Avoiding idiot agents

Dear Miss Snark,

You recently wrote "The other agent was an idiot (which I could have told him)..."

It seems to me the idiot quotient in most careers is fairly high (thirty-five percent feels about right), and I wouldn't expect literary agents as a profession to deviate dramatically from the norm.

But how the hell are first-time writers supposed to know who qualifies?

I know enough to check for prior sales, but I'm sure idiot agents make deals from time to time. You know, for less than they might have otherwise gotten, or maybe after wasting a lot of time due to poor organizational skills. But again, we wouldn't know that. All we see are the sales that further legitimize the idiots.

So here's an idea: Hows about you post (right next to the Writers Beware Ten Worst Agents list) your nominees for the Ten Biggest Idiots? Disgruntled and former clients can weigh in with their idiot-agent horror stories.

I'm sure somewhere among your two million or so hits there's a lawyer who's trying to become Grisham who would be happy to defend you once the lawsuits fly.

Or (I'm trying to be reasonable here), hows about you just email me with your list and I'll keep the whole thing quiet?

In this case, the idiocy was pretty much a matter of public record. A search of P&E would have turned up a big red flag of warning.

As to the greater question let's be clear: all of us are idiots at one time or another. There are days I'm sure I'd lead your list. Hopefully not many, hopefully fewer than most, but trust me, we'd all be on the list at one time or another.

That's why you talk to clients of an agent who's made you an offer and you don't sign with someone just cause they did offer.

A nitwit list isn't going to save you. You've got to be your own Encyclopedia Brown.


Don said...

So just so I'm clear, it would be advisable to contact other clients of the agent to see how they feel about her. Presumably we can ask the agent for the contact info, no?

Anonymous said...

It's not just the idiots who can waste your time. Some very successful agents spread themselves too thin - can't treat new clients like they did their 'older clients' and err on the side of neglect. That's not idiotic, per se, but it's damn close when you're the new client.

Anonymous said...

You just don't know. Could the sales have been 'better'? Was the agent up to scratch? An author is stuck on the outside looking in, and no matter how much research you do, or added transparency the internet has added to the process, there are things you will just never know.

Similarly, you can never tell if in the initial conversation, the agent is just wooing you with promises that won't be delivered. Nothing except time and your instincts will show.

I guess another question this raises, is what do you do if you've already signed and you begin to doubt their contacts/skills? They have a sales record, but do you risk leaving?

Demon Hunter said...

Well I'm glad that I was referred to an agent by one of her well-known clients and she has a host of bestsellers, to boot!

michaelgav said...

demon hunter, how thrilling for you, really. And for your agent, who no doubt will soon be adding another best seller to her list of credits.

And here I've spent all these years telling my good buddy, Norm (that's Mr. Mailer to you), to stuff his stinking referral in a sack. Your comment gives me a whole new perspective on this process.