Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Author/Agent Life: What does a good working relationship look like?

What does a good working relationship with an agent look like?

I've been with my agent for more than a year, and don't hear from her often. She's submitted my work to three publishers (that I know of) but I've only received feedback from one (a very kind rejection with suggestions on revisions and an open door to read my next book).

In the past year, I've had a baby, so work on my third novel took longer than I expected - I'm just wrapping up revisions, then it will go to beta readers, then I hope to have it completed by end of March.

I've emailed this agent twice since the new year, first on Jan 4 with outlining my goals and timeline, asking her opinion on whether I should attend a national conference & try to personally meet with editors, asking if she's gotten feedback from the other two publishers, detailing my plans for the rest of the series. All organized & concise. The second time was to follow up a week and a half later, as I hadn't heard anything back - not even an acknowledgement of receipt of the email. She's the president of the agency and I understand she's busy, but hearing back even from the assistant would be great at this stage! Still haven't.

I would love to know if this is typical for a relationship between an agent and an unpublished author - if not, what is? After working so hard to get an agent it's disappointing to say the least to only hear from mine once every 5-6 months and to not hear back at all in a timely manner so far this year. If this IS normal, I don't want to overreact and rock the boat!

Any and all advice would be appreciated. Thank you!

This is NOT a good working relationship because YOU are not happy with it. There are no standards about this kind of thing. If you're not happy, it's not working.

I have fallen behind on communication with my clients from time to time. It's not something I'm proud of and in fact is something I work hard to avoid. But it does happen.

BUT, if I get an email or a call that says "hey, this is a problem for me" from a client, I smarten up and pay attention.

Thus, you need to make your unhappiness known. Say to her what you said to me.  She can't fix a problem she's not aware of.

And emails can go astray. Or get buried. Or maybe her assistant was supposed to reply.

Let her know you're unhappy. See if things change. If they don't, well, you know you need an agent who is better at communication than this one. That national conference is probably a good place to meet one.


ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) said...

As an author in a similar position (have an agent, but as yet unpublished), I can empathize with the uncertainty of what to expect from the agent-author relationship and then the follow-up anxiety that comes from that uncertainty.

The thing I always remind myself is that communication is key. Janet says let your agent know, and I 100% agree, even if it does give anxiety. It *shouldn't* be nerve-wracking to do so, but the journey to even sign with an agent and the feeling of precariousness that it might all fall apart is a real feeling, even if not a realistic scenario.

The great thing is that we are writers, which means we can craft email messages that effectively convey our questions without being scratchy, right? Without fail, if I've ever indicated an emotion towards my agent that signals high anxiety, she has then called me (thankfully, because I have a strange anxiety of initiating phone calls myself) and we talked it all out, reminding me how HUGE the communication piece is. She can't know I'm unhappy unless I tell her, right? She's no mindreader - especially across several states (cue Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle pulling down the map to show his son why meeting Meg Ryan is crazy).

Finally, for me, I also realized that upon starting our agent-author relationship, we just don't know each other that well. We have to teach each other how to best work with one another. Maybe that is the case between your agent and you right now. It's still a learning process.

Colin Smith said...

From the unagented, unpublished perspective, this is a tough scenario to contemplate. As the writer says, after working so hard to get an agent, it's disappointing to find they don't meet expectations--even when those expectations are not unreasonable (e.g., keeping in touch, or responding to email).

At least from my perspective, this is at the heart of a lot of query anxiety. On the one hand we want to query widely in the hope that an agent--or some warm body somewhere at a literary agency--will like our work and take us on. But on the other, we don't want a "bad" agent, or an agent who doesn't meet our expectations of what an agent will do for us.

Which reminds me: we are not beggars at the publishing banquet. It's not wrong for us to research agents and their clients, find out how they handle the agent-client relationship, and how well they live up to those expectations.

But, when it seems as if all the good agents are rejecting your work, it can be hard to say no to the one that says "yes" regardless of other considerations.

But this industry is fiercely competitive and full of uncertainty. Just getting an agent doesn't guarantee getting published, and getting one book published doesn't mean the next will be published. I understand why some choose self-publishing. But for those going the traditional route, they really need that advocate. And when that advocate lets them down, at least I imagine it can be quite demoralizing.

I hope everything works out, writer friend, and that well-worded email is all it takes to get your agent talking to you. :)

Anonymous said...


And that's how it should be.

I've actually had two agents. Agent A, the dream agent I hung up on and Agents Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

Agent A handled my children's books. Tweedledee and Tweedledum handled my suspense Dancing Horses.

What a thrilling story!! I got tons of requests off a terrible query letter and then the rejections poured in. Some had suggestions about the writing, most just passed.

Of course, part of the passes may have had to do with the opening scene where the manager is fishing part of a horse tongue out of a horse waterer.

However, one intrepid agency responded to my query, loved the book and REALLY wanted my other book a historical fiction about the blazing love affair of a famous cattle baron and his wife.

Agent A checked in occasionally to let me know how submissions were going and give me some ideas on how to improve the books.

Tweedledee and Tweedledum were on the phone to me constantly. How's it going? Started the new book yet? No, nothing on Dancing Horses. How's the cattle baron book? No, you don't need to change anything on Dancing Horses. Where did you say you were on the cattle baron? Do you really need this character in Dancing Horses? I sure think we can sell the cattle Baron. 100 pages, that's great. Send it to us as soon as you can. Did we mention we're really excited about the cattle baron?

We loved each other. I baked them cookies! The two single guy agents loved my cookies!

Julie, you have to have the best agents on earth. You lucky thing. They love you. They call you all the time. So this is what writing heaven feels like. *contented sigh*

Agent A, "The rhyming is a little forced on the Dinosaur Store. Do you think you can work on that and send it back?" Then she gave me a diagram of rhyming. Who knew poets diagram stuff? Hmm. She made suggestions for the mg. I needed to buckle down.

I split the sheets with Tweedledee and Tweedledum when I found out they actually hadn't been sending out Dancing Horses and they no doubt missed my cookies. I missed having someone to chat to about the cattle baron constantly. Their shiny new agency went out of business the next year, due to the lack of cookies I'm sure. I stopped writing for years. It wasn't worth having to fight my husband for the right to sit down and write.

Agent A was completely distraught when I said I was giving up and wouldn't be sending her the revisions on the mg book we'd been working on.

Holy rolling armadillos, was that a learning experience.

Julie, you are not a special little snowflake. If an agent thinks your writing is perfect, make like the gingerbread man and run, run as fast as you can. Some writers are that talented. Julie Weathers is not one of them.

An agent who has time to chat you up three or four times a week or more has more time on their hands than is healthy.

Nor is it good to have an agent who won't communicate at all as a friend had. There has to be a happy, professional medium.

I don't need my hand held or a new best friend, but I do need a working relationship. If I had an important question, such as the OP, I'd like some kind of communication. Kristin Nelson has a post about agents in her latest newsletter, by the way.

Susan Bonifant said...

I had no idea rolling armadillos bunny-kick their toys like cats do.

And as usual, the visual that went with the moral was a gem.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Kristin Nelson, I saw this today when I caught up on the backlog of my email. Our dear Janet is mentioned here in the Nelson newsletter:

And right below - BONUS! The article on agents Julie mentions.

Communication is the buzz word of the day out of all of this. From both sides.

If the agent sux at it, and the writer does nothing, then the writer is left wondering - about a LOT of things. Too many things. And you know how that can go. We tend to build our own list of reasons explaining the silence.

>I'm not as worthy as pub'ed clients.
>They actually hate my latest work and don't have the guts to tell me.
>They are going to sever the contract.

Meanwhile, as the writer is running on their little worry wheel, the agent could very well be:

>Working to set up meetings with editors targeted towards the clients specific work
>Picking a secondary list of editors to try next
>Attending a conference
>Teaching a class
>Managing their other XX number clients and subsequent emails/phone calls
>Negotiating contracts and advances on behalf of clients
>Sending out checks

....and, all that other stuff Ms. Janet has listed SHE does for HER clients.

But. Again. If there the writer doesn't speak up, the agent blithely goes on about his/her business thinking everything is hunky dory.

Take it one step at a time, reach out, see what happens.

More people than you realize are, or have been, in this very situation.

Another lesson learned in The Daily Swim Through The Reef.

REJourneys said...

Ms. Shark was right on point with her comments. Some people really like having hands off agents (I wouldn't know, I'm un-agented right now). Others want or need the constant check-in. It really can't be said enough, Communication is Key. In all forms of business, relationships, and everything.

A simple "Hey, I haven't heard from you in a while. I hope everything is ok," or something like that is all you need.

And to add to donnaeverhart's list of things we (writers) would worry about, I always have "Are they injured and in a hospital somewhere? I need to find out if they're ok. I'm a terrible person for worrying about XYZ when they are battling an illness." on my list. I do it with friends and family if I don't hear back from them weeks after sending a text. Of course, a hop on social media usually relieves my worry about them being hurt (thank goodness). Then I can go back to worrying if they just plain hate me.

But that's just me. I worry about everything. And about 95% of the time, it is honestly that the person is so swamped they forgot to respond to a text, or the email got buried, etc.

So, just send a friendly email to express concern, directly looking for a response.

Amy Schaefer said...

I think this is a good thing to discuss during The Call. You definitely want to set expectations early, on both sides. By that token, this is a question writers should consider ahead of time. How much communication will you need to feel comfortable? I imagine a good writer-agent relationship is like a good marriage; predictable in the broad structure, exciting in the details.

And, Julie, I'm glad you're writing again.

Colin Smith said...

Ooo--good point, Amy. Things to discuss on "The Call":

* How often to check in
* Preferred method of communication (phone/text/email/Twitter/FB...?)
* Best times to call

Must remember this. Maybe one day I'll need it... :D

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I don't think it's unreasonable to hope for any kind of response to not one but two missives in the course of a month. But, isn't the benefit of having signed with an agent the fact you can call them? I mean I get it, email is preferable. I even email my grandmother. But if I'm like "What the hell? Don't ignore my brilliance!" one could call one's signed agent and be like "soooooo, did you see the thing? Is it that bad?"

JD Horn said...

"This is NOT a good working relationship because YOU are not happy with it. There are no standards about this kind of thing. If you're not happy, it's not working."

You have no idea how timely this posting is, and how good it is to see your opinion. As always, thank you for all you do for the writing community.

Anonymous said...

"And, Julie, I'm glad you're writing again."

Thank you, Amy. It was like part of my soul was missing when I stopped.