5.02.2006

Lazy ass agents...again

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.

21 comments:

Sam said...

Your mention of a call sheet intrigues me. Is that the sort of thing an agent sends to her author after she's sent the book out? Is it a good idea to ask to see it? How long should an author wait to ask to see a call sheet?
Thank you!

Renee Luke said...

Wow, sounds exactly like an agent I had.

I fired her.

Anonymous said...

Three months ago my agent (he has made big sales listed in PM) told me he was sending my manuscript out to one exec. editor at one of the big houses in NY. Also, that he was taking the book to one of the big book fairs. I e-mailed him two weeks ago asking if he had heard anything and perhaps had he sent the manuscript elsewhere. Since the book is in a series, I let him know I was 3/4 way through the second book. Nada.
I have received no response at all. I am a litttle nervous, like most writers, that I did something untoward (it seems writers are always worried about pissing off their agents) but he did take time to edit my manuscript and work with me on revisions/rewrite over a two months period. Maybe he is super, super busy and I'm just have writitis (actually there's this rash). I know I need to write and let him do his work, but as to Miss Snark's comment about just a note to an author...god, just a note!!!

Anonymous said...

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.

Perhaps I'm being dense here, but if you land a 2-book deal, then how can the agent say it needs revision. The publisher already accepted it and you called in the agent for the contract side of things, not the writing. Of course, they're going to reject a rewrite. They didn't ask for one.

Anonymous said...

anon above: I'm not the writer of the post, but I think the words "offered to help me pitch my next proposal" will solve your dilemma - "my next proposal" being the operative words.

and, Miss Snark:

Thank you for once again allowing anonymous comments on the blog. I have been reading and commenting here since late January and was quite crestfallen when I realized that I would have to get a Blogger ID to post. Though I continue to read the blog every day I've missed throwing in my two cents worth, since there is no way that I would get a Blogger ID [a 'special' anonymous ID] to post comments here like others have done.

I like the symmetry of posting anonymously to an anonymous agent. So no more capricious cutting off of us anony-mice, s'il vous plait.

Merci beaucoup.

Anonymous said...

My agent won't tell me where my book has been, who has it now, or what the hell is going on. He is AAR with many sales on PM. I should leave him, but for who? I don't know who to query. I thought he would be great and nope. I wish there was a website out there that listed agents and whether or not they reply to their authors, share info with their authors when asked, etc. Because I don't want to sever with him, go through six months of hell trying to get a new agent, and then end up with another one just like him. There's no way to know!

lizzie26 said...

In response to "anonymous" with the French words, I'm still anonymous, even though I have a blogger ID. lizzie is most definitely not my real name, just like Miss Snark is (hopefully) not her real name. Right???!!

Anonymous said...

I've noticed this pattern over and over again when talking with other writers--an agent, even a very reputable agent, who starts off enthusiastic, but then, when the first three or six submissions don't generate quick interest, the enthusiasm wanes, and the agent becomes evasive about where (meaning whether) they've sent the book out. As if the agent wants you as a client if they can sell your work easily, but don't believe in that work to put their reputation on the line by continuing to push it for you.

Of course, the book could suck in the agent's eyes--but in that case, the obligation is to have that discussion before the book goes out at all, not only after the markets the agent hoped would be easy sells have been tried.

Anonymous said...

Hey lizzie, french-word anon here. You underscore my point. It makes no sense to me that anonymous comments should be blocked when a Blogger ID can be equally anonymous. I won't get a Blogger ID just to comment on a blog. Makes no sense to me... I'm weird that way.

If anonymous comments aren't allowed I simply won't comment. I enjoy being allowed to participate here, but not enough to jump through hoops.

Anonymous said...

The word "agent" implies one working on another's behalf. They are your representative. As such, they should tell you where your project has been.
At the beginning of a relationship, that's one of the things that should be settled: how much info, and when shared?
My agent tells me where a ms is going, and if it comes back, sends a copy of the rejection note. Some may be nothing but "no thanks," but I get a copy nevertheless.

Anonymous said...

Yes, ditto on being able to comment 'anonymously'. I'd stopped commenting because I'm ready to sign up for a blog account, as I certainly could pick a name which would maintain my anonymity. I just didn't want to be forced to establish a blog account.

I've noticed it too about agents being all hot-to-trot and then suddenly falling to absolute zero in terms of the author's projects. It's too bad, but I guess it's not all that uncommon.

To anonymous whose agent won't tell him where he sent the partials and/or fulls--my guess is you're probably better off finding someone else, and when you do get another agent, tell that agent about this other one. Maybe the new agent could ferret out that info? Anyway, good luck.

anon-y-mouse

Anonymous said...

There is an old saying: A bad agent is worse than no agent. I've had a bad agent more than once. One even asked me to revise, then never sent the project out, because it wasn't right for him, not my best work, etc. The worse thing about it is that it can take you years to recover your stride when dealing with bad agents.

Several books later, I have a new agent, who actually calls me, returns my e-mails, and tells me what he's doing.

The best thing to do is to go to a few conferences, talk to some agents in person, talk to their clients, former and current, get a feel for them, and move on.

But be aware that if any time has passed, or you are switching genres, you may just have to finish that next manuscript completely. That may not be a bad thing. An editor might be hungry for a completed work to fill in a slot somewhere.

lizzie26 said...

Hey, french-word anon! Think of it this way: there are too many "anonymous'" and I just can't figure out who is who. So, I'm lizzie. I was tired of being just plain ol' anonymous. You can be "french-word anon" ! (He,he.) I think I'll go have more--schnapps.

Anonymous said...

You guys are scaring me with the I-signed-with-a-legit-agent-and-now-he's-ignoring-me stuff! I just signed with an experienced agent at a big NY agency. I know my ms has been sent out to six houses. She gave me a list and promised to send me any rejections.

Based on all the horror stories I've heard here and from other writers, I'm expecting my agent to eventually lose interest and start treating me like a pile of pencil shavings.

McKoala said...

That agent sounds like a hag.

A blogger id is no problem. I turned into McK so I could keep posting here after an earlier purge of anonymice. I don't blog; I just comment. It's handy, and hey, it's not my real name. Oh, did you think...sorry.

Info for Mac people though - Mac Explorer didn't show the right commands to sign on - not a problem either, I just signed up with Safari and then went right back to Explorer. Although I'm thinking of going all Safara 'cos Explorer keeps crashing on me, but that's a whole other story...

Anonymous said...

Lordy laws. I just signed with an agent today (NY, very good agency, and it seems like we've clicked). He's very enthusiastic about my book. I'm very enthusiastic about his reputation. It seems as though he's going to do everything to make me a happy (paid) writer.

THIS IS WHY I SHOULDN'T READ THIS BLOG BEFORE BED. Now I'm all freaked out.

Anonymous said...

Your fired. Comes to mind as a reasonable means of taking care of the problem.

kim reid said...

Communication is a topic that should be discussed during the agent interview. Yes, when an agent offers, it's okay, recommended even, to ask questions. I like that my agent communicates everything with me - I requested that. Miss Snark, much as I love her style, would make me crazy as my agent because she works on a need-to-know basis, I have friends who would love that set-up. Those of you who just signed on, have a talk now about how you'll work together, lest mis/non communication festers into something ugly.

Mary Akers said...

What a fantastic response, Miss Snark. Thank you!

Catja (green_knight) said...

I just found the website of an agent who thinks that thirteen sales in five years are above average for a new agent.

FWIW, I think she's legit - no reading fees, no scam I can see - but I really really wonder how she can make a living, particularly as one of the higher-profiled clients she had has sadly died.

Anonymous said...

Fair nuff, Lizzie. I'll probably do the same some day [get a Blogger ID]. But it'll be when I want to, not because I feel I'm being chivvied to.

"THIS IS WHY I SHOULDN'T READ THIS BLOG BEFORE BED. Now I'm all freaked out..."

DITTO. I'm so full of confidence in my brand new agent, then I read all these horror stories and the doubts begin to seep in... Avaunt and away, ye pernicious doubts!