A couple of weeks ago, I read an article on The Passive Voice blog called, "I think my agent's dead, what to do?" The article shares a letter from a writer lamenting over her agent's long periods of silence and lack of communication.
After many months and repeated attempts at contacting her agent, the writer said this:
"I’m stuck wondering what happened to her and where does it leave me? Do I have an agent? Is my novel out there being considered? Or did she get terrible responses back from the editors and decide she hates it after all? Does she regret signing me on? Is that why she’s gone AWOL on me? Is she seriously ill? Dead? Did she quit her job? If she has dropped me, shouldn’t she let me know?"
The letter was interesting and sadly all too familiar. I wasn't too surprised to see over 100 plus comments from other writers sharing similar agent experiences. Over the years, I've heard stories from friends who've had frustrating and difficult periods with their agents.
Unfortunately, silence, poor communication, and uncertainty are all too common problems in agent-client relationships.
In the age of self-publishing, many writers have decided to forgo the frustrations and have chosen not to have an agent at all. And that's a completely valid option.
For those who are traditionally published or hybrids (a combination of indie and traditional), then having an agent is still an important consideration.
Recently, I've changed agents. While I really liked my previous agent on a personal level, over time it had become clear to me that I needed a new agent to better fit my working needs. I didn't really consider the possibility of NOT having an agent, since I have too many projects in the traditional publishing fires.
During the whole process of changing agents, I realized that it's really difficult to know the quality of various agents out there. The majority of writers don't like to publicly bad-mouth anyone in the industry. So most of the time when we complain about agents or publishers, we tend to do so in general terms (without naming anyone specific).
Sometimes we say nothing at all because we blame ourselves for the problems. We think if only we were a better writer or more interesting person that perhaps our agent would like us better. And because none of our agent's other clients are saying anything, we think we're the only one having problems.
But staying silent about the problems doesn't help the writing community. Our silence only perpetuates the problems in the industry. And after all the frustrations I've heard about over the past few years, I'd like to see client-agent frustrations become the exception, rather than the norm.
So what should we writers do? Should we speak out more openly about our experiences?
Perhaps . . . if we can find a professional way to do it.
Of course, there is the Writer Beware site that lists thumbs down agents to steer away from.
But what about reputable agents? How do we know who's good and who's not? Who communicates well and who doesn't? Who works hard and knows the industry and who is just getting by?
My solution before switching agents was to get plenty of references on the new agent I was interested in approaching. I contacted several authors who'd been working with this agent for many years. And I asked them pointed questions about the quality of the agent, her work ethic, how she communicates, how often they experienced frustration, and any problems they'd had.
After getting their honest responses, I had a much clearer picture of the new agent. And then of course, I had a long conversation with the agent before signing, in which I shared some of my concerns.
Obviously, I'm not the world's perfect client. And there's no perfect agent either. But I think too often writers are settling for much less than they deserve in the client-agent relationship.
So my advice to anyone searching for an agent for the first time (or the second or third or more) is to make sure to get references. Ask current clients lots of questions. (Most agents have a client role on their website that you can look at.) Ask previous clients why they left that agent. And don't sign until you get a clear picture of how that agent operates.
Also, I would caution new writers from becoming so desperate for an agent that they end up ignoring red flags and settle for just anyone they can get. Such a decision could eventually do more harm than good.
What are your thoughts? Do you think writers need to be more open about agent problems? If so, how?