I was chatting with a friend recently who was lamenting that she felt like her agent wasn’t the right fit for her, that she felt like she (my writer friend) was manning her ship on her own, and that she really needed guidance when her agent wasn’t offering any. She asked me if her solitary writing life – ie, without the constant support of her agent – was normal, and if not, what she should do. Is leaving an agent who isn’t the best fit for you a smart move when we all know how difficult it can be to get an agent in the first place?
I hesitated to advise her about specific direct action because, well, those big career leaps of faith are best left to each individual alone, but one thing that I could tell her was that from my experience, your agent needs to be your best, most supportive and loudest ally. And I know of what I speak: I’ve been fortunate enough to have found just that in my own agent, though this wasn’t always this case. In fact, before she and I found each other, I had signed with someone else, and the differences were (and are) startling.
Now. Let me say clearly from the get-go that I have a unique and wonderful relationship with my agent – we’re friends, no just peers – but all of what I’m about to say applies, in my opinion, to any agent-client relationship. And that is this: your agent should be availble to help steer you through the roadblocks that more or less define our industry. He or she should return your phone calls or emails (if you don’t abuse such a thing, and by that I mean reach out to him or her at a reasonable rate) within a day to two. He or she should be there as a sounding board if you don’t like your cover art or any thing else that pops up along the way to publication. He or she should have her mind and ears open to help you with publicity, marketing, foreign rights, and in many cases, shaping and brainstorming your next book.
My agent, Elisabeth Weed, does all of these things for me. My friend’s appeared to do none of them. Essentially, her agent sold her book (which, sure, in and of itself is great), and then, well, that’s about it. Is that worth 15%. No, to me, it’s not. The sale is, in some ways, the least important factor in the equation, because let’s assume that most good agents can sell a good book. (I know, it’s an assumption but let’s play it out.) If that’s the entry-level expectation, that’s just not enough when there is so much more than comes into play that an author needs guidance on.
Look. I’m sure that some of you guys are doubting me, thinking, “It’s hard enough to get an agent, should I really be that picky?!?,” and the answer is, YOU HAVE TO BE. I sincerely think that there is no more important decision in your career than who will represent you. Our industry can be a bloodbath, and you both want and NEED someone who will have your back at all times, even if having your back means telling you to take less money or to suck it up and go with the cover art you hate because it will sell more copies. So much of what we as writers do is solitary but working with your agent is one way that our jobs become a team-effort. Please don’t compromise on this. Please don’t settle for half-baked because a half-baked agent can be, in some ways, worse than starting over. I know. I did. Did start over. Did say sayonara to my original agent when it became clear that she didn’t believe in me the way you need your agent to.
My friend and I chatted about all of this, and I know she’s taking steps to figure out how to ensure that her career is safeguarded. I’d urge the rest of you, if you’re truly dissatisfied with your situations, to do the same. There are some INCREDIBLE agents out there, and you shouldn’t have to settle for one who you think any less of. To that end, I do want to encourage you to swing by my blog: my agent is opening up her submission box in the last few weeks of June. Check out her contest for more info.
So, agree or disagree: how proactive should writers be in their relationships with their agents and when is it time to throw in the towel if it’s not working?
Photo courtesy Flickr’s Maco@Sky Walker