Pub Rants

Agents Behaving Badly

 19 Comments |  Share This:    

STATUS: Sliding this blog entry just in under the wire.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MADE by Dinah Washington

I was struck by one of the comments in the comment section of yesterday’s blog. A blog reader had mentioned that most reputable agents will not speak with an author until that author has severed the relationship with the current agent.

Actually, I think that is a misperception. I would like to think that would be true but I’d say for the most part, it isn’t. If an agent being queried really wants the author who is looking, many don’t care whether the author is free of the former agent or not. In fact, some of these agents have encouraged an author’s bad behavior to see if the former agent could be bullied into releasing rights etc.

And funny enough, certain agent names reappear again and again in these instances so when I hear about authors behaving badly, it often comes as no surprise when I find out who is the new agent taking them on. Certain agents (and no, I’m not going to name names) have a history of displaying equally bad behavior.

Perhaps these authors and these agents might actually deserve each other.

19 Responses

  1. Pam Halter said:

    I think maybe an author who wants to leave their agent and is talking to a new one is probably scared to death of being without an agent. It’s not that the author wants to be bad.

    That’s just my guess.

  2. Anonymous said:

    I am newly agented and my agent has taken a big risk with me. I’m a newer writer, completely unpubbed, and I’m hoping and praying I will not be an anchor on her list. I have visions–lofty, indeed–of actually receiving a contract, selling a bunch of books, and keeping her for as long as she’ll have me. I know I’m green as can be and untested, but I can’t imagine turning coat on someone who believed in me probably before I deserved it and being lured away from my first agent.

    However, I will admit this: I got real lucky, and I have no reservations. She’s a gem. Maybe not all are.

  3. Roberts said:

    “Free of the former agent?” There’s a contract in place, not indentured servitude. As far as the agent contracts I’ve seen, prohibition from talking with other agents isn’t included in the terms.

    If it’s so grave an action why don’t agents include a clause in their contracts that prohibits clients from talking with other agents during the term of the agreement? My guess is that agents know this is an absurd expectation but it continues to be in their favor to expect a client to forego any form of career “water-testing” so they call it etiquette instead.

  4. Liane Gentry Skye said:

    Have you heard the old adage of once a cheater, always a cheater?
    It just seems logical to me that writers who behave badly with their agents are the most likely to act out with the new agent, their editors, etc.

  5. Jill Elaine Hughes said:

    this is surprising, though if you say it happens I’m sure it does. makes me appreciate that I have worked with agents who don’t act this way. if I were ever to be approached by an agent unsolicited who in turn bullied my former agent, I wouldn’t work with that new agent.

  6. Anonymous said:

    I have a question about leaving an agent and the agent retaining the rights of the contract. I have a few friends who have thought about leaving their current agents. Let’s say they’ve sold a two book contract and are about to submit an option book. Their agency contracts either don’t address what happens to that option book or say that the agent has a right to the proceeds from the contract s/he negotiated (i.e. the contract for the two books plus an option on the third).

    Is the agent entitled to commission on that option book? What if the agent submitted the option book before the author left? What if the agent didn’t? I’m curious what the industry interpretation of this is — how the option is handled when an author leaves an agent.


  7. clindsay said:

    I get a couple of inquiries a week from authors who are already with an agent, looking for new representation. I don’t think they alway s realize that this is really bad form. I usually tell them that they should first have this conversation with their current agent. It surprises me how many writers will not complain to their own agent when they’re unhappy, but go looking for new presentation instead.

    I try to explain to these writers that I cannot represent them, I really shouldn’t even be talking to them, and even if they did sever relations with their agent, I wouldn’t feel it ethical to take them on as a client for at least six months after that.


    Colleen Lindsay

  8. AR said:

    There’s word for the idea that if an action is not prohibited by the law or contract there’s nothing wrong with it. That word is ‘legalism.’

    This idea has grave effects on societies – even on a society as limited as “the publishing world.” Once it’s widespread, whenever an undesirable behavior is identified a law has to be made or a clause put into a contract. Seriously, how technical do things have to be? I think it’s enough for well-bred or thoughtful people to say “this is a poor way to behave and it will not help you.” The people who can benefit from this wisdom will find one another, and apparently those who can’t will find one another, too.

  9. JulieLeto said:

    Oh, it happens. I have a friend who was heavily “recruited” by an agent even though she had fabulous representation. It was very uncomfortable for her.

  10. Anonymous said:

    The suggestion that a writer should fire their agent before even putting feelers out for a new agent strikes me as grossly unfair.

    This is a business arrangement, not a love affair. It’s like saying that you should quit your job before finding a new one. Some employers like to make you feel guilty if they find out you’re looking for a new job but this is totally bogus. Of course you should look for a new job while you still have a job – you are not obliged to undergo a period of unemployment to atone for leaving.

    A good agent-client relationship is more about relationships than a normal job, but if a client is looking for a new agent then it’s clear that relationship isn’t working. I don’t think they are obligated to “break up” with their agent first in the same way they would a lover.

    Of course, there are always exceptions. If you’ve been with someone 25 years and you give each other’s children Christmas presents then that’s quite different to a three or four year relationship that never quite took off.

    You say that publishing is a small world and word will filter back to the agent. In that case it’s the gossip spreaders who are behaving unethically, not the author and not the new agent.

    Bullying of course is another thing entirely. When you sever an agent relationship they should still be paid everything they are due. No one should be trying to screw anyone over on this point.

  11. Anonymous said:

    Caution is indicated. You may talk to other agents and they may not care if you’re still obligated. You may even sign on with them. But if you aren’t careful, you may end up owing two commissions.

  12. Jill Elaine Hughes said:

    “Is the agent entitled to commission on that option book?”
    —The agent should only get the commission on the option book if the publisher _buys_ the option book and, in turn, the former agent negotiates the option book’s contract (an option is NOT a contract). Any agent who says otherwise is unethical.

    I had an option book out when I fired my first agent; he was gracious enough to turn that over to the new agent voluntarily. The publisher in turn didn’t exercise the option, so my new agent will look for another publisher for that book.

  13. Chris Johnson said:

    Both head hunting and looking for other situations before terminating the one you have are common in many occupations, including mine. No one considers it unethical. What is it about publishing that makes the situation any different?

  14. Rina said:

    I see nothing wrong with authors speaking with other agents when they already have representation. Everyone is curious about what other options are available to them.

    However, I think agents who lead authors on without ever giving an offer of representation, or a rejection, are behaving badly.

    I’m not talking abotuthe ones who have a disclaimer that says. “We respond only when interested. If you receive no response, we are not intersted.”

    I had one agent from a Top Agency be super enthusiastic when I queried. She went so far as to request material, and after reading it – give me her cell phone number so I could call and set up a meeting. Yet, when I called she never answered, and she never replied to my message, or emailed me again. I have no problem with being rejected, but to leave someone hanging in such a way is unprofessional and disrespectful. Basically, it’s Behaving Badly.

  15. Anonymous said:

    It strikes me that this is a little like the ‘rule’ that simultaneous submissions are somehow not the done thing. That is, it’s an invention to make life easier for the agent at the expense of the author. The person who made the point above about it being a contract not indentured servitude is spot on.