When are you actually a client?

Dear Miss Snark,

Some months ago a friend put me in touch with his agent. She read my novel (literary fiction), liked it, said she wanted to represent me. Given her profile, and what I knew about from my friend's experience (whose work it took some time to sell, but she persisted and got him a nice two-book deal), I was happy to have her on board and decided to forego the all-out agent search, a process I'd been dreading.

I revised the manuscript and sent it back about 4 months after our initial contact. After that, several emails I sent went unanswered, and on the chance they were getting blocked by an overzealous spam filter, I finally sent a fax, very politely inquiring about the status of my ms, and asking her to simply let me know if her interest in the book had waned since our earlier contact, since I would in that case need to seek representation elsewhere.

I received a prompt email reply, apologizing (not too profusely, it must be said); the ms had been on someone else's desk, she had read it, likes what I've done, thinks it's ready to go, and she attached the agency agreement (which I haven't returned yet).

We did have one phone conversation, but unfortunately I was not in good form and did not ask as many questions as I should have.

Basically I'm becoming increasingly uncomfortable with our interactions, and am contemplating looking elsewhere. I'm hoping you can tell me where I stand.


--Must I tell Agent A that I've decided to seek representation elsewhere before contacting other agents?

--Must I tell other potential agents about the situation with Agent A, and if so, do I name Agent A (note that no submissions have been made)?

I'm torn about this. Agent A has a fine reputation, and did good work for my friend. She has a huge client list, I know, and I'm afraid this means she takes on lots and lots of projects but maybe doesn't sell so many. I know it means she won't have time to do a lot of hand holding, which is actually okay with me, but I'm also afraid it's going to mean unanswered emails/phone calls when I have questions or things I want to discuss. Most of all, of course, Agent A wants to represent me, and there's not telling whether Agents B-Z (and beyond) will. In fact, during the long period of not hearing from Agent A, I did approach Agent B (who I met and so was able to avoid a messy query process), who turned me down. One rejection, I know, but it gives me the jitters. Thanks for all the good advice.

Ok, let's start with some basics. "Hand holding" is not how one describes answering emails from clients. As everyone who reads this blog knows, I'm as distant as they come, but even I respond to emails from clients or potential clients (ie those I've read and expressed interest in representing) and I don't lose manuscripts for four months.

Second, you have an offer, but you don't have acceptance so technically no contract exists between you. Thus you don't have to tell anyone else you query about Agent Absentminded.

I understand your loathing for the agent querying process. The only person who loathes it more than you is I. However, like caterpillars and cocoons, querying serves a purpose beyond the obvious.

You KNOW what you're getting into if you sign with A; no sympathy from me in six months if you feel slighted, undervalued and unappreciated. The only thing that takes the sting out of that is a big fat sale which it sounds like she can do.

I'm not going to tell you what to do but I am going to tell you to pay attention to what you're seeing. A stands for Absentminded, not Anomaly.


kathie said...

Go with your gut. If you think this woman can sell you and you feel okay not being first on her list, then go with her. I have to wonder where'd you find an agent who caters to you (anyone). I understand completely that you want someone reliable. If your gut says no, try someone else. Seems like such a crap-shoot.

kathie said...

ARRRGH! I just re-read my comment above...bad typos!! Sorry.

Lynn said...

In my opinion, it is so damn hard to find an agent in the first place that you really ought to stick with Agent A. I've had two agents already who did absolutely nothing, but they also did not have any really big sales to keep me hanging around. I'm searching again, and, believe me, if I had Agent A in my corner, I'd stick with it and just send more e-mail.

Lady M said...

Why would one stay with Agent A?

Because Agent A has had sales in the past?

I realize I am new at this whole scenario about agents, etc. But my goal is to have one agent represent me through my entire career and on my deathbed to get the best offer for my memoirs for my estate sales!

I do know that if an agent who said they wanted something from me, started ignoring me - or never returned my calls, I'd begin to wonder what the issue was.

I prefer frank, honest truth, such as:

"I hated your writing, but the story line was great... I can't represent it unless you do this or that."


"Hey, I haven't gotten around to it, but I will get to it in about 2 weeks. Email me back and I'll let you know."


"My father passed away last year and I still haven't gotten over it, give me a few months to get refocused."


"I've been overwhelmed and I totally forgot about your book. I'm sorry, I'll get right on it when the mood strikes."

But to me, avoidance of an author speaks more volumes than anything else. I think I would look elsewhere and take the hint - or I would ask in a basic email or letter:

Dear Agent A:
Hi there!

Hope all is well and that you've thought of me. I haven't heard from you in awhile - perhaps you're extremely busy?

But could you please let me know where we stand?

If you're too busy for me, I'll understand completely. If my writing is something you don't feel you could represent, that's o.k. too.

I just feel as though I am in the dark right now, on indefinite hold... and I'm ready to get moving, if you're still interested, please, just let me know.

Thanks -


The agent works for you - by getting you good deals - so that you can supplement their wealth.

It is what they do.

You work for the agent because you want your agent to work for you.

It's a win-win proposition...

Or at least it should be.

Shouldn't it?

Lady M

Anonymous said...

"The agent works for you - by getting you good deals - so that you can supplement their wealth."

That is such a crock of shit. If agents worked FOR you, they would put you under retainer like any good attorney, accountant, or publicist.

And to think agents are in this business "so that you can supplement their wealth"? As if all agents are wealthy to start with, and peddling your work is akin to taking vitamins with every full course meal. Get real, wannabe writer, if you really want to be represented some day.

Greta LaGarbeaux said...

Anonymous, I am confused about what you are trying to say.

A) Attorneys, accountants and publicists do not necessarily work on retainer. They may charge work-for-hire fees, usually hourly -- so much to draw up a will, so much to do the taxes, etc. -- or may work for a percentage of the relevant money, just like agents. A lawyer who executes an estate or runs a civil suit usually is paid a percentage of the estate or the amount awarded in the action at hand. Or a show-biz lawyer may get a percentage of a client's earnings for whatever projects the lawyer sets up. A retainer -- that is a flat fee to be on call for fill-in-the-blank work for x amount of time -- is not by any means a universal standard.


B) The attorney/accountant/publicist doesn't put YOU under retainer; you put HIM or HER under retainer.


C) "Wealth" doesn't have to mean "big wealth." It can -- and in this context does, I would say -- mean "whatever you have." Agents DO work for you, by selling your writings, and DO benefit themselves by taking a percentage of the sale price. What's unreal about that?

Anonymous said...


By "put you under retainer" I meant simply "to charge a fee in advance to retain the services" -- I did not mean to imply that lawyers are the ones who retain such services.

The point is that as long as wannabe writers treat agents like second-class workers there to serve them, instead of as their equals -- partners, even -- then agents and writers will never be on the same team. Agents are meant to be your advocates, not your whipping boys or whipper snappers. Flippant comments about how agents work "for" you (why not "with" or "on behalf of"?) and how you "supplement their wealth" certainly don't help. An important part of what defines a good writer is his word choices. Be careful (and respectful) when choosing your words to describe agents -- that's all I'm saying.