after 10 or so queries, revise it). Don't grant an exclusive unless you feel it's absolutely necessary (and if you do, put a time limit on it). Don't expect personalized rejection letters. Do expect that some agents won't respond at all. It took me about 20 queries until I got an offer of representation. I know many writers who queried 50 or more agents.

Most important of all is to KEEP WRITING. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

"It took me about 20 queries until I got an offer of representation."

You mean 20 different drafts of the same Q letter, or you only had to send the same letter out 20 times before an agent offered representation?

writergrrrl said...

You mean 20 different drafts of the same Q letter, or you only had to send the same letter out 20 times before an agent offered representation?

Oh, sorry. I didn't explain that very well. I sent out 20 query letters (same query) to 20 agents. I actually sent out the letters in small batches to make sure the query was working--so I didn't query 20 agents at the same time. More like 6 at a time. Several requested partials, a total of 6 agents requested fulls. (Some of those full requests came after the agent had reviewed the partial.) Out of those full requests, one agent offered representation. (The book didn't sell, but that's another story.)

Probably more than you wanted to know!

Josin L. McQuein said...

Wow.

I have to say I agree with the "Run" suggestions.

It's good you recognized the red flags before too much time passed (and too much damage was done). The good news is that if she hasn't been doing multiple subs, then the MS is probably still viable.

Get a list of who she's sent it to (to give to your next agent) and get out now.

Jemi Fraser said...

You always give such good, clear-headed advice :)

Anonymous said...

"I met a wonderful Agent at an expensive conference. In less than five minutes, I gave my pitch as was told to send a submission package. I politely e-mailed the Agent every month with a request as to the progress of my submission package. After almost six months, the agent admitted they couldn't find the submission package, please send it again.

Within a week, I was told my manuscript would be too difficult a sell at this time, thank you very much.

I was devastated and wonder about Agents in general at this time.

11:33 AM, January 12, 2010"

Actually, your story is different from the OP. And your conclusion (that all agents are bad) is quite faulty. This doesn't tell us that the agent is bad. Agents, especially last year, had a record number of subs due to the economy driving more people out of their jobs. You were just one of many and good agents do lose those submissions in their huge slush piles. They don't usually have the resources to follow up on all the emails asking how's my submission doing.

It took them over five months to catch up (not at all unusual for slush+, which is what you were) and when they did, your manuscript did not strike them as something they could sell.

That doesn't mean you aren't a good writer, or that another agent wouldn't like your work. It means you didn't do your homework. With all the resources on the web for free now, you should have queried several agents and not stop at one.

Writing is all about rejection. You have to build a tough skin, get over it, learn. Think of it as basketball. If you're knocked over by another player, you don't cry. You get up and try to shoot another basket.

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