Thursday, 2 April 2009


I did a post some time ago about what agents can do for you and how to become eminently agentable. Clearly, getting an agent is easier said than done, and many of you (those of you at least who are unpublished and/or unagented) will be understandably frustrated by the process and the knockbacks and the failure of your desired agents fully to appreciate the toffees or naked photos that you sent with all the best intentions. Well, I'm about to direct you to a blog post which will help you vent some of your frustration.

What I'd really like you to do, however, is to see beyond that often extreme frustration, and even anger, to some serious points. So, before you read the post, and indeed before I tell you where to find it, please consider that:
  • agents have clients to look after and must, for good reason, spend most of their time working for those existing clients
  • the vast majority of what agents receive onto their slush piles is utterly awful - and I really do mean sanity-defyingly awful - and they have learnt to fear the postman, especially when bearing gifts
  • very often, when an agent replies with a polite negative, he/she is subjected to vitriol and instructed to rot in hell; this does not do great things for patience and amenability
  • most of the complaints you'll read in the post I'm about to tell you about are from people who don't have agents, rather than those who do but are unhappy (though of course there are some of those - how could there not be in this imperfect world?)
Your anger and frustration are utterly understandable, and sometimes probably justifiable, but if we all, whoever we are, spend some time putting ourselves into another person's shoes, many infuriating/incomprehensible/reprehensible/shocking/sanity-threatening things actually become simply mildly eyeball-rolling or sweetly and whimsically human. They require little more than a decent chocolate fix to forget. Or at the very worst a little bit of sticking pins in a wax figure, for purely psychological reasons, not because you believe in witchcraft.

One other thing: don't let this anger and frustration stop you doing the one thing you're meant to be doing - improving your writing. Your focus should not be on how annoying a total stranger was for not spending a whole day attending to your needs without likelihood of financial gain, but on how good a writer you could become.

So, at last, with this in mind, do go to the bookends blog here and see what I'm talking about. Agents amongst you need to have a stiff drink first. There were 253 comments last time I looked ... And do read Janet Reid's piece. I think between them both and with my typically and unassailably impressive words of caution above they should give you a pretty good insight into the frustrations of both sides. (Thanks to Colleen Lindsay at the Swivet for pointing these blog posts out - and if you missed the "Queryfail" stuff that began all this, you'll find that there too. Your cup runneth over.)

Getting an agent is hard. In case you hadn't noticed. For an agent to earn a living is hard. Both agents and authors would do well to understand more about the other side, then perhaps there would be less pain and frustration and more love and er ... well, kind of getting on better and things. And lest there be any doubt, I am lucky enough to have a suberb agent. Who reads this blog and quite often tells me that she likes the blog but would like it even more if I did some writing that would earn me (us) some dosh.

Meanwhile, with all this advocacy of love, or at least understanding, between agents and unpublished/unagented authors, I'm off to prepare my acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize. Actually what I'm really doing is trying to deal with the fact that the first copy of my new book, Deathwatch (you know about shameless plugs by now and how necessary they are, if unpleasant) arrived through my door today, which engenders simultaneous maternal gooeyness (sorry, is there a spelling for that?) and utterly paralysing stress and inability to open the damned thing because when I do all the mistakes will scream at me. Wine, chocolate, boots and all other good things are called for in order to deal with the problem. I know, you don't understand, so get back to angsting about agents if you like.

Anyway, back to the point: a smidgen (spelling again? Why can't I use normal words?) of mutual understanding is the answer to world peace.


DanielB said...

The most important point here is that, as Nicola says, most of these complaints are from the unagented. They are, in general, not going to be that informative. Think about those tearful, screeching, begging people turned down at the X-Factor auditions because they could not sing (despite what they thought). How many of them will have a good word to say about Simon Cowell? He may have dismissed them abruptly, he may have been rude, he may have had an attitude, he may have cut them off in full flow, but none of that changes the fact that they are awful singers and he was right to reject them.

Far more informative are the moans from the agented. Subsidiary rights sat on. Manuscripts not sent out there because of "the market". Poor communication. I confess I have not always been 100% happy with my agent's decisions - the small matter of a publisher crapping on the B-format clause still rankles - but she takes the time to explain them to me and communicates regularly.

Also, with what some people see as staggering, sparkling fairy-godmotherliness, she goes out there, FINDS projects I'd like and pitches for me to do them! I'm always amazed that people, even some other agented and published writers, find this incredible. For me it's just smart professionalism. I expect it. That doesn't mean I don't appreciate it, but I don;t consider it some kind of favour either. If I get work it benefits us both. Why would she not look for work opportunities for existing clients?

Mary Hoffman said...

And did you reiterate taht one should never, never pay an agent an upfront fee? You probably already did this Nicola but I'm responding to the agent's blog that says we must say this loudly everywhere, to protect would be published writers

morphine-moniza said...

agentfail opened up a whole can of worms, it really did. But i think there were some valid points in there, particularly about agents giving out contradicting info, or outdated info which no longer applies. Some of them were pretty harsh though, particularly those who resented prospective agents for having personal lives.

litlove said...

This was a great post to read. I wrote to my agent at the start of the week and haven't heard back from her yet. I'm already wondering if she's about to drop me, and of course, the chances are she is extremely busy (although she may still drop me). Writing is such a vulnerable business, you can feel completely skinless in it sometimes. I think agents must become like doctors - somewhat cavalier with other people's pain through having been exposed to it too much. But I am very fond of my agent and respect her enormously. She never gives less than 100 percent when she's helping me.

BuffySquirrel said...

Eh, I've seen enough writerly hatred in my time not to need more! The classic case being a writer on a message board who castigated the board owner's agent, at length....

Nicola Morgan said...

In that case, BuffyS, there's something to make you happy today! (See Bookends)

Litlove - so many possible good reasons why your agent hasn't yet got back to you, but I think it would be good if you could communicate how vulnerable you feel. She probably doesn't know. And if she gives 100% when she's helping you, she's probably currently giving 100% helping another client who may need it more urgently!