What Drives an Agent Crazy? Publishers Can.

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

I would be remiss if, in my rants about what drives an agent crazy, I didn’t mention one other group: publishers. Yup, sometimes the good folks at a publishing house can cause us mental distress.

One of those crazy-making times is when they go incommunicado.

Say, for example, I’ve phoned and emailed about a timely, important issue. Well, it’s important to my client and me. And the person at the publishing house doesn’t respond. That person might be an editor, someone in marketing, the publicist, the contracts negotiator, the accounting department, or the publisher himself.

Acknowledgment of receipt of the communications would be appreciated! A time-frame in which a response can be expected would be deeply appreciated. (Even an approximate date, thank you.)

Agents go crazy when the publisher hogs all the good news.

When agents get together, one of the items we grumble about is that publishers love to deliver good news to our clients. But publishing personnel rarely think to include the agent in the conversation.

For example, if a client is a finalist for a writing award, the publisher happily phones or emails the client. And then the client informs the agent. While I’m thrilled for the client, I’m not thrilled for me. My part in the publishing process wasn’t noted by the publisher. Hello, who brought that award-winner your way!?

Agents are driven crazy when the publisher expects the agent to deliver all the bad news.

The bad news part of the equation results in some agent eye-rolling as well. Recently I had to phone one of my clients, whom we’ll call Carolyn, to tell her that the editor she’s been working with for several years hates Carolyn’s next novel idea. The two of them just returned from a time together. But during their face-to-face the editor offered only praise for Carolyn’s writing. So imagine how unprepared my client was to hear the opposite from me. I phoned her to explain that not only was the idea not liked, but also the word hate was used by the editor.

Why did this “go down” this way? The editor explained to me, when she called me with the bad news, she didn’t have the heart to be honest with Carolyn face-to-face.

Agents as bad-news bearers.

Agents get to announce:

  • canceled contracts
  • poor sales figures
  • a publishing committee turning down a project
  • a tiny advance/royalty offer
  • an almost nonexistent marketing budget
  • a title or cover the author hates but the publisher is moving forward with anyway
  • a rejected manuscript, etc.

A better way?

I want to be involved in these “bad news” communications. But some of these items are more effectively communicated when both the agent and the editor set up a conference call with the author. If that were done more often, I think writers would think of the publishing process as involving more teamwork.

I understand that editors don’t get paid to hand authors Kleenex. Sometimes the agent’s job is to pick up the pieces and come up with a plan of how to move forward.

Other times, editors convey that they expect the agent to figure out a fix even though the publishing house is the genesis of an unexpected decision. I think it would be nice to have some balance and let publishers explain certain decisions to both the agent and the author–whether that decision is headline-making great news or heartbreaking hard news.

When publishers do it right.

To be fair, right now I’m engaged in an ongoing conversation with publishing personnel who rejected a client’s manuscript. While I was conferred with before the news was delivered to my client, the editor arranged for a conference call with all the parties involved and told the author the disappointing–okay, devastating–news. From there, we developed a plan to steer the writer from the path she had veered onto and to the trail that would make for a compelling book.

The communication was clear, we all shared in the disappointment of the manuscript falling short, and we all agreed on what happened next. Nice, right?

What would you like to hear directly from your publishing house? What would you prefer filter through your agent first?


Ways publishing houses drive agents crazy. Click to tweet.

Why bad news comes to writers via their agent. Click to tweet.