A to Z Challenge 2013

Friday, June 5, 2009

Agent And Writer Relationships

I was reading through an interesting question posed by Rachelle Gardner, asking "what does an agent need to know about you?" The idea is a platform for writers to allow agents to get a glimpse into who they are. Of course I pounced on the opportunity, putting in my own style and spin on what I think an agent should know about me. If nothing else, I figured some agent might read through my carefully drafted comments and make a mental note of things. It's highly illogical and improbable perhaps, but positive thinking has gotten me this far.

Later on, I darted back onto the page to read some of the other comments out of curiosity. I need to say first however, that Rachelle made it explicitly clear what she was NOT hoping to get. She didn't want it to be a forum for griping about unresponsive agents or the relative slowness of the process. If you've done any research at all on the web regarding agents, writers, and their respective thoughts on the industry, you'll quickly get the sense that agents don't want to hear about writers complaining and visa versa. It's a common theme that agents are usually swamped with work and (right or wrong) they sometimes take a while before getting back to you. It's also common knowledge that some agents do not respond to queries, expecting the prospective writer to get the hint rather than having to send out a "no" response to every MS they choose not to take on.

When I first began my journey of learning about writing and the industry as a whole, I was astounded at the number of stories to be found regarding poor behavior on the part of writers. Patience, fellow writers - I'll get to the agent side momentarily. As I was reading through these endless tales, I found myself saying, "There's no way any respectable writer would act this way. I mean c'mon, of course you wouldn't write a query that poorly. Of course you wouldn't act so needy and demanding towards an agent. It's common sense, isn't it?" I had chalked these stories up as the usual urban legend-type Internet nonsense. You can imagine my surprise then, that as I returned to the comments on Rachelle's page, I read in horror examples of this same behavior. Granted, there aren't many and they are not nearly as bad as they could be. But (as has been said so many other places) it seems as if some people do not recognize a golden opportunity when they see it, and they throw a portion of their professionalism out the window in order to return to that well-worn platform. Me'thinks this does not bode well.

Now I have not had the pleasure of dealing with an agent yet, and I hope that when I get to that point, my experience will be more enjoyment than pain. But I completely understand the expressed frustration with the process. I agree that agents should give a good faith effort to respond to queries, but I'm saying this while not having to do their job. I have the luxury of not having to wade through piles of insufferable ignorance (and not quite good enough writing) in order to find the one or two gems that will make it worthwhile. Judging from some of the responses on Rachelle's site, I can almost hear the groans from agents everywhere - or the silence as they turn away from the page. Yes, they should be held to a standard of professionalism in their work. That's obvious and expected. It's not going to help our case much however, if (when given the opportunity) we choose to vent frustrations rather than utilize the forum in the manner it was intended. I don't have any answers regarding what changes agents might consider in their work, but I can say that negativity in any process is counterproductive.

I may be starting a war here, but I was really hopeful to see some intriguing responses to Rachelle's question. It's almost too bad that a few of us see conflict where instead we should be realizing opportunity.

Am I off base here? I urge you to stop by Rachelle's site, read through what is there, post your own comment, and let me know either way.


Jody Hedlund said...

Hi Eric,

I read through Rachelle's post today too, along with the comments. They're very interesting. My personal opinion is that as unpublished writers we really don't have the right to demand anything of agents. When we're querying it's kind of like we're interviewing for a job. We wouldn't sit in an interview with a prospective employee and make all sorts of demands for the interview process (i.e. make sure you communicate back with me after two weeks, ect.). I'm wondering why we think we deserve so much from agents.

Now once we're working with them and bringing in a steady income, then I think the agent-writer relationship should take on new dimensions. I'm still trying to figure out exactly what those dimensions will be for Rachelle and I. But at this point, since I'm such a new client of hers and haven't sold a book, I don't think I have the right to demand anything either! It's like with any job, I'm low man on the totem pole and have to work my way and earn her respect.

Kath Calarco said...

Eric, I visited Rachelle's blog. I'd admire her guts - she chose an interesting battle.

I concur with Jody's post here, and add that sometimes I feel writers take the business too personally. Publishing is just that - business and comes with an expected professionalism. That said, if I receive no response to queries, I just move on. I don't view it as a life or death proposition.

My feeling is that when the time is right, all the stars align, then all will fall into place.

dellgirl said...

I haven't read Rachelle's blog yet. But, reading your post reminds me of the lessons I have learned over the past year (simply blogging) about not taking things personally. It was quite a lesson in humility to realize that everything is not about "ME".

What you describe seems to be a case of "burning bridges", which is never a good idea.

Jessica Nelson said...

Hey, I just got done reading her blog and the comments. I just put communication. Not when we're querying, but once we're a client.
But I agree. There are some pretty bitter people out there. I hope I never become that way. Good post.

Liana Brooks said...

Maybe I missed some of the battle comments. I just skimmed.

When I get an agent and I'm working on a deadline for what is essentially a shared project, I expect to keep them informed on my progress and anything that might disrupt that progress.

Other than that, all they need to know is that I can do my job (write, edit, act like a civil human being in public places, and keep up my end of the advertising gig) and that I expect them to do theirs.

I don't need an agent to be my best friend and help me through hard edits. I have friends and a writing group already. I just need an agent who is on top of their game and can be a professional about it 100% of the time.

Teresa said...

Hello Eric,

Thank you for visiting my blog, and for the very kind comments and the "follow". Glad to find your blog and look forward to following along with your writing. Read your article "Writing is Work" (Thurs. May 28, 2009) and I'll certainly agree with that! I don't think I agonize too much over a particular word choice... I tend to sort of brainstorm and just get down the basics (before I forget what I was thinking) then I go back and start refining and cutting. I usually end up doing 3-4 revisions per piece, refining and tightening as I go.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I've found that it's best to keep our feelings out of any professional relationship--as hard as that is. When my agent gives me advice and when my publisher requests revisions, I try to remember this isn't a reflection on me but on the product I'm putting out. This might seem cold, but it helps me to keep from getting hurt feelings or looking at my manuscript as a "baby," (which I have in the past.)

Mystery Writing is Murder

Makita Jazzqueen said...

I haven't read Rachel's post yet, but reading yours made me think.
You said that agents need to get to see who writers really are, and that made me think about my writing, wether it is possible to see myself in it... I'll definetely write something about this in my blog next week, why don't you check it out?


Tana said...

I had an agent once. She's now on P&E as a predator (not of my doing) I think there are a few bad apples out there and unlucky for me I landed one. Thankfully the relationship dissolved but not after about two years of weird limbo. I was too green to understand i could kick her to the curb and waited it out to the bitter end. BTW, she's still in practice to this day. That's why I value P&E so much now. My relationship with her was before I knew of them.

Rebecca Woodhead said...

Interesting topic. They're professionals. Writers should act like professionals around them. That doesn't mean you can't have a laugh with them if they're up for it but it does mean you don't go slamming them all over creation if they decide your work doesn't fit their current list. Take it on the chin. Failure's part of the game. Did you expect the first person you dated to be the person you would marry? Probably not. Even if you did though, the failure of that relationship wouldn't make you give up on relationships forever. You put it behind you and keep on meeting people until you find The One. I think it's the same with agents. If it's not true love then it's not meant to be.

On a totally different topic. I know you're a fan of World of Warcraft so I think this'll make you laugh.

South Park World of Warcraft: http://www.pp2g.tv/vZXB!Y3E_.aspx

Robyn Campbell said...

I can't wait to dash over and read the blog, and the comments. I'll head over and leave my little tidbit. I've been reading Nathan Bransford's offering on just what he gets in his mailbox every day. It's staggering. So I'm not hard on the agents. I think they do their job the best they can. It's hard when you consider what type of writing they get. A lot of it is CRAP, and so I feel for them. I think a lot of people think they can just pick up a pencil and write a book. That's not all there is to it as you and I both know. REVISIONS, revisions, and still more revisions. I was at the hospital with my son the other day and as I walked past this man, I heard him say. "I gotta write a book, I could do it. It's easy." I started to say something, but I just walked away, grinning. :)

Travis Erwin said...

I truly do not get eh adversarial tone many writers take when it comes to discussion of agents. Agents are supposed to be writer advocates and they are but too many writers get caught up on the rejections and see agents as the roadblock to them getting published, but it is up to us as writers to make them say yes. After all they want to find things they can sell. Sure saleable things slip by them, but a truly believe if a writer is good enough they will eventually find that one advocate they need.

Glynis Peters said...

Agents are the future part of my dream and had never really looked at them before. I went to the site and was amazed by what I read. I left my comment. This was it...

Gosh this is a new world for me...agents. I would want the agent to know, I try hard and would continue to do so. I would also want them to know that as part of a team, I would do my bit, if able. What I would want from the agent would be the same.

Cassandra Jade said...

I have to admit that when I first started researching agents and trying to figure out the writing industry, I was mostly horrified at the way some writers respond to rejection. Given the number of stories about talented writers who were rejected umpteen thousand times before being published, you would think that any new writer would be prepared to face the sea of rejection before them. Apparently some writers missed that memo and assume that they are so superbly talented that they will be snapped up first try.
Thanks for sharing your views, it is always interesting to see how others are finding this journey into the industry. I must admit, I find it quite surreal sometimes and it always helps to ground me to realise everyone else get confused as well.

Carolyn R. Parsons said...

There is no rejection, there is only result..sometimes the result is no, sometimes it is yes. Such is life. I write because I love to write. I don't even particularly care if I'm ever published but when the time comes I'll submit and let it go.

Thanks for the follow.


San said...

I have no experience with literary agents, but as a gallery owner, I've seen it all with regard to artists' submissions. Yes, professional courtesy, and removing the heart from the sleeves, are important. As a painter myself, I realize this can be hard, but it saves a lot of energy for the creative work to be done.

I would imagine it's the same with literary agents.

XiXi said...

In my view, this whole relationship, no matter how close it gets, is still a business relationship. I don't like the way writers gripe about it, and I'm also not a fan of how buddy-buddy some writers get to the point of suck-upishness. I appreciate how much work agents have to do, but I also think it's normal. They're not martyrs. When they chose to become agents, they knew they'd get crap along with good stuff. Writers don't have to worship them. But we do have to respect them.

It's best to approach it in a professional manner, the way you'd approach any business relationship. I do really appreciate the agents who keep blogs. They seem genuinely inclined to help, and it's sad how they're maligned sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Eric - In my opinion the problems are cultivated due to a collision between emotion and business. Agents are in the business of finding books that will make them the most money. This can only be done by representing well written books geared for a large audience. We as writers want our books to be published but more to the point we become very emotionally attached to our stories. Anything remotely seen as a rejection or insult to our manuscripts are often interpreted as a personal attack. I don't believe agents will change anytime soon as this is a dog eat dog business. We as authors need to be mentally prepared to tackle this as a business once our manuscripts are completed. To that end, our relationship with an agent should remain as a business venture until the deal is made and our book is on the shelf.