Monday, December 11, 2017

10 Signs that It Might Be Time For a New Agent

A post by Mary Fan
Being a writer often feels like being at the bottom of the publishing food chain, especially when you’re just starting out. On the traditional publishing side, landing a literary agent feels like reaching a finishing line of sorts, like you’ve Made It. But sometimes, having an agent isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Before I go on, I want to clarify that I’m not subtweeting (subblogging?) anyone in particular here, but rather aggregating a list based on various anecdotes from various writers.

Anyway, the agent-author relationship is a business relationships, and as in all business, sometimes, things just don’t work out. Now, as a writer (especially a newbie writer) who’s spent countless hours querying and hoping and praying for an agent, to finally sign with one can feel like a miracle. So it can be especially hard to accept that it may be time to walk away. But you’re not doing yourself any favors by staying with an agent who’s not a good fit. 

Here are some signs that it may be time to move on with your publishing life:

1. The agent doesn’t return your emails
Open communication is key to making any relationship work, business or otherwise. While it’s true that sometimes people just get busy and accidentally miss emails, watch out if a pattern starts to form. As in, you email and follow up time and time again, only to get crickets from someone who’s supposed to be your advocate. If they’re being unresponsive, it probably means you’re low on their priority list, and that’s not a good place to be.

2. The agent doesn’t answer your questions
This is related to #1, but also distinct. For example: You send the agent an email with a question, and the agent dashes off a vague reply without answering. Again with the communication. And again with being a low priority.

3. They don’t add you to their client list on their website or follow you on Twitter
This might sound petty, but hear me out. If an agent lists a bunch of their clients on their website but not you, that could mean they don’t see you as being that important. Similarly with Twitter—it costs literally nothing to hit the “follow” button on Twitter. Yet I’ve heard of some agents only following back clients after they’ve sold, which just seems… petty on their part. And is yet another sign that you just might not be that important to them.

4. They treat you like a cog
Publishing is a business, but that’s no reason to stop treating people like they’re human. And authors are human beings, not just word producers and revenue generators. If you’re starting to feel like you’re being seen as a product instead of a client, then it might be time to walk away.

5. They become less cordial the longer you don’t sell
Related to #4. It can take a long time to sell a book. I’ve heard of books being on submission for years before landing a deal. Or sometimes, the book the agent originally signed for doesn’t sell, but the next one or the one after that does. And the agent-author relationship is supposed to be long-term one. So it’s starting to feel… transactional, like you only matter when you start bringing in cash—maybe reconsider who you’re working with.

6. They’re not open to your new ideas
Some agents sign authors—they’re in it for the long haul, and if the book they signed you for doesn’t sell, they’re up for trying again with the next thing you write. Others sign specific books—they liked that one thing you wrote, but if you try anything different, they’re just not interested. Some authors find a specific space they’re comfortable writing in, in which case, this one probably doesn’t apply, because if the agent liked the first book, they’ll like subsequent, similar books as well. Others are eclectic. They want to explore. They never write the same book twice. And sometimes, this throws a wrench into the author-agent relationship. If the agent isn’t open to your new ideas, then it could be a sign of a bad fit. You shouldn’t have to feel like you’re querying your own agent with every new thing you write. You might as well query another agent entirely.

7. They don’t pay attention to your concerns
This goes back to the whole “you’re just not that important to them” thing. Remember, you’re the client. You shouldn’t feel ignored.

8. Their enthusiasm wanes
Sometimes, they’re just not that into your writing anymore. And they won’t be a particularly effective advocate if that happens.

9. They don’t provide updates
This is an important one. Lots of things can happen during the submissions process, and you have the right to know what’s going on with your book. Who has the agent sent your book to? Have they followed up? Who’s requested or passed on it so far? Are they sending it to anyone new? Even with bad news, it’s better to know what’s going on. If you’ve asked your agent for updates and they aren’t answering, then that’s not a good sign.

10. You’re just not comfortable

Trust your gut. You should feel comfortable working with your agent.


Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

Excellent compilation. Hopefully, this will help some authors.

Mary Fan said...

Thank you!

Brenda St John Brown said...

Great list! Breaking up is hard to do, but it can be the best thing for your career.

Mary Fan said...

Thanks! Sad, but true...

Cheryl Oreglia said...

Wow Mary, great advice. I personally do not have an agent, I can't imagine getting to that place with my writing that I would require one, but if I ever do I'll have this wisdom tucked away. Thank you.

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