Avoiding Dysfunctional Agents

Dear Miss Snark:

Does membership in the AAR provide any sort of guarantee that the agent isn't dysfunctional? Off in my world, belonging to the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America is nice, but it's no guarantee that the bookseller has a lick of sense. So, aside from asking for their sales record, checking to see that they subscribe to the AAR code of ethics, and perusing their web site to confirm that there is no obvious idiocy, is there a way to tell if an agent is an idiot? Or, must one learn from sorry and hard experience?

I've already had one "idiot" experience and one experience with a guy on Ann and Victoria's "bad boy" list. I'd like to avoid a repeat. What, oh great and wise Agent, must I do to keep out of the clutches of the dysfunctional?

It's like anything else. Talk to them. Talk to people who work with them. Talk to their clients. Make sure you have an escape clause in your contract.

Yes, we all have bad days. Yes, there are days when I'd like to set a flaming bag of dog poop on client's front doors, as they would mine.

Generally however, when asked about me, my clients will say: 1. she gets back to me promptly when I ask her questions; 2. she answers my questions without making me feel like a dork; 3. she works hard; and 4. I like her. (I know this cause I see the emails sometimes)

Editors will say I'm straightforward, and I do what I say I will.

People at the dog run will tell you I talk on the phone too much and have been known to surreptitiously collect dog poop while chanting what sounds like people's names.

Yes, there are people who have agents they don't like it's true. But I think it's a pretty good measure of dysfunction whether people like to work with you. Really though, like dating and dogs, the only way to know is to run around the reservoir with one on a leash and see how it turns out.


Anonymous said...

I had a near miss on an inept/lazy agent some 18 years back, though he did do me a favor. When he said I was a good writer but unpublishable (he was looking for an easy sale) I was goaded into rewriting my MS just ONE more time. Some months later this was the version that sold. (Agent-free, off the slush pile, a 6-book contract. I hope he knows what he passed up.)

I later placed with a decent if flawed agent, then traded up to the wonderful person who is busy making us both money. I found both by writing to other writers and asking who repped for them.

Check the websites of writers whose work is similar to your own and ask. Most will have a contact address, and most writers don't mind sharing so long as you don't expect them to recommend your work. That has to stand on its own.

Good luck!

Bella Stander said...

Easier still, check the acknowledgements page of their books. Any decent author thanks his/her agent. Easiest of all, subscribe to PublishersMarketplace.com & search the "who represents" feature.

Anonymous said...

AAR membership means the agent has sold some books, is willing to pay dues, and CLAIMS that they will abide by the AAR canon of ethics.

That's it. Some of them are complete nutjobs. And some don't really stick to the canon of ethics. For example, one well-known AAR agent was charging 'express reading fees' to get your manuscript read quicker. When confronted over this behavior, he simply dropped the practice.

(The agent also later dropped out of AAR. He now spends a great deal of time over on a writing forum lobbying for a return to reading fees in the industry.)

Qpdaj said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Qpdaj said...

"Really though, like dating and dogs, the only way to know is to run around the reservoir with one on a leash and see how it turns out."

Excellent advice. I'm adding this to my online dating profile: "must be willing to wear a leash and run around the reservoir with me!"