What Drives an Agent Crazy? Part 4

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

Location: Los Angeles

If you read my post yesterday, I talked about agents who poach clients from other agents. But another crazy-making scenario is when a client leaves an agent badly.

Every client an agent picks is chosen carefully because it takes a lot of energy to “fold” a client into the agent’s workflow. The agent needs to be thoughtful and purposeful in how to move the writer onto his or her next level. If the writer has a number of published or unpublished manuscripts, the agent needs to become familiar with where the career is to understand how to move it forward.

One of the delights of being an agent is that we get to choose whom we work with. (How often can a person say that!?) So we choose our clients not only based on career potential but also based on whether we enjoy working with that person.

Considering the investment the agent makes in a client, agents don’t take it lightly when one leaves. Choose to leave well. How?As in any relationship, if your agent is disappointing you or not meeting expectations in some way, you should express it. Now, if you thought finding a publisher when you’re a debut writer was going to be easy because now you have an agent, or that your agent had a get-rich scheme, you need to adjust your expectations. Ain’t no agent got the key to those doors.

But if you have concerns that, on reflection, persist, talk to your agent about them. They need to be aired. Maybe you’ve been feeling neglected. Your agent might be able to explain what’s going on that’s keeping him from paying as much attention to you as he’d like to.

For example, I just completed the most complex contract negotiation I’ve ever done, with the publisher I place most of my projects with–therefore many of my clients would be affected by the negotiation. But it took four months of intense work. Was my ability to read proposals and send out manuscripts affected by the time spent in negotiations? Sure. And I’d be happy to explain that to any client who needed to hear it.

But let’s say that I had a client who, rather than talking to me about the perceived snub, just left. Gone. Sent an email after she signed with another agent.

What a sad waste for both of us. That author’s momentum will be lost while the new agent gets onboard. A perfectly good relationship will be gone because the client didn’t talk it over.

Now, that client might decide to leave after we talk, but at least we would have ended our relationship well. It comes down to showing respect for each other and for the relationship, for what each of us has invested in the other.

So if you’re feeling disgruntled with your current agent, pick up the phone and have a heart-to-heart. Either the air will clear, or you’ll both know the relationships isn’t working.

Not to mention that agents can make adjustments. If you have a concern, once you’ve expressed it, the relationship might not end at all but get righted. Which makes both of you happy.

9 Responses

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  1. Jan Cline says:

    Hi Janet, I have a question about “career potential”. How do agents feel about taking on a not so young writer? I often wondered if age made any difference – especially since there are so many young writers out there that would have longevity of career.

  2. Sounds like it’s a blending of business and relationship.

  3. Lynn Dean says:

    Most people seem to dread confrontation. In the crazy-making scenario you describe, one party tries to avoid a potentially awkward conversation and makes things far worse in the process. Another solution is to HAVE the conversation without making it into a confrontation. Can we learn to express our perceptions and desires without jumping to unflattering assumptions and casting blame? If we give the other human an opportunity to explain or make adjustments, chances are they’re as eager as we are for everyone to win in the end.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Dear Janet, I really appreciate this because it’s good to see inside an agents mind.

    But from a writers mind, we’re not often secure about our place with the agent or publisher. An agent needs to make room for the author to come and talk. Being short, snide, sounding irritated, giving harsh, blunt feedback to a proposal shakes an author.

    We’re afraid if call to talk about stuff, or send an email, we’ll get, “You’re not all that good anyway. Be happy you have one contract.”

    I know it sounds silly, but I’ve heard from authors they are afraid to talk to their agent. Doesn’t mean they have the wrong agent, though. The agent doesn’t make them feel welcome.

    And I would be upset about my agent neglecting opportunities for me for four months while working for just one other client. That’s almost half a year.

    How do we reckon that? Shouldn’t the agent let clients know if a certain job is consuming their time and going to cause them delays with other clients material?

    Was it a boilerplate contract for all your authors?

    If it’s important to communicate with the agent, it’s important for the agent to communicate with clients.

    It makes it seem the weight of the agent, or even editor, relationship seems to fall mostly on the author.

    Thank you.

  5. In this age where a guy breaks up with a girlfriend by Facebook or texting, it wouldn’t surprise me that someone would break up badly with their agent!

    It’s so easy to stew or wonder what the other person is thinking when communication is sparse (for whatever reason,) but I also think personality has a lot to do with how a person faces conflict. Some will avoid conflict at all costs. Some get mad fast, and blow up the bridge before they see the whites of your eyes.

    These posts certainly will help people to view agents with a bit more respect and consideration, I would think.

  6. Tricia says:

    Thank you, Janet, for all the work you do for all the contracts that pass over your desk. I know that you pay extreme attention to them–which is not always the case in the publishing world! I think being willing to negotiate for 4 months shows that you take your clients’ best interest to heart. In the publishing world, standards don’t just affect one writer–they affect us all. By sticking to your guns, and getting the best contract possible, you’ve helped us all!

  7. janetgrant says:

    Anonymous, regarding the four-month negotiation, I was creating a template that all the agents in our agency will use with that publisher. We have a significant number of our clients with this publisher so my work was affecting a large percentage of our clients.
    By the time I finished the process, we had five contracts totaling 12 titles awaiting signature from our clients. The work I did was an investment in the future of our clients. Obviously I wasn’t working exclusively on the negotiations during that time but was paying attention to other clients as well. It just took me longer than usual to accomplish some tasks.
    I suppose I could have informed everyone what I was doing, but I think it would have raised more questions than it answered. I believe I would have received a barrage of “what’s happening to my projects” type of communications, which would have put me further behind–and that isn’t helpful to anyone.
    The author-agent relationship requires trust–I trust the author to do everything possible to meet his or her responsibilities, and my clients believe the same of me.
    I’ve heard of other writers saying they’re afraid of their agents. I think writers need to examine what that’s about. Is their agent accessible to them when they request time to connect? Does their agent respond in a helpful way, or in a get-out-of-my way manner?

  8. Anonymous says:

    I don’t want to “out” myself, but when I was with my first agent, I emailed him at one point to say I was unhappy at the way things were proceeding. I was upset and I really just wanted to hear from him that he had everything under control and had a plan.

    His response was, “Maybe you’d be happier elsewhere.”

    I said, “I’m not ready to find a new agent yet.”

    He was shocked because I think he expected me to grovel. But that pattern persisted until the end: whenever I approached with a problem, he pulled the “Maybe I’m not the agent for you” card.

    It’s not possible to work out differences with someone who tries to frighten you into shutting up.

    If a client leaves without talking things out, it can’t have been “a perfectly good relationship” to begin with. If the client was unhappy and hid it, then that’s obviously the client’s fault, but I wonder how many times the client feels she has tried to open dialogue and it hasn’t been well-received. If both parties feel the agent has the power and control, and the writer feels threatened, then maybe it makes sense to pull up stakes without warning.

  9. Anon 2 says:

    Anon, I feel your pain!

    When I did decide to voice a concern to my agent, I literally received a letter terminating our agreement (via e-mail) the next day! He considered my questions an insult, and did not want his “abilities to be questioned”. I know what you’re thinking – then he clearly is not someone I could have a strong and productive relationship with and I am better off without him. This is absolutely true, but that didn’t take away the sting and frustration of working so hard to garner representation and then being slammed back to square one. Worse yet, I now had subs floating around that he did not even follow up on (plus a few rejections), and my manuscript appeared to be “used goods” to the agents I now approached. Double Whammy.

    That being said, I now truly believe every site/blog I have ever read that states the writer/agent relationship is essential to further success. My book was of a taboo subject matter, and I was told time and time again that my writing was strong, but that various agents just could not touch the subject. So I ended up going with the first one that would. Trust me, it took a year to get to that point! Then another year with said agent. Though seeing that letter was frustrating, I eventually felt freed. I clearly knew what I did NOT want in an agent, and now could aim for what I did!

    PLEASE do not see this as trashing agents in general. I think there are MANY brilliant/hardworking lit. agents out there, and I dream of pairing up with one!

    But this manuscript may have to be the casualty of the process. It was actually written with someone who has a name/platform/could market it through a variety of avenues, and I sense I will have to shelve it, as no one wants a “previously agented work” from a debut author.

    I will start again with my new work, and put this manu on the shelf, along with the three years it took to write it, and get/lose an agent.
    – In positive news, that manu was written under a pen name, and I feel as if I have a fresh start querying agents with my new work (in a totally unrelated subject matter) under my own name.

    And the lesson learned is not that I shouldn’t have questioned my agent, it’s that I should never have signed with someone that was wrong for me in the first place. Looking back, there were many subtle cues that he was not the one for me (or for some others on his roster), but I was just SO EXCITED at the thought of both having an agent and moving forward with my manuscript that I jumped before looking (I asked every question that new writers are supposed to ask of agents that make offers of representation, I just may not have listened so carefully to the answers…)

    Best of luck to you all in your hunt, and keep up the great work, Janet! We’re thankful for the view from your yard!