Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Location: Books & Such Main Office, Santa Rosa, Calif.
Lest you think, based on my posts so far this week, that only writers drives agents crazy, let me hasten to say that agents drive agents crazy!
A perennial problem among agents is a practice called “poaching.” Ew, sounds unpleasant, doesn’t it? “Poaching” occurs when an agent knows an author is represented by another agent and attempts to “steal” that client away.
Now, all agents know we don’t own our clients, and author-agent relationships don’t always work out the way we think they will. So there’s a certain amount of changing “dance” partners that naturally occurs. The agent might decide the client isn’t fitting into the agency well or isn’t producing salable manuscripts or barrages the agent with emails or some other crazy-making behavior. The author might not sense the agent believes in the writer’s work, is paying enough attention to the writer, or is found to be lacking in ethics. Whatever the reason, the relationship falls into the “irreconcilable differences” category.
But poachers (or bottomfeeders, as one agent describes them) are a whole different kettle of fish. A poacher sets his or her sights on an author and approaches the writer by saying, “I read your last book and thought it was brilliant…just brilliant.” Or “You know, I’ve been watching what your agent is doing with your career, and I have to say, he just isn’t serving you well. I’d like to talk to you about what I could do for you.” Or “How much of an advance did your agent negotiate for you on your last contract?…Really? You’re worth so much more.” Or “You know, I have significant contacts in the film industry, and I have to say, your books are naturals.”
Here’s the thing: Most authors are inherently insecure; it seems to go with the creative mind. They need to hear how much someone believes in them; that their writing is appreciated; that their labors are worth serious money. So it doesn’t take a brainy agent to know the points of vulnerability most authors have. The poacher’s bait probably varies little, as he or she moves along, snatching up vulnerable authors with the same hook and line.
What’s wrong with that? Simply that the author probably was being served well by the current agent and won’t benefit from making the change. As a matter of fact, editors and other agents know which agents poach. Trust me, they aren’t the most respected in the biz. As a matter of fact, editors work with those agents only because the editors want the projects badly enough.
Now, do you want to be represented by someone with a bad reputation? What happens when that agent needs to work out a sticky situation for you? If the agent even shows up to deal with the problem, the publisher won’t be eager to work with that person. What happens when that agent negotiates your next contract? The publisher just won’t be in the mood to make the changes requested.
Poachers, when confronted by other agents, often describe their behavior as “just business.’ Perhaps to them it is; but to the rest of us, it’s distasteful and unethical.
Bottomline: Don’t be snagged by agents who are swimming down in the muck. Be discerning and ask around about an agent’s reputation.