Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Normal is a town in Illinois

I have an agent who successfully sold my memoir and I am so grateful. She has best selling clients so I don't make her much money. However, she is fairly unresponsive. I don't nudge her often at all. Perhaps 3 x a year. When this happens, my emails go unanswered or she does eventually set up a phone call, but either she never calls, or reschedules repeatedly. I sent her my latest ms a year ago and she thought she could sell it, but I have gotten nothing---either progress reports or "I can't sell this".

I hate to let go of a bird in the hand. She took a big chance on me as an unknown when she wasn't taking on new clients, because of a referral. The person who referred me loves her! (He is also a best selling author). At the same time I am not getting any younger. Technically my contract with her was only for the one work, but I wanted to stay with her because I appreciated her efforts. Now I'm not so sure! How do I tactfully approach her, keeping in mind that she likely has an unbearable workload?

Or is this normal when you have small fish?

If you have time to give me any guidance I would love it.


The question isn't what's normal, the question is what's going to advance your writing career.

I recently received an email from a valued client with the subject line "not feeling the love." She told me pretty candidly that she wasn't very happy with my lack of communication.

She was right.

Even if I thought she was wrong, she was still right, because she was telling me what she felt.

By telling me in a straightforward way I could choose to either apologize and do better (while of course explaining that yes, I HAD been kidnapped by aliens) or tell her that this was how I worked and maybe we needed to reassess whether she was happy here. (I apologized and gave her an idea of when she'd have a more cogent answer.)

Communication (or lack thereof) is the single biggest reason I hear for clients leaving agents.

There is no right or wrong way of staying in touch. There's what works and what doesn't. I probably don't need to point out that this agent's style isn't working for you.

Tell her.

Give her an opportunity to hear what will work for you and do it.

And by work for you, I don't mean something amorphous like "better" or "more." Be specific: If you email her, you expect an answer of some sort in a week. If you send a manuscript, you expect a timeline for when it will be read.

These are not unreasonable requests or petulant demands. This is business relationship, and you're providing the intellectual property that drives the revenue stream.

I urge you STRONGLY to speak up, be clear, and follow through.

Not all agents are right for every author.

All authors deserve an agent who treats them with respect.

19 comments:

Kathy Joyce said...

Is it as tough to get a second agent as a first? Tougher? Good luck OP. "Talk it out" is always good advice, if the other party is willing to participate. If not, that tells you something too.

Theresa said...

That last line is everything: All authors deserve an agent who treats them with respect.

It will be hard to bring this up with your agent, OP, but luckily you are a good writer and will craft the perfect email to set the tone for the discussion.

I used to live in Normal, IL.

Amy Johnson said...

OP: I hope everything works out. Thanks for asking the question. I find it helpful to hear about things that can happen after securing representation. For when I get to that point. :)

For all those getting snow, hope you get a chance to enjoy it. This morning, when only the sun and I were up at my house, I bundled up and sat out on our screened in porch to take in the snowfall. The sight. The sound. The smell. The feel, when the wind blew crystals in through the screen. The taste too, I suppose. Beautiful. Magical. Wow. Have a great day, Janet and all my writer pals.

Donnaeve said...

Waiting on snow. Canceled the important appt because the weather forecast called for it to start between 4:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. and the appt was at 10:00. I sure would hate to have to try and predict a southern snowstorm. They're more fickle than Scarlett O'Hara deciding who's on her dance card.

For OP, I like to think through what might happen before I act. It's going to be nerve wracking once you hit the send button on that email, no doubt. Be prepared for the worst - or perhaps you'll be pleasantly surprised. Be prepared in knowing what you will do if you part ways. Know your game plan. Don't let the grass grow under feet, because I think moving forward should this relationship fold will be helpful for your mental psyche.

To K.D. James I just read your comment from Sunday - GO VIKINGS, indeed!!! I almost cried. My husband has been a Vikings fan since he was in grade school I was SO happy for him! :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I think the entire state of Georgia is shut down today. I nearly broke my butt trying to walk the pug- slipped on the ice. Thank heavens for the bit of extra padding.

OP, I feel for you. I hope you get those communication wires uncrossed and all works out- and you end up with the right agent for you. Whether it is this one or another.

Craig F said...

OP: If you only had a one and done contract, you are not really in the stable of the agent you think you have. Try querying them and put in a last line about your memoir (and that the agent sold it). Maybe that will get her attention better than an email that just intrudes on her time. There is a reason, supposedly, why so many agents have gone NORMAN in Normal

nightsmusic said...

It's snowing here again today. Big flakes, straight down. It's been snowing for days. I've had the flu since last Friday so am only enjoying it from inside the house.

OP Your question puts me in mind of conversations I've had or overheard at different conferences and in the two groups I am a member of. Your agent is an agent. Your agent is not your friend (though sometimes, for long term relationships, that evolves) your agent doesn't walk on water, isn't perfect and yes, can make mistakes, do wrong things...they are human. They're in a business relationship with you. That's all. Just like your plumber or electrician or mechanic. If you were to get service from any of them that you weren't happy with, you'd move on. Since you had a one only with this agent and you're no longer happy with the communication, it's time to move on. Certainly email first explaining what you expect from the business (it's not a friendship or boss/employee) relationship and if you don't hear back, query!

Too often, I hear writers in a situation like yours who are almost afraid to say anything for fear of losing their agent. That might happen! But if that agent is no longer working for you, then staying with them is only holding you back and life is too short.

And now I think I'll crawl back into bed.

BTW: The meteor last night was pretty cool for those of you who might not have seen it!

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I feel for you, OP--this is a double-difficulty. You're not sure your agent is a good fit AND you're not sure how/if she's been doing anything with your latest MS. It's one thing to not be a priority, it's another not to know how your current work is being handled.

It may also just be your word choice, but 'thought she could sell it' doesn't sound like she's very enthusiastic about the project. That could also be a red sign (although I'm not always very enthusiastic about a piece of work and can still manage to get it done effectively).

No snow up in WA--at least not the eastern half. I kind of wish there was, so I could stay home all bundled up instead of going to work. :)

Kregger said...

My heart goes out to you, OP. Some days you simply know what to do, but can't...for whatever reason. I sincerely doubt heading back into the query trenches is something any of us dream of. Agents are busy people, they only know (about you) what you tell them.

A couple of months ago, a local businessman came to my office to ask if I would like to help set up a local Kiwanis Club. What I should have thought was, Wow! What an excellent opportunity to network, make more contacts and get more business.

I declined.

There are good reasons why I single-hand a sailboat most of the summer, sit on a ski lift by myself and prefer to play golf with only one other person-my wife. It's also the same reason I sit behind a computer reading and writing for hours at a time.

I'm experienced enough to know what I should do but old enough to refuse.

Like today, it's colder then, you know where in Cleveland. Only six more weeks of winter and I should go skiing, but sub-zero windchill on top of a mountain no longer appeals to these old bones. Instead, I'm making hot and sour soup and I cracked open my dilled jalapeno peppers from this summer.

What a great time to write.

After a morning of revisions, I think I'm going to visit my boat. It's faint, but I hear Trillium calling me. Life in the great white (kinda) north.

Oh, I wish I had a video of the guy from the Kiwanis Club when I told him, "I don't play well with others." My staff didn't laugh then, but they laugh at me now. Too bad he lives around the corner from me. Now I have to duck whenever I drive by his house. I'm sure they think my ten-year-old truck is one of those autonomous vehicles that are popping up all over the place.

The magistrate didn't buy it either.

Stacy said...

I'm sorry, OP. Hopefully your agent will step up their game after a nice-but-not-too-nice-somewhat-strongly-worded email.

Our high today in Columbus, Ohio will be 19 degrees. Yesterday, the high was 13, and a mate in England inquired hopefully if that was in Celsius? Ha! No such luck. I work from home, and yesterday, I spent a good part of the day working in bed, under my electric blanket.

Kathy Joyce said...

Stacy, when you crawl back into bed to get warm, you're supposed to work? Oh. That explains my winter productivity.

Casey Karp said...

No snow here in the vicinity of San Francisco, for which I'm duly grateful. Those of you what's got it, stay warm and stay safe. Lotta idiots on the road these days.

OP: Was your contract only for the one work, or for the one work with an option on the next? That's going to influence her reaction when you, as Janet said, speak up. Keep that in mind, and phrase your words accordingly. If she has the option on that second book, IMNSHO and IANAL, she owes you a response. If it was a one-and-done agreement, then from her perspective, you're really just another querant. Caveat: if she specifically asked to see the new manuscript, we're back to option 1: morally, she owes you that response.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

We are who we are. And our journey is our own. But I can't imagine enduring unanswered emails and no progress reports while an agent sits on my ms for a year. Nope. Sorry. I would speak up, politely. If more time went on, I would move on.

A close friend recently came for a visit just before the release of her current novel. We discussed her road to publication. She's gone through three agents. The first agent asked to part ways. Friend asked the second agent to part ways. Agent number three and friend both agreed to part ways. Agent number four is a good fit. This was over a period of eight years.

Speaking of snow and normal. We're getting a dusting here at the sanctuary and that's not normal. But it's absolutely beautiful. I took a walk through the woods and around the pastures with camera in hand. Photos on my FB page.

Donna HUGS!

Colin Smith said...

I've been to Normal, IL!! :D

On-topic, it seems to me that in publishing, and relationships as a whole, people always run into problems when they fail to communicate. So, along with others, I recommend, Opie, that you contact your agent and express your concerns. If you decide you need to go your separate ways, be sure you do everything properly in writing. Assuming you signed some kind of agency contract, you will need to be sure your release from that contract is clean and clear. Even if it was only for one book.

Those are my thoughts. Oh, and all the best to you, Donna!!! :)

Stacy said...

Kathy - I know, right?

kdjames.com said...

UGH. You'd think, being writers, it wouldn't be such an ordeal to communicate with others. But it isn't easy, especially when you have a complaint. Just the other day, I had to tell someone he wasn't doing work the way I expected. He doesn't have email, which irritates the crap out of me, so I had to CALL and leave a message. I dread making phone calls and had been putting it off. I finally had to write it all out like a script and read it. All that to say, OP, I sympathize. But you're going to have to find a way to do this and clear the air. This kind of long-term stress is not good for your health or career. Best of luck with it, however it turns out!

Our predicted 3-4 inches of snow turned out to be at least twice that. And still snowing. All the poor bushes and branches are bowed down with it. My purple leaf sand cherry, which was mostly dead, fell over. I guess now it's completely dead. *sigh* But the snow really is beautiful, so peaceful.

Donna, YES, it was such a remarkable finish to that game! I've been a fan since the days of the Purple People Eaters [I met Alan Page once, and was embarrassingly awed and tongue-tied] and it's never easy with that team. They're much too good at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Sorry you had to postpone your appointment. :(

Everyone who is sick: take care of yourselves, please. *sends healing vibes*

Panda in Chief said...

Singing with the choir here. As long as you express your feelings clearly and respectfully, you will be fine. You might not have this agent anymore, but if she's not answering your emails, you don't really have her now. You deserve an agent who is fully engaged. A communication with you is probably one her to do list, but for your own benefit, time to push it to the top. Then you can get back to querying again. Good times!

Mary said...

Thanks for posting this.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Figured I'd jump in (OT) at the last minute.
You southerners with snow woes crack me up.