Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Location: Books & Such Main Office, Santa Rosa, Calif.
The concept is straightforward: If your agent isn’t working for you, then your agent is killing your career in the saddest way possible, through neglect.
An agent who doesn’t respond to your emails; doesn’t answer your phone calls; doesn’t present your projects, not only isn’t moving your career forward but actually is damaging your career.
Now, I have to hasten to add, there could be compelling reasons for this seeming neglect. Here are a few:
- You’re actually high-maintenance, and the agent is letting you cool your heels and get a grip on your emotions. Honestly, some clients think they can email their agent several times a day, pick up the phone whenever a whisper of insecurity hits, or expect the agent to read submitted material immediately. It doesn’t occur to these writers that the more time the agent spends with them, the less time the agent has to work for them. Holding a client’s hand seldom moves a career forward. That doesn’t mean emergencies and surprise career twists don’t require the author and agent to spend considerable time planning the next step. But it also doesn’t mean the agent can consistently be unresponsive. A balance must be struck. Your agent should be available to you–but not 24/7.
- You’re stuck, and so is your agent. None of your project ideas is connecting with publishers, and the agent is at a loss as to what to do about it. This might be because you’re writing in a genre that publishers aren’t buying much in; your writing isn’t up to par; your ideas are tired and old sounding; your sales history is holding you back until you come up with the idea that can break you out. Sometimes an agent can help you to keep paddling by finding contracts for you that are part of a series or work-for-hire, but sometimes both you and your agent just have to wait out the doldrums until some event–an epiphany of an idea for you or a blast of wind behind the sales of your genre–fill your boat’s sails.
- Something major is happening that’s demanding your agent’s full attention. We have publishing emergencies that require triage more often than our clients imagine. Some days we come to the office full of enthusiasm for the productive hours that lie in front of us, only to read one e-mail or receive one phone call, and our day just blew up on us. And sometimes it isn’t just a day that’s gone up in smoke but a week. The billowing affects of an explosion tosses any agent’s to-do list to the wind because daily tasks are piling up while the demanding situation is being dealt with. As publishing becomes increasingly complex and disjointed, the more time we agents spend in triage situations. Take for example, Harlequin’s recent decision to change the royalty rates on all currently contracted projects. Agents must drop everything to figure out the implications of this change–good or bad, good for some clients and bad for others, etc. And Harlequin set a quick deadline for a response (add ticking time bomb to the scenario).
- Your agent is preparing for a big event. For me, when I’m about to go to a writers conference, a licensing show, or a book convention, months of preparation are required–no, not all-day, everyday, but plenty of concentrated time goes into a significant event. Generally all of my clients benefit from these events because I might be talking about their projects to editors; resolving a publisher-author problem face-to-face with the publisher; finding out what’s happening at publishing houses; establishing new publishing relationships; exploring new ways my clients can reach their readers. But that also means that I’m not as available to connect with individual clients.
What should you do if you feel neglected? The best place to start is to ask yourself if any of the above situations might apply. If so, sit back, sip your lemonade, and give your agent some space. If you don’t think any of the above descriptors fit you, then talk to you agent. Yes, pick up the phone and call. (I would suggest setting up a time to talk so the agent can create space on his calendar and also have time to think about whether he has been negligent in working for you and how to resolve it.) A voice-to-voice moment is necessary so you can find out how your agent sees the relationship going, if you could be doing something different that would help the agent to move your career forward, or if maybe the relationship isn’t working for either of you.
Can you think of other reasons an agent might appear neglectful? What could the author and/or agent do to avoid this situation (agreed on expectations, etc.)?