Pub Rants

What I Always Counsel

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STATUS: Today was as exciting as a root canal. Accounting. Need I say more? Still, even if there is a bookkeeper involved, one must balance the books and ensure everything is in order.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MONEY by Pink Floyd
(Funny how this works sometimes. I swear; it’s really what is playing right now.)

When I was at the RWA conference last week, an author came up to me and disclosed that she wanted to leave her agent and would I give her some advice.

And I’ll tell you that when an author contacts me with this thought in the mind, I always ask this question first: “Have you spoken to your agent about your desire to leave?”

Why do I ask this? Because the answer has always been NO and I always counsel that an author thinking of jumping should have a heart-to-heart talk with the agent before doing so.

Now, this is working on the assumption that the agent has done his/her job. In other words, the author hasn’t just discovered that the agent is a scammer. This also rules out any agents who might have acted illegally or fraudulently. Obviously if this is the case, a heart-to-heart, to put it simply, is rather unnecessary. High tail it on out of there.

But I operate in the world in the same way that I would want to be treated. Karma and all that. If one of my clients were thinking of leaving, I would certainly hope that they would give me the opportunity to hear what the problem is and allow me time to fix it, which is why I always counsel the author to talk with his/her agent first.

I’ve not landed new (and very desirable) clients by providing this type of counsel, but I sleep well at night. And who knows, ultimately the break between that author and agent might be unavoidable and they can certainly come knocking on my door again.

But they have to know that I’m going to ask them if they had that heart-to-heart first…

Now if the author has already formally made the break, that’s a different story. They aren’t asking for counsel. They’ve already made a decision.

22 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    Sorry, but this post has me laughing my butt off.

    As someone who has faced this situation — I dare you, DARE you I say, to have a heart to heart (a polite one, at that) with your agent, explaining the ways you are dissatisfied/concerned with their representation of you and watch it blow up in your face.

    Lets face it, Kristin, all agents are not YOU! There are plenty of agents out there that are NOT doing anything illegal in any way but that are STILL awful agents.

    If an author you don’t know is tracking you down at a conference and asking you face to face what to do about their lousy agent, you can better believe they CAN’T talk to their agent, or they would’ve already.

    I think most writers are VERY willling to overlook any and every minor issue with their agents. By the time they are ticked off enough to seek out the opinions of blogging agents they don’t know, the damage has already been done.

  2. Anonymous said:

    I agree with anon at 7:35. Many writers (I personally know more than a few) put up with a lot of shoddy treatment from agents who may be “reputable” but are not doing a good job for them. They put up with more bad behavior than they should because when they try to voice a concern they get blown off or moved farther down the list of priorities, or they get a chilly reception. The writers I know who decided to leave didn’t do it on the spur of the moment. If they thought they could have fixed things with a heart to heart they would already have done it. However, I do think it’s bad form to seek out another agent for advice before one has left ones current agent. Perhaps they’re hoping you’ll offer them rep and they can then skip the fun trip back to the query pool.

  3. Travis Erwin said:

    I agree with you, karma is a dangerous thing, but it can also be a good thing as well. I hope you are justly rewarded for all the fabulous adive you dole out here on your blog.

  4. Anonymous said:

    I’m going to be leaving my agent when I have a fresh manuscript ready. I have not specifically told her, “I’ll be firing you soon” but I did ask her several pointed questions in a recent phone conversation… and she had no good answers. If she’s surprised at being fired, then she’s got even bigger problems than I thought.

  5. Anonymous said:

    I agree with Anon 7:35. I’ve talked with my agent and it doesn’t help. The behavior just gets worse. This is a reputable agent but this person isn’t working for me. My agent is too busy judging contests to do a good job. I was warned against my agent by several people who left the agency for the same reason I’m about to leave, but the agent’s sales made me think these people were badmouthing this person because of sour grapes. Boy was I wrong. They were absolutely right. Now I’m stuck trying to pick up the pieces of what little career I have left. The scam agent scenario is fine, but my agent isn’t a scam artist. Just a bad agent who has wasted my time.

  6. Anonymous said:

    If karma has it in for the writer who’s been unable to get her non-scam-artist agent to return emails, answer simple questions and do what he/she says he/she is going to do, to the point where that writer wants to leave and doesn’t feel comfortable having a “heart to heart,” then I guess maybe there’s comfort in thinking about what karma’s got waiting for the agent as well. Instead of dismissing clients who leave as badmouthers and blindsiders, it would be refreshing if other agents would talk to each other about how they could do a better job so fewer clients would feel like the ones who have commented here.

  7. Rob said:

    “Today was as exciting as a root canal. Accounting. Need I say more?”

    My feelings are hurt. I’m an accountant. [sniff, sniff]

  8. Kimber An said:

    Poor Rob. Some of us just can’t process numbers. They scare the living daylights out of us. After a year, I still have to check my own phone number. It’s nothing personal and I’m sure Kristin isn’t as number-phobic as me.

    As for the agent issue, authors fear losing the only representation they got. It’s the massive competition thing and it leads to several unpleasant scenarios.

  9. bran fan said:

    Anon 7:35 is absolutely right. A heart-to-heart only works if both parties are open and willing to listen and to change, and if both people value the relationship and want to continue. In the real world, by the time the writer is this fed up with her agent, no heart-to-heart is going to work.

    I have fired people in my day job, people who worked for me as independent contractors, so the situation is similar. They always see it coming and are always glad to be let go. Most of them were doing worse and worse jobs, hoping to be canned, so they could stop working for me without the stigma of quitting. I tolerated shoddy work far more than I should have, and only belatedly realized that this person really wanted to be let go. When I fired one man, he actually grinned.

    Many writers are afraid of their agents. Maybe “afraid” is too strong a word, but they fear that if they make waves, their agents will start sending their work out less freqently, do fewer line-edits before sending it out, and generally work less closely with them. Kristin wouldn’t do this, of course, but friends of mine have had agents who did exactly that. If you’re in this situation, don’t talk to your agent–leave.

  10. Carolyn Burns Bass said:

    Some authors deify agents and when they discover their agent has clay feet, they seek out a new agent to save their career. Agents are not gods.

    Still, agents should treat their authors with respect and professionalism whether or not the author’s a megaseller or not-yet-sold. From what I’ve read and heard from many of my author friends, this is often not the case.

  11. Twill said:

    Agency is a business relationship. Perhaps the term “heart-to-heart” is too squishy for what needs to happen. A “business conference” to discuss the relationship and its various issues might be more confrontable by a squeamish writer.

  12. Anonymous said:

    How can an author have a heart-to-heart when the agent won’t return calls or emails? I think you’re assuming all reputable agents act according to the same code of honor you do.

  13. KingM said:

    Many writers I know are a little afraid of their agents. We’re afraid of bothering them, afraid of appearing needy, and afraid that we’ll be dumped. This can lead to the foolish behavior you describe.

  14. Anonymous said:

    I agree with anonymous. Leaving your agent is a business decision. I’m not sure where this idea came from that you can’t seek out a new agent while still with the old agent as that seems ridiculous to me, and only benefits the current agent. Remember, nothing personal, just business. You have to look out for yourself first. If you were seeking a new doctor, lawyer or any other professional you wouldn’t need to have a heart to heart with them first before investigating new options? Why on earth should it be any different for agents?

  15. Anonymous said:

    Over the past few months I have discovered that my agent and I are not a good match. He does not answer my emails and he does not give the editorial support I had hoped for. I know that I will be querying new agents with my next book.

    However, my current agent does have my first ms on the desks of many editors. The question is, should I ride out this wave of editors with the current agent and hope the novel sells? Or should I withdraw it, finish next novel, find a new agent, and hope he/she can sell the first ms as well as the new one?

  16. bran fan said:

    Anon 9:58…. I go for the second option. The next book is going to be better, and with a new agent, you’ll do better too.

    I followed this same path. Dropped old agent, then queried new agents with new novel. The waters were far less muddy that way.

  17. The Home Office said:

    I rarely agree wholeheartedly with anyone, but I do with Kristin on this point. I had an agent I liked. We didn;t always see eye to eye, but I thought she did nice work for me, and was Ok with the idea that my book didn’t sell because of its calibre, not due to lack of skill on her part.

    We tried it for a couple of years, got close, bit didnt get over the hump. We had a nice talk, and decided the best thing for both of us was to go our separate ways. We wished each other nothing but the best, and she was generous in offering her experience and expertise for advice from time to time, should I need it.

    I now have another agent, with whom I work well. My previous agent’s career moves on unabated. Everyone came out ahead. This is how it should work.

  18. Allison Brennan said:

    Publishing is a small business. Seriously, this is an industry where everyone knows everyone. There are agents out there who do great work for some people and not-so-great work for others. It doesn’t make them bad or disreputable, it just makes them not right.

    I left an agent before I was published and it wasn’t an easy decision. I didn’t have a heart-to-heart, but I did ask her some very specific things that I wanted her to do, and she refused. At that point, I didn’t feel that I was in a position to say, “Well, if you don’t do this I’m terminating our relationship.” Partly because if she did relent, her heart wouldn’t be in it because of the threat, and partly because I really didn’t think she would do it. Also, I had learned a lot about the business during my tenure with her and realized she didn’t have what I needed.

    That said, I agree with Kristin on this. While I agree with some of the anons (specifically those who know of authors who can’t even get a phone call/email back from their agent) that at some point you have to walk away, if at all possible, I’d have a discussion first.

    The problem with seeking a new agent while still in a formal relationship with your current agent is like I said above: the business is small. Everyone knows everyone. And unless you are a major big time author, you can’t afford the bad rap. I always recommend terminating a current relationship before seeking a new agent.

  19. Anne Wayman said:

    Oh boy, I remember trying to have this conversation with my first agent, or close. I wanted to know what I could do to get in the top 10%… he said I was there already… sigh… maybe I was way back then in the now far from new third party software books, but the conversation didn’t give me what I was looking for… today I’d ask it differently.

    Anne Wayman

  20. Twill said:

    Anon 9:58 –

    Your current agent is in submissions. Do not withdraw the novel now – that would hurt you for a long time.

    Leave him/her alone and work on your next work. When it’s close, then will be the time to decide whether to terminate your current relationship.

  21. Anonymous said:

    I’m with Twill, 9:58. Let the submissions your current agent put out run through the process, then make your decision to move on (or not). Hopefully this agent will succeed in selling this book that’s under consideration. I wish your project the very best success.

    However…my ex-agent had a book out at 10+ publishers, and when it got about to the 6-8 month point, I asked him what replies he’d gotten.

    This was where I should’ve seen something wasn’t right. His reply was vague: “I don’t remember if I sent it to XYZ or not. I don’t recall if MNO wanted the full or not. Maybe that editor’s not at RST anymore. I’ll check and get back to you.”

    Needless to say, the next contact made was mine to him, not his to me.

    I made the mistake of letting him go the distance. At the end of the process I had responses from 3 of the 10 houses to which he claimed he sent it. I’ll never know, now, if it went there or he just thought it did. I cannot submit the novel again to those places without seeming like a nimnul. I can’t say how deeply I regret not holding my (ex) agent to better account.