Agent deshabille

Dear Miss Snark:

I found an agent approximately eight months ago. He was a pleasant chap and we got on smashingly. I had other offers at the time, but I went with this fellow because of his enthusiasm and energy.

Then a few months ago, he tells me his going through a nasty divorce. I hear from him a little less often than I did at first, but when we do chat he has great ideas, gives me good notes, and although a little tamer, he his still confident about finding a place for my book.

A week ago, he takes me out to lunch. He looks like a wreck. He is distracted (understandably) and downright blue. A few times during our meal, I thought he might start bawling. He tells me he his closing his office and will be working out of his apartment. And, that he is letting a good portion of his clients go, "because it's just all too much for me right now." I, however, am one of the ones he wants to keep.

I, however, don't feel good about this. I love the guy, but my gut tells me the next time I hear from him will be a postcard from a nervous breakdown recovery centre.

I'm thinking I've got to cut the cord. Thoughts?

I think there's a lot to be said for loyalty.
I think there's a lot to be said for an agent who, while going through personal trauma, took the time to take you to lunch, explain things, and tell you he's confident he can sell your work.

He may not be in fighting trim right now but you also aren't in the middle of a five way auction either.

Give this some time before you jump ship. See if he gets himself together. There's always time to get your swim fins and bathing costume on, but once you're in the water, there's no getting back on board. Look carefully before you leap.


Anonymous said...

I'm with Miss Snark on this one. He may not get his act together right away, but I'll bet if you continue to be loyal to him, you'll find that he'll work off his behind for you.

Considering how long it takes to find an agent that you like, what's a few more months?

Kitty said...

I agree. Besides, he's still got to make a living, so he'll have to keep working. In that respect alone, the fact that he chose you/your book speaks well of you and your book.

David Isaak said...

I'm completely with Miss Snark on this. Loyalty is a two-way street, nad if you want to receive it you have to give it.

And even if it doesn't work out, doing the right thing is good karma. (Hey, I'm a second-generation Californian. We're allowed to say things like that.)

ORION said...

I love this about loyalty. That personal connection is so very important.
If he has sales and you chose him -- give him a break.

Lisa Cohen said...

This is a difficult choice to make. While I do understand Miss Snark's position and the comments about the importance of loyalty, I also know that someone in the midst of an emotional/personal crisis may not be in the best position to evaluate his/her ability to work.

Perhaps you and your agent should have a frank talk about this and come up with an appropriate timeframe to reassess.

astrologymemphis.blogspot.com said...

You can buy friends; you can't buy loyalty. Being down and out and learning who your real friends are, is a good ROI, so to speak. Being down and out and learning you have friends you didn't even know you had is priceless.

Anonymous said...

Loyalty is fine, but this isn't a personal relationship, this is business. You've already put in tons of work to get a publish-worthy manuscript.

It seems odd that the agent doesn't see fit to keep all of HIS clients, so how loyal is HE going to be if his personal problems begin to outweigh the time/energy it takes to sell your work?

He's already shown he thinks nothing of dropping his OTHER clients.

Ask for some type of time frame. He owes you that.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with everyone. That's breathtakingly bad advice for this author. People should be loyal to their friends. As you've often said, Miss Snark, agents don't fall into that category.

This agent is your business partner. From what you've said, he's in no shape to do business. All you'll do by staying with him is delay the publication of your book and maybe ruin your career in the process.

Yes, he'll be grateful and work hard for you — when he's up to it. Who knows when that will be? This is your life, author! Every agent should work hard for you, not just the one you took pity on.

Look, this man, in the midst of an emotional breakdown, going out to lunch looking like a wreck, bawling on your shoulder... he's the guy you want in charge of your career?

Miss Snark, would you keep a client who exhibited such behavior? I think not.

Author, it's time to find a new agent.

Kimber Li said...

No relationship can last long enough to yield many benefits without loyalty. Not marriage. Not friendship. Not business partnerships.

Anonymous said...

After 50 years on this planet and 39 in the business world, I will tell you that the only serious mistakes I have ever made are ones of loyalty. Every major success I have had also involved loyalty.

You have a contract with him, I presume. Fulfill you part and tell him that you expect him to fulfill his. Tell him that you believed in him when you signed and you believe in him now.

- Edward

Anonymous said...

This is a business, not a friendship....??? How about: This is a country not a friendship, you don't need to feel loyalty? Sound strange? Because it is.

WTF do you people think loyalty is? Man, this is what I hate about modern business practices. Management try hard to foster loyalty in their employees, employees LIKE to feel loyalty to their employers. And we all end up faking it because, when it comes down to it, loyalty is no longer valued in business and no-one wins.

A little while ago I had to go talk to a shrink - and I'm not kidding about this - in part because the company I was working for, a great company, had a change of heart, fired middle management and went from friendly, fostering workplace to money-generating machine. And immeadiately burnt-out their top people. This was a workplace needing a lot of specific, specialist knowledge and the only people who had it worked for this company. You lose what they know, you can't get it back.

Most of us knew the company owed us some loyalty - We'd shown it to the company with unpaid work and etc. The company didn't feel the same way. End result? Employees of ten years standing, who had beent through hell for the company, left. Knowledge hard won, left. Even the average joe started to burn out. And the company screwed itself. It went from multi-million dollar enterprise to struggling consulting firm. In about two years.

While loyalty was there, it worked both ways, to everyones benefit - it was the job I held the longest, that paid the best with the nicest people and paid great benefits. And the company that had started from a living-room built itself over ten years into a massive business influence touching and effecting entire industries because the employees had no issue with going above and beyond. It could ask us to do near-anything and we'd sometimes grumble, but we'd do it.

And now it's basically a consulting firm with a crap telemarketting arm.

Yeah, loyalty's completely unimportant in business. And it's not like this guy is a real person with real feelings and real industry contacts. No, there's no way he'll bitch to his friends about the author who jumped ship. He'll know it was just business. Just like your next agent will know not to expect any loyalty at all from you and won't feel any to you, because it's just business.

Look, I'm not saying hold on no matter what. Eventually you may need to leave. But that point is the point where the agent is actively damaging your chances, or about to. Not when you see him on a bad day. Of course you're worried. Monitor the situation. Get your affairs in order and think about how you might leave if you have to. Then get back to work and do everything tyou can to make the current situation work. From a completely selfish standpoint - loyalty works, disloyalty doesn't. Stay until it doesn't feel disloyal to leave. That will be when you have good reason. At the moment, this guy still seems to be working hard for you. You don't have good reason to leave.

Jason said...

Okay, so he seemed wrecked at your lunch. That doesn't mean he doesn't steel himself for negotiations and sell the shit out of your work.

Give the man a chance to do his job.


Anonymous said...

I love all the "loyalty" talk.

The man with the question states that his agent just DUMPED nearly ALL his clients because he can't take it anymore, yet most of you start lecturing him on "Loyalty."

Loyalty works both ways. Hello? If an agent just dumped most of his clients, but keeps YOU is that supposed to make you feel special and loyal to him?

What's to say that after four more months it won't happen to this writer as well?

I'd be very cautious here. Isn't it Miss Snark that is contantly telling us all, "Your agent is not your friend!"

Anonymous said...

Can I get lunch with Miss Snark (comped by her, of course) the next time she goes through a bad stretch?

Anonymous said...

Yes, I too am baffled by the assumption that loyalty is inevitably appropriate here. Loyalty to what? How long have they been together in this business? How well do they really know each other? The way people are talking about loyalty is putting this agent-author relationship on par with marriage. But it seems to a be a fairly new relationship--more like "been dating a few months". If things get bad it could well be appropriate to get out.
I agree with the suggestion that timeframes be discussed and a chance given. I don't agree at all with the obnoxious "how dare this person even think of looking out for their career, that's what's wrong with this country!" ranting.

Anonymous said...

It just makes me laugh that Miss Snark, a few posts up on the blog, is talking about dumping prospective clients because they don't get their bios into her fast enough. How long would a client last at Snark LIterary Agency if he took Miss to lunch wearing a rumpled suit, looking like hell, and started bawling about his personal life? Hello, people.

See, the thing is, everybody goes through rough times. I've been through plenty of personal trouble in my life, a painful divorce, my sister dropping dead from a heart attack at age 40, being diagnosed with what seemed at the time to be a really bad disease but has (thankfully) turned out to be nothing — I got and lost a book deal, people! – and I've never let it spill over into my business life. This agent is UNSTABLE.

Anonymous said...

Your career is too serious to go against your gut (the OP said they did not feel good about this agent anymore). This agent did nothing to instill confidence in you but played the sympathy card. I would definitely consider one of the other agents who were interested eight months ago. And it would be wise to do it promptly before this agent starts taking your ms out and things get messy.

This might be different if the agent had suddenly gotten ill. But a divorce? No.

mai said...

I agree with Miss SNark on this, and I think Edward's comment is a strong and cogent second.

I can see the perils for the author, and the cause for unease.

But Miss Snark is right in saying: "I think there's a lot to be said for an agent who, while going through personal trauma, took the time to take you to lunch, explain things, and tell you he's confident he can sell your work."

He's still functional. He may do a better job for the author, via a stronger focus that will result from a pared-down list.

Anonymous said...

You also have to consider that the industry will know he is down and out, working out of his apt and going through a "nasty divorce" (that he had no part of whatsoever - they never do). Do you really think he'll be able to fight to get you the best deal possible?

Or will he take whatever any house offers? Will he be sharp enough to look over the contract for all the details that matter down the road?

I say if he's closing up his office, then you would be better served by another agent.

Anonymous said...

I'm with all the anonymouses. I knew someone who, upon recommendation, went with a savvy financial adviser (okay, not an agent, but still a business relationship requiring trust and knowledge).
He was young, hip and energetic. Then he went through a nasty divorce. Didn't return calls. Didn't shave. Wouldn't turn up at the office. My friend kept with him because she thought he would pull through and he assured her he would continue doing the absolute best for her.
By the end of the year, she had lost over $60,000 dollars in bad investments because he didn't keep his word. Hey, it was her money so no skin off his nose, right?
The road to hell, people; the road to hell....

Kara Lennox said...

Miss Snark has it right. My former agent lost her husband when I was with her, and for several months she was not her usual, peppy, hop-to-it, organized self. But she came out of it and was fine.

During those dark months, I made a point of keeping in slightly closer contact than usual, making sure things didn't fall through the cracks (because she was forgetting to do things).

Anonymous said...

Losing a husband (to an illness or accident) is not the same as going through a divorce for one thing. Also, did your agent shut down her office and try to work out of her apartment? Did she look like she was going to break down and did she let go of many of her clients because she knew she couldn't handle them?

This agent had only been handling the OP's career for eight months and it's not clear whether he had even tried to sell anything of hers yet.

Would love to hear a follow up from OP - not now but a year from now.