Some of the most common questions I receive, public and private, come from authors who have agents and want to know if their agent is normal. (The answer to that question is probably no–they are agents after all, but that’s not really what the author was asking).
Authors want to know if their agent is normal
Authors want to know if it’s normal for their agent to take four months to get back to them, if it’s normal for them to be vague about where they are submitting the author’s work or if it’s normal for their agent to tell them that they wouldn’t even use their current work in progress for kitty litter for fear of making the cat dumber.
I really respect these questions. When the only current depiction of agents in pop culture that I know of is Entourage’s Ari Gold (hilarious, but certainly not normal), it can be hard to know whether an agent is just being an agent or whether said agent isn’t looking out for the author’s best interest and/or is shady.
Throw in a manuscript that the author is emotionally invested in and it is a veritable powderkeg. When it gets dire people then want to know if they should leave their agent.
I really can’t answer these questions, and instead I ask a question in return (riddle me this!) Have you talked to your agent about it?
Talk to your agent
Don’t be scared of your agent! Your agent is not a delicate flower that only blooms once a year and will be scared back into the ground if you whisper in its direction.
- If you are uncomfortable, talk to your agent.
- If you are unhappy, talk to your agent.
Now, you don’t want to go overboard, and keep in mind that you should be calm and mature and cool and receptive, but trust me, your agent will greatly appreciate the opportunity to have a discussion with you and possibly make some changes before things spiral out of control.
Now, if you try to talk to your agent and you don’t hear back and/or things aren’t resolved to your satisfaction? Well, then you have to make a decision about whether to leave your agent. But you owe it to your agent to give them a shot at resolving differences and/or clearing up confusion before you start fishing for those other agents in the sea.
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Art: A Friendly Call by William Merritt Chase
John Levitt says
The reason writers walk around on eggshells with agents is simply that’s it can be so hard to find one. If you’ve been rejected 42 times and then finally find representation with a solid agent, you’re going to be hesitant to do anything that might piss him/her off. It’s not like a mechanic, where if you have reservations about their ability or conduct, you just find another.
Writers will put up with behavior they wouldn’t accept for a moment with any other business arrangement. An agent who doesn’t respond to emails? I don’t care how busy you are, you can at least take 1 minute to hit reply and say, I’m swamped; I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.
An agent who’s vague about submissions, and doesn’t bother to tell you about who’s been submitted to and whether they’ve passed? Sorry. Unacceptable.
I’ve been lucky. My agent has been incredibly helpful. She has always kept me up to date on everything, and gave me solid guidance when a delicate situation arose with my publisher. She doesn’t hand-hold, and may not reply to emails for a couple of days if she’s busy. Unless if it’s actually urgent; then she’ll reply right away or even call.
She’s totally professional in every way. (Including selling my book) But if she weren’t, what would I do about it? I truly don’t know.
Probably keep quiet and plot revenge when I’m famous.
I agree with John Levitt. It’s a fear of having to start back at square one, when it took so freakin’ long to get an agent to begin with.
I have a question, though. There’s another thread on AW talking about how most agents sell only about 50% of their new authors’ first books (the one they accepted). Is this true? It’s been 7 months now since I signed with my agent and my book hasn’t sold. I’m starting to panic.
One of the twisted things about this industry is that we, the writers, are the ’employers’ yet it seems to be our ’employees’ that have the power.
I am one of those writers who has been waiting 4 months for a phone call that the agent was supposed to make! Getting over my fear – that John Levitt describes perfectly – I emailed her twice, just as a little nude. Nada, for another 2 months.
In this situation, what does one do? Ok, I dont want to hunt her down if she is extremely busy. But if I’m not getting a response, yet she hasn’t officially sacked me (or vice versa) what happens? It always feels like treading on eggshells…
Send another e-mail with the subject line “We MUST Talk Today.” In the e-mail, ask him/her to ring back between a couple of specified hours (say, 2-4pm.)
If your agent doesn’t call you, send that farewell letter. It’s tough, but believe me, there are really, really good agents out there who do respond. And if this agent is ducking your messages, for goodness sake, what is he or she doing with your manuscript?
bran fan says
One writer’s experience: My first agent basically ignored me, and acted as if even my e-mails were a bother. So, I left her. I had to start over querying (with a brand-new manuscript) and now I am much happier with my new agent. He actually has time for me! He keeps me updated! He is happy to answer my newbie questions.
Don’t be afraid to leave a bad agent. There is a good agent waiting for you.
I have a question… and I hope you don’t mind if I ask it here.
Two weeks ago I began sending out queries for representation for a YA mss. I researched about a dozen agents who I felt would be good match to both me and my project.
On day one of my search I queried 4 of the 12… the ones who accepted email queries only.
On day two: two passed and a third requested a partial via email. I emailed the partial.
On day Three: she requested the full. I sent it.
Because she requested the full so quickly, I stopped sending out the queries on my list — I didn’t want to have to choose (I know that sounds confident, but it was a concern.)
After a week she wrote back saying she finished reading it and wanted to send it to an associate. She advised that could take a couple of weeks, was I okay with that?
Well yeah. Of course I’m okay with it. This is a great agency. I would be thrilled if they wanted to take me on… but I haven’t made it through my list yet.
What IS the expected proper protocol? Should I hold tight and not submit any more queries until I hear back (one way or the other) or should I proceed with my query game plan? Thanks…
If I may answer anon 10:31 from a writer’s perspective, since you’ve gotten such early and enthusiastic response to an agency you’re interested in signing with, I’d probably hold off a couple weeks before sending out more. But no more than a couple of weeks. You don’t want them to be inadvertently holding your manuscript hostage.
The downside to such a fast response, of course, is that you won’t be able to choose from what is likely to be several offers, but if that doesn’t bother you, I’d give it those couple of weeks.
A lot of anonymous commenters today, for perhaps obvious reasons.
I too agree with John Levitt. And I would ask Tessa if she has ever taken her own advice (which is a whole lot easier to give than follow).
I would probably let an agent ignore me far longer than one should reasonably be ignored. As someone still waiting to GET an agent, I’m pretty sure if I found one I might chain myself to his/her ankle, and would only release myself when it got so bad I’d have to gnaw off my own ankle.
Thanks for this mental kick. Well needed.
You know the old chestnut “a bad agent is worse than no agent” — it’s true.
What do you need someone holding on to your ms and your career, doing nothing?
I have a writer friend, who has been unhappy for years. She has a big agent, but after three well-received books, her market/luck/run ran out. Now she wants another agent, desperately, but is afraid to “stick her ass out in the cold wind” and be agentless. She’d rather coast on the reputation established by those first books and continue to call herself a client of someone who obviously gave up on her.
I learned watching her. Besides, I can deal with the cold shoulder from a stranger. I won’t deal with the cold shoulder from someone who has my career in his hands!
Your ending comment reminded me of a button I wore when I was a senior in college and worked in a bar. It read: “Why Be Normal?”
It was that or one that read: “You’re ugly and your momma dresses you funny.”
I figured the second one might make it harder for me to get any tips.
Just thought I’d through in some humor for you.
Cool to see yu on AW!
Rock Wren says
On a related note, how important is it to have a strong personal connection with your agent? Or is it enough just that your agent is good at what they do?
I got an offer of representation from a well-respected agent last year who was quickly able to sell my non-fiction project despite some marketing challenges. He comes highly touted by other authors I've contacted. He represents many big names in the industry.
However, I've never felt any sort of "click" with him. In fact, most of the time when I email him I feel intimidated. When I see an email from him in my inbox I'm afraid to open it for fear of what it contains.
Part of this is because he is always very formal in addressing his correspondence – it's always "Dear", never "Hi", even though we've been communicating for over a year. He has explained that to him that's just polite letter etiquette, but to me it feels impersonal and disinterested.
On the one hand, I have a well-respected agent who represents folks I only dream of ever becoming. On the other, I want to feel comfortable and relaxed with someone I'm effectively in a business partnership with. But maybe I should just be grateful for what I have?
Nathan Bransford says
It's a business relationship first, so I wouldn't worry about that as long as you're comfortable with how the business is being handled. But don't be intimidated by your agent!
Rock Wren says
Thanks for the quick response, Nathan! I appreciate your comments. Until you've been in the business a few years, or have a well-established writer friend to mentor you, it's really hard to know what to expect, how things should be done, and what's considered "normal".