Pub Rants

Better Off With Someone Else

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STATUS: It’s still raining in Denver. This is good for spring so I try not to complain too much but it does make the world feel a bit drab.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? VIRGINIA WOLF by Indigo Girls

When I take on an author, it’s with the intention of being that person’s agent for his/her whole career. I’m not one to take on projects and if they don’t sell, dump the author. It’s not my MO. But sometimes if I stay as the agent, I could, in fact, be hindering the writer’s career and that’s something I never want to do. You’re probably wondering how that’s possible.

Here’s a story. Well over a year ago, I took on a new author with a project that was pretty darn different from anything that I usually handle. But I loved the novel and really wanted to send it out. I was honest with the author from the very beginning and the author was game to try. So we did. I submitted the project everywhere. Got some close calls but no cigar (those darn editors were just wrong, wrong I tell you). The project didn’t sell but I was eager to see novel number two.

And I did. And I had no confidence that I, as the agent, could sell it.

This is not how writers want their agents to feel. Trust me. And an agent needs to be honest with that author and not string him/her along (or suddenly decide to not return emails etc.).

Those calls are tough though. It’s the last thing I want to do but if I’m not honest, then I’m not allowing that writer to succeed because they can’t succeed if their agent is the weak link through lack of vision. I’m hoping this makes sense. Ultimately, they are better off without me but I can’t help but feel I failed them. Hate that feeling.

17 Responses

  1. cynjay said:

    Without naming names, can you elaborate as to why you felt you weren’t the right agent for project #2? Was it the type of novel, the writing or something else that was off for you?

  2. Peggy said:

    It’s all very well to say “better off with someone else,” but did the author ever find another agent? And did either of the books ever sell?

  3. Anonymous said:

    Sad, but at least you were honest. My agent simply stopped returning emails or calls.

    A year later I had a new agent and a six figure book deal.

    *But I still wish my first agent had been decent enough to tell me personally.

  4. 2readornot said:

    It’s good to know agents feel these things also — I know that if I ever find the right agent for me, I’ll definitely feel that I’ve failed him/her if I can’t produce a book he/she can sell!

  5. Ryan Field said:

    I wouldn’t want to make a call like that either.

    This weather you guys are having doesn’t portend good things for us here on the East Coast later this week.

  6. julia said:

    If it’s hard to part with a project you’re passionate about but can’t sell, imagine how much more the writer wants the project to succeed. It is a generous gesture to set that writer free to find a new agent.

  7. Heather Burt said:

    Interesting. If the first project had sold, would that have altered your approach to the second? Would you have been more inclined either to try shopping #2 anyway, or to work with the author on it?

  8. Anonymous said:

    I don’t get how an agent can simply stop returning communication. Isn’t there a contract between agent and client?

  9. Kim Stagliano said:

    Very informative. When you have to make that call do you suggest colleagues who would be better suited for the MS and/or do you place a call on your client’s behalf to other agents? Or does the writer go back to querying cold and having to explain the situation? Thanks.

    Kim Stagliano
    Newly agented, adores that her agent is excellent on communication.

  10. quietly writing said:

    Would that all agents were so sensitive/professional/dedicated/courageous.

    I have a horrible Agent From Hell story in my past. We’re talking, no communication, submission cover letters with MY NAME SPELLED INCORRECTLY on them (I know this because I was sent copies of the rejection letters), and outright lies (yes, lies). It was obvious that this agent lost her passion for me almost before we set out on the journey together. That, and she was one of the biggest BS-ers I’ve ever known. She gave new meaning to the saying, “A bad agent is worse than no agent at all.”

    In the end, after I’d sent my lawyer-advised, certified bye-bye letter, the agent called me, yelled at me, spat ugly accusations and name-calling my way, and then slammed her phone down.

    So please, please don’t have any angst over your professional, honest “good bye” to the author in your tale. You absolutely did the right thing by both of you.

  11. Dan said:

    Did you like the 2nd book and feel you couldn’t sell it despite thinking it was good, or did you just think it was not salable by any agent? If you liked it or believed in the author, would you ever consider referring him/her to an agent who might handle their material better? The rejecting agent is in the best position to know something like that, I’d think.

    That’s kind of above and beyond the call of duty, though, I suppose.

  12. Karmela said:

    God, this is my worst nightmare. That my agent will only like my first book and not my second (or third or fourth…)

    Was the writing just bad? Did it just not click with you? Was it just absolutely wretched or sloppy or both?

  13. Wendy Roberts said:

    I think that writers also need to be aware that in the span of your career there’s a very good chance you’ll be changing agents. Perhaps even multiple times (although the change is always stressful).

    It’s extremely difficult to find the right fit.

  14. Anonymous said:

    Because I write fiction (women’s), non-fiction (self-help), and children’s picture books, I am at a complete loss as to which agent I should approach. Agents who rep certain genres and want to create a career-spanning relationship with their clients is admirable, and I may even want to submit to them (women’s fiction to Kristin, for example), but what happens to my other work?

    I’m pretty sure having multiple agents is NOT the answer, so am I destined to continue searching for someone who reps all my areas of interest? Or is shopping my own work to editors and bringing in an agent to do the deal (when the time comes) the answer?

    Okay, my head hurts now. Where’s the Tylenol?

  15. Anonymous said:

    Just wanted to say that my agent told me she couldn’t sell my second book. (“Love the writing, just don’t think editors will be excited about the premise.”) I was devastated, but we immediately had a conversation about what to do. We talked about some other ideas I had for books, and she pointed to one that she thought was marketable. I wrote an outline and three chapters, and she sold it about a month later.

    To be fair, she had already sold my first book. I’m only telling the story to say that just because an agent doesn’t think she can sell your second book doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the end of the line for your relationship. It depends on what the writer wants to do, of course, and also on the reasons why the agent thinks she can’t sell it. If it’s just that she doesn’t have the contacts, of course you’re in a very different position.