Parting company with an agent

O, most munificent, o heaven's gleaming ray, Miss Snark,

Agent X and I had a fantastic first six months together editing and re-editing and polishing my novel. We wrote or talked almost every single day. X was excited, I was excited, and then the manuscript went out. We went from muy caliente to meh after I refused to do a third uncontracted rewrite for a specific editor. I did the first cheerfully, the second grudgingly, and refused the third because no offer had materialized and I was fairly certain one wouldn't.

After that, X shopped the novel to a few other editors, and the first editor rejected it, but said she'd be willing to read it again if I went another direction. She didn't ask for a minor tweak- think "I like the characters, but could they be hired assasins on a secret mission instead of kindergarten teachers trying to start a union?"- but Agent X was hot for me to rewrite again. I refused.

And now, I think I'm getting dumped by the Silent Withdrawal method mentioned in your blog a few days ago- long silences (almost two months, now, more than a month last time) from X's side, and no reply to a single status query e-mail in over a week. Rather than sit and cry about it, I feel like I should make the break official by writing the termination letter specified in our contract, but I don't know what to say. I really value all the hard work X put into the pre-submission editing of the novel. It was a lot of thought and consideration for no compensation, and it made my novel so much better. Besides that, I'm uncertain about everything- maybe this is standard operating procedure? Maybe my expectations are too high? Maybe I should have done more rewrites?

So I guess I'm asking two questions: it's the right time to break up, right? And since I suspect it is, what do I say? What would you expect to see from one of your clients, if one of them were foolheaded enough to abandon you just prior to drowning herself in the Hudson River? (Where else could one go after Miss Snark, after all?)

Many thanks and sirloin niblets for KY

I find this fascinating. Your agent is all hot and excited during editing but when it comes time to actually buckle down and sell this puppy, after six attempts, s/he loses interest? How does this agent earn a living?

I like sitting around talking about plot points as much as the next person but it doesn't put sirloin on the poodle snout.

My colleagues and I talk about this syndrome a lot and a very smart friend of mine said "editing isn't agenting". I have to remind myself of this almost every day cause the lure of editing is it feels like work, and it feels like getting things done and it is those things for you but it's not for me.

It sounds like your agent loves editing and doesn't much like the suck it up and sell it part. Dog knows there are decades I feel the same way.

First thing is, you must call her up and say "hey, what's the 411 on this". Don't ask if she's lost enthusiasm. Ask specifically what her plan is. If she doesn't have one, that's a major clue that she's not going to be shopping this around much.

If you do send a termination notice, don't try to soften the blow. She's going to be unhappy cause she put in a lot of time. That's not your responsibility. You simply say that you've come to a parting of ways, her work is appreciated, and thank you very much for her effort.


Maria said...

Writers talk about this all the time--it happens a lot. Many agents ask for rewrites--they want to know that you're willing to do them. From talking to writers that have done them, the agents often have good ideas. The problem is that no one is making any money and the writer can end up doing 3 or 4--before the thing is shopped around.

Of course, the agent isn't going to take the manuscript without the rewrites. The editor isn't either. You either suck it all up or you don't get published (at least by that pair of agent/editors.)

No matter which editor finally looks at it seriously, that person is going to want changes. Maybe not the big changes, but changes.

When you find a new agent--that person will likely have a few changes he/she wants also--so when you get to a new agent, make sure you take a clean attitude with you. Get your open mind back out and roll with the punches.

Anonymous said...

I love my editor. So, I asked her one day, "Why don't you become an agent? You'd be soo--- good at it." I mean, could there be a better choice? We have a good working relationship. She still screams at me for my notorious use of run-on sentences. And thinks I will never learn to punctuate. Anyway, she laughed. And then she got serious and said, "I am an editor. I love having the chance to be creative. I consider myself more of an artist than a business person. I am not a sales person. I would not do a good job." I thought about what she said and knew that she was right. I guess some people can wear two hats, but one would take a back seat to the other.

Georgia Girl

Anonymous said...

My ex-agent (a well-known agent from a major agency) did the same thing--worked with me for three years to build a few chapters into a novel (yes, she took me on when the book was only three weak chapters long). After working and working and working on this novel together, she sent it to a few publishers and then quit. Very strange. So now I'm looking for a new agent--one that is in this for the long haul.

SusanS said...

This sounds too familiar for me. Have you checked this agent on P&E? Mine did the same thing, loved the editing - hated the selling. Major Clue and it turned out she was a scammer. If she is legit, cut her loose. Miss Snark preaches this constantly: Agents should love your work as much as you do.

Anonymous said...

It was 3-5 subs for the loss of enthusiasm for my former agent.

I hate the "well, it didn't sell to the first few people I had in mind, so time to give up (or go silent) now attitude.

Feisty said...

Interesting comment that "editing isn't agenting". I know of a few agents who love to edit their clients' work, in laborious detail over and over. They do sell books, though.

I know of a few others who do no editing at all. Either they like the ms and send it out or they just say no to the author. Or tell them it isn't right for their career right now.

I've often wondered what kind of agent I'd want. I don't think I'd want the editing kind. Either love it or hate it. But that's just me.

Anonymous said...

susans said "Major Clue and it turned out she was a scammer. If she is legit, cut her loose."

How is this agent a scammer if he didn't take money from the writer? Who lost what here? It seems to me that the agent put in the time, helped with the book, and according to the writer, gave up after a couple of submissions.

The writer still has a viable and probably improved book (unless it is so specific a market a few submissions used up its opps, and then that would be it for it anyway).

I feel people use the term "scammer" a bit too loosely. We have no way to know the entire situation, and a comment like that may be uncalled for, if not out and out slanderous.

Bernita said...

People tend to use the term "slanderous" a bit too loosely also.
Perhaps you were thinking "libelous," anon?

Anonymous said...

In my case, I can guarantee Agent X is not a scammer. X works for a highly-regarded New Yawk agency, has verifiable sales, great mentors and cow-orkers, etc., etc.. That's what makes this sitch especially difficult- if I close the door on Agent X, I'll be closing the door on 10 - 15 other excellent agents who rep in this very small genre.

And Miss Snark, thank you very much for your answer and the opportunity to let other people chime in. Nobody makes mix tapes for weird relationships with agents, so blog comments is an exquisite equivalent. :) Now for the mix-tape for awkward business calls on the morrow!

Anonymous said...

This was the same issue for me with my first two agents. Revise, revise, revise. No sale. Both were legit agents with major agencies. With Agent number one, I switched genres midstream, because I had this great idea that was so strong, had to do it. She was all enthused. Suggested changes. Sent things back and forth, and then one day, nothing. She later told me that she didn't think it was my best work. My guess is that she lost enthusiasm for the project, but perhaps didn't know how to tell me at the time. But I did sell the project. Same thing with agent number two. Enthused, enthused, enthused. then one day, nothing. I think what happens is that their vision and my vision never seemed to match up. But they couldn't come out and tell me, perhaps to avoid hurt feelings.

That project also sold. Along comes agent number three. New project. Revise, revise, revise. She finally came out and said, "I think you need to scrap it." The last thing I wanted to hear. But I did scrap it, came up with a new project, and sold that for five times more than anything else.

What was the difference between all the agents? Number three had the guts to tell me when it wasn't working. The other two perhaps didn't want to hurt my feelings? Don't know. But it goes to show you why your relationship with your agent is so very important. You want someone who will communicate with you, not just slink off. If the relationship isn't working, then contact them. Be up front and ask.

With the first two agents, months and months were wasted with the non-communication-don't-want-to-hurt-your feeling thing. I would suggest to anyone who feels their relationship with their agent has changed to be up front and communicate such with their agent. If it is time to move on, do it. You want an agent who fits.

A bad agent (for you) is worse than no agent.