On agents….

Theresa on types of agents:

And may I say huzzah to her for putting it so succinctly…

A bad agent is worse than no agent at all. A really bad agent is worse than not being a writer. Getting past the “no unagented submissions” barrier is not sufficient justification for hooking up with a bad agent.

Especially look at her definition of real agents, gormless agents (love that term), not very helpful agents, and scam agents. Geez — so much of what she mentions about those last categories covers what I think of when I realize there are scum out there making hard-working, dedicated agents who love books look bad. I hates those Bagginses, I does, my precious. Ick. Just making my job that much harder. Die, die, die… *pauses* *looks around at audience and sidles calmly offstage with bloody letter opener*

Musing….I think the thing that must be daunting is figuring out the good ones from the not so good ones and the truly evil (which I think should be sent to some part of hell where they not only have to read the worst query letters ever crafted, but have to send personal and well thought out replies to each and every one of them). Especially when most writers just starting out can only meet agents at a distance or via correspondence. I should put some more thought into it beyond the “money flows towards the writer” maxim. Warning signs and so forth. While I’m mulling that (and hoping something comes out of it), does anyone have any suggestions or past experiences they want to share?

12 responses to “On agents….

  1. While you’re thinking up warning signs, I’ll just give you some nice, calming numbers…
    The other day my friend and I made a data base so he can send out agent queries and track the results. For the type of fiction he writes, there were approximately 100 agents listed in Writer’s Market 2004 who are willing to read a query from a new writer. Of them, 10 or so I’ve met at conferences or had friends who were represented by them with no complaints. They seemed perfectly harmless. For the rest, we have to rely on cross-checking with Preditors and Editors or Writer Beware. Tedious, but just the kind of thing I love.
    Any hints you can share would be most appreciated !

  2. Hm. I’m thinking, I’m thinking.
    There is a relatively new agent that I’m aware of who has, on more than one occasion (and to more than one author) responded favorably, even excitedly, to a proposal. Made suggestions on how to revise the work and sounded enthusiastic about seeing revisions. After that initial phone call (it’s always been by phone), however, she does not respond to phone calls, email or letters. Matter of fact, it’s like she drops off the face of the earth.
    And yet new people report having the same thing happen to them over and over again. I’m not going to name names. However, the moral of the story is: be wary of revising something for someone you haven’t heard good things about.
    Another story: a writer friend sent mss. to several agents. One was the agent she thought she wanted, but said agent only had a working relationship with one publishing house and wasn’t interested in submitting books to any others because she didn’t have contacts.
    Another agent, without a paper contract, went ahead and forwarded proposals to appropriate houses (more than one) and got requests for fulls from said houses. She was extremely enthusiastic about the writer’s talent, contacted her often, and had a reputable client list. The writer was worried because she hadn’t been offered a paper contract, and very nearly walked away from representation because of this. When prompted to ask whether this was standard procedure, she was informed that the agent preferred to sign contracts only after sales, but that she was doing the work anyway. Moral of this story: Not all agents work the same way. A good agent can help you, paper contract or not.

    • I’m still thinking (and taking notes) on more ways to find indicators about good vs. bad agents (or even not-so-good agents) before you ever get into an unhealthy situation in the first place. Difficult for those writers who are especially new to such things. I might have something cogent by the end of the weekend (though I’m soon off to scrape wallpaper with ) Meanwhile….
      The writer was worried because she hadn’t been offered a paper contract, and very nearly walked away from representation because of this. When prompted to ask whether this was standard procedure, she was informed that the agent preferred to sign contracts only after sales, but that she was doing the work anyway. Moral of this story: Not all agents work the same way. A good agent can help you, paper contract or not.
      I thought I’d comment on this because we fall into the area of agencies that don’t have an author-agent agreement at all. We do send out a confirmation letter when representation is agreed that outlines our understanding of the relationship. We do put a clause in the contracts we negotiate establishing us as the agents of record. But that’s pretty much it. We’ve always preferred to emphasize communication as the key to resolving any misunderstandings of expectations on either side. So far that’s worked for us, though I would understand if someone would rather have something on paper (and so far as I know we’d provide same). Last night, I was reading the model contract on the SFWA site because I was curious. It’s a bit old (1996) and might be in need of some updating. My moral of the above story would be: Always ask questions before acting.

  3. I’d sure appreciate any hints about telling the difference between the good, the indifferent, and the gormless … the evil ones are pretty obvious to the forewarned, I should hope, but the others? A newbie would have to be already plugged into the network to tell, I fear.

    • How far in is in? I know dozens of writers with agents, none of whom have ever named names (to me, at least) when they’ve fired an agent for problems other than not getting their book sold fast enough.
      The war stories I’ve heard usually involve a contract, then a recommendation to contact script doctors, years of no sales on a multi-contest winning manuscript, finding out a manuscript hasn’t been mailed after a year or more…the list goes on. But, can I tell you the name of the perp? No.
      Victims of bad agents behave much like the victims of spousal abuse. It’s an unwitting conspiracy of silence. Well, I may be in a bad mood, but – do they think it’s going to help anyone to let that agent take advantage of another eager young writer?
      …’scuse me, I gotta go work on my wordcount…

      • So I guess the route to go is asking “Who would you recommend?”
        Which depends on actually knowing writers with agents, of course. I only know one of those, and our divine hostess is *her* agent. Well, at least I’ll know where to start!

        • And unfortunately, it’s very much a grey area for me to put up a recommended list myself, though I will occasionally (if somewhat rarely) refer authors that I feel are on the cusp but perhaps not just to my taste.
          I’ve been thinking about this off and on the last couple of days and finding it very difficult to come up with some way to suggest to those writers starting from scratch with no reference materials and no existing network how they should arrange their search so as to avoid getting caught out by their own inexperience. It’s really tough. And I guess that’s giving me a lot more sympathy for the other side of the fence in the agent searching attempt.

          • Re grey area: Oh, you’re right, you’d be opening yourself up to *so* much grief by doing that. Unfortunately I don’t think there’d be any way to keep a “file your agent report here” list from being scum-spammed, either. Ah well.
            Re sympathy: Just think of us as venturing into a trackless, predator-infested wilderness armed only with the certainty that our cause is just (and perhaps, in the case of the forewarned, a blunderbuss).

      • Victims of bad agents behave much like the victims of spousal abuse. It’s an unwitting conspiracy of silence.
        *shudder* I’ve never really given it much thought, but that strikes me as a fairly accurate (if perhaps disturbingly overstated) assessment. I have in mind a client of mine who had a previous agent that did more harm than good. I’ve tried to convince said client to take action to rectify that behavior and to let certain resources (a la Writer Beware or some such) know about the situation. It’s been like pulling teeth.
        So — what is it that causes authors to behave this way? In the case above, I’ve gotten various comments from the client that they’re afraid it will somehow make them look unprofessional. But this just doesn’t track for me because their previous agent is so clearly in the wrong. I don’t even think it can make the client look vaguely high maintenance. And yet, they are reluctant. *sigh*

        • Victims of bad agents behave much like the victims of spousal abuse. It’s an unwitting conspiracy of silence.
          Truth. My former agent wasn’t evil – she just got nothing done, couldn’t figure out whether she wanted to be representing her clients or teaching in Paris, and turned down an offer on my first book (never did sell after that) without consulting me first, because “we can do much better.”
          But short of avoidance, it happened long enough ago for it to be shrugworthy for me: 1993 was our last contact.
          *shudder* I’ve never really given it much thought, but that strikes me as a fairly accurate (if perhaps disturbingly overstated) assessment. I have in mind a client of mine who had a previous agent that did more harm than good. I’ve tried to convince said client to take action to rectify that behavior and to let certain resources (a la Writer Beware or some such) know about the situation. It’s been like pulling teeth.
          I think a lot of the fear many writers have is a twisted version of that fear held by people who get messed up by a lousy doctor and are afraid to say anything, because they perceive that community as a small, tight group of people with some sort of power over them. In other words, brown off one agent and no one else will look at your work.
          Absurd, I’m sure, but an attitude I’ve come across.

          • In this litigation-happy society, it’s more likely:
            A) Suspicion they are only seconds away from being the next Stephen King and their deep pockets will make them a bigger target or B) Fear they will be sued and spend the rest of their life schlepping lattes to pay off their attorney’s fees. These emotions are compounded exponentially if their agent is also an attorney or has spoken of being married to one.

            • >These emotions are compounded exponentially if their agent is also an attorney or has spoken of being married to one.
              Now, that’s a truly scary thought. My ex-agent was married to another agent.

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