AgentFail

Last week, my friend Wendy Lawton, an agent at Books & Such, wrote a series of posts that took a great deal of courage. She said a lot of things I’ve been trying to figure out how to say here on my own blog, but she did it first and said it better than I ever could have, so I’m going to do something unusual today and send you over there.

Wendy’s topic for the week was #AgentFail – basically, looking at all the ways we agents don’t live up to our own expectations and hopes, not to mention those of all the writers out there.

On Monday the topic was the idea that as agents, we’d love to be talent scouts and talent developers, but rarely have the time to function this way.

On Tuesday, Wendy addressed Requested Material Limbo. You all know what that is – when an agent requests a partial or full, and then it’s months until you hear from them again, if ever. We hear you complaining about this, and the truth is, we’re very aware of it even without your telling us about it.

On Wednesday, Wendy’s topic was the Logjam - the fact that it takes agents time to read manuscripts and proposals, not just from potential clients but even from current clients. She writes, “I’m guessing that some writers who are not yet agented think that signing with an agent means all the roadblocks are magically gone. Not true.” It’s a harsh reality that we all face.

Thursday the blog addressed Hitting the Brick Wall – when agents love a writer or a project, but can’t sell it. The truth is that a percentage of represented projects go unsold.

On Friday Wendy talked about how to spot a bad agent - not an agent who simply deals with all of the challenges above, but one who is unethical.

I recommend reading Wendy’s posts because the overall message is so important: we agents are aware of all the ways this business is challenging for you, and we’re aware of the ways we contribute to that. All the good agents I know are constantly doing their best to overcome these challenges and serve authors and publishing in the best ways we can.

Several of the problems agents deal with stem from a lack of TIME to get it all done. The one thing I’d like to add to Wendy’s ideas is a bit of pondering on why agents are so busy. Most people in the modern working world are somewhat overwhelmed – companies are trying to do more with fewer employees. It’s similar for agents: our core challenges stem from the economy. Since it’s more difficult to sell an individual project to a publisher, and the average advance for a mid-list title going down, we need to have more clients on our roster to ensure a viable business. More clients means less time for each one, and even less time for all the potential clients out there.

Our challenge is still to serve each individual client as well and fully as possible; while also doing our best to serve the publishing industry and the world at large by bringing worthy titles to fruition.

I just wanted to let you know that agents are aware of the ways we fail to live up to hopes and expectations; and I hope you click over and read Wendy’s posts. It’s safe to say, she’s speaking for most, if not all of us.

(c) 2010 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

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  • Jessica Nelson

    >I saw her posts and thought they were really good. Thanks for sharing!

  • Sharon A. Lavy

    >Thanks Rachelle, I had a friend send me to her last post but I hadn’t looked at the others. Because of this post I will read all of last week’s posts.

  • Kristi Dosh

    >People seem to increasingly expect immediate responses simply because we have such vast electronic capabilities these days. I’m an attorney, and so many of my clients expect to be able to get me on the phone or by email the second they need me. I’ve found myself having to set limits for what hours of the day I will answer my cell phone for work calls, and I’ve begun to refuse to answer it on weekends, choosing to only check messages for true emergencies. It’s easy to get sucked into working 24/7, but it’s important to make time for the other things and people in your life. I try to be patient with agents and respect that they have families, hobbies and other clients and potential authors. The waiting game is nerve-wracking, but it’s just part of the process.

  • Wendy Paine Miller

    >I appreciated Wendy’s posts when I read them last week. I loved how she asked if we get philosophical about the wait. Having children has taught me more about waiting than I thought I knew. Long car trips. The doctor’s office. Standing in line. So much of life is a wait. Learning to wait well and knowing what to expect in the publishing business makes the pill easier to swallow. Life is too short. Laughter helps me. And pouring myself into a new project. It also helps to remember that everyone in this business is human with busy lives and a chaotic to-do list just like mine.~ Wendy

  • Matthew Rush

    >Thanks for the heads up Rachelle, sounds like a great series!

  • Julie Anne Lindsey

    >I loved Wendy’s posts last week. Its good for us to remember that agents wear many many hats, just like everyone else. I’m guessing that frustration leads to projection on our parts (though, of course, never me LOL) but the series was a great reminder. We all need to be patient and know that life ebbs and flows. Thanks for the great column as always!

  • Sharon A. Lavy

    >After reading all Wendy’s posts I am even more convinced that God’s timing is at work.We all get along better when we quit casting blame. Thank you Rachelle for caring and sharing.

  • Sara Richardson

    >In dealing with the frustrations of the publishing industry, I try to put myself in the place of agents and editors. If we were all in a room together (writers and editors and agents) and someone asked people to stand if they have experienced disappointment within the last year of working in this business, I think everyone would be on their feet. Because it’s a business, editors have to reject projects they love. Because it’s a business, agents are forced to reject writers who seem to have both passion and potential. Because it’s a business, authors can’t always write the stories of their hearts. Instead, they need to stick to a brand and deliver what their audience wants. That’s the reality of the world. I’m not sure how to deal with it, other than to offer each other grace and support, and also to develop an ability to let it go. Write because you love it and forget about the results. Otherwise it’s too easy to lose heart and give up.

  • Erica Vetsch

    >I read all those posts last week, and I admired Wendy’s courage and frankness.

  • Jan Cline

    >Great wrap up of the posts. Do we need more agents out there?

  • Anonymous

    >If agents could review mss. as they came in, then they could put them in diff piles: NO, MAYBE, YES, and pass them on to their assistants. Just give us a clue, please! Maybe we could all use books on time-management?

  • Krista Phillips

    >Thanks for sharing! Will definitely click over:-)

  • Jana D

    >Rachelle,thanks for sharing your pulpit–best!Jana

  • T. Anne

    >I saw you tweet a link to her blog last week, and I thought she was very insightful and honest. I’m heading over to read some of the posts I might have missed. I think the bigger picture for writers is remembering agents are human and not machines.

  • Rachelle

    >Jan Cline: Good thought, but more agents are definitely not the answer. The number of slots at the publishers is the issue. If all the publishers decided to double their yearly output, that would help, but it’s not going to happen!Folks need to remember that agents are not the problem here. The problem is the numbers.The publishers are contracting “x” books per year. However, the number of writers trying to get those slots is probably something like x times 1000.Anon 9:46 am: See above. Time management is not the problem. One available publishing slot for every 1000 querying writers is the problem.

  • Anonymous

    >Rachelle–I understand but for requested mss. please agents, let us know ASAP if it's a yes or no so we can move on. Thanks for caring!

  • Michael K. Reynolds

    >Rachelle,

    I really love how agents in the CBA support and encourage one another. This is just another great example, and one of the reasons why I visit your Blog (and my agents' Blog — Books & Such) daily. Thank you for all you do.

  • Caroline

    >I read those posts last week, and found Wendy's thoughts to be so honest, revealing, and able to bring the need for grace into view.

    Thank you for directing all of us to these posts.

  • Judith Leger

    >Thanks for sharing, Rachel. It's nice to see such honesty in this business! Blessings to you and Wendy.

  • Martha Ramirez

    >Wendy's so awesome. I got the opportunity to meet her at James Scott Bell's class in Jan:)

  • Camille Eide

    >Seeing how it is from the other side helps wise us up when we're tempted to be self-sighted. You guys are amazing. Thank you Wendy and Rachelle for being real, for working your butts off for us, and for keeping us aware of the struggles of someone other than ourselves. :-)

    And Sara – Well said and Amen. We can never have too much grace!

  • LBDDiaries

    >Very eye-opening. People don't always think about the other side of the story (and writers tend to be "me" focused)! I appreciate this post & will go check out the other ones now – (wandered over here via retweet by Pamela Hutchins).

  • Cheryl Linn Martin

    >It's always good to get a peek into someone else's world because it's just too easy to judge when you don't understand.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Alice Turing

    >This is all briliant stuff, and of course true. But one of the problems with agent-searching is in fact a problem with Being Human and Trying to Survive This Wretched Thing we Call Life… and it’s all about shades of grey.I had an agent who ticked most of the Good Agent tick boxes. They had a good background and track record in the industry. They were building up a new list, and therefore had room for new clients – and some time to spend reading submissions. They were (I believe) genuinely passionate about my book. They were prepared to play the long game and didn’t insist that every client had to be an instant success. They were prepared to have editorial discussions and give input and advice. They were neither dictatorial nor sycophantic.But they turned out to be fundamentally flawed in a key area. Professionalism prevents me from going into it in any detail in a public forum, but my point is this:People rarely fit into neat categories and boxes. As the best character-writers know, villains always have redeeming features – and vice versa. What if you are desperate to have an agent (well, duh), and find someone who ticks so many boxes? Someone you like, gel with, and desperately want to trust? You have to decide whether niggling doubts are due to over-caution, or your own self-destructive tendencies, or are worth acting on. If the choice is between not-quite-sure-about agent and no agent at all, it’s incredibly hard to know how to play it.Sadly another thing I discovered is that nobody in the industry is going to confirm any doubts you have unless the agent in question is an out-and-out charlatan. I tried checking with various professionals and professional bodies, but (quite rightly, from a professional and legal standpoint) none of them were in a position to back up what I was half-vaguely worried about. Later (too late) these turned out to be well grounded fears.This isn’t a criticism of this blog post, just a reminder that life is a horribly complicated thing, and hindsight is no use without a time machine. Dagnabbit.

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