it’s not you, it’s me

Hey all you writers out there…. I’m curious…. under what circumstances would you decide that an agent was no longer a good match for you. Conversely, what would make you stay with an agent through thick and thin? As an agent who is very concerned with doing the best job she can, I really want to know the author’s perspective on this. This query brought to you by my reluctance to part ways with a client, but the necessity with which I’m considering doing so.

p.s. My clients don’t have to answer this if they feel it will incriminate them. *g* Of course, if they want to reply and tell me how wonderful I am and how they’d never ever consider leaving me because of all the great things I’ve been doing and how hard I work on their behalf, that’s fine. Not that I’d be wanting to put words in their mouths or anything.

39 responses to “it’s not you, it’s me

  1. …the following is a prepaid blatant commercial…
    Not having an agent at this point, I can’t tell you.
    …we now return you to your previously scheduled comments…

  2. This is coming from a writer who does not yet have an agent, so give it the weight you find appropriate.
    If I thought that my agent was doing as good a job as I can reasonably expect to sell my work, and they were appropriate set up in the business, I’d tend to stay with them through thick and thin. I certainly wouldn’t expect them to push my stuff exclusively or to the detriment of their other clients — that’s not remotely reasonable (although I bet some people expect it). But the agent has to be realistically trying, of course (and the definition of that depends on the situation). And they should be moderately enthusiastic about my work, but again moderately is a key word. Things that would indicate they were no longer a good match would be if they weren’t responsive to my attempts to communicate with them (assuming I’m not stalking them), or if they were dishonest (or I perceived that this was the case).
    The other thing that would make me question their fit with me is if they absolutely gushed enthusiasm, saying I was the next Robert Jordan, or the next Ed McBain, and then couldn’t sell my work relatively quickly. Sure, maybe it’s possible that I am the next [insert name here], but in all likelihood I’m not, at least not yet, and praising me to the point of ridiculousness borders on being disingenuous, which is something one doesn’t want in an agent.

  3. I would not continue with an agent if:
    1. I came to include they were incompetent in their job (or the portion thereof which included selling my books).
    2. It became clear that our mutual visions for my career were not compatible (not to say that agents and authors can have different ideas of what a writer should be doing — but at the end of the day, they need to be looking more or less in the same direction).
    3. If our personalities were so opposed I found it difficult to work with him/her.
    Naturally, so long as I thought my agent were competent, was aiding my career (and was proactively suggesting new ways to extend it), and was personable (to me, at least), I’d be inclined to stick with him/her even if he/she were having difficulty pitching projects we thought would work.
    As it happens, I have two agents, one for fiction and one for non-fiction , both of whom have quite different personal and professional styles (among other things, one rather proactively goes out and finds me work, while the other has been the somewhat fortunate recipient of my schmoozeriffic to attract publishers and editors). But aside from their differing styles, they are both competent, good to work with, and focused on my career. I like them both quite a bit.

  4. Since I’d never sign with an agent that I didn’t already know was competent and honest, about the only thing that would make me leave an agent after the fact is if I became convinced that they no longer believed in me and my career. Failure to answer queries, failure to read a submitted manuscript/proposal in a reasonable amount of time, either of those would send up big warning flags.

  5. I can see there being a potential difficulty if my writing style or genre decided to shift, and my agent wasn’t really the right person for my new market. If I’ve had it up to here with historical romance and am now going to write non-fiction self-help, my former agent might not be interested, or really capable, of handling my new work.
    Or maybe I’ve just switched from historical romance to modern comedic romances, and my agent finds that she loathes the new stuff and, while she could potentially sell it, my bad sense of humor makes her want to claw her eyes out after each chapter. She may not say anything, but I may notice a shift in tone – her friendliness towards me cools, there’s a lot more markup on my manuscripts (“Could you take out the jokes?”) and it becomes obvious to one or obth parties that things just aren’t working any more.
    Or perhaps the agent changes her style, and her new tendency to phone me instead of e-mail makes me flinch whenever the phone rings. Or maybe she starts handing my stuff off to her personal assistant Igor, and I don’t like Igor.
    If I had previously had an amicable relationship with my agent, I’d certainly try to talk to her or him and discuss what’s changed (whether it be “I know you hate my new stuff” to “Why don’t you ever return my calls?”). Maybe things can be salvaged or even improved. If not, maybe I can at least have the agent recommend me to someone else who might be a better match for my writing or my personality. (Or at least pry my last ms. out of Igor’s clutches before I run down the street to another agency.)
    I suppose, if my own style changed – maybe not so much in my writing, but in how I interact with people – I might decide to move to another agent. Auntie Mame’s Agency was great when I was a struggling young artist, but these days I’d like someone with a few more connections, or who’s more technology-savvy. Or maybe I’ve got delusions of grandeur about how great that last ms. was, and am convinced that another agent can sell it, even if my existing one hasn’t been able to for years.
    Still, I’d try to work with the existing agent first. Auntie Mame may learn to use the Internet if I explain why it’s useful to both of us. And Igor could be trained out of drooling on the manuscripts.

  6. under what circumstances would you decide that an agent was no longer a good match for you. Conversely, what would make you stay with an agent through thick and thin?
    I can see two different scenarios. One is that I was wise in choosing an agent. (I am right at this minute sending my first novel to someone who’ll read the first chapters, so I am literally *just* starting out. It’s all theory right now.)
    In that ideal world I would have found an agent who likes the kinds of books I write (heroic fantasy, mostly), who is happy with the way I work, and who knows the market and can get me enough money to pay my bills and write some more.
    In that case, I’d only consider changing if either I develop into a completely new direction, they wish to concentrate on something I don’t want to write, or we’re just drifting apart. There are some dealbreakers – dishonesty in any guise – but that’s *easy*. It’s the gradual realisation that things aren’t working out that I would dread, because I’d have no frame of reference for when I should call enough.
    However, I _know_ I’m not living in that ideal world. I know, deep in my heart, that right now, if someone with the right credentials (experience selling SF, professional attitude) comes along, reads Valendon’s Diary, and tells me ‘I want to be your agent’ I might not be sensible enough to consider ‘can I work with this person in the long term’ – I’d go ‘AGENT! AGENT! I’VE GOT AN AGENT’ which is probably just as unwise as reeling in the first male who asks you out on a date, and just as likely to end in divorce.
    To someone who is new to the business of being a writer it is difficult to remember that _I’m_ supposed to be evaluating agents as much as they will evaluate me and my work.
    If either party was too hasty getting into the agreement, you’re probably better off without each other; and if you are parting early enough, you can do so amicably. Or at least in a good impression thereof.
    This query brought to you by my reluctance to part ways with a client, but the necessity with which I’m considering doing so.
    Your reluctance honours you, but in the end, perfectly nice and honourable people can be perfectly bad matches for one another. That’s life. It sucks, but if you feel it’s a necessity, and it’s eating at you, you’re probably right to do it.

  7. Loss of entheusiasm. Failure to read material in a timely manner, failure to communicate effectively and basically failure to act like a professional.

  8. I fired my first agent for not actually submitting my work or else for submitting it unenthusiastically, along with a pile of other scripts– I never figured out which. Either way, the result was that no one ever even read his submissions.

  9. I’ve done it once. She lost my trust by turning down an offer on one of mine without consulting me. And after awhile, it became obvious she wanted me to a) write the same book over and over, and b) that same book she wanted me to write over and over was not only one I wouldn’t write – it was one I wouldn’t read.
    Also, disappearing to Europe for four months didn’t help much….

  10. (This got too long, so it’s broken up into “why I’d go” and “why I’d stay”.)
    Things that would make me look elsewhere for an agent:
    –too little time to devote to my projects
    This is a tough one. An agent, to make a living, needs plenty of clients. A writer, to make a living, needs an agent who can read manuscripts quickly, give good feedback, and get them to the right editors in a timely fashion. There’s a certain mutual exclucivity in those two requirements, particularly since I suspect an author’s idea of “timely fashion” is inevitably different from an agent’s. After all, we only have one agent, whereas you have thirty clients.
    My own perspective, as a new author with an agent, is that I have certain obligations to fulfill before I can reasonably expect to move up the totem pole. I think I need to consistently produce solid, sellable work as a manner of proving myself worthwhile of a larger chunk of my agent’s time. Assuming I do that and the material sells, thus making me and my agent money, I think it’s reasonable as an author to hope to work your way up to faster turnarounds. I know that means it’s at somebody else’s expense, but that’s why I think it’s something to be earned. If, in the long run, there turn out to be too many chickens for the pot–ie, too many people at the head of the roster, and I’m unable to get the response times I’d like, that would be something that would send me looking for another agent.
    –significantly different ideas on what the best choices for my career are
    I know both what I’m capable of and what my ambitions are. Very much like the previous statement, I think it’s my job as a writer to tell my agent those ambitions and then prove that I can live up to them. I expect just about every writer has pipe dreams and that every agent has heard all about them, so this isn’t something I take lightly. I think an agent has every right to be skeptical if I come along and say, “Long-term I’d like to be writing five or six books a year in four or five genres and probably under four or five names,*” because that’s a hell of a lot of work, and with me being Jane Newbie, you have absolutely no idea if I can do that.
    However, if after what I considered a reasonable period of time**, I didn’t feel like I’d made steps toward proving myself to my agent, I’d very likely want to take my business elsewhere, to someone I felt could believe in my ability to do what I said I would, and thereby grow my career in the fashion I’d like to.
    (Also along these lines, if my agent suddenly said, “I really think you should be writing Regency romance and classic Westerns,” I’d probably be out of there like a shot, ’cause that would be an agent who obviously hadn’t read anything I’d written and didn’t know my strengths.)
    * which is more or less what I said πŸ™‚
    ** 18-24 months; in this case, I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job of putting my money where my mouth is πŸ™‚
    –dishonesty (or, as a friend put it, “An ax murder would probably do it.”)
    I rather think that stands for itself. πŸ™‚
    –genre changes
    I write many things in many genres. One agent might not be best suited to rep all of those genres I write in. That wouldn’t be so much a “leaving the agent” scenario as, “No offense, but I think I need a different agent for this project,” thing. Even a talented agent can’t be all things to all people, and if I did think I needed to bring a project to someone else, I’d ask my agent’s advice on where to go.
    –not getting me what I think I’m worth in advances
    This may go under the career advancement stuff, but if I was pretty sure the market would bear more than what my agent was getting me, and that continued to happen, I’d look for someone willing to play in another league.

    • That’s a lot of “Why I’d leave.” Frankly, why I’d stay is a lot easier. I have an agent I trust; I chose her because someone I’ve known a long time trusts her, because I like the rest of her client list very much, and because the agency she works for has a very good reputation. I think she’s passionate and enthusiastic and .extremely. good at her job; she’s given me clear, honest feedback on every project I’ve turned in, and every time it’s been to the betterment of the project. I know she’s stuck with writers through dry spells and while I of course hope I never have one, I find that encouraging. She proved herself worth her fifteen percent in the deal I brought to the table…
      …and besides, anybody who says, “Ack! I have competition?! Did I win?!” and sounds like she really, really hopes she did when I’m doing agent interviews pretty much has a place in my heart forever. πŸ™‚
      Flip side: what would make /you/ part ways with a client? (If you can answer that without incriminating anybody, anyway.)

      • You restore my faith. I had something happen with a writer today that really shook it. I had to spend some time leafing through the books on my office shelves that make me feel good about the talented writers I work with and the time and effort expended.
        Thank you. And I’m really glad I won. Heh.
        And…. with respect to your question…. I’ve been working on something that actually answers that. It might take me a while to draft it up, though.

        • *hugs* I’m sorry faith-shaking things happened today. This whole agenting business is a tough one, isn’t it? I know there are agents and authors who prefer their relationships to be Strictly Business, and I know that works for some people, but as a writer myself, and as one of your clients, the passion you have for your job and the sheer amount of work you do means a lot to me (even as I thank the stars it’s not me doing it). I would personally rather have someone who loved her work–and who could be badly shaken by what I assume was a falling out with a client–as my agent than someone who shrugged it off because it was just business. People will go the long haul when it *matters* to them, and in this industry, you need someone like that on your side.
          Which is a long-winded way of saying, “I’m glad you won, too.” πŸ™‚ (Although, frankly, I tend to perceive it as *me* winning, because I know exactly how sought-after a commodity you are as an agent, and it’s a matter of triumph to me that my work appealed to you enough to take me on as a client. Sure, deal on the table is easy money, but I really don’t think you take people on just because they come with deals on the table. That would be the Strictly Business approach, and while I have no doubt you’re in this as a business, you’re also very clearly emotionally involved in what you do. So like I said, personal triumph. :))
          I’ll be interested to read your answer once you’ve got it drafted. And there will be jam in the mail soon, so life can’t be all bad. πŸ˜‰

  11. I don’t have an agent yet (because all my works-in-progress are in varying states of progress), but one of my concerns is that an agent be open to multiple genres… and know enough/have appropriate connections for various genres. I have a cousin who writes romances, and when she wanted to venture into other genres, her agent wasn’t supportive.
    But that probably tells you more about how I’ll go looking for an agent than why I’ll stick (or not stick) with one. I think the other comments say anything I could think on the subject.

  12. Three things:
    Lack of communication
    Lack of shared vision
    Lack of passion
    I don’t know… maybe it just boils down to one thing and that’s honesty. Both parties have to be honest with each other because this gig is fraught with enough pressure, on both sides of the coin, agent and writer. If you both don’t approach it with a shared vision and passion, and aren’t able to communicate those things then just bag it.
    Just my .02

  13. Communication. I need to feel a little loved, even if it’s just a note that says, “No updates at the moment. Hope all is well,” every month or so.
    The lack of such things is what makes me wonder about the agent I’m currently with.
    (This is my first experience with an agent, so… I may be expecting too much.)

  14. with the understanding that this is a hypothetical answer to a hypothetical question — am quite happy with representation, thanks muchly. ;-D
    I would leave an agent for one of four reasons:
    1. Lying (to me — I expect them to lie on my behalf to editors, that’s called negotiation!)
    2. Lack of enthusiasm that translates to lack of action. I don’t expect my agent to adore everything I do — but s/he needs to respect my enthusiasm to a certain extent (s/he does get to say “I did warn you” after it doesn’t sell, but only over drinks).
    3. Fiscal impropriety.
    4. Breach of confidentiality.
    Reasons to stay are many, but they all boil down to “I feel comfortable that s/he is doing their damndest to keep my career alive and healthy.”

    • whoops, bad lack-of-closure-on-italics. Bad LJ for not letting us edit comments…

    • with the understanding that this is a hypothetical answer to a hypothetical question — am quite happy with representation, thanks muchly. ;-D
      lovin’ Laura Anne and nodding like a bobblehead
      Lack of enthusiasm that translates to lack of action. I don’t expect my agent to adore everything I do — but s/he needs to respect my enthusiasm to a certain extent (s/he does get to say “I did warn you” after it doesn’t sell, but only over drinks)
      Or over really good Greek or Mexican food. And more, with the nodding like a bobblehead.

    • Well put.
      There’s one more reason I would consider parting ways with an agent– if, say, one of your clients became the next JK Rowling or Stephen King and started devouring a commensurate amount of your time. Then I expect there would come a very reluctant mutual parting of the ways, as we both acknowledged that there is only so much of Jenn to go around, and something’s got to give.
      P.S. If one of your clients is going to become a superstar, I think it should be me. Just saying πŸ™‚

  15. I agree with mizkit and suricattus.
    It’s frightening for an unpublished author to think about moving away from an agent. It wasn’t particularly easy to get one in the first place. And the time I spent learning to write queries, sending them out, refining those rejected, and so on was time I didn’t spend writing a new novel. I think when an agent takes on a new author, that alone earns a lot of loyalty.
    Assuming all other parts of the agent/author relationship are in good order but I remain unpublished, I have a time in mind for when I should consider moving on. Given the sloth of publishing, it’s a sizeable span of time. I think at that point a lot of little things kick in to contribute. Those little things you wish your agent did but doesn’t because no one is perfect.
    To stay with an agent through thick and thin for many years would, I think, require more than just a pure business, ultra-functional relationship. Especially with a lot of thin.
    That said, I’m happy with my agent’s effort thus far, so that probably influences my response.

  16. What Cate and Laura Anne sed. A lot.
    Just call me late to the party.

  17. I have been very happy with my current representation.
    Deal breakers (apart from anything illegal, obviously) would be indifference, and insistence that I write material that I’m not suited to write. My current agent shares my vision of what I should be writing, and that’s good. I’m not a very commercial author and not likely to be, but that’s not what it’s about for me.
    It’s worth noting that my current agent put a lot of work (about 9 months of it) into GHOST SISTER before she signed me up. That editing process has gradually diminished over the years (I’m on my tenth book now, so I ought to have a better idea of what I’m doing). But if I was a new writer, I’d be wary of any agent who took me on and didn’t give me any input into the mss itself.

    • But if I was a new writer, I’d be wary of any agent who took me on and didn’t give me any input into the mss itself.
      This is important, I think. Water under the bridge in my case, but something I wish I’d known 10 years ago.

  18. From my perspective, such a parting of ways should only take place if the sales aren’t happening anymore, and neither party no longer feels comfortable enough with the working relationship to be honest about the reasons why.
    Once I was represented by a small literary agency out of Austin. They’ve since closed their doors, I see, which gives me mixed feelings, but the point is that they weren’t able to move my material during my time with them. I’d ask my agent, “Richard, why do you think you’re having so much trouble closing deals?” To which he’d reply, “I don’t know.” Not the most useful reply.
    The truth was — and I realized this a few years later — my material just wasn’t strong enough. I look at what my agent was trying to sell and I can clearly see what kept it from moving. My agent had to have seen the same thing, but for whatever reason he didn’t tell me. Maybe he didn’t want to hurt my feelings, or maybe he didn’t want to lose a client. Neither one of these are good reasons.
    Even a superagent can’t sell weak material, and even a middling agent shouldn’t worry about someone’s feelings getting hurt when dealmaking is the goal. No sales means no money for anyone, so it’s better to be honest about what’s happening so it may be fixed. I’d rather get a letter along you suck, your work sucks, please die lines than keep repeating the same mistakes in my material and consequently not earning.

  19. I like Laura Anne’s reasoning. Makes sense to me.
    I’d be more inclined to stay with someone if I felt they believed in me/trusted me, and I believed in them/trusted them. Trust is probably the big thing, and–this is me personally–I can be fiercely loyal to my friends and colleagues. I’d want someone with whom I can feel that sense of loyalty.

  20. Since I’ve just begun the search for an agent, my comments are marginal.
    1. Dishonesty – fiscal and mental.
    2. Arrogance/Superciliousness.

  21. I did part ways with my agent a few years ago, pretty amicably, and it was mostly for the sorts of reasons folks have cited above: the sorts of books I was writing were no longer the sorts of books he wanted to be selling. In our case, the decision was more or less mutual.
    As a side note, I stayed with my former agent longer than I might have otherwise simply because we had good communication–he mostly returned my phone calls, found a few minutes to talk about where things stood and strategize, and so on. I know several writers who’ve left their agents simply because they never return their calls or give them any real sense of where their projects stand.
    For me right now, the single biggest make-or-break factor in choosing an agent would be whether or not I get the sense that they really enjoy and believe in my work, because I figure one needs that to stick with a project until it sells. (This is different from being uncritical of it–I’d also want honesty when I sent in a project that my agent really thought didn’t work.)

  22. I just did get an agent about a week ago. So I’ll keep you posted. πŸ™‚ At the moment I am delighted, but slightly nervous.
    I saw myself as a genre writer. The agent says this book is mainstream fiction and wants to sell it … and me … that way. He is absolutely right about this book. I would never have thought of it myself, but now that he’s pointed it out it is obvious. His suggestions for improvements are very insightful. So I’m very optimistic. But I’m also a little nervous. What if I write something in the future that he can’t or won’t sell?

  23. Agents
    Well, I’m getting ready to meet my very first agent at my very first
    conference and have been thinking about this topic alot.
    As a potential client, I not only try to write the best book possible, but to also have a strategic marketing plan in mind for each book as well as an idea of my career path.
    For an agent, since I’m so wet behind the ears, I would like to work with someone willing to show me the ropes (not the stuff I can research on my own, but the stuff only experience teaches). I hope they like my genre as much as I do and will give me critical feedback when necessary. Ideally it should be a collaborative partnership (and my question to you would be, what are the best, most productive agent/client relationships like for you? Are they a collaborative partnership like I imagine?).
    More practically, I need an agent to have the publishing contacts I don’t, to have their finger on the pulse of the industry, and keep me informed of any trends or big changes.
    I too, would like a note here and there just to let me know that I haven’t been forgotten and that, while there may be no news at the moment, I am still on their radar. I like to feel connected to the people I work with, even if it’s just a one line email.

  24. Time to cut the agent loose
    Hey there…..I had an agent whose personality just didn’t match mine. Lousy with communications, was not open to me pitching myself at conferences, etc. I think most likely, we weren’t a good match to begin with. Now that I’ve broken the ties, I’m looking for an agent, but waiting to find one who “fits” with my own personality. I think when I find such a person, I’ll stick with them through thick and thin.
    Robin Miller

  25. Hi, Jennifer. I might have something to contribute to this discussion as I did leave one agent for another, and continue to have some entanglements due to reluctancy to completely part ways.
    In 2000, I signed with an agency in MS because the agent was fired up and excied about working with my mss, and me. We went through numerous submissions before finding that it needed an editor. I was a greenhorn, but she was not. She should have known. That was my first clue. But, wanting to give her every opportunity to ‘do the right thing’ I eventually I got sucked into the agency as submissions editor. The MS agent and I chatted on the phone, passed email (hugs) back and forth. Things got way to personal between us. Through working for her, I knew how she was running her agency; and through working in the industry, I had insight into what she should and should not have been doing.
    When I started writing my paranormal romance, I began researching other agencies. Eventually, I left the first agent and signed with an agent in CT. This agent is knowledgable, professional, dedicated to her smaller client list, works with her clients to edit and polish mss, she researches the market trends before submitting. She’s good at what she does.
    Somehow, I remained friends with that MS agent. Now, I feel guilty when I speak of my CT agent with her. The first agent second guesses things that the second agent does, or doesn’t do, etc. It is awkward, and for that, I often wish I could relinquish my entanglements with her.

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