How to Kill Your Agent Relationship without Really Trying
Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
When an author and an agent agree to work together as a team, neither party envisions the relationship ever ending. But sometimes the dynamic just isn’t working for either or both individuals.
Here are a few of the ways a client can jeopardize the relationship–without meaning to.
- Don’t listen. Writers generally are pretty excited about adding someone to their publishing team who knows which editors are looking for a certain type of project, what’s happening at publishing houses, when a proposal is ready to be sent and if a manuscript needs more cleanup work. Not to mention brings significant skills in planning a writing career and negotiating those ever more complicated contracts. But sometimes a writer comes to the relationship with a strong opinion about several of these tasks. Rather than talking out what is the best route to take, often this writer will simply ignore the agent’s advice and move forward in the way she wanted to go in the first place–usually to her career’s detriment. Eventually both the agent and the author will grow weary of contending with each other and end the relationship.
- Expect lots of attention. An agent asks to represent an author because the agent likes the writer as well as the writing, but never mistake this relationship as a friendship; it’s a business relationship. That means the agent has to juggle a significant list of clients, deciding which ones need special attention. If you have a new proposal you’ve just submitted to your agent, if a publisher made an offer, or if your relationship with your publisher just went on the skids, you can expect to be high on the agent’s “pay attention” list. But sometimes clients assume that experiencing a twinge of panic is a reason to call their agent. Other clients believe that each thought that enters their heads is worthy of dashing off an email to their agent. Wait. Before you pick up the phone or write your tenth email today to your agent, ask yourself, “How much money did my agent make from working with me last year?” If that number is miniscule, you might pause, gather your wits about you, and ask a second question, “Could I save all my concerns as they occur in a draft email and send just one? Do I really need to call my agent about this, or would an email do?”
- Come up with your own idea of what your project is worth. Your agent has a sense of the size of advances publishers are paying, and what the possibilities are for your manuscript. Agents have a significant context to draw from, as we place several projects every month with a variety of publishers. We know which publishers won’t budge on the advance but will move on the royalties. Which ones tend to low-ball the offer expecting the agent to come back and ask for more; which ones pretty much won’t move on any of the offer details. But if you determine, say, that your project should bring $50,000 while your agent is thinking $15,000, it would be a good idea to adjust your expectations. If you don’t, you’ll always think that the agent isn’t enthusiastic enough about you and your work, or that the agent isn’t pressing hard enough to get what you deserve. And that disappointment will eat away at the author-agent relationship. I’ve chosen not to offer representation to some authors who are unrealistic about what kind of advance they might receive because I know our relationship is doomed from the start.
Ultimately, I could sum up this list by saying that false expectations kill author-agent relationships. If the writer believes the agent is like a magic wand that can make a career unfurl in splendor, disappointment is already knocking at the door. Agents aren’t magic wands; they’re people who are knowledgeable about publishing and writing who have chosen to use those skills on behalf of writers. That’s all.
Now, let’s talk. What about my comments makes sense? What seems just plain wrong? Did anything surprise you?
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