Monday, December 10, 2012

Why having a bad agent is worse than having no agent

I honestly believe that there's a perfect publishing path for everyone, and that not everyone's perfect path includes getting an agent. This post may or may not be for you.

I know how it is. When don't have an agent and you hear "a bad agent is worse than no agent," you have a hard time believing it. Before you get an agent, your writing career is kind of at a standstill, so surely having a less than ideal agent is better than nothing, right?!

Wrong. You want one that's going to be good for you.

It's a match made in heaven. Hahaha! Get it?
Cloud photo attribution: Axel Rouvin

Let me start by saying that there are two kinds of "bad agents." Ones that are bad for EVERYONE, and ones that are bad for just YOU. Either way, the results are the same-- they can't sell your book. (Now, of course, an agent can be an incredible agent, and be perfect for you, and still not be able to sell your book for a million and one reasons, even if your book rocks beyond the telling of it. That's not what I'm talking about.) A bad agent doesn't sell your book for one of two reasons:

  1. Because they don't have the contacts. (Either because they're new in the business, or because they don't usually represent your genre, and therefore don't have many contacts in the field specific to you.)
  2. Because they don't have a love of your work, or believe strongly enough in it.

Let's say that you sign with an agent, and they aren't good for you (for whatever reason). Maybe you revise a lot with them. And maybe you go on sub and don't get any bites. And then maybe you go on sub again and again or maybe they aren't willing to go on sub to any more after the first time. Before you know it, a TON OF TIME HAS PASSED, and NOTHING HAS HAPPENED. You signed with this agent because you wanted to get your career moving, right? And now, you've spent so much time spinning your wheels, and it's still not moving. Are you any better off than if you had continued to query until you did find the perfect agent?

Because even worse than the time wasted, now you have to decide if it's better to break up with your agent. I've had several friends in this position, and lemme tell you-- it's tough. It's tough to go from being able to say that you're an agented writer, to starting over with querying when you thought you were done with it.

It's definitely better to spend a longer time querying in the first place.

Think about it-- if one agent thinks your manuscript will sell (that's the reason they sign you-- or at the very least, that they think your writing is so brilliant that even if this manuscript can't sell, the next one will), won't more than one agent be interested in representing you? So don't feel like that's your one and only choice-- it's all a matter of sticking with it until you find that one agent who IS perfect for you.

So what if you've exhausted all of your possibilities, and just think if someone, ANYONE would be willing to take you on everything would be okay. Isn't it better to just try with any agent willing to offer?

Let's look at this logically. 

If no good agent is willing to take this on, is an editor? If you've exhausted every possibility, it might be time to make the equally painful decision of focusing a new/different project. That's something you have to use your gut on. And definitely use any feedback you got from agents to help you make that decision.

So.... how do you know who is a good agent?

Research well. Check Predators and Editors. Look at the agent's sales on Publisher's Marketplace. Google a lot. See what you can find online. And keep in mind that newer agents aren't necessarily going to have the sales, and that doesn't mean that they're a bad agent. Generally, if it's a newer agent at an established agency, they have enough people they can go to as mentors so they can be a great agent, even if they don't have a sales record to prove it yet. (In fact, newer agents are often very attentive.) You'll have to use your gut on whether or not a newer agent at a newer agency is a good thing or not.

It is possible for a good agent--- even an agent with an incredible sales record--- to be a bad agent for you. And how do you find out those? By your gut reaction to everything you see online (and, if it gets to that point, what they say over the phone). And sometimes you don't need to know, simply because their tastes in books might keep the two of you separated. And that's a good thing. That's why you should never be disheartened by rejections, because sometimes it's saving you from a bad future relationship.

And a bad (for you) agent is truly worse than having no agent at all.

34 comments:

Kaylee Baldwin said...

100% yes. I haven't had an agent (yet) but I am really cautious about who I query. I've had some friends break up with agents and it's really sad and hard. I used to think that any agent will do, then a few years ago, I was talking to an agent who wanted to see my book--then she told me that she sometimes went out of comission for up to a year, but if her clients were loyal to her, she was loyal to her clients. Then she also told me about a ton of bridges she'd burned in the publishing world because she's not someone who will hold her tongue. I decided that she wasn't the best agent for me, even if she was excited about my book. Great post.

Annalisa Crawford said...

So far I haven't looked for an agent, mostly because agents don't want what I write (short stuff). One day, I hope I'll need one (for all those international film rights, of course), but there's a lot more to consider than just their acceptance. Great post.

Julie Luek said...

Great advice and tucked away for future (I hope) reference.

Ruth Josse said...

Wise, wise, wise.

Bea Sempere (Denise Baer) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bea Sempere (Denise Baer) said...

Great advice and information, Peggy.

Jay Noel said...

I decided to forgo the agent for now, and see if I can get published through small press. Build up the resume before I go looking for a reputable agent.

Thanks for this post.

JeffO said...

I think the most heartbreaking stories I hear in blogland are the ones about authors who end up with a bad fitting agent, lose valuable time, and end up having to go through the same process all over again. It is very disheartening.

Donna Hosie said...

I've had two agents in my time. Number one was well known with a top London agency and it was the worst mistake of my writerly life. It put me back by about a year and a half.

Number two is who I am with now and it's working very well. The hardest part is that sometimes you never really know if you are going to be a good fit.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Great post, Peggy. Completely agree with you.

S.P. Bowers said...

Very true. I kinda look at it like choosing a spouse, though maybe not as permanent as forever. I do want someone I can get along with, who keeps my best interests at heart, who's in it for the long haul.

Suzanne Furness said...

Excellent post and some great advice.

Morgan said...

I LIVED on Publishers Marketplace (still do) and Predators and Editors... such great tools...

And sadly, I have SO many friends also who have been agented, had a horrible experience, and are now either querying again or self-pubbing. I've only been agented for 3 months, but already, I can see how important this decision is!

You nailed this post, Peggy. Way to bring out awesome key points and I know this will be very helpful for many people. Really great.

Emily R. King said...

Excellent advice, Peggy. I whole-heartedly agree! I think writers should be more picky about who they partner with.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Wise advice. I have heard horror stories and I would be very choosie about who I signed with.

Richard said...

I think many of us lack the self-confidence to turn down an agent's offer. I think I would have a hard time doing so. Over and over again, I see on blogs how happy the person is that she's finally got an agent, as if she's hit the big time. I would probably feel the same way. You see the list of questions you're supposed to ask the agent before signing the contract; those are pretty daunting questions for an inexperienced writer. But, we need to do those things or we're behaving like a child rather than an adult.

Trisha said...

I imagine it would be really awful having to "break up" with an agent. Better to be careful to begin with.

Great post!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great advice Peggy. I've interviewed a number of authors who mention that their first agent wasn't for them so they parted ways and then found an agent that they clicked with. It's hard to remember your advice while in the trenches but it's so important to keep in mind.

Nicole said...

Wise words! It's helpful to hear.

Leigh Covington said...

Love this Peggy. Definitely true. And it's good to have this kind of advice. :)

Heather said...

So very, very true. I've had two and unfortunately, one of them was bad for me, and the other was just bad. It's so important for authors to understand this. Thank you for this excellent post!

E.D. said...

Great advice Peggy - thank you. Many of us tend to forget the importance of finding the right agent over just finding an agent.

Cynthia said...

Thanks for sharing your insights. I wonder then, if an author has an agent but the book hasn't sold yet, if it would be prudent for the author to list the name of their agent on their web or blog bio.

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

Very good advice, Peggy. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Jenny S. Morris said...

Peggy, you said it so perfectly. (As you always do.) It really is like a marriage and the right one is worth waiting for. I know passing on an offer can seem like the worst thing in the world at the time. But it could really save you a lot of heartache. So really research and go with your gut!

Tracy Campbell said...

Another awesome post, Peggy!
Love the artwork too! :-D

Charlie Holmberg said...

This is one of those things I need to be reminded of. I've been at this for several years, and there are times where I think I'll hire anyone who gives me the time of day, but I need to remember this. If I'm worth publishing, certainly more than one agent will notice it.

I think I especially need to remember this when I query agents who rep YA, but not Adult. I write both. Maybe I should hold me horses a little, eh?

Kelly Polark said...

Excellent advice!

Angela Cothran said...

You are wise beyond your years :)

Neurotic Workaholic said...

Thanks for the advice! I especially agree with the part about how it's important for the agent to love your work. If they didn't love it, they might offer feedback that might not actually work in the manuscript; they wouldn't be able to easily understand the story from your perspective.

Kelley Lynn said...

As someone who has switched agents, I can attest to this. Though the reason for me switching wasn't because she was a bad agent. She was VERY good. The circumstances just weren't right for me. Gotta go with your gut. I KNOW my previous agent will do wonders with her clients (because she already is :))

Bea Sempere (Denise Baer) said...

Hi Peggy,

I just wanted to let you know that I presented you with The Sunshine Blog Award. I know we're all busy and sometimes don't have time for blog awards. I gave it to you because I like your blog, so...

LisaAnn said...

Great post, Peggy! As one of those writers who has had an agent divorce, I can definitively say my life is so much better without my first agent. She worked at a huge company, and she'd made lots of sales, but she didn't care about my career the way I needed it to be cared about. My second agent is PERFECT, and I'm so happy to have her instead!

Jessica W. said...

Thanks for this post! I really enjoyed it! Good advice and perspective I hadn't heard before.