Thursday, November 11, 2010

From a Scared Client

(And hopefully it’s not mine)

In July, I signed with a well-known, reputable agent. She said the manuscript was very “clean” and would get back to me shortly with minor editing suggestions. She even ventured to say she expected to go out on submission by the end of August. I have yet to receive her notes, but whenever I email her (which I try not to do more than 2X a month), she keeps saying "soon." How do I approach her without sounding like Crazy Author? I have a sickening feeling that once I make these edits, she'll take another 3 months to review them!

I think you (and all authors) should stop worrying about being crazy and think career first. There is no way it should ever be considered crazy to want to talk to your business partner about why she’s not meeting expectations and goals, especially those she set for herself. And I will tell you right now, from experience, the truly crazy authors never, ever question whether they are being crazy [insert wink here].

I think the biggest problem is that you don’t trust your agent already, but you’re in that frozen zone that authors land themselves in: frozen with fear that now that you finally have an agent, she might not be the right one; frozen with fear that if you fire her you’ll have to start over; and frozen with fear that you’re trapped.

Unfreeze yourself and get moving. Schedule a phone call with your agent to discuss your expectations and nail down a date for when exactly she’ll have those revisions to you. Honestly, you’re running up to the end of the year, and even if you do get the revisions tomorrow, it’s entirely possible this manuscript isn’t going out on submission until January. That’s a long time when you’re doing nothing but waiting, when you have been doing nothing but waiting.

I think you also need to really evaluate your situation and your feelings. Do you still trust that this agent has your best interests at heart? And are you still confident that she’s the best advocate for you and your career?

The strongest part of an author-agent relationship is trust and confidence in each other. If she’s not communicating well or getting back to you in a timely manner, do you still feel like this is someone you want to continue working on your behalf?

Have a conversation with her. If all goes well, you’ll get yourselves back on track and find later that this was just a bump in the road. If not, if the conversation doesn’t go well or doesn’t happen, then my advice would be to cut and run now. Get out and find yourself another agent. Find someone you’re happy to have on your team and pay your 15% to.



Anonymous said...

*I* could have written this letter. Let me just say, I should have run. I should have run like a citizen of Tokyo fleeing Godzilla.

(Posted anonymously b/c it didn't end well.)

Anonymous said...

Great advice to the writer. This happens far too often.(Something similar has happened to me twice.) Writer boards crackle with this kind of situation. So sorry it happened to you. There are many great agents out there but are also many who give the profession a bad name.

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

When I first signed w/my agent last year, we were in frequent communication. Now we don't talk as much, but it's okay. We've established a relationship. We know we can speak to each other anytime we need to.

As far as I'm concerned, no author should be treated this way by their own agent. Like you said, Jessica, it's a business relationship. Why would you want to be in business with someone who doesn't keep their word or return your calls?

Anonymous said...

I'd go further. This writer needs to get out of her relationship with this agent. If she was good enough to get one agent, presumably she's good enough to get another. It may take time and be a frustrating process, but the same is true of the situation she's in now.

Jessi R. Webb said...

You're absolutely right, Jessica. As an upandcoming author myself, I know that it's entirely possible that once I land an agent, I'm going to be scared pantsless to renege if he or she doesn't meet my expectations. However, the advice that you've given certainly calms fears and reiterates the important relationship that develops between agent and author. A partnership. Thank you for this blog post. It was very helpful in settling my pre-querying nerves!

Rachel Harris said...

Thanks Jessica for this post. I hope to never be in this situation, but I can clearly see myself being frozen in fear if I did. Your advice is clearly stated and smart. I will be filing this away under the tab "hope I never have to use but good to know if I do".

Kate Douglas said...

It all comes down to communication--and if an agent isn't up front and in touch, then there's a problem and it needs to be addressed.

Excellent reminder, Jessica.

Anonymous said...

December 2005 (query) to Spring 2011 (publication) ... that's the timeline. Although it seems like forever, I write this because really, it's not. The question isn't about your agent getting back to you, but are you willing to go the distance? Have you ever considered that maybe waiting is part of the bigger process? And that you are, in a sense, being tested (by her, or just the universe)? The communication thing that Jessica mentions is true but it sounds like you're expecting an instant response. In my thus far limited experience, the process is really, really long and drawn out. Take a number. Wait. Maybe get on with the rest of your life?

Anonymous said...

One caution I would give based on (bad) experience is to make the decision to stay with this agent or not BEFORE she starts submitting. If your mss goes out and your relationship with this agent falls apart more significantly, then the mss will be considered "shopped" by other agents.

However, the first thing to do is call her up and tell her your concerns. She can't fix them if you don't tell her what's going on. If she's too busy to communicate or do edits, then she's too busy to read your mind. And i would phone rather than email.

Anonymous said...

It does not have to take that long, even though it happened to you last anon. The agent said the ms was clean. I think the problem may be that this is a "well-known" agent. She may have more clients than she can handle.

She said she'd go out with this five months ago! I don't think this writer is expecting an instant response, I think she's been too patient. It's possible that she's not the only new client signed this year that the agent keeps on hold.

It's time to get on the phone and if she can't promise a deadline that she'll stick to, move on.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you, Donna, about the importance of the writer moving on before the too-busy agent starts shopping the manuscript.

But I don't put any of the blame on this writer. She says she emailed her monthly asking for the promised edits. The agent knows very well what she's doing to this poor writer.

She's probably best off just quitting this agent now.

Jess Anastasi said...

I found myself in a kind of similar position, once. While I did have my doubts and friends were advising me the same thing - cut and run - I made myself stay patient and figured things would work themselves out, which they did.
I know that quite honestly, an agent would like to devote equal time and energy to every single client they have, and maybe some do. But through all that time I spent waiting, my reasoning to myself was 'small fish in a big pond.' Right now, I'm pretty much no one. I have no sales to speak of, earned no money, don't have a readership - yet. So it stands to reason that if one of that agent's bigger clients, Madam Multi-Bestseller, needs something, then that author is probably going to get priority. And until I've proven myself, then those are just the facts of life. I don't think its a put down on either agents or the system, I think thats just how things are ;)

Anonymous said...

This discussion resonates with me. I have a well-known, well-respected agent who hasn't returned my emails since late April. I have no idea of the status of my manuscript -- whether it's been sent out or not. When I've called I'm told she's in a conference or is leaving for the day. I *think* see the handwriting on the wall.

@anonymous 8:06 AM: Did you find another agent?

Anonymous said...

Is there such a thing in publishing where the agent reads a manuscript that is similar to their client's, but they want to keep it out of circulation for one reason or another?

I've heard about something like this in the music industry. I think the term is "shelving."

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

An interesting many anons commenting about how difficult the business relationship with their agents.

Ms Trite says:
Expressing ones opinion anonymously is like making love with your pants may feel good but...Ms Trite is a lady she would never share the rest...lest one think she doesn't wear panties.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I read on a blog long ago--I think it might have been Nathan Bransford's--that you've got to approach looking for an agent in sort of the same way you would approach looking for a spouse. Before you sign, you want to make sure you're both passionate about the same things (your manuscript and career)and on the same page about the important stuff (communication schedules, submission status, etc.). A lot of writers are so excited to get any offer of representation that they take it, even if that agent might not be the best match. It's a lot like marrying the first person you date; it works for some people, but it's not always the best idea for everyone else.

Of course, in this case I'm assuming the author had full confidence in the agent from the get-go, especially because of her reputation. I guess, to extend the marriage/dating metaphor, it takes two people to make a relationship work. You can't pull all the weight yourself, and if she can't work with you, it might be best to cut the ties and find someone new.

Meagan Spooner said...

These posts are always so scary--but so helpful. I do think that Kristin right above me has a good point--authors are often so relieved to receive an offer of representation, any offer of representation, that they might sign with an agent who's not right for them.

I think the best thing we can do is just try to educate ourselves as much as possible, before AND after querying. Thanks for this post!

Anonymous said...

This is anon 6:07 PM again: My agent LOVED my manuscript and was all over it. She is highly regarded, is no fly-by-night, and came recommended by a trusted source. I was thrilled to have her. I can imagine several scenarios that might explain her silence, but I could be wrong. The thing is, I don't want to shoot myself in the foot. If she's doing her thing (in silence), I don't want to become a pain-in-the-butt client that she can't wait to ignore. I'm in the process of writing her another email asking for an update. If she doesn't respond to that, I'll persevere with another phone call. This is all too weird.

Buffy Andrews said...

Great advice, Jessica.

Unknown said...

Scary to read all these posts. Like any profession, I guess there are the good and the bad, but wow. You'd think the agent is shooting herself in the foot (to be cliche) by ignoring her client. I'm trying to imagine scenarios where this "ignoring" might make sense, but come up with zero. I just don't get it.

As someone who is currently looking for an agent, all of your comments are helpful. I do wish the anonymous folks would call-out these "bad" agents by name, but I'm guessing that's not happening.

Karen Duvall said...

I hope everyone realizes there are some great, very responsive agents out there. Don't ever think you don't deserve to have your emails answered and your calls returned because you do. Waiting for weeks or months for an answer, or to constantly be answered with"soon", is a red flag for how this agent probably interacts with editors. Is that who you want working for you? Is that who you want handling your career?

It took me 3 agents to find the right one for me. The first 2 didn't work out, and though it was hard to go through the querying process again, it was worth it. The agent I have now calls me first for a change. She checks in with me, asks what she can do for me, and this was even before she sold my book.

Don't settle for any agent who will have you. You deserve better than that. Believe in yourself and your work enough to find the best representation you can. Good luck!

Vivi Anna said...

Totally agree with Karen.

As authors this happens too often. We get this feeling that WE should be bowing down to our agents, that if you get a GOOD one, you should just be happy and go with the flow.

Wrong. An agent/author relationship is a partnership, you need to be on the same page, if you don't know what page that is, then you need to talk.

5 months is way too long to be waiting for edits. Pick up the phone and find out the heck the holdup is. YOU have the right to ask that question. This is YOUR manuscript and YOUR career. Take charge of it.

another anon said...

I could've written this letter too, and like Anon 8:06, mine didn't end well either.

She isn't your agent, she's a fraud. RUN!!!!! You deserve better than this.

another anon said...

AND, my agent was well-known too, with big book deals and big clients. Guess what? That didn't matter when it came to her not subbing/ never getting back to me about MY mss.

Reputation is great, but what has she done for YOU lately?

My agent gushed all over my ms, told me she wouldn't stop until it sold, and then proceeded to not follow up with editors six months after the fact, didn't want to send it out on a second round of subs, and eventually stopped answering my very polite emails.

If she's already screwing you over and you haven't submitted yet, it's only going to get worse. You deserve better.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:06 AM, yet again.

I just sent a frank email to my agent requesting a conversation. (Such a favor.) If she doesn't respond, I am Out. Of. There. If she did submit my MS to editors, I'll probably never know who they were. That makes things tough if I get another agent.

Another Anon, did you get another agent? What happened to your MS?

Anonymous said...

Anon, there might be something in the agent code of ethics that they have to tell you who they submitted to. I would request that in writing (meaning make your request in writing). You're right, you will need that for your next agent.

Tabitha - interesting question. This also happens in screenwriting. But in general, I just think it's agents who are big and busy.

Anonymous said...

From the AAR Canon of ethics:

A member shall keep each client apprised of matters entrusted to the member and shall promptly furnish such information as the client may reasonably request.

jjdebenedictis said...

When I got an agent, one of the things I said in the initial phone call was that I would like her to email me about once a month to keep me up to date on the submission process. I sometimes had to prompt her, but she was very good about getting the information to me quickly.

Maybe it's a good idea for all writers to outline to their new agent what they consider an minimum acceptable level of communication.

That way, if you're not getting it, you can open a dialogue immediately.

another anon said...

Anon at 7:24 -- I couldn't get an agent with that book because it had been (albeit badly) subbed to just enough editors that no one wouldn've taken it on.

I've finished up a new ms and am searching for a new agent. You know what, no agent is better than that type of agent, though. I gave her ample time to redeem herself and it was very clear that was not happening. Best of luck to you!

Evangeline Holland said...

I must agree with Karen, and the person who said choosing an agent is like dating and marrying. Reputation and a solid author roster does not guarantee the agent/new author are a perfect match.

IMO, I don't think it has anything to do with a so-called pecking order within the roster; based on what I've seen in the agent blogosphere, agents are excited and ready to work when they take on a new author.

Perhaps an uncommunicative agent is in the same predicament as the frustrated author--aware that they aren't a perfect fit, but unsure of how to proceed.

Anonymous said...

Another anon, I'm sorry about your first novel. Mine will probably suffer the same fate. I'm working on a new novel now. I've been researching prospective agents and the list is growing. Apparently my frank email to my current agent requesting a conversation failed to make an impression (the silence is deafening), or else she hasn't seen it yet. IF I do hear from her, I'll post an update here. (Thanks, Jessica, for allowing this long conversation.) If I don't hear from my famous agent, I won't wait forever to send the goodbye letter by registered mail.

All the best,

Anon 7:24 PM

Anonymous said...

Perhaps an uncommunicative agent is in the same predicament as the frustrated author--aware that they aren't a perfect fit, but unsure of how to proceed.

Don't you think the agent would have figured it out when she read the ms? That's why she took it on. If she failed to sell it, that's another thing, but it would behoove her to at least speak with her client.

Anonymous said...

Years ago, before I sold, I signed with an agent who turned out to be the wrong agent for me. She didn't sell my book, but not only that, as I continued with her representation, I questioned a lot of her decisions and her understanding of my genre. I took a huge risk in leaving her before I had a sale, but I felt that she wouldn't be a good agent even if she did sell my book.

My greatest fear at that time, as an unpublished writer, was that I wouldn't be able to find another agent.

I did find another agent with another manuscript a few months later. She sold my book and represented me for years. I'm now a multi-published, bestselling author.

I found it necessary to leave that agent and the decision was even more difficult than the first time. But what some of the others have said hold true: TRUST and COMMUNICATION are the two most important things in an agent/author relationship. Without those, the relationship just doesn't work.

Authors tend to be very fearful that we have to walk on eggshells and jump through every hoop. And while I believe that authors must be professional, I don't believe that we should put agents high on a pedestal and demean ourselves because we don't have the balls to say that the business relationship is not working and try to fix it, or leave.

My advice? Contact the agent, professionally ask for a status report, find out why there was a delay when you were told one thing, and when she will go out. If the answers are not satisfactory, then I would leave.

It's not easy to leave, but this is your career and you have to be responsible for it.