Monday, April 20, 2015

Is my agent an idiot? Yes, yes he is.

I've read your blog with interest, and have a question that I don't think is addressed. It's regarding expectations writers can have of their agents. Is it reasonable to assume that an agent will write a pitch that reflects the tone of the book, correctly identify the genre, and pitch to editors who are a good fit for the book?

I ask because while my agent acknowledges that the pitch he sent was misleading and the genre was not correctly identified, he says that had the editors truly liked the book they would have referred him to another editor in the house. I've always assumed that busy editors like busy agents simply do not have time to do this. And a blurb that doesn't match the book and mis-identified genre are the first reasons to reject a book. Am I wrong?




Ok, I've applied a cool cloth to my fevered brow, taken a quick sip of a (medicinal purposes only) libation, and am now ready to respond.


Your agent just told you in no uncertain terms that he is an idiot.

NO, you do not ever assume that an editor will pass things on to another editor. An agent's job is to get the right editor the first time. I've spent untold hours now working on my info sheets for editors. I spend time talking to them on the phone, over lunch, on Twitter, and in other odd places (like conferences) to find out what they like to read, what books they wish they'd edited, and generally what gets them enthused. I read the books they acquire. We talk about the books they DON'T acquire (very illuminating info!) Sure, I miss the mark sometimes in that this is a very subjective industry, but at least I try to get it right.

As for wrong genre, I can understand that a bit more easily. One of my favorite JOKES is that I've sold urban fantasy "by mistake" because I thought it was something else. In fact I did think it was something else, and the urban fantasy category was decided AFTER the editor bought it and was planning the marketing for the book (and let's all notice, the book SOLD, even with the 'wrong category' which I assume from your question, is not the case with yours.)

If you get the category wrong, you're almost certain to get the wrong editor.

And a misleading pitch is deeply perplexing. It's like creating a dating profile with an old picture. Unless you're planning that the editor never read the book (or your prospective date never actually meet you) it's entirely counterproductive to get the pitch wrong. Which is not to say I haven't revised pitches if I'm not getting the enthusiasm the book deserves. (But again, you didn't say there were revisions being made.)

What the hell was your agent thinking? The only thing I can come up with after thinking about this for several days, was that your agent was trying to assess what went wrong. "I sent it to the wrong editors" as an assessment is really different than "I just sent it to editors without much thought." I've sent things to editors who didn't buy the project. That doesn't mean they were the wrong editors other than in the most black and white sense of things.

It's because all three things went wrong: pitch, category, editors, that I think something is very wrong here. You can miss two of the three (not intentionally of course) but all three is a trifecta of sloppiness.

As to your question: if an editor is led to expect and be excited about something, only to find out the book is not that at all, yes, that's a problem.


Lisa Bodenheim said...

No one else is up yet?

Wow. So what's an author to do? Surely the author is in a contract with that agent. If the author does not appreciate what is happening, they can have a direct conversation with their agent. But if the agent doesn't get it or if the author remains unsatisfied with their agent, then what?

Donnaeve said...

I've been up Lisa, but it took me a while to get off the floor after reading this.

It is always (always) hilarious to me when Ms. Janet drops the f bomb. I can't say why other than it only happens on such rare occasions, and you know, and I know when she does use the word, it's because she's been gobsmacked upside the head with disbelief.

For the questioner, WOW. What I think is sort of bizarre too is that you KNOW this happened. Did the agent tell you of this gargantuan faux pas? Like in, "Oh, ha ha, I think I might have pitched the story wrong, which means I got the genre wrong, and so, it went to the wrong people to boot. Big oopsy, so sorry."

Did they even READ the MS?

Ho boy. Where did this all start to go wrong?

(I selected soups this a.m.)

Donnaeve said...

Oh. And, I will be heading off to Raleigh for the day here shortly. I don't expect Mom and I to have a day like the day last week (for those who read that post) This week there's no need to traipse about the cemetery in vain as we're still awaiting the darn plaque. (almost two months later)

(I got to pick wine - might need it when I get back)

Unknown said...

A bit like being in a passenger seat when the pilot scratches his head and asks, "How do I land this thing again?"

Colin Smith said...

"...while my agent acknowledges that the pitch he sent was misleading and the genre was not correctly identified..."

You mean, like, deliberately misleading? I hope not! Even if not, the fact this agent seems to think little of the fact that s/he "misled" an editor and is unwilling to correct the mistake in the hope that the editor will like the novel anyway... sorry, I would have a really hard time working with an agent who, from what you say, has no clue about ethical integrity. I don't care if the editor doesn't like the novel when pitched accurately. Rather that than have the editor like the pitch for a novel I didn't write.

2Ns: Ha! I've noticed QOTKU drop the f-bomb quite regularly, actually. Not every week, but enough that I'm not shocked. I'm not a big fan of the word myself, but I've read enough Stephen King not to be offended. ;)

Unknown said...

Can an agent "un-deliberately" mislead? It sounded intentional, trying to make the pitch fit with an editor's tastes while knowing his client's book was something else: akin to ordering a hamburger and getting kohlrabi. Otherwise why would the agent trust the editor to pass it along.

Could the agent be lazy? I think I hate that more than stupid.

Anonymous said...


Well, I've been up most of the night listening to that old favorite Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head because it's raining and my lovely trailer and sprung yet another leak, just above my bed.

So, I've curled up in various positions on the bed. Fetal semi sideways was relatively successful.

Revised a few more pages. I'm certain at this point gnomes are creating more pages as I sleep since I never seem to reach the end.

Woodland creature worried.

Checked to see if there was a new post.

Went back to bed.

Overslept the new post. Arrrghhh!

Yes, that agent is an idiot and it goes back to my old maxim, any agent is not better than no agent. I'd be so tempted to go agent hunting if this happened. I'm old. I don't have time to deal with idiot agents twice in one lifetime.

Donna, I don't know what to say other than have a good day with Mom. Hold each other often. I haven't seen Dad's cross yet and he passed a year ago in April.

Dena Pawling said...

This reminded me of Query #269 – revised once, where the writer used a flippant tone for a thriller query.

And excuse my woodland creature brain, but thanks for clarifying this line - “I spend time talking to them on the phone, over lunch, on Twitter, and in other odd places (like conferences)....” After last week's discussion, when I read “in other odd places” I pictured you sliding your pitch under the restroom stall door.

But look on the bright side - the agent didn't pitch the manuscript to a vanity press. “Hey! I wrote a misleading pitch and used the wrong genre, but one of the editors I pitched it to, surprisingly enough, wants it! Please forward $15,000.”

Colin Smith said...

I have been greatly edified already today by learning of the existence of this medical device:

Is this the origin of the phrase to "blow smoke up your a***"? For some reason, I thought it relevant to share... :)

LynnRodz said...

When I think how hard the road is to find an agent, I can understand the OP not wanting to offend the agent by asking, "Wtf were you thinking?" Still, this is a serious blunder and rereading the question, apparently, he didn't do this with one editor, he did this with all those he contacted! "...he says that had the editors truly liked the book they would have referred him to another editor in the house." If I were the OP, I would definitely question whether I want to stay with him or begin looking for a new agent. Yes, I know, it's easier said than done, but s/he needs to get some straight answers from this agent. Otherwise, the agent is hindering this person's career rather than helping.

I've seen Janet use the F-word here a few times, that's why I've let myself use it a couple of times as well. I can "truck drive" my mouth with the best of them, but only after I know no one will be offended. Besides, this is one case where the f-word is appropriate.

I don't know anything about food, wine, cute animals, dancing robots, etc., on my smartphone, when I hit publish, it publishes.

Colin Smith said...

... oh yes, and that's me over at the BookEnds blog today. :D

Flowers McGrath said...

Hahahaha! Janet! Brill! Still tee heeing.

Well wishes to donnaeve.
And Julie Weathers, had homes with holes before too. Good luck!

Colin, I am not clicking on that link. Sorry. But thank you for the mental image. 😬

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Julie, so sorry you had a restless night. Love that song but not when it's derived from a leaky roof. eek.

Colin, loved your take on Dream Agent when I read it in the comments section. (I'm a silent woodland creature at that site) And I knew where it came from right away as I watched that movie many times (woops, dating myself, on a VCR) with my kids when they were little. Congrats!

Colin Smith said...

Thanks, Lisa. I enjoy reading the BookEnds blog, but I tend to lurk there more... except when I get an irresistible idea like that one. :)

The big question is: does making it to the BookEnds blog get me time off my exile? Or at least a day pass to FPLM-Paradise? This is the talented Jessica Faust, after all! :)

Angelica R. Jackson said...

I've told this story before, but when I had some red flags raised by my then-agent, I called to talk to him. At this point I hadn't made up my mind to part ways with him, but he inadvertently talked me into it.

He said, "I'd be sorry to see you go--I love how your book starts out as a fantasy, and then turns into a murder mystery."

And that sounds like a great book--but it's not my book! For him to describe it that way, he'd either confused it with another book, not read mine completely, or completely misunderstood my straight-up urban fantasy.

So I had to think, "Is this how he's representing it to editor's? And even if I clear this up, will I be able to trust him to represent me in a competent and thorough way?"

Between those early red flags and this, my answer was "no" and we ended up going our separate ways. The happy ending is that my book is coming out in about three weeks, yay!

Anonymous said...


Yes, I am thrilled to be a home owner, but this trailer has turned me into a raging imbecile at times. The previous owner did a lot of things to make it look pretty, but it's going to cost thousands to tear apart an old trailer to fix it right. I would have been much happier if he'd just hired one thing done correctly.

Ah well, I'm not homeless and for that I'm thankful.

Craig F said...

Colin, quit looking for things like that on the internet. Pack up that TARDIS and drag it over. If it has enough power left I think I can make it into a clone machine.

Then you can con the Queen into it and we will flood the literary world with her. I have a bunch of good shooters in my manuscripts and I'll co-opt them into removing all of those who don't live up to what they are supposed to do.

The rest of you start making lists.

Unknown said...

Colin--I enjoyed your poem! For my "dream agent" I think I would have added: Can negotiate like a wolverine.

Christina Seine said...

This makes me wonder if that rep has a bad rep among editors. Because it sounded like he really pooched it, to more than one editor. I bet that's not a first. So what I imagine then are editors receiving pitches from Agent Stu Pidd and going, "Not this guy again! Hey guys, did I tell you about the time he pitched a contemporary YA as historical romance? I don't think he ever even read the book!"

Under those circumstances, you're lucky if anyone reads the guy's correspondence at all. Yikes.

REJourneys said...

Questioner, I am terribly sorry to hear this! Especially if they were intentionally misleading pitches. I don't understand why an agent would do that. They agreed to partner with you because they loved your book, so why wouldn't they want to sing it out from the mountain tops - the way it is - no smoke and mirrors.

Your book is good, an agent wanted it, an editor will want it too, the way it is.

Though, is it possible for editors to turn down books because they don't like the agent? I assume that is another business relationship that needs to be at least workable. Knowing that certain agents (well, agent) are misleading you the first time would make me question if I ever want to read something they have again.

But this is all just bitter me.

Anyway, Questioner, Janet, fellow woodland creatures and readers, have a wonderful day.

REJourneys said...

Just now saw Christina's comment. Glad I'm not the only one.

Oh, Agent Stu Pidd, when will you learn?

Colin Smith said...

Craig: Trust me, I don't go looking for these things--somehow they find me. The Internet doesn't always take me where I want to go, but where it thinks I need to go... ;)

Christina: "pooched it"? I don't think I've heard that phrase before. Storing that one away. Thanks! :)

Unknown said...

That seems like a pretty high percentage of things for a professional to get wrong. Its like saying - well, I filed your lawsuit, just in the wrong venue. And I'm pretty sure the cause of action is wrong. And maybe we're also in the wrong county. But hey - hopefully it will all work out. Bizarre.

Also I noticed yesterday that Jeff VanderMeer is judging a flash fiction contest over at SciArt in America. Entries due on the 26th (750 words max). I don't know much about the publication, but I'm a fan of VanderMeer so it caught my eye. I'm so impressed by the contest entries here, I thought I would mention it. The theme is ecology.

Unknown said...

A psychology professor once told our class:

"If you get that feeling in your stomach that maybe you're being manipulated, you are."

I thought about this writer a lot today and that tummy ache that must have been brewing as s/he KNEW something was up and didn't know what to do about it.

In other news, MB Owen's plane comment was great.

In still other news, the F-bomb in today's response prompted Colin - COLIN - to refer (for any reason) to blowing smoke up one's you-know-what.

There goes the neighborhood.

Christina Seine said...

REJourneys, great minds think alike, of course.

Colin, "pooched it" might be a military thing, or I might be dating myself there. However, our fine folks in the armed forces do come up with the best slang.

And darn it, now I have to tell a story. Back when my kids were much younger, we did a family road trip thing to Haines, (southeast) Alaska, where my husband was taking part in a commemorative military exercise. I forget what exactly they were commemorating, but there is an old, old fort there, and there was a big event on the parade field. All the important muckety-mucks were on hand. My older kids were about 5 and 7 at the time, and I was busy with another infant in the stroller. They had some really cool stuff going on, painting people’s faces with fake blood so they looked like disaster victims, old radios you could play with, old cannons going off, etc., but kids are a tough audience. I personally have never been a huge fan of pomp and circumstance, and I guess I'd referred more than once to "the whole dog and pony show" that would be going on that afternoon. When a two-star general (plus entourage) came up to my 5yo daughter (who looked like she'd been attacked by a bear with all the fake injuries on her) and asked her if she was having fun, she replied, "I guess. But when are they going to bring out the dogs and ponies? I've been waiting all day." There was about one second of silence, and then everyone within hearing distance nearly died laughing. Thank God that general had a sense of humor.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Oh Christine...priceless! From the mouth of babes. Pardon the cliche.

A. Velez: Thank you for mentioning that flash fiction. It's nice to hear where other writers go for learning and practicing their craft.

Susan: "There goes the neighborhood," ha.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

ooops, sorry. I mean Christina, not Christine.

oooo, food! I had to do cabbage. Am I in Carkoon?

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

This is painful. So sorry that you have worked hard to write and polish, find agent then be misrepresented.

Angelica congrats on your soon to be released. It sounds like the OP should follow your advice.

Colin, congrats. But you can't be un-exiled you are our leader.

Anonymous said...

To paraphrase Julie, 'no agent' is better than 'any agent'.

There's a lot of trust in an agent/author partnership. The agent has to trust the author to meet deadlines and write well. The author has to be able to trust the agent to do their best to find the right publisher and to negotiate the best contract they can.

I know it would be terribly disheartening to have to sever an agent/author partnership like this - especially if it had taken some time to finally get an agent - but if the agent isn't living up to his end of the deal, he's not doing the author any favours.

My thought is that this agent must not be a very experienced agent - I don't think an agent could get to be that successful with this attitude - so would there possibly be a more senior agent at that agency who might be willing to take the questioner on? That's assuming the questioner still trusts the agency. If this is a senior agent at the agency... I don't know how.

Trust is a valuable commodity. Once it's lost, it can be very difficult to regain it. And if the questioner can't trust the agent, it's not going to be a pleasant partnership.

Karen McCoy said...

Yay for Maximus the horse!

I'd be curious what other books this agent has sold--and whether this "strategy" (my euphemism) has worked in the past.

Or perhaps this is what desperation smells like (especially if his reputation precedes him, like Christina suggested).

Colin: Loved your poem over at Bookends! Bravo!

Matt Adams said...

I think Janet's explanation is what really happened. The author is looking for answers, and the agent, instead of saying "You know, no one liked the book" is trying to take some of the blame for the fact it didn't sell. That might have been an act of kindness as a reply to a devastated author. Something like "I thought the YA elements were strong in this, even though it's a mystery so I sent it to YA houses. I might have been wrong about that." I can see that happening every easily, with no malice or dereliction of duty. And if the agent is pitching it to YA houses, s/he is going to tailor the pitch that way, just like s/he'd downplay the YA elements to a mystery shop. Nothing wrong with that.

But the author only hears that "YOU SENT MY MYSTERY TO A YA HOUSE!!" and the author, desperate for an explanation as why things went wrong when they were (in his/her mind SO CLOSE) jumps on this idea the agent screwed up.

I think the author was told the same thing we've all been told many times -- if the book is good enough, the editor will want it. If the book is good enough but would work at another division of the company, the editor would likely refer it. There's nothing wrong with saying that, either.

I think the OP is frustrated and sad that no one has bought his/her book. I know that feeling. But I doubt the reason for that is because the agent screwed something up. It's probably that no one has wanted to buy their book yet. Hopefully someone will.

Ardenwolfe said...

Just . . . wow. I'd have my agent's head on a stick if, after years of writing, editing, and polishing my manuscript, my agent fucked up that royal.

And yes, it's a royal fuck up.

One I'd seriously consider whether I'd keep that agent. It's just inexcusable in its epic sloppiness.


Anonymous said...

I don't know, Matt. And I don't think that's what Janet is saying, either. It's not much of an act of kindness if it's a lie. An author can't 'fix' their book being sent to the wrong editors, but they can fix 'the beginning isn't active enough' and 'the characters aren't strong enough'.

'Act of kindness' or not, if it were me, it would still seriously degrade my trust in the agent. In a business partnership, you have to be honest.

If you hire a publicist to sell a product, and after three months, you haven't sold very much of that product, would it be beneficial for the publicist to tell the manufacturer, "Oh, I know it's a new kind of cleats, but I sent the product information and sales samples to women's wear stores, because, you know, sometimes women do wear cleats. If they don't want to sell them, they'll just pass the promotional material to the sports department." What are you going to think? "Oh, he's just trying to be nice to me?" Or, "What kind of publicist sends sales information about cleats to women's wear shops and not to sporting wear stores?"

It would be different if all the sporting goods stores had been sent the promotional materials first, then the women's stores after that didn't work. And in that case, you'd be darn sure the publicist would first tell the manufacturer, "No one wants to sell your retractable cleats, because they sometimes retract too far and get stuck, making them dangerous to wear on the field." THAT the manufacturer can fix.

If the OP agrees with you, though, I would suggest the OP ask the agent exactly which editors their book had been sent to, and what pitch was used. If an author can ask for that information when changing agents, I'd think they can ask for it when an agent seems to be screwing up. If OP gets another agent, they're going to need that information to see if bridges have been burned.

Anonymous said...

I'm not trying to be overly negative. We only have what the OP tells us. And what the OP is telling us is a horror story. Or a comedy of errors.

But the questioner's main question was, "Is it reasonable to assume that an agent will write a pitch that reflects the tone of the book, correctly identify the genre, and pitch to editors who are a good fit for the book?"

And the answer is yes. It's reasonable to assume these things. We have to leave it to the questioner and their agent to be clear enough with each other that a misundertanding - if it is a misunderstanding - won't be made.

Lilac said...

OP, sending many blessings your way to find the best solution and get published soon (actually, publishing blessings to all of us!)

Donna, sending hugs to you and your mom. <3

Colin, you are a star. :-)

Angelica -- talking about starring -- congratulations!

As for the f-word, sometimes it's inevitable to use it…and I should know, being the nun from Donna's night club. ;-)

Matt Adams said...

But BJ, the problem is that you never know why they pass. In all the times I was passed, several were very kind but none gave concrete reasons as to why they were passing, other than they weren't the right editor for the book and good luck. So the agent could be just softening the blow, or trying to come up with reasons when they don't exist. Because when they pass, the answer is always because they didn't like the book enough to buy it. At the end of the day, that's always the reason.

Now, if the OP had gotten feedback that said "Why are you submitting this to me? I'm a children's book editor and this is erotica," then that would be a clear problem. But reading the question, I didn't get that indication.

But there is a key piece of information missing here: Did the editors read the book? If they did and they passed, that's on the author. If they didn't, that's on the agent. The OP doesn't answer that crucial question.

Like you said, we don't know what happened. But if the agent has any intention of remaining an agent, then he gave the submission process his best shot. He may do it much more poorly than the OP wants him to do, or he may have thought that pitching it to a slightly different genre made sense and the OP disagrees. Those things should have been discussed (and I don't understand the idea of the author not knowing that the pitch is. My agent wouldn't think of sending out a pitch without me seeing it. But maybe that's just her) and agreed upon. If they weren't, then both the agent and the author are at fault, don't you think?

To me, this read as though the author's not having luck with submissions and thinks it's the agent's fault. And it might be. But it might just be that editors don't want to buy the book, and the author is looking for something to blame.

Megan V said...

Uh-oh. QOTKU cussed. This is not a good sign. I'm surprised that an agent would engage in a sort of literary catfishing. It also brings that old fisherman from the State Farm commercial to mind.

A writer's words are inherently tied to their honor. By misleading the editors and attempting to circumvent a process this agent sends the message that both the writer and their manuscript do not deserve the respect editors (and other agents/ writers) might accord them.

Anonymous said...

True. And not knowing all the details, we don't know. We can only comment on what we do know. It didn't read to me like the commenter was trying to find someone else to blame for the book not selling, but in a written medium, we have to make our own judgments.

I'd be interested to know what the agent's suggestion would be at this time. That's another piece of information we don't have. Does he have another slate of editors to go to? What is his new plan of attack?

I know that, if it happened the way the questioner said (and we have nothing at this point to show it didn't), I'd be very carefully going over my future plans. I'd consider the relationship my agent and I have had in the past. I'd see what my agent has planned for 'next'. And I'd be figuring out my own next move.

Unknown said...

As an ex-navy guy I would call this a giant “Charlie-Foxtrot.” That’s the military phonetic abbreviation for “Cluster F---.” It keeps us sensitive sailors from having to use actual swear words.

But is the agent totally to blame? In my dream world, where I actually have an agent, I can imagine a wonderful conversation with her, because I ask, about which editors at which houses she intends to submit my manuscript to and why. Then reviewing a draft email query speaking of my novel in glowing terms and asking if there are any comments, suggestions, or concerns before my agent shoots it out. Is this way off base? It seems like just a little bit of communication and expectation setting would have gone a long way.

Ardenwolfe said...

It just strikes me as strange. Most agents will work your query into something they'll later use as their pitch to an editor. And, of course, that same pitch is then used for the back or inside jacket/blurb for your book.

So . . . this kind of epic mix-up doesn't make much sense . . . unless, like Janet says, he or she's just an idiot.

Or got too deep in the sauce that Sunday. Stranger things have happened in publishing over the years.

Remember the story about a hopeful trapping an agent in the bathroom?

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Matt, I disagree. Softening the blows is what moms are for not business partners. If you go to the doctors office and the receptionist sends you to the gyno instead of the dentist, there is something very wrong.

The OP doens't write like they are disgruntled. There is no animosity or snark in their question.

Matt Adams said...

You might be right, Angie, but to me, it reads like someone saying "Is it too much to ask that a plumber bring a plunger to fix the toilet?"

Because of course an agent shouldn't get the genre wrong. Of course an agent shouldn't be misleading in the pitch. Of course the agents should target the right editors for the book and not hope it happens to find the right one. Those things are givens and if it happened to the extent that the OP says, then he should leave this agent immediately because they are a buffoon.

But I've not met many buffoon's in my dealing with agents, so I figured there was something else going on, that perhaps the situation wasn't a clear cut and the agent not quite as incompetent as was being described.

Anonymous said...

Matt - there's a very good reason why it's important to thoroughly research an agent. Because anyone can decide to be an agent, hang out a shingle, and gather writers who trust him or her.

I don't know who the OP is talking about. I don't know if the OP did thoroughly research this agent or if the agent somehow slipped through the cracks. It's entirely possible the agent is very capable, and you're right - the OP is just bitter.

But there are buffoonish agents out there. They may not last long, but that doesn't really matter, when they can still draw writers to their fold and maybe make some money off them. Or otherwise screw with a writer's career.

Morals to take away:

1) Do your homework when querying agents.
2) Keep communications lines open. Ask your agent to keep you in the loop.
3) When Janet drops the F-Bomb, you know it means something.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Janet, this post officially makes you my Dream Agent. A shame you don't rep what I write.

When you next clone yourself, could you tweak your clone to want to rep SFF & Romance? Ta muchly.

Julie said...

Is Agent Malpractice a thing?
I have been lurking. I freely admit it before this forum.
But this SO needed to be shared that I not only shared it, I shared it TWICE - on FB - and then EMAILED it to a pair of indy publishers I know, because...


And shouldn't even need to be asked.

Sue Coletta said...

Your initial response almost knocked me over. Very funny! Not for the author, of course. That's heartbreaking. Shame on that agent. Perhaps it's time for a change.