Dear Miss Snark,
About four years ago, when trying to market my first novel, I had a stroke of beginner's luck and was able to land a two-book deal on my own. Around this time, an agent approached me and offered to help me pitch my next proposal to my publisher, as I was coming up on contract renegotiations. According to my agent, my publisher said the novel was too dark for their line. My agent advised me to finish the complete book and said she'd pitch it to other houses once the novel was complete.
A year later, I submitted the novel to my agent. She gushed about how much she loved the book, and said it was on its way to an editor at Random House and two editors at Warner. Two months later, I found out she had only sent it to the Random House editor and had only PLANNED on pitching to the Warner editors.
Once I emailed her to check on the status of the manuscript, she went ahead and queried the two Warner imprints. Essentially (to make a long story short) nine months passed, and in those nine months, she only submitted the novel to a total of five editors. Whenever I emailed her, she'd make me wait a week, sometimes up to two weeks, for a response, and would be as vague as possible about the status of the project. Finally, after submitting the book to five editors, she came to me and said I would either have to table the book or revise it extensively. I wondered why she hadn't provided editorial advice before this. I took the book back and began revising it.
Meanwhile, I began to focus my efforts on two brand new proposals, each with a more commercial concept than the "dark" novel that needed revising. I told my agent about them and she said these would be ideal for my former publisher. She also said they were so highly appealing and commercial she'd be happy to pitch them elsewhere if my publisher passed.
Well, my publisher did pass, and now my agent has absolutely refused to market these proposals elsewhere. She says my chances of selling on proposal are impossible since I am not a New York Times bestseller. She is also beginning to rub my nose in the fact that she has never made money off of me. I could turn around and say the same to her, but she has turned this into a power struggle, making it seem as if I am lucky to have her and without her, would have no guidance whatsoever in this brutal business.
All I know is that before her, I felt like an up and comer. And now, I have one big unrevised mess of a novel sitting before me, along with two promising proposals that will never see the light of day, unless I finish the complete firsts, which will keep me out of the game even longer. She has advised me to switch to another genre entirely, so I am now working on a NEW novel.
Miss Snark, when an agent is continuously contradicting herself, refusing to market your work, and putting a negative spin on everything you write.... is it better to have no agent at all? I might add that she is with a "reputable" firm and has had some legitimate sales, so I know she isn't a "quack." Still, I have written documentation to back up everything I have said. What would you advise?
If an agent starts telling you how lucky you are to have her, it's time to bail. Seriously.
Much like when a lover tells you how lucky you are to be with him/her...you know they have a pretty one-sided view of what should be a two-sided relationship.
My clients like me most of the time. They are lucky to have me, ya ya ya. The real truth is: I'm lucky to have them even more.
They are bright, creative, and very very talented people who work very hard to achieve success in a very competitive world. I have the utmost respect for them. I add value to their work, but it is THEIR work that feeds us both (not to mention the dog!)
If I can't sell their work, it's not their fault.
Let me repeat that: it's NOT THEIR FAULT.
There are couple things I don't understand in what your agent told you: why she's only submitting to so few editors (and two at Warner at the same time?). Most of the submissions I do involve 10+ editors and for solidly commercial stuff, I can cough up 25 names before I break a sweat. That's not to say you send all 25 out on Day 1, but I don't begin to think about slowing down till I've seen 25 no's. And this is not cause I'm sort of Ramboesque never-quit agent. It's cause I like to sell..and make money. I'm at a complete loss to think of how an agent can stay in business if she's not trying to move those projects into the sold column.
The idea you have to wait longer than five seconds for a list of where your work has been is a huge red flag to me. Five seconds after she opens the email of course, not five seconds after you send it. Almost every agent I know can tell you pretty quickly where things are and what the status is. With six clicks I can send you an attachment that has my entire call sheet for the project (complete with "this sux" comments if you really insist on seeing those).
The only time it might take me longer is if I'm in the middle of working on your stuff and haven't updated the call sheet that day. Maximum turn around time then is 24 hours.
This is not some sort of feat of extrordinary organization and precision march agenting. This is NORMAL. Every agent worth his/her salt can do this and does, and doesn't even think about it.
The ones who can't are lazy, disorganized, or AREN'T WORKING.
You are not some sort of flotsam or jetsam on the tide of human indifference. She's an agent, she's not God. She's treating you like crap. Tell her to stop, or tell her goodbye.