2007-09-27

Communication Is the Key

Seems to me, communication is the key when dealing with your agent.

No, I'm not agented (yet), but I think I'll throw my opinion around on this one anyway. :-)

On one agent's blog, I noticed an anonymous comment from someone who, apparently, had an agent who'd been sitting on her ms. for three years. Three long, freakin' years.

What's up with that?

It's possible I misunderstood the post, but I don't think so. It sounded as if the poor writer was with a prestigious agency/agent, and it's possible that agent took on too many clients.

It happens.

The thing is, what was happening with her ms? Did her agent actually send out the puppy and get negatives all around? Did she communicate this to the writer? Did the writer ask? Did the agent ask for edits - as I assume she must have - or did the agent just leave things as is? (I would think even minor edits are necessary before sending a ms. on to editors.)

Whatever has happened, it's obvious the writer and the agent aren't communicating. It's possible the agent did ask for edits in that timeframe (3 years) and has sent it out with nobody wanting it. But it's also obvious this isn't getting through to the writer; obviously, or she wouldn't have asked about it.

Don't be afraid to ask your agent where she's sending your ms. It's part of the writer/agent relationship. You, as a writer, have the right to know where your agent is sending your ms.; after all, it's your baby, right? Whether the agent tells you straight out or you send a short email inquiry, it doesn't matter. Back scratching works both ways.

My advice to that poor dear was to politely let her agent know that she (the writer) didn't think it was working out, and to be released from her contract. Yeah, she'll have to do the whole query thing again (yuck!), and do the entire waiting game again (double yuck!), but I phrased it this way: In the 3 years your agent's been (ostensibly) sitting on your ms., another agent would've had you do some edits and sent it out to publishers, and, possibly, if the first one didn't sell, the agent would've asked for something else you're working on.

Don't be afraid to admit something is not working. Writing is hard work, as is agenting. Don't you want someone working as hard as you are?

Right. I thought so.

~Nancy Beck

11 comments:

April said...

I agree with you. that is way too long. Either the client has just become complacent and does not want to do anymore work and just wants to hang out and see what happens, or...well, I don't really know a better explination. The agent should maybe be better, but the fault lies with the client for not hunting down the agent and demanding answers.

I am unagented also..and doing the whole yucky query thing. Nice to meetcha!

~Nancy said...

Nice to meet you, April. :-)

I'll be doing the crappy query thing soon. ::start sarcasm:: Boy, I can't wait! ::end sarcasm::

April said...

Thank you for your comments! I just ammended my synopsis. I felt like there was something missing....and I have been working on gathering the materials needed to send out a few more queries via snail mail. It is a very exhausting process!

And you're probably right - I need to stop changing things! lol.

It is a good thing that it is okay to query the same agents more than once!!! haha

April said...

Oh, and I am going to check out the Absolute Write website. Thank you for the tip!

April said...

Actually - I forgot. I should probably take off the friends lock on Xanga if I am going to invite bloggers to look at it! lol...I'll go do that now.

I'll email you my email! And thank you..though I am nervous!

~paulette said...

it sounds like my 1st realtor on my home! After 2 weeks of constantly having to call and "check-in", yielding that she hadn't gotten to it yet, i dropped her like a rock and went to choice #2. Now, in 2 days, my new one has surpassed everything #1 "didn't" get done and more. No one in their right mind would wait 3-years for a realtor to get a house on the MLS and i'm starting to totally agree with you on the agent side as well...

Angie said...

I agree that three years is way ridiculous and that both the writer and the agent had obviously dropped the communications ball somewhere. At the same time, though, it can be tough for a newbie to know just how long stuff takes and when it's appropriate to send in a nudge about what's going on.

When I got my acceptance e-mail I was bouncing all over the place and ready to dash on into the process. After I sent my reply saying that I'd love to see a contract, I was kind of expecting one to show up in my in-box within an hour or two. After all, they could e-mail it to me, I could print it out and sign it and snail-mail it back, right? And they had to have a template they used so it'd just be a matter of filling in my name, my pen name and my story title in a few places, maybe a few dates or whatever, and there you go. But I waited and waited and waited, and when you were expecting something within a business day or so, max, suddenly even a week starts to feel like forever, LOL!

Luckily I know a couple of other writers who are with the same publisher so I e-mailed one and asked her how long it'd taken her to get her contract. She reassured me that it does take a while. Which was cool because I knew then that there was no reason to fret, but if I were new enough to the business that I didn't have anyone to ask, I might've cracked and e-mailed the editor, who would've rightfully thought of me as some antsy little newbie who was clueless about how long this stuff takes and was probably going to be a nagging pain in the butt to work with.

Although three years is excessive, I can imagine some newbie novelist who's paranoid about Not Being A Bother and letting time pass and pass and pass. It's easy to say another day, another day, another day, one more week. Well, I'll call on Monday, or Tuesday, or maybe Friday -- well, over the weekend. One more week, maybe. Hey, it's almost Thanksgiving -- after the holidays, then. Etc. [wry smile]

And I'd bet (I hope!) that they did have some communication in all that time. If it was actually three years with no word from either end, then the writer has a hole in her head and the agent is hideously unprofessional. But if they did communicate occasionally, then that'd just make it easier to let things slide over the long term.

I'd never let it go that long, and I doubt very many other writers would either. But I can sort of mentally squint and see how it'd happen, if the writer were particularly hesitant and unsure of herself. :/

Angie

Shayne said...

I sent out queries to a number of agents, realizing later that I'd written a terrible query. Is it wise to mention that you've had a book published through a p.o.d. when writing a query letter? Also, should a person consider querying publishers directly? Thanks for your great posts, and your time!

~Nancy said...

Angie,

At the same time, though, it can be tough for a newbie to know just how long stuff takes and when it's appropriate to send in a nudge about what's going on.

This is very true. Unless you read some of the better writers' boards, a total newbie would still be groping in the dark.

Jeez, I hope I didn't come off too harsh. I'm totally on the side of the writer and was actually faulting the agent (as, presumably, the agent should know better as to whether or not she can take on another client).

Although three years is excessive, I can imagine some newbie novelist who's paranoid about Not Being A Bother and letting time pass and pass and pass. It's easy to say another day, another day, another day, one more week.

Exactly right. The publishing industry is so weird, that unless you're up on it (by reading from people who've been there and ARE there), there's no way to figure out what's up and what's down.

But I can sort of mentally squint and see how it'd happen, if the writer were particularly hesitant and unsure of herself.

That goes back to the writer worrying about being the Writer Who Emails/Phones Her Agent Every Two Seconds About Everything. What writer in his/her right mind would want to be like that? But it can get out of hand, and the writer in question sounded as if she/he was just so eternally grateful to be picked up by an agent (after countless rejections, no doubt), that she probably just turned a blind eye, hoping, hoping, hoping...

And I hope she now has the fortitude to plow ahead and do the right thing, as painful as that might be.

~Nancy said...

Shayne,

I sent out queries to a number of agents, realizing later that I'd written a terrible query.

Queries are very hard to write, so don't smack yourself too hard. The Absolute Writer Water Cooler has a Share Your Work section (password is vista) and Elecktra's Crapometer (http://crapometer.blogspot.com) will crit your query. Evil Editor will also crit your query, but people on the Crapometer are a little more gentle, where Evil's minions sometimes are a bit blunt (but hilarious; the continuations there have had me rolling on the floor).

Evil Editor's blog is at http://evileditor.blogspot.com, if you're interested.

Is it wise to mention that you've had a book published through a p.o.d. when writing a query letter?

Unless it's sold thousands of copies, I think you're better off not mentioning it. Most agents have a dim view of self-publishing, unless, as I mentioned before, you've sold thousands of copies of said book (which is a tough thing to do using POD technology, especially if it's a novel).

Also, should a person consider querying publishers directly?

Absolutely! But I'd first go the agent route, as those (few) big publishers who do still accept unagented material (Tor, for example), have huge backlogs in their slushpile. What an agent can do is get you ahead of all that, maybe get you a read in a few months instead of two years. (You read that right!)

However, if you've gone through all the agents on your list and haven't had a bite, then you can contact publishers directly. Include in your research small presses as well, because they sometimes take on stories that are, well, more quirky (for want of a better word). Too, a lot of smaller presses won't necessarily offer an advance, but if you've slogged through agents and big publishers, it might be worth it for you and that particular book.

Thanks for your great posts, and your time!

You're welcome! :-) I sometimes wonder if I missed my true profession in not becoming a teacher of some sort...

~Nancy said...

Paulette,

No one in their right mind would wait 3-years for a realtor to get a house on the MLS and i'm starting to totally agree with you on the agent side as well...

Real estate agents are something else, aren't they? ;-) I dread whenever we move out of our current home, because having to pack up stuff, calling to set up new phone, etc., etc. Such a PITA.

Yeah, 3 years is way too long. But it could be as Angie said, in that this person is a newbie and didn't really know what the deal is. And since publishing is such a strange animal anyway, what's considered right in most businesses is frowned upon in publishing.

Ah, well. That's why it's worth it to read up on the inner workings of publishing by authors who've been published many times over and those still active in the industry. They're the ones who really know the score.