Your Agent Has Skin in the Game

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

I was talking with a writer who was agented by someone else, and considering changing agents. This person wanted to talk with me about possibly being their agent. I asked a lot of questions to determine the situation and whether it was appropriate for me to even consider this. As part of the conversation, the writer said, “At this point, my agent has no skin in the game so I don’t think there’s any harm in pulling the project and going with a different agent.”
My radar went up. No skin in the game? I asked more questions. It turned out the agent had:
  • Spent time working on the proposal with the author.
  • Had several conversations with the author about the book, the author’s goals, etc.
  • Put together a list of appropriate publishers for the book, and identified the right editor at each house to whom they’d send the proposal.
  • Crafted a pitch letter to those editors.
  • Sent out the pitch along with the proposal to several publishers.
  • Fielded responses and had conversations with publishers about the book.


The book hadn’t yet sold to a publisher, and the author was waiting for the agent to take the next steps, which might involve reworking the proposal, and would certainly involve sending it out to more publishers.

But the author felt like the agent’s interest was waning due to the lack of interest from publishers.

Now, that could be true. Maybe the agent, being human, was feeling discouraged. Or maybe there was just a delay in moving to the next step because the agent is working on a lot of projects at once, and is planning to get back to this one as soon as possible.

But does the agent have skin in the game? Absolutely. The agent has spent valuable time, brainpower, and expertise on this project, and hasn’t made any money yet. The agent will never get back that time or energy, and is expecting to get paid for this work when the book sells to a publisher.

I recommended the writer go back to their agent and have an honest discussion, asking questions like: Are you still interested in representing my book? When do you anticipate moving on to the next step? Do you think we need to revise the proposal, or keep trying to sell it as-is? What can I be doing in the meantime while I’m waiting for this process to play out?

I stressed that the agent definitely has skin in the game. To pull a project when the agent clearly has been working on it and never giving the agent a real chance to sell it might not be the best choice. Of course, if the writer is being ignored and it’s really clear that the agent has no intention of continuing to pitch the project, then the writer needs to verify that with the agent, and move on.

Can you relate to the scenario of being frustrated that your journey isn’t moving along exactly as you’d hoped and envisioned? Have you been tempted to “jump ship” and try something else rather than allowing the current situation to play out?


Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

12 Responses

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  1. If I was signed, I’d stay with the agent, period, because:
    a) I don’t know jack about the publishing industry, and
    b) I’d have done the research to know that:
    bi) Said agent DOES know jack about publishing, and
    bii) Said agent is ethical and trustworthy; if nothing’s happening, it’s not her fault.
    Y’all gotta hand over the patient to the surgeon sometimes, and not try to mark cut lines on the abdomen for her.
    * But the way you phrased the question, Rachelle, does strike a different chord in me, about “being tempted to “jump ship’ and try something else rather than allowing the current situation to play out”.
    * Not that I’m tempted myself; others are tempted for me, and have strongly suggested that I consider assisted suicide (legal in NM); why be alive for the final impact, when the fall’s been bad enough and is accelerating?
    * The answer’s simple. I can still act as a channel for Grace, and it’s rather rude to the Almighty to summarily cut that off. Impoliteness to God takes a special kind of stupid.

    • I agree with you on not seeking a new agent. Continuing to pray for you, but am relieved to hear you will not take the “easy out” of this. God’s name is being glorified through your handling of this illness. Hugs. Prayers going up for Barbara, too.

      • Crystal, thanks so much, from both of us.
        * For what it’s worth, the reason not to quit is simply ‘reaching out’. I’m way past being able to hold out temporal hope, or even rejoice in my afflictions in the surety of eternal reward; right now a part of me would sell my soul for a shot of Demerol.
        * But how do you turn your back on others whom you can still help? How do you say ‘no’ to offering encouragement and prayer? When you can’t really breathe too good, how can you not crack a joke to make your wife smile through her tears?
        * Sorry if this is off-topic, but maybe it’s not, because to die is to live, to live is to write, and to write is to serve.

      • All I can say is you are amazing, Andrew… and I’m glad it’s not possible to sell your soul for Demerol. Don’t give up your fighting spirit even if it would be so much easier.

      • Crystal, thanks so much…really, I just have come to know how blessed I am, not least by this community, and I don’t want to miss a day.

  2. Some people run from the hard conversations. Seems to me that this situation is up for a hard conversation: “Is it the book? Or the proposal? Or the list of potential publishers? What needs to be re-worked?” Rather than work the problem, the author shortcuts it with “It’s the agent,” which translates to “not my problem.”

  3. Can I relate to wanting to jump ship and struggling? When I “jumped ship” from teaching, it was after much prayer and leading from God and it was more of a disembarking at the end of a journey after working hard with the crew the entire way.

    When it comes to relationships of any variety, I am a loyalist. I will stick through the good and bad until we either mutually agree to separate or overcome whatever challenge we are facing. I won’t randomly sign with an agent. It is something I am praying over and I trust that whomever God leads me to and opens the door for is someone I should stick with through the good and bad.

    Writing isn’t an easy gig for agent or author, why make it harder by adding relational tension? While I wouldn’t choose to leave my agent just because my book wasn’t selling, I hope she makes (made) a decision based on prayer and conversation with her agent.

  4. Angela Arndt says:

    I love the line from your personal blog last week that said if you don’t hear from us, you “assume [we’re] happily writing and don’t want to be disturbed.” (And it’s so true.) And definitely, if the writer is concerned about what her agent is doing, that she should contact him or her because communication is key in any relationship.
    –However, if there’s no response or of the lines of communication are jumbled, then I’d add one more step before she leaves: pray for confirmation. We don’t know what’s “going on behind the curtain,” but God always does.

  5. We writers can be such a fickle breed. It’s easy for writers (and perhaps humans in general?) to get caught up in how they think things should be going. Especially when they are in a position of waiting on someone else to do something for them.
    *Regardless of the situation, communication has to be there. If we’re not sure about something, we need to ask questions, as you recommended. Rather than assuming the worst, we need to look for the best and move forward on that premise until proven otherwise.
    *Great perspective, as always, Rachelle!

  6. Thank you Rachelle for this post because I believe the moment an agent shows interest in a writer there is at least some skin in the game, and that as more is done there is an ever increasing amount of skin in the game for both the agent and the writer, if the writer has done their research thoroughly, and also offered a quality work of writing.

    I did not get married until I was thirty- five years of age. It was not for lack of suitors, but suitors that met my set of standards. This year in September 25th, my husband and I will celebrate our Silver Anniversary, twenty -five years of journeying together through ALL KINDS of weather, good, bad, downright stormy, and everything in between. Through it all we persisted, and set our minds to grow ourselves into the marriage relationship God wanted for us. Was it easy? No, not at all, it was tough for us at various points. But, was it worth It? Absolutely! We have learned to work together, appreciating each other’s strengths and working with each other’s weaknesses. Now, we have other’s that approach us to ask how we did it. But, it all began with picking a quality man who I knew his love for Jesus was such, if we hit hard times, or he was angry that he would do what God says in the Word. I was the same. So we made that commitment and have stuck by that through thick and thin.

    I am not represented as yet, but I pray to be by the end of this year. I am working hard to be able to present quality writing that would make a quality agent willing to put skin in the game with me, making for an epic journey.

  7. I can relate to the frustration of this journey toward publication. Several folks in my critique group are self-published and sometimes try to steer me to that route. But I really want the input of an agent and editor. I don’t pretend to be able to be objective enough about my work yet. I’m deeply grateful for those who have not offered representation, but taken the time to suggest (you agents are such a kind and gentle lot) things that could make the book better. I’m committed to this journey, frustrations and all.

  8. Pat Iacuzzi says:

    Just a quick observation: I may be “jumping ship” every time I start a new story without finishing an older one, telling myself I have a new and better idea I need to work on.