What Drives Agents Crazy? Part 2

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

Location: Books & Such Main Office, Santa Rosa, Calif.

Connected with my post from yesterday, when I wrote about writers who try to glean free advice from agents, are writers who are in a pickle with their agent or publisher and need help to straighten out the mess. Often they’ll cast about for either a new agent or a new publisher and call a potential agent to discuss the issues that have left them floundering, unsure of how to deal with the situation.

Inherent in the discussion that author has with the potential new agent is the  understanding that the agent who offers time and insight should be the agent you would choose to represent you when you’re available to make that decision.After all, this is the person who is making a significant investment of time and energy. (Unless you determine you don’t agree with the advice the agent gave, of course.)

But it’s crazy-making when you’re the one who helped the author out of a troubled relationship and then the author chooses another agent, one who offered no help.

In a related situation, an agent feels betrayed when he or she offers feedback to an author on a manuscript that boosts the writing to the publishable level–and the writer chooses another agent. Hello, who brought you to this dance?

Sometimes an agent turns down your manuscript because it isn’t ready, or because you haven’t found your writing voice. That doesn’t mean that person never wants to hear from you again. Yet writers often don’t go back to agents who have seen past material to ask  if they’d like to take a look at something new. If your initial piece was close but not quite ready, the agent, who already is familiar with you and your writing, might well say he or she would be glad to take a look at a new manuscript.

Writers who don’t understand it cost an agent to give feedback

What’s the point of commonality in each of these crazy-making scenarios? The writer isn’t considering what it cost the agent to provide guidance, to give insight, and to respond to a manuscript or a situation.

Agents receive nothing in return for these investments, and on one hand, we understand that’s the way the system is set up. Yet sometimes it seems writers aren’t aware that what the agent gave cost the agent something. Every phone call, every proposal reviewed, every manuscript read takes the agent away from current clients–writers who are making money for themselves and for the agent.

Publishing relationships are like any relationship: Show respect for the other person’s talents, time and knowledge, just as you want to be treated in the same way.

In what ways could agents show more respect to writers?

How could writers show more respect to agents?

19 Responses

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  1. Lynn Dean says:

    Janet, this was a particularly illuminating post.

    Reading a few of your scenarios, I thought, “People DO that?” …but I’m sure they do. In my business, too, people sometimes ask for free advice and then contract someone else to do the work. It’s rude, aggravating, and reminds me to call upon grace.

    But the idea of an agent WANTING to see something new from a writer they’d previously rejected…I suspect that would be a surprise to most writers. We tend sometimes to take the attitude of a spurned suitor. It just would not have occurred to me to ask a second time. If that’s not the case, though, I’m glad to know it. It certainly takes the “one shot is all you get” pressure off!

  2. janetgrant says:

    Lynn, that’s why I posted this blog. Yup, we sometimes do want to hear from a writer again. Not all or even most. Especially if we’ve offered specific feedback rather than a generic no, we’re very likely to take another look. Of course, it behooves the writer to have either a different project to show or to have made a major breakthrough on the work we previously considered.

  3. Wendy says:

    I don’t know about anyone else, but this post encouraged me. I know when I plan to pitch and an agent asks to see my manuscript(s), I will inform other agents as appropriate.

    I’m asking God for a lot of guidance on this lately. I want Him to lead.
    ~ Wendy

  4. I think this is where writers, especially novices, do not understand the gentle nuances of literary relationships.

    For example, not long ago a writer I know talked of her discouragement about a current writing project. She’s a good writer, showing lots of promise. I love reading her work. To me she’s exciting to see develop.

    But she was sure that the agent who had encouraged her and asked to see this novel when it’s done, wouldn’t want to “really” see it. I had to tell her that “yes, you need to let her know when you’re finished.Oh, and by the way–finish it!” I know this agent assured her that she wanted a look, but what happened in the translation? Perhaps a lack of confidence and also a lack of knowing how it all works.

    And this isn’t the first time I’ve run across this scenario. It’s blurry because there truly are those who are rejected and don’t understand that, too.

    But I’m just as guilty of second-guessing my own writing, so I turn around and use what is so clear to me with someone else on myself.

    Thanks so much for this series. It’s much needed.

  5. In Luke 8, an ailing woman presses thru the crowd to touch Jesus’ garment. She is immediately healed. Jesus asks who did it, and everybody denies it, till the woman comes forward.

    Here’s how Luke describes Jesus’ reaction: But Jesus said, “Somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me.” (Luke 8:46, NKJV).

    I doubt that the woman realized that her healing drew down Jesus’ power level (humanly speaking). Every investment Jesus made was costly… But most people never paused to notice.

    Thank you, Janet, for the reminder to be careful not to sap other people’s energy, and not to act as if we’re entitled to it. The worker is worthy of his/her hire.


  6. Love this post! Really shows how much an agent gives of themselves when they offer feedback on a manuscript.

  7. I’m glad to know that if I didn’t get a generic “no”, that it would be worth while to submit again. You give a lot to us each day through this blog. Thanks so much.

  8. janetgrant says:

    Crystal, thanks for the reminder that when an agent asks to see a full manuscript that isn’t a quick decision. That means the agent is saying, “I’m going to read your entire manuscript.” Hello, think about what a time commitment that is. Don’t take these offers lightly.
    Even if the agent eventually doesn’t offer representation, he or she might well tell you why that decision was reached, which is extremely helpful in knowing what you need to fix.

  9. Loving this topic. Enjoy your frankness, Janet, AND the insights/thoughts of commenters.

  10. kim says:

    I too am surprised that an agent would want to see something more from a rejected writer. I thought once you’re out, you’re out, period. Please don’t come knocking at my door. But I’ve noticed as time goes on, I learn more and more and God leads me furthur down this writing road. So my question is, as with my situation, I’ve revamped this tired novel, making it yummier, so can I resubmit it to those once rejected agants?

    And how can I respect you the agent? Well, if you say to me, you’ll have to kill this darling passage of yours b/c it doesn’t fit, then kill it. Make it into something better. Realize I don’t need to call you up to tell you the endless stories of my cute kitty and how much my mom drives me up the wall. Let you do your job, without telling you how to do it. (I hate that one!!)

    How can you show me respect? By realizing that I’m not for sure what I’m doing and need your guidance through this writing maze. By not expecting me to already know what I’m doing. To comfort me when I send you emails saying my writing sucks and I’ll never make it. LOL!! Give me a cookie and pat me on my head. “You’ll be ok.” 🙂

  11. Chris Morris says:

    “Sometimes an agent turns down your manuscript because it isn’t ready, or because you haven’t found your writing voice. That doesn’t mean that person never wants to hear from you again.”

    Isn’t it obvious why a writer would think that? Most rejections are of the form variety, and we’ve had it drummed into our heads that replying to those is bad form. Now we’re supposed to be mindreaders and, based on “not right for me,” we’re supposed to know which agents would like to see a revision or the next manuscript?

    I hope I don’t sound angry, because I’m not. However, I think just as much of this, if not more, falls on the agent. If you want to see more, say so. I mean, you wouldn’t walk into a restaurant, sit there silently and expect the waiter to know what to bring you, right?

  12. Erika Marks says:

    Janet, what a great post.

    It can be important for a writer to see an agent’s feedback on a partial/full as something to be possibly built on. An agent who takes the time to review your work AND make suggestions (in my experience) should always be contacted in the event of new material. I was referred to my agent from another agent in the same agency who had generously read several of my manuscripts and always offered feedback and the opportunity to review any future work.

    Before that, I had always kept an organized record of who I queried and who offered feedback and the chance to resubmit, and those agents were always at the top of my submission list when I went out with a new manuscript.

    When agents offer feedback and the chance to see more of your work down the road, assume they mean it, and assume they have made even a modest investment of their time. As querier, a writer should do the same in return.

  13. janetgrant says:

    Chris, yeah, we agents are tough to read, aren’t we? I’d say, if you receive a form rejection, you’re unlikely to make a connection with that agent. But, if you receive any feedback, that means you engaged the agent at some level. A quick email asking, “If I make significant changes in this project or have a new project, might I resend to you?” would do the trick.
    After all, if the waiter sees a customer just sitting there, it does behoove the waiter to inquire if he can help…

  14. I’m a day behind now, but this was great to read. I had no idea an agent would want to hear back again. I thought like some of the others that once you were told no, its time to move on. In my case, the market isn’t quite ready for my kind of book (and no amount of energy on my part can change that lol). But if and when the time comes, I’ll be back 🙂

  15. John Goshorn says:

    It’s confusing. You will find some agent blogs that insist that unless the agent says, “Please submit again once you have revised,” then you should not re-submit. It is easy to see why. Offers of friendly advice could easily become many long communiques and a deluge of tired submissions.

    I can see people walking on eggshells without clear instructions. Nobody wants to offend an agent they will submit their next novel to. If you would like to see these manuscripts again, just say so. It will save everyone a little exaspiration.

  16. janetgrant says:

    John, if it were as easy as just saying we wanted to see a revision, we would. But we have no idea how married the writer is to what they’ve sent in, which isn’t working for us. Or if they have a fabulous idea in their back pocket that they don’t realize is timely and just what we’re looking for. It’s hard to know when to invite further conversation. This is a lot like dating, you know–no one is sure how to proceed. If it were clear-cut, we wouldn’t all be driving each other crazy.

  17. This is the key:

    Publishing relationships are like any relationship: Show respect for the other person’s talents, time and knowledge, just as you want to be treated in the same way.

    Thanks Janet

  18. Tricia says:

    Janet said “yes” to me after my second attempt. It was with a different project … and to date she’s now contracted 30 books for me!

  19. An inspiring post, and encouraging. Excellent advise to us writers, and one we should take to heart. I know I have. Thanks.