Pub Rants

Tis The Season Take Two

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STATUS: I love working late! And if you believe that….

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HOW FAR IS HEAVEN by Los Lonely Boys

I have to say that I really debated about whether to actually post yesterday’s entry. Blogs can be like email—easily read in two different ways depending on the reader’s perspective.

I was actually only trying to do two things with that entry.

1. Make an observation that for whatever reason, late fall is when we, as an agency, receive the most email queries from authors looking to make a change. It’s pretty much happened every year around this time for the last 5 years.

2. That a lot of these queries are coming from midlist authors, not coincidentally, at a time when midlist authors are getting hit harder now than they ever had in the last decade (by publishers not renewing options or by lowering advances offered or dropping a midlist author altogether etc.)

The only thing I wanted to point out (rather ineptly) is that changing agents isn’t always the answer to solve the issue of an author being hurt by current publishing economic decisions because of being midlist.

I’m certainly not passing any judgment on authors who have chosen to change representation. There are so many particulars that go into that decision and you don’t want your partnership with an agent to be like owning a bad stock–riding that loser all the way down to a zero value. Sometimes changing the agent is the only answer (as you need that new agent’s vision and enthusiasm to go to the next stage in your career).

But I do worry that authors are sometimes too quick to make the change—mainly because of how many queries we’ve received as of late. It’s a stunning amount.

Maybe I’m worried for nothing and all the queries we’ve received are from folks who’ve contemplated it for a long time and are just now making the change so as to start fresh for the new year. Statistically speaking though and given the current publishing climate, I’m not 100% convinced.

Another interesting thought I want to throw out there is this. I’ve heard lots of stories, certainly, of authors who have made a change and it was for the betterment of their career.

But less heard are the stories where an author has made the change and then regretted it. Maybe that just doesn’t happen all that often. Or maybe we don’t hear those stories because realizing that isn’t something that’s easy to share.

30 Responses

  1. Aimee States said:

    There’s no guessing how anyone will respond to a post. My first thought was slow summer sales (say that five times fast), but meh, I could be wrong.

  2. Anonymous said:

    I hope you’ll continue sharing your HONEST take on things. I know it’s not always easy when people bring their experiences to the mix. Some might misinterpret the intent of your post. But I also enjoy reading the comments section with its variety of responses.

  3. MeganRebekah said:

    I read yesterday’s post and understood the point you were making, so I don’t believe you presented it improperly.

    Like you mentioned here, it’s so hard to realize how people will interpret your words. I often feel the need to put disclaimers on some posts stressing the fact that I’m not passing judgment by discussing a certain topic. Some people will always just see what they want to see.

  4. Anonymous said:

    Editors are notoriously slow in the summer, not counting the month of August where nobody sends anybody anything. But come fall, editors have to get back inot the swing of it in the fall, which means they are sending rejects to agented writers.

    Most writers are not going to jump ship on an agent if they still have subs out. Even though they want to. Even though its been a year in coming. Even though they can’t stand the agent anymore. So, in the fall, when all those delayed rejects (from summer) start coming in, then the writer is free to do what they’d already been contemplating for a year — dumping the agent.

    In my case I dumped an agent even though there were subs still out, because after she gave up on a previous book with hardly any subs, and spent five months dicking around on a new book before sending it, and then failed to even status query the subs after another five months, I simply didn’t give a crap anymore.

  5. Tina Lynn said:

    And here we come back to a previous post. One shouldn’t enter into an agent/client relationship because they say they want to represent them. They need to want more. One shouldn’t settle. If the agent/client relationship has no good rapport, enthusiastic for the author’s work or no, does one really want to spend years working with that person? It may be through no fault on either part, but one should at least like the person that is representing their work.

  6. Rebecca Knight said:

    I totally agree w/ Tina above :). This is another great illustration of why we newbie writers need to be cautious and career-minded, not just jumping on the first chance that comes along.

    I found yesterday’s post really interesting and definitely knew you weren’t passing judgement–only advising caution. In a field where we’re a) very emotionally invested, and b) waiting forever even in the good times, we all need to be reminded that patience and caution are things we can’t take for granted.

  7. Annie Jones said:

    No, no. no! NO Midwestern girl guilt allowed (coming from a southern girl who doesn’t wholly grasp the guilt thing anyway). The whole reason anyone writes ANYTHING is to communicate an idea and get people thinking, talking, moving, feeling. Success! It’s obviously something writers are curious about and have strong opinions on. Wonderful back and forth and now we all know something more than we did yesterday, especially the stunning amount of midlisters on the agent hunt right now.

  8. NiteOwl said:

    Maybe the increase of received queries you’re being flooded with is simply a compliment. Writers, whether midlist, seasoned or newbie are witnessing releases flying off the shelves almost as soon as they’re unloaded from their boxes! Whose name stands out loud and proud in the acknowledgements on the pages of these best selling list climbers? Yours, of course. You are praised for believing and having enthusiasm like no other. (I’m surprised you’ve only received ten queries as of last week!) Just my opinion…but I definitely think its a compliment to you!

  9. Anonymous said:

    I wonder what your take is on authors who’re thinking of switching agents for other reasons? My agent has done quite well for me, gotten me three multi-book deals (the latest well into the 6 figures per book), at a major house. So I feel deeply indebted to her; she’s done so well for me. But I find myself really wishing for help she’s not able to give me, namely a good review of my manuscripts and proposals before I send them to my editor.

    Typically, she’ll offer just a couple of (very minor) suggestions. My editor then comes back requesting huge revisions, all of which I’m sure I would’ve realized if I’d just had more distance from my manuscript.

    It’s not that my agent refuses to give more detailed, comprehensive comments, it’s just that her talents lie in other areas, and I don’t know that she’s able to see what needs to be changed. (I’ve heard of agents actually doing line edits, which I’d love but really I’d be almost as happy to just get conceptual suggestions.) The main issue now is that I’m worried about my editor thinking less of me, after having wasted her time reading so many proposals she rejected (for very legitimate reasons) or catching issues someone else probably should’ve caught first. Do you think that’s a legitimate reason to switch agents? And if so, what would be the best, non-hurtful reasons to give her for switching? We really do have a great relationship/friendship, and I’d hate for her to be hurt by this…Thanks for any insight you can give…

  10. Anonymous said:

    I really appreciate that you leave your comments open to anonymous commenters. The blogging agents who don’t get comments mostly from butt-kissers and other unpublished writers who think that publication means nothing but rainbows and roses.

  11. Philangelus said:

    I’m currently looking for a new agent because my previous agent closed up shop with no warning, making no provisions for existing clients.

    It might appear that I’m switching agents, but in reality, I have no choice. Is that something I mention in my query letter? No. I figure most agents will ask for details when they request further material. But you’re making me wonder whether I should make it clearer that I’m not currently represented and it’s not by choice.

  12. Anonymous said:

    Anon, 12:35. This is a perfect example of how one agent is wonderful for one client and disastrous for the next. I would die before I signed with an agent who edited my work in the way you want. I want my revisions from my editor because I only want to do them once. But that doesn’t mean your way isn’t valid! I can totally see why you are looking for that kind of relationship. It’s what YOU need. And that’s valid and fair.

    However, if the agent is working well for you on all other points…have you considered hiring a freelance editor instead? There are quite a few who are legitimate and well-thought of in the industry…and I’m betting your agent might be able to suggest a few names.

  13. Anonymous said:

    Anon 3:45–Good point, I guess I could hire an editor. But why pay money when some agents will do it for their clients for free?

    I understand your viewpoint completely, but I guess my biggest concern is that there are issues I could catch and fix early on in the process, if my agent looked at the first several chapters and saw I was going on the wrong track. As it is, I’ve made major missteps that don’t get caught until the manuscript is complete, which wastes a lot of time, and means I need to do the major revisions under a super-tight deadline.

    Maybe I’m unique in making so many missteps. 🙂 But my agent typically just tells me she loves the writing, which inevitably leads to huge disappointment and panic when I get my first revisions letter. (Note that this hasn’t happened with all my novels, but unfortunately it has for the last two.)

    Sorry for getting so off-topic…

  14. Anonymous said:

    Okay…then what about critique partners or a beta reader? There are lots of ways to catch errors for free. I just would never, ever consider firing my super-wonderful, business-savvy, getting me 6 figure deals agent because they don’t edit! That’s not her job. Even mine will if I specifically ask, but and some agents are fabulous editors…but it’s still not her job. She’s doing her job really well.

    I would just suggest (btw, I’ve sold over 30 books to three major publishers, so I’ve been around awhile) that you try other options first! Good luck!

  15. Cait London said:

    After 23 years in publishing and networking forever with published writers: Because it is such a pain in our patootee, most writers do not change easily or quickly. Most hold on with their fingertips long after the relationship has gone really wrong. They debate, weigh and network energetically. It is not easy, nor an easy task to change agents. It’s work and hard selection, and usually only after prolonging decision do they commit to leave. Only a few are lucky enough to remain and have confidence in, and grow with an original agent.

  16. LLR said:

    Cait, that is my observation, too, as well as my personal experience. Authors think long and hard (indeed, AGONIZE long and hard) before leaving an agent. Typically, the process takes about two years. Also typically, most writers realize after leaving that (a) it was the right decision and (b) they should have done it sooner (but making that decision is a PROCESS, and it’s a s-l-o-w one for most of us).

    Also, anyone who’s a pro knows what a tiring, time-consuming chore it is to look for the next agent, and a lot of writers keep hoping the current agent will shape up so they won’t HAVE to go look for the next one.

    However, Kristin seeing a high number of queries from pros is hardly surprising. Just about any agent who’s breathing is seeing an unusually high number of queries from pros these days. It’s a sign of the times and of the rough market. A lot of writers are out of work, a lot of writers have been dumped by their agents (and aren’t silly enough to say so in their queries to other agents), and a lot of writers’ agents have neglected and ignored them to such an extent that they’ve had no choice but to leave and look for someone more on the ball.

    Writers v-e-r-y rarely leave an agent for vague reasons of dissatisfaction. Leaving an agent and looking for a new one is such a big pain in the butt, the motivation has to be very strong. Such as, oh, for example, discovering that while your agent is telling you that no one is interested in your work, your editor has left three unreturned messages on the agent’s answering machine asking to see your next manuscript. THAT is an example of why writers leave agents.

  17. LLR said:

    Additonally, the state of the publishing industry has been SO tough, especially since the economy collapsed, that writers have not been leaving agents for the past year unless they’ve got no other choice.

    Unless a professional writer has been chained to the floor of an underwater cave since last fall, she’s well aware of the problems in the publishing industry that Kristin’s recent blog cites. A writer would have to be in a coma now to know just how bad things are in publishing these days.

    And NO ONE =wants= to go agent hunting when the market is like this. Writers who are agent hunting now are doing so because the circumstance was realistically unavoidable, not because they relish the idea of switching agents in this climate.

  18. Cam Snow said:

    LLR – just curious, but what do you mean by “out of work” when referring to writers? Do you mean not having any books under contract/under revision etc? Just curious. It just sounds funny (not funny in a haha sort of way)since I have always just assumed most “professional” writers as being being either always working (unless blocked) or always unemployed (depending on your POV).

  19. LLR said:

    Yes, when I say “out of work,” I mean not under contract–without a publisher, that is. Not earning.

    Note: This is different than the typical delay of several months between contracts after finishing out a contract and before negotiating the next one. There’s usually a time lag there while the editor reads and approves the delivered MS, looks at the new proposal, then puts together an offer. The whole process can take several months. That’s business-as-usual and, though not under contract in that phase, the writer is not out of work. If the publisher decides NOT to make a new offer and the writer has no other contracts at other houses to keep her earning, THEN she’s out of work.

  20. Philangelus said:

    Kristin, I was wondering: have you ever seen an author’s career stuck and thought, “The agent should have gotten them a better deal than that” or something like, “If I were So-and-so’s agent, I would have done things differently”?

  21. Cam Snow said:

    Thanks LLR,
    I’ve always been curious about how authors have viewed “working” vs. “not working” and that the explanation I was hoping for.

    Does anyone have an idea how many authors change agents after their first novel? One thing I’ve noticed is that un-agented authors are often so desperate to become agented that they jump at the first chance of representation. Any thoughts?

  22. Anonymous said:

    I’m one of the mid-listers who’ve queried you. I guess what it comes down to for me is that I know the market is terrible right now. I also know my YA agent has not managed to sell one of my four YAs into the American market over the past three years. It might be him. It might be me. It might be me and him. It might be the market and both of us. But there’s one thing I can change in all of this — him. And he gets that, which is why it all ended amicably.

  23. Allison Brennan said:

    I know of an author who regretted leaving her agent and ultimately went back to her first agent; I know authors who felt leaving was the best thing they could do. I’ve seen the midlist authors leaving and I think it’s probably, in most of the situations I’ve seen, both the agent and author’s “fault” (for lack of a better word.) The business is tough right now; those of us who make our livelihood writing are nervous even if we’ve been doing pretty well. It’s a challenging time. Those who are on the cusp are even more challenged, and some agents are feeling the pressure to not just place new authors, but rebuilding careers; moving housings which is sometimes like handling a new author (and far more difficult and complex unless the author is a strong seller); several situations I’ve seen are where the author is branching into a new genre (such as YA) and the agent isn’t enthusiastic or as knowledgeable about the new genre. Agents are pressured, and they pass that on to authors who may (justifiably or not) feel slighted if the enthusiasm isn’t there. It’s tough for every author, no matter where they are on the food chain; it’s tough for agents who are fighting harder–often for less; it’s tough on editors who love a book/author and have an uphill battle in-house. When times are good, few people seriously consider rocking the boat (leaving houses, changing agents) unless it’s egregious or personal. When times are bad, change is often looked at as the solution. I’m not saying it is the solution, but I understand why it’s happening.

  24. Same Agent, Different Day said:

    I don’t see why the uptick in the fall is so mysterious. Early in the year, we hear, “Oh, things are slow right now. Everyone’s at Bologna. Everyone’s at London. Everyone’s at ALA.” So we wait. It’s hard to tell if the problem is the book, the agent, or the author when nobody’s replying to submissions.

    Then spring is over, and we start to hear, “Oh, they’re working short weeks. Everyone’s at BEA. Everyone’s at SCBWI. Everyone’s on vacation, nothing happens in the summer. It’s just slow right now.” So we wait. Because it’s still impossible to tell if it’s the book, the author, or the agent.

    Then summer ends and submissions go out. August, September, October- everybody’s actively working. And by the end of October, it’s pretty clear if the agent you already had doubts about is going to sell the book you thought twice about showing to him at all. You can tell if the agent has stopped answering your mail and is avoiding your calls. You can see if the agent isn’t reading your pages or is giving up on your book. It’s not until fall that you can figure out whether it’s the book, the author or the agent.

    (You can also look at your rejection letters and say, well, nobody wants to buy a steampunk thriller about cabbages, it’s the book- I need to write a new one. But since nobody’s changing anything, you don’t get to see the author realizing it’s the author or the book.)

    So you suck it up, knowing that soon it will be Frankfurt, Holidays, SCBWI, ALA Midwinter and nobody will be at work again, and you fire your agent and start looking anew. I don’t know a single author who has left their agent prematurely. In fact, I know several people who should have left their agents long ago, but they’re afraid to. Horrible bird in the hand, and all that.

    Big mystery solved.

  25. Liesl said:

    Well the first post made sense to me, but then I’m not agented nor am I actively looking so I guess it’s not personal yet. However I’m glad to be reading things like this, because the more I read about agent/writer relationships the more careful I want to be about seeking representation in the first place.

  26. ann foxlee said:

    Ha! Thanks Annie Jones! I totally agree! Kristin did a great job bringing up an interesting topic, straight from the front lines, and there’s no need for midwestern guilt.

    Of course, this is coming from another midwestern girl who got such a bad case of guilt after my post that I had to write another to make sure no one took offense and to assure readers that I understood both sides of the issue, lol.
    Sigh.. you can take the girl out of the midwest…

  27. rick said:

    I am an author and currently love my agent. For my first book, I had a great relationship with an agent. He taught me a lot. But even though the book was a bestseller, it was hard to get him enthusiastic about my next book (The Leap, which was just released). I don’t think he got the message of it. So I switched to someone much more enthusiastic. We got 11 offers on it, and it hit the Wall Street Journal bestseller list it’s first week out.

    As an agent, you have to balance telling it like it is, with encouragement for the next project. The money for authors is basically going away – so the Love is increasingly important!

    Rick Smith
    The Leap