Tuesday, January 24, 2017

My agent won't tell me where my project is/has been

I'm in a predicament. Presently, I have an agent, and I've had her for a while, but I am looking for a new one since my trust in her performance is nearly gone. According to my agent, she's been pitching two of my books to long lists of editors for quite a while, but I've only seen a few email responses concerning my work. I've asked my agent to see more, but she keeps telling me that they've been communicating via the phone, not by email.

So this leaves me in a difficult situation since everyone is telling me another agent won't take my books on if they've already been sent out to editors. But in this case, I don't even know if they've been sent out to all the editors!

What do I do?
Failure to keep you updated on the status of your submission/s is textbook bad agenting.

I know several editors who prefer phone pitches, or whom I know well enough to yap at on the phone on various topics {meanwhile by the way how's my stunning book on Kale Gardens of Karkoon doing on your to be read pile?}

BUT, and this is the problem with what your agent is telling/not telling you, when I have those conversations, I note it on my submission data base.

It looks like this:

The format of this info might differ; some agents might keep index cards, some might keep written sheets of paper, some might keep notes on their handy-dandy telephonic magic machines, but any agent worth her salt keeps those notes so she can remember what's up.

Which means your agent either didn't do the submissions, or isn't keeping notes.

At this point you get firm. You ask her in writing for a list of editors to whom the project has been submitted and the status.

If the editor has not responded at all, ask her to note this.

If she's got a lot of non-responsders on her list, she's probably pretty mortified to report that to you. I know I get a bit testy with editors who don't reply because it makes me look like a dimwit to my clients. (Those editors often don't hear from me after a while cause I don't need that No Reply on my sub sheets.)

Bad communication is one of the reasons people leave their agents, and it's the reason I hear most often when those writers are looking for new agents.

Writers put up with bad communication far longer than they should because they're afraid of rocking the boat; appearing to be a pest; or afraid their agent will no longer like them.

This is utter crap.

This is YOUR work, sold on YOUR behalf, and it's YOUR career.

You should never be made to feel that you are somehow a lesser part of the publishing process.

You should never be made to feel bad or intrusive for asking for regular status reports (weekly is fine, monthly is the norm; daily is TOO MUCH, don't ask for that.)

There's also a question here that you didn't know to ask: is my agent a dunderhead such that editors don't even read her submissions?

I hear from my editor friends all the time about agents who are so bad at their job the editors don't even look at what they send.

There's no way you can know this without some serious scouting around.  I'm assuming you vetted this agent before you signed with her, and she had made sales of enough significance that you had confidence in her.

No sales, or sales to only-lower tier publishers signal an agent who's not getting read at upper tier levels.

An agent with no previous publishing experience will have a harder time getting her submissions read than someone who can warm up a cold call with "I interned for your friend Felix Buttonweezer at Buttonweezer Lit & Miracles."

Bottom line: First step is a direct conversation using the words "I'm losing confidence here." If she cleans up her act, great. If not, well, you need to move on.  No matter what get the sub list. If she won't give it to you, ask her boss. If you can't get it at all, lodge a complaint with AAR (if the agent is a member) and proceed as if your project has been seen by everyone (sorry.)

Be prepared for conversations with new agents about what you're looking for and how soon you'll have something new to sell.  I won't take on someone without something I can sell. It doesn't make any financial sense for me to do so.

And remember, before you sign with an agent, one of the questions you really want to ask is how often they update you when a project is on submission.

Any questions?


Lisa Bodenheim said...

A good question for Colin to be put in Treasure Chest "Questions to ask when you receive the Call" if it's not already there. How often the agent updates you when a project is on submission.

So much to learn. So many predicaments for a newbie author to get themselves into.

Lennon Faris said...

Oof. Sorry, OP. That feels excruciating. Sounds like a confrontation is imminent. Thanks for the advice, Janet. I hope no one else here ever has to need it though!

OT - Last night I sent my newly finished WIP to my dad (beta reader/ biggest fan). He's very conservative and the story has some parts that definitely are not. I sent it to my mother as well, but I'm thinking she won't even read it. Crazy how nerve-wracking this is. And yes I'm in my thirties and have kids and still care what my folks think! King said if you write the truth, at some point you're gonna be offensive (paraphrasing). I keep repeating that and thinking, might as well make that happen now.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

It seems there have been many of these kind of OP predicaments presented to the Reef. This is such a tough predicament to be in.

A writer lands an agent and then this. No communication, no idea if book is being submitted. Always tough. And a great cautionary tale to those in the trenches.

Do your research. Is the agent fish or fowl, a psychopath or a high functioning sociopath? You must know the difference. And sometimes all the research may still lead one astray. Agents have lives that may lead to distraction or burn out like everyone else. I hope things turn out, OP, and this is merely a dry patch.

Amy Johnson said...

Thank you, Janet. This was such an informative post, and I so like when you inlcude "There's also a question here that you didn't know to ask:" I've found this blog to be a blessing. And I got a kick out of your chart. Plus, I found a few words I have to add to my Favorite Words List: nitwit (the meaning, the sound of it), dimwit, and dunderhead. Why weren't those already on my list? The list is getting long--I'm going to have to organize words into categories.

Getting used to my new keyboard. Some keys are in different places than on the old one. Why didn't it delete when I hit delete? Oh, the insert key is where the delete key used to be. The good news is now I have the 1/! key that was missing on the old one! Hooray!

Unknown said...

I know there are sites that give the low down on self-publishing companies. Are there similar sites for agents? Is it a reasonable practice to avoid non-AAR members?

Colin Smith said...

I totally understand the "don't rock the boat" thinking of writers with unresponsive agents. I'm unagented, and have been in the query trenches a few times. It's hard! And any kind of agent interest in your work ("Send 50 pages!" "Send the complete manuscript!" "Are you sure that's how you spell Carkoon?") is a cause for great excitement. I can only imagine how exciting it is to have an agent call and offer representation. To have to sever that relationship would be heart-wrenching. The thought of going through all that again... the agent would have to be guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors to make you cut ties and jump back in the shark tank.

But Janet's right (of course). It's been said a number of times that a bad agent is worse than no agent. So in the long run, it's better to hold the agent accountable for his/her 15%, and if s/he's unwilling to work with you, move on to someone who is.

Lisa: There is a pdf in the Treasure Chest called "Questions to Ask a Prospective Agent" that goes over some of the things you should know before you say yes. This isn't one of them (which surprises me since this has come up before), so I'll make a note to add it. :)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

The only thing worse than being alone is being in bad relationship.

Be firm, be respectful, be brave. You know about there being plenty of fish in the sea, well, maybe it's time to throw back your catch and go fishing.

Susan said...

That spreadsheet is amazing. And the information in the rest of this post is pretty incredible. I love getting a glimpse at the other side of things--particularly the business side of things--and seeing how problems like this are handled.

OP, I'm sorry that this has been your experience. I hope you're able to take Janet's advice and reach out to your agent, that you're able to mend the poor communication or part ways to your benefit. Good luck!

I second Kathy's question: Is there a place (other than QueryTracker) where one can get the low-down on agents (not ripping them, but just some insight like non-communicative, long response times, etc)? Or is this solely done with phone calls to agents clients?

Bethany Elizabeth said...

It has got to be difficult to finally get an agent - someone to help you get published, a partner in crime when you've done so much already on your own - and have to drop the partnership due to a lack of transparency. I'm sorry OP!

This did make me wonder though - is it normal for agents to show the actual rejection emails from editors to the writer? Or does the agent more often email the writer with a quick summary? It's not probably important on the grand scale of things, but it does make me wonder.

On a side note - hi everyone! I've been gone for a while because there were some complications with my surgery, but I'm upright again and finally able to visit the blogosphere. :)

Colin Smith said...

Hey, Bethany! Nice to have you back!! I'm glad you're okay, though "complications with my surgery" can't have been a picnic for you. Eeek! Not much has changed since you've been gone. Aside from the fact that Donna was exiled to Carkoon. I believe she's been given a nice cave to work from while she's editing her second novel. I'm sure she doesn't think it's nice, and working with a typewriter must be tough, but it could be worse. Actually, no... Carkoon is exactly what people think of when they say, "It could be worse." I'm sure her exile won't last long. Janet has been known to suffer lapses of mercy. Exhibit A talking. :D

Donnaeve said...

Sometimes an agent won't share when the feedback is less than helpful. (i.e. if an editor was highly critical) This might be an agent's way of protecting a sensitive woodland creature's ego. I'm not saying this is OP's case with regard to the lack of information being shared out by the agent, but it could be. It's also possible there were a ton of NORMAN's. Yes, we know this is true even with editors.

Good luck no matter how you choose to manage this.

QOTKU - Telco? Did you send an ms to a phone company?

Donnaeve said...

Could be my stint in Carkoon is going into extension mode Colin for my smartass question. :)

Sherry Howard said...

Sorry, OP. And, QOTKU, this post today is one I want to send to every agented friend I have, who ALL fear rocking the boat with their agent. Well, almost all. Most of them are so grateful to have gotten an agent that they feel fearful of being a pest, and being the client that makes the agent pour a shot of scotch. This column is a keeper/repeater!

Mary said...

I really had to take a big bite of a calm down sandwich during the submission process. It's hard for me not to be in control, and there were times when I wondered wtf was going on. My agent is a good one but I am definitely on a need to know basis. I did get a spreadsheet and feedback. Ultimately I figured it out. I had done my work and had to let my agent do hers. So while the OP may just have an agent who isn't performing, I think it is more the norm to hear when there are things to hear about. I could be wrong?

Mister Furkles said...

sales to only-lower tier publishers

Writers have a number of sources for information on agents. But is there a source that offers information of publishers? We know the majors in any genre--look on the bookstore shelf. But what about the many smaller publishers?

Amy Schaefer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amy Schaefer said...

This is a time to arrange a phone call with your agent and be specific about your concerns. What are your expectations in terms of communication and information flow? How often do you want to hear from her during the submission process? And what specifically do you want to know? Some people like to hear the lurid details of every rejection; others only want a general "Editor X says no thanks."

She may well be working hard in the background for you. She may not. But be clear that you aren't comfortable with the way things stand, and tell her exactly what you want to know. If she can't meet that, then you aren't a good fit. But give her a chance to resolve what may only be a communication issue before you cut your ties.

Joseph S. said...

Insightful entry today. My thoughts are along Colin's. I hate to break up on-going relationships, whether they be my doctor, my cleaning lady, my barber, my employment, my home, etc (Blue Cross took my pharmacy off its preferred provider list effective this month, and I'm feeling bad about going to a new pharmacy!!). I would hate to be in a position to have to end my relationship with an agent (or a publisher).

Julie Weathers said...

Yes, it may be time to split the sheets. You need to know what's going on.

Back in my former life when I had two agents, my children's agent would call periodically to let me know how it was going and relay the feedback she was getting. One of the books we had out was a middle grade called There's A Moose On The Loose (Someone else has used the title now.) about a boy who volunteers at a small town zoo and his quirky friend who fancies himself to be the second coming of Sherlock Holmes. One day a moose sticks its head in MC's window. He's scared he left a gate unlocked and the moose who loves him followed him home. He and his friend go through a series of disastrous misadventures to get the moose back to the zoo only to discover it isn't the zoo's moose at all.

One editor's feedback was "The author shouldn't be encouraging children to pet a moose. This is very dangerous and irresponsible."

I thought, it's probably dangerous for children to go through a wardrobe and fight an evil queen's army also, but that story sold. I didn't ask Jean if she had submitted The Dinosaur Store to the editor as that might really be dangerous.

Anyway, Jean was remarkable about letting me know where she was submitting and what they were saying.

Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum with the suspense? Not so much. "Oh, yeah, we're sending it out, but nothing yet."

"My computer crashed and my back up disks were corrupted. Can you send me a copy of that manuscript?"

"Oh, heh, uh, we lost it."

Even if the rejections on the children's books were disappointing, it was great having that open communication and feedback so I could correct course. She was a remarkable agent. God bless her.

Writing quote.

“The job of a writer is not to convey emotion but to invoke it.”
― Eric T. Benoit

Julie Weathers said...


Telco Telephone conference.

Bethany Good to have you back, but ugh on the complications. I'm glad you're mobile again.

Has anyone heard from Lynne?

Joseph I agree. I despise change. When I find something or someone that works just leave it alone.

And now I need to get some writing done and fight Portuguese some more.

Beth Carpenter said...

Bethany, sorry to hear the surgery had complications, but so glad you're better and back now.

A friend of mine went through this with an agent. She never was able to get an answer about where the books had been submitted, and of course no one else wanted to touch them. She dropped out, and didn't even consider publishing for twenty years or so. Recently, she's self-published.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Thanks everyone - it's good to be back! Although I'm bummed on missing the posts behind Donna's exile. :)

Now I just need to get back into the swing of waking up early to write. I can't get into any writerly quandaries if I don't have a finished novel!

I hope OP can get the info they need. That's got to be a frustrating position to be in.

Colin Smith said...

Totally Off-Topic, but I've just looked at a map of Manhattan showing the literary agencies within spitting distance of the hotel we'll be staying at Thurs-Sat. MY GOODNESS!! It's like a writer's dessert bar. So. Many. Is it really bad form to drop in and say hello? ;)

Claire Bobrow said...

OP: I hope you get a satisfactory response from your agent, but best of luck if you choose to move forward with a new one. I'm sorry you find yourself in this situation.

This post raises, yet again, the importance of educating oneself about what to ask on "the call," should we be so lucky. I still have a ton to learn. So thanks, OP and Janet, for highlighting and explaining this particular aspect of the author/agent relationship.

Joseph S. said...

Thanks Julie W for this:

“The job of a writer is not to convey emotion but to invoke it.”
― Eric T. Benoit

I need to remind myself of it every day. I'll check the pages I'm working on today to see what I can change to do that.

Joseph S. said...

Colin, for goodness sakes, if agents want to drop in to say hello to you, smile and be gracious.

Colin Smith said...

Joseph: Silly me! Of course!! I should just set up a receiving table in the hotel lobby so agents can stop by, shake my hand, and pitch me as to why I should take them on. ;)

Amy Schaefer said...

Colin, you really miss Carkoon, don't you?

BJ Muntain said...

Regarding checking out agents: Preditors & Editors is a good site for checking up on agents, but it's currently unavailable as they look for someone to keep it up to date. Writer Beware and Absolute Write Water Cooler are other places to look. These resources are also useful for looking at publishers.

Kathy: Avoiding non-AAR members isn't as good a deal as it seems. An agent has to be working for a certain number of years before they're eligible to become members, so you'll miss out on all the hot new agents. A better idea is to make sure the agency is led by someone who belongs to the AAR.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

OP, how long is 'quite a while?' Before breaking a relationship over expectations step back and breath. You didn't mention the actual time space. Is it 6 months. Less? 12 months? What were you expecting? Did you discuss this beforehand ?

What feedback did your agent give you before they pitched? What was their plan?

How long does the agent to editor pitch time last anyway?

MNye said...

Excellent advuce as usual. Live and learn.

Colin Smith said...

Amy: No. no no no no. Don't say things like that. I can already smell the sulphur... :\

Julie Weathers said...

I suppose "the call" might be the time to ask the agent about your thoughts on not selling film rights to your book. Like what if you don't want to sell them.

Ardenwolfe said...

Amen, Janet. Amen!

AJ Blythe said...

Commiserations to OP. What a tough situation to find yourself in. Reinforce those broad shoulders, talk to your agent and if you have to get back out there. Best of luck!

Colin, open a nice bottle of scotch and walk down the street a la Pied Piper - the scent should ensure you have a trail of agents in your wake!

Donnaeve said...

Julie Ah, I see. The acronym telco in my IT world stood for telecommunications, not telephone conference. That was teleconference - again - in my world.

Bethany Glad you're back and doing better! My exile is b/c I mentioned someone who's an unmentionable. So unmentionable I can't even mention "the person" here - ever. Nope. Cannot do it. You don't have to tell me twice.

Megan V said...

Glad to have you back Bethany! Wishing you the speediest of recoveries!

Karen McCoy said...

Hoping for a speedy recovery, Bethany!

Great post. Filing for later. (Or perhaps I'll just check Sir Colin's updated PDF once he's been kicked out of a Manhattan agent's office and has to fax it from Carkoon).

Jennifer S. Brown said...

My agent didn't give regular updates when we were on submission. When the submission process started, she sent me a list of all the editors she was sending my manuscript to. Her policy is to not send updates, unless the author really wants them. She said that as soon as there was interest, I'd hear from her but in the meantime, the rest would be rejections and did I really want those in my inbox regularly? It could be very depressing to see those nos trickling in. I did not want to see them. My first manuscript didn't sell. At the end of the process she asked if I wanted to see my rejections. I did. She compiled them all in a Word doc and sent them to me. They were hard to read, but I spent one day wallowing in my sorrow, drinking a lot of bourbon, and then thinking about my next novel. For the second novel, the process was the same: a list of where she was submitting and no regular check ins. And the moment an editor showed a hint of interest, she let me know. That book sold. My agent asked if I wanted to see what the other (non-accepting) editors had to say about it, and I did not. I mean, it sold. Didn't matter what those other editors thought! Point just being that whether you get regular check ins or not, a list of editors is absolutely reasonable to have.