Pub Rants

Remember, Editors Work For The Man

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STATUS: I’m a little frazzled. But things are good. I did have lunch today with Kate Schafer, a YA agent at Janklow & Nesbit. She’s in town. Ends up we both have copies of Opal Mehta (of the big plagiarism scandal) because we had lunches with editors involved right before that story broke. Isn’t that weird? A little synchronicity in the world.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THIS IS IT by Kenny Loggins

One of the great reasons, as an author, to have an agent is the fact that your agent gets to handle any of the nasty stuff and you, as the author, get to maintain a terrific, stress-free relationship with your editor. In fact, some authors end up being good friends with their editors and will often attend parties, weddings, and other events with or for their editor friend.

A great relationship with your editor is a powerful thing. I’m all for it but I always want to remind authors that editors work for the man. In other words, they work for the publishing house and even though they might adore you personally, it is their job to protect their employer’s best interest. Not yours.

That’s why you have an agent.

So when I hear that authors either knowingly or unwittingly circumvent their agent and jeopardize the author/agent partnership, I feel the need to rant. I guess this has been a big discussion on some of the chat forums lately—authors who have agents but go directly to their editor with a new, uncontracted proposal or work without consulting with the agent first.

Oh boy. Regardless of how good your relationship is with your editor, this is business; not personal and a submission (in whatever format) is truly the first step in a negotiation and is serious business. Not to mention your agent’s job. I have heard so many horror stories of authors misstepping at this stage because they knowingly or unwittingly circumvented the agent and chaos ensued.

Or even better, I love the stories where authors have submitted a project themselves and contracted it without the agent’s knowledge and then landed themselves in a whole heap of trouble in terms of not honoring option clauses or current contract conditions etc.

Guess what the agent does when he or she finds out? You bet. Drops you. In this instant, the author has purposely negated the agent/author relationship and as far as the agent is concerned, you are not her problem anymore.

Any gray areas here? For example, are you allowed to share ideas with your editor? Sure… (but it’s better to share with me first) and as soon as the idea morphs into pen on paper, a real project that can be sold, I’d better be in the loop.


33 Responses

  1. Q T Cracker said:

    On the other hand, I’ve had an agent who would rep Project A but not Project B…he might take a crack at Project C but Project D wasn’t really his cup of tea because the main character’s backstory didn’t strike him as heroic enough and yadda yadda…

    It was bloody confusing and I’m well out of that. I took Project D that he stated would not sell in our market, and I sold it.

  2. TJBrown said:

    Fascinating stuff, Kristen. I have always wondered about that. Cleared it right up for me, you did. My agent will be pleased that I will never, ever do that:)
    Teri

  3. fodder said:

    This reminded me of a story Mark Burnett (creator of Survivor and The Apprentice) told in an interview once. When he had the idea for The Apprentice he approached Donald Trump and pitched it to him. “The Donald” thought it was a good idea and agreed to do it.

    Well, Trump has an agent, and that agent was none too happy to be left out of the loop. He approached Burnett and, understandably PO’d, told him off. He thought The Apprentice was a stupid idea and said that Trump would not get involved.

    Burnett claimed he was surprised by the agent’s reaction (believable coming from a tv producer? I don’t know) and returned to Trump and told him what had happened. Trump said, “Well then I’ll fire my agent. I’m doing the show. We made a deal, I shook your hand on it.”

    And so began another very successful and lucrative pillar of reality tv. (I don’t know if the agent was really fired.)

    Okay, I admit, the comparison to your post is pretty loose. For the record, I agree with you about those backroom deals. Totally shady.

  4. Anonymous said:

    Authors are so emotionally needy on some levels concerning their work, that they fall “in love” with their editors. After all, the editor has validated them, right? Better yet, the editor has paid them!

    With the agent encouraging a warm and fuzzy editorial relationship, it’s easy to see how the line can be crossed, and an author (most authors have little experience at business)can misconstrue a professional relationship for a friendship. The editor becomes in the author’s head a friend rather than a business partner.

    This can make for some awkward situations, particularly when an editor passes on a book by an author who thinks the editor is her friend. She/he feels betrayed.

    While an editor may get kudos for acquiring a successful book, he can’t afford too many dogs on his list, even if he personally loves them. It’s a very much “what have you done for me lately?” deal.

    The agent has a direct vested interest in seeing an author succeed. Both are business relationships, but the agent is squarely in an author’s corner, whereas an editor is in the publisher’s corner.

  5. Anonymous said:

    I’m the author in question who kicked off the whole shebang on the loops and let me just say I DID NOT give my editor a proposal. I’m not that stupid. I ran a concept by her. I wanted to know what sort of book they were looking for as my option book, that’s all.

  6. katiesandwich said:

    The title of this post cracked me up. For some reason, it reminded me of the Stargate episode where Jack is made a general. He says, “I spent my whole life sticking it to the man. Now I am the man.” But that is totally irrelevant…

    Actually, this really surprises me that an author would go around his agent like that, even if that author is friends with the editor. I mean, the whole reason I want an agent is because I know that editors work for “the man,” their publishing house, and that their job is to keep as much money for their company as possible. It seems very obvious to me. Also, I wonder if this does more to the agent than anger her about the contract breach. I’d think there’d be some hurt feelings there, too. I mean, the agent is the first person in publishing to appreciate an author’s work. An author’s agent saw merit in his work and feel in love with it enough to take it to editors and push for it. For an author to then be like, “Hey, I don’t need you anymore,” well, I think that’s kind of selfish.

    Intersting post! It’s some food for thought.

  7. katiesandwich said:

    I want to correct myself. When I said “That’s the whole reason I want an agent,” that’s not what I meant. But I did mean that it’s a big part of it.

  8. Anonymous said:

    It’s easy to know the “right” thing to do before you’re in that situation, but once you’re dealing with people, and you’ve been involved in an “intimate” editorial experience with someone, it’s hard not to think of them as your friend and advocate. Somehow the editor becomes separate from the publisher in an author’s head, because it’s personal.

    I know someone who walked away from publishing after a rejection by her editor and a reality check with her agent. After one strong book and two mediocre ones, they weren’t buying the next proposal.

    The agent explained why the editor, the author’s “friend,” didn’t want her book. The author was devastated that her “friend” didn’t feel the need to tell her directly. She thought she had a rapport with the editor that went beyond her work, confusing business with relationship. She had her lines crossed and priorities mixed up!

  9. Anonymous said:

    I recall reading an author’s blog who’d landed an experienced NY agent. The agent got her a contract with one of the smaller presses. The author sold her third book in the series to the publisher on her own. She figured, why pay her agent 15% to make a phone call. (Yes, she wrote this on her blog.)

    When the agent found out about the contract (duh), the author apologized profusely, saying she thought it was okay. It wasn’t, of course, and the agent dropped her as a client.

    I felt a little sorry for this author, who didn’t seem to understand that agents do more than make phone calls on behalf of their clients. And she didn’t seem to understand why her agent wouldn’t forgive her.

    This is a terrific post, Kristin.

  10. Kimber An said:

    I already know all about this aspect of professionalism. It was drilled into me at the English Nanny & Governess School. To this day, I fear Mrs. Roth whacking me over the head with her magic umbrella if I stray from her path. Nobody’ll get a ‘Nanny Diaries’ book outta me!

  11. Anonymous said:

    fodder: There are two separate elements to your story. One is the agent’s judgement about the success or failure of a venture, which may or may not have been good, and the other is the wisdom of making a deal without expert on your side, which is just plain dumb.

    I try to make myself as well educated about business matters as I can, but if I ever get so arrogant as to think I am just as smart and knowledgable about contracts as the guy across the table from me whose job is negotiating those contracts day in and day out, I request that my friends hit me upside the head with a three-day-old cod.

    Aconite

  12. Anonymous said:

    I attended a writers’ conference once, long ago. It was a magical place, filled with agents and editors and writers. We all went to workshops and lectures, and had an all-around good time. There was, however, one thing said at this conference that has nagged at me for a couple of years.

    When a group of agents was asked how many words a first time fantasy novelist should keep his/her book to, the answer was almost universally, “110,000 to 115,000.”

    When a group of editors was asked the same question, the initial answer was a blank stare. This stare was followed by, “Where is this preoccupation with length coming from? As editors and book printers, we can monkey with type-size, line spacing, margin width, paper thickness… if the book’s a good read and keeps us enthralled, we’ll buy it no matter how long it is!” That was said by an executive editor from one of the big publishing houses.

    Could it be that agents have a reason for keeping word counts low? In the last couple of years, after haunting the blogs of many agents, I have a theory. Agents constantly talk of how valuable their time is- I think they don’t want to look at anything that isn’t a quick, easy read. Big books sell, and not always from big names.

    SO…

    Which do you trust? The shark out on her own looking for an easy meal, or the one who lives in a big corporate tank pulling down a nice salary of bloody fish?

  13. lizzie26 said:

    Anonymous said:”I’m the author in question. I wanted to know what sort of book they were looking for as my option book, that’s all. “

    Uh, that’s what agents are for. They know what’s selling, what will be hot, etc.

  14. Anonymous said:

    Uh, that’s what agents are for. They know what’s selling, what will be hot, etc.

    Maybe, maybe not.

    My agent wasn’t into the story I’d like to write, but my editor thinks it’s brilliant and that I HAVE to write it (her emphasis). I was soliciting advice on the loop about how to approach getting my agent on board without alienating her.

  15. Anonymous said:

    I can NOT believe a professional agent would post something like this in a public forum, when it’s obvious it has to do with one of her (previous) client. You are a disgrace for doing this! Say what you want about this author, s/he acted more professional than this tacky post of yours!

  16. Anonymous said:

    anonymous @1:01pm–Sure, editors will buy something brilliant at any length. What are the odds your work is brilliant, as opposed to very-good-and-publishable? What if agents have noticed that brilliant novels sell at any length, but the average author’s odds are better at certain lengths?

    anonymous @3:05pm–Naming names would have been unprofessional. This was stated in such general terms that I certainly got no sure impression that there was someone in particular she was talking about. But maybe you know more than I do.

    Aconite

  17. Anonymous said:

    Anon @ 3:21

    Read this again: “and as far as the agent is concerned, you are not her problem anymore.”

    Problem anymore? This is the blog of a NICE agent, who supposedly cares? This is insulting! Writers are problems? How do you think she makes her living? Selling the work of writers, and they’re problems?

  18. Anonymous said:

    A writer can be a problem for an agent if they shoot themselves in the foot. I.e., going around the agent in business areas. Career blips happen due to misunderstandings or lack of communication. The point was made that editors work for the company.
    They are not there to be your buddy.

    It’s just plain dumb to discuss anything that has to do with business with your editor if you are paying an agent to handle this for you. You’ve put your trust in the agent, be smart enough to let her do her job.

  19. Anonymous said:

    “Which do you trust? The shark out on her own looking for an easy meal, or the one who lives in a big corporate tank pulling down a nice salary of bloody fish?”

    For this reason EXACTLY, I would trust an agent. An editor makes a living whether or not they buy a book. An agent (a legitimate agent) only when he/she sells a book.

    You may not want to hear what most agents feel they can sell, but it’s their livlihood to know what they stand the best shot at selling.

  20. Q T Cracker said:

    So, lemme get this straight: Original Author cannot ask her Editor a question? What if the agent forgets? What if he messes up the answer? What if Author doesn’t understand? She can’t ask for clarification?

    Is this the communication police, or a three-way business relationship?

    I only get worried when people STOP talking.

  21. Anonymous said:

    KatieSandwich, this is the name of this blog: A VERY NICE LITERARY AGENT INDULGES IN POLITE RANTS ABOUT QUERIES, WRITERS, AND THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY, and that is why I was reading it. There was nothing nice or polite about this post. It’s obvious you’re waiting on a response regarding a query or submission.

  22. Anonymous said:

    The author is autonomous, the agent is their representative, and the publisher manufactures the product.

    You can’t remove a link, then be surprised that your chain is broken.

  23. Anonymous said:

    “There was nothing nice or polite about this post. It’s obvious you’re waiting on a response regarding a query or submission.”

    And it sounds to me like you received a rejection letter from Kristin.

    Honestly, I can’t figure out why her post angered you so much. She spoke about an issue that writers need to understand. She didn’t name names, nor did she say that her clients are “problems.”

  24. Martha O'Connor said:

    As far as I can tell, Kristin was blogging about a hypothetical situation. She didn’t name any names, nor did she allude to any specific author, editor, or incident. I imagine this happens often, so why would “Anon” assume this blog is written about her/him, and then leap to the additional conclusion that Kristin is not “nice” for addressing this general issue on her blog? I just don’t get it.

  25. katiesandwich said:

    Hey, cranky anon. You’re a complete moron. My book won’t be ready for submission for months. Once again, you’ve proven how little you know about anything.

    And that’s all I have to say about that!

  26. Bernita said:

    Oh please Anon 3:05.
    What can possibly be a “disgrace” or “tacky” about a mention of the end-runs some writers try around their agents?
    Writers who pull that sneak are a “disgrace” and “tacky,” as well as cheaters in my opinion.
    And no, I do not have a query/partial/full with Agent Kirstin, nor I plan to, so you can leave “suckage” out.

  27. Anonymous said:

    [email protected]:38: Read this again: “and as far as the agent is concerned, you are not her problem anymore.”

    Problem anymore? This is the blog of a NICE agent, who supposedly cares? This is insulting! Writers are problems? How do you think she makes her living? Selling the work of writers, and they’re problems?

    Since the original complaint was that this agent was being “unprofessional” by talking about this kind of problem, I find it interesting that you switched the focus to how she’s “not nice” once the original complaint was countered. Which issue do you wish to discuss?

    (Since I know it’s coming: No, I’ve never subbed to this agent. She doesn’t rep my genre, so I probably never will, either.)

    Aconite

  28. Anonymous said:

    To the anonymous writer who said…

    “My agent wasn’t into the story I’d like to write, but my editor thinks it’s brilliant and that I HAVE to write it (her emphasis). I was soliciting advice on the loop about how to approach getting my agent on board without alienating her.”

    You’re not wrong. Writing something and deliberately going around your agent – probably because a) not returning calls or giving feedback so b) you want to fire her anyway… is wrong. I’ve heard about situations where agents simply stop working for clients who are “less important”. The answer there is to fire the agent first before selling the work to your editor.

    But running an idea by an editor? Asking if they think an idea is doable so you can get started on something… before running that by your agent? I think it’s silly if agents don’t think that’s happening pretty frequently. Especially with established authors who’ve worked with their editors for a period of time.

    Kristen – maybe you’re on the ball with your clients. Maybe you don’t have communication problems like so many agents seem to have with their clients. But if you had an author who said to you …”Oh I was on the phone with Soandso and mentioned my idea about Blah… she loved it, so I’m going to go ahead and write the proposal.”… you’re saying you would feel betrayed and would dump this client?

    Seems harsh.

  29. Gilbert J. Avila said:

    How do agents handle a writer who writes novels AND short stories, particularly in the science fiction, fantasy, and mystery genres? The writer already knows what Gordon Van Gelder (F&SF) Sheila Williams (Asimov’s) and Stanley Schmidt (Analog) are looking for. Should the writer send his agent the short story with a specific editor in mind, or submit it himself and let the agent know? I’m sure the agent gets a percentage if there’s a sale, right?