Monday, March 15, 2010

Things I Thought Were Obvious File #127

Be nice to your agent.


My boss acknowledges that a lot of writers, particularly career ones, are inherently weirdos. She doesn't outright say it, but when writers are unreliable or obsessive or can't seem to grasp the world beyond their work, she's not surprised. I'm not surprised; I was a weirdo growing up and I'm a weirdo now. My publication record is just confirmation of my right to be one. That said, it's important to maintain a professional working relationship with the people around you, and in this case, your agent or potential agent.

There's been a few cases over the years I've known her where my boss has declined a potential client, or cut lose a former one, because of their behavior. Mostly the former, but there was even a case where a potential client came in with an offer from a publishing company with a huge advance attached to it. In other words, free money for my boss, whose job becomes to look over the contract and pretty much nothing else, and then receive a significant check for her work. Agents love these clients. That was actually how I got my agent; various agents were considering my work and at the same time I landed an offer from a company after I pitched to the editor at the BEA and I called around to the agents considering me, said I had an offer on the table, and waited for them to call me back. Within the first 24 hours, three did. Another begged for an additional 24 hours to read the manuscript, and a fourth was vacation and still asked about it when they got back 2 weeks later. One person did say "OK, I read it, I'm legitimately not interested" but otherwise I had my pick. It's a pretty awesome position to be in.

Back to my boss. She got this offer, which really a lot of money already on the table, and she was still debating it when I last spoke to her. The author, when she spoke to him, was pushy and demanded things of her like lowering her industry fees (which is not a negotiable topic), made comments critical of her other clients, and didn't get back to her when she emailed him basic questions that would be crucial to the agent/client relationship. It really came down to "Do I really want to work with this guy?" Knowing her, in the long run, the answer will probably be no.

So if you're working with your agent, or trying to get one, be polite. Promptly answer emails if you're available to do so. Don't ignore questions. In short, don't be a douche. We don't like working with them.


Anonymous said...

"and didn't get back to her when she emailed him basic questions that would be crucial to the agent/client relationship."

This reminds me of a question. You may have already tackled this, in which case I missed this, but from where I sit there is an inherent contradiction in many submission guidelines: on the one hand, they say: "remind us if you haven't heard from us within our stated response time", on the other hand they also say, "we will only respond if we're interested."

The part that I am unable to figure out is how to evaluate if I should prod the agent, or if I should just assume that they aren't interested and move on.

So far, I have always proceeded on the assumption that no response means not interested, and didn't bother to send a reminder mail after the stated response time has elapsed.

Jessica Bell said...

It's interesting that people feel the need to be rude, or even that they have the RIGHT, when money is in play and believe YOU WON'T BE ABLE TO PASS IT UP. Little do they know that some people actually have their priorities straight!

Thomas said...

I deal with this every day with film people. I suppose one expects such things from actors and directors but I've seen it with sound mixers, set decorators and gaffers.

It's like once there's an artistic aspect to one's job we through basic concepts of professionalism out the window and it chaps my ass.

Worst are the people who do this kind of thing when they haven't even got the job yet.

Queen of the Road said...

"Don't be a douche." Good advice for life, in general.

Even more than not being a douche, you never know when it actually pays to be nice: My husband and I loved going to a particular bar for happy hour. We always had the same waitress, she treated us well and we responded in kind by kibitzing and tipping nicely. Once, on her day off, we saw her at the bar, called HER waitress over and told her we would pay for her next drink.

Several months later, I got a book deal and we went to the bar to celebrate (OK, we would have gone, anyway). I mentioned it to "our" waitress, only to find out she was also the assistant events coordinator at a major indie bookstore. You can bet I was asked to do a reading/signing there.

worstwriterever said...

Ticks me off. There are plenty of people that would love to be in the position of that author and he acts like that.

My psychic abilities are kicking in. Next life for that guy....spouse of a black widow spider.

_*rachel*_ said...

Thanks for affirming my identity!

I definitely see what you mean about not taking that author on. More and more I've found myself preferring nice people/service over money (farmer's market, indie bookstore, etc.).

Bernard said...

Your comment about the industry fee being non-negotiable has aroused my curiosity. This surprises me, particularly in cases where, as in this example, most of the work in landing the deal was already done. I recognise of course, that such a thing cannot be demanded; however, demanding isn't really negotiating.

Why is this fee non-negotiable?

The Rejecter said...

The fee is an "industry standard" sort of thing, to protect both the agent from gouging the client and the agent from going broke working hours for a client who earns her no money. Fees used to be 10%, and the AAR allowed them up to 15% because of the general decrease in advances (a book used to sell for 30K now sells for 5K). If every author could negotiate, it would be a huge hassle for every agent (and kind of for the author, who has to be a good haggler). It's really to protect everyone involved.

Bernard said...

Curiosity is satisfied, thank you.

Anonymous said...

sounds like the writer has the talent to back up his supposed "asshole" behavior. ITRW, sometimes you get sick of getting rejected by agents and now the writer holds the power. Sounds like a tough negotiator. More power to 'em.
Not everyone wants to tote the blah blah blah industry standard bullsh1t. That said, they are douchebags everywhere and agents can be the biggest douches.