Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

Yesterday's post on writing for free garned a lot of insightful comments. Thanks to everyone who chimed in! For more on writing for peanuts, check out Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell's blog this week: she's holding a contest on the best response to people who ask you to pen something for a smile. Check it out here: www.kcwrite4u.blogspot.com.

Okay, on with the questions.

Thanks for sharing your story on how you left your first agent. I'm curious: how did you have the guts to do it? I'm contemplating doing the same thing, but I can't seem to work up the nerve to do so. What was your deal-breaker?

Well, I'll start by saying that I'm not the type of person who likes to linger in murky situations (actually, who does?), so I'm usually pretty proactive about resolving them. But even if you're NOT this type of person, it would serve you well to strap on an alter ego and have a frank conversation with your agent. I don't know the specifics of your particular situation, but I can share the specifics of mine, and maybe that will help.

As I've mentioned before, my first ms failed to sell. We got a lot of positive feedback and some requests for rewrites, but my agent thought it would be more prudent to ditch book #1 and just write #2. So I did: in a matter of months, I wrote what would become TDLF. When I handed in the first draft, she didn't love it, and we had our first "where is this relationship going" conversation. In that conversation, we agreed that I'd revise the ms, and if she still wasn't happy with it (or if I disagreed with her assessment), we'd amicably part ways. But looking back, it seems clear that even at this stage, the bloom was slightly off her rose, in terms of where I now fell on her client priority list. (And I don't say this blamefully: maybe it's a natural reaction, I dunno, I'm not an agent. But if you can't sell someone's work, it's entirely possible that you're just not as gung-ho on them anymore.)

So I got busy revising and handed in a second draft pretty quickly. It took her a really long time to read this version (and respond to my emails), but she finally emailed that she liked this draft much more, or so she told me. I made a few other tweaks, but basically, we were both satisfied - she just wanted to get one last opinion from someone else at her firm. Well, I have no idea what that other person said, but she obviously didn't like the book, because my agent hemmed and hawed until I finally emailed her saying, "I need to know where I stand with you b/c I feel like I'm getting the shaft and being ignored." (Though I said it in much nicer terms.) She responded and apologized, and we agreed to talk the next day.

And in that talk, she admitted that she still wasn't passionate about TDLF, and gave me several options: revise book #1 and go back out with it, write an entirely new book, or try to find new representation for TDLF. We all know which option I chose.

So why did I walk away? My agent was perfectly nice, but the bottom line was that I think, to quote
Kristin Nelson's blog from last week, "she'd lost that loving feeling." She was trigger-shy after not selling my first book, and now doubted my writing and perhaps her ability to sell my writing. She didn't say any of this, but it seemed obvious: my emails and phone calls got shelved, she took longer to read my revisions, and her enthusiasm in general just seemed to wane. (For example, she made it clear that TDLF wasn't, in her opinion, a hardcover book...which was sort of her way of saying that she didn't think it was as strong as book #1, which she did deem hardcover-worthy.) Now, I harbor no ill will toward her, and I wish her much success. This was just a case of two people reaching a crossroads and recognizing that we'd gone as far as we could go with each other.

So I'd urge you to consider this when deciding whether or not to leave your current agent. Is she still a champion of your work? Will she push just as hard for you and your writing as she would have in the past? Have you had any previous success with her? Is she still giving you the attention you feel like you deserve? (And yes, you do deserve it. She might be the agent, but she works for you. Period.)

In my case, the answers to all of the above questions were resounding "nos," and it was clear that I needed to move on, scary as it was. Mostly, I found it exhilarating. I knew that my agent had lost enthusiasm, and I really looked forward to finding someone who believed in my work as much as I did. And I'm fortunate that I did. Let's put it this way: if my current agent told me that she didn't love my WIP or didn't think she could sell it, I'd never consider leaving her. I'd either work with her to revamp the WIP or I'd start something fresh. That's how much I trust her. And that's how much I know she's in my corner. If you don't get the sense that your agent is 100% in your corner, you're going into the ring without proper protection, and you're likely to get pummeled. It's time to get out.

Anyone else out there ditched their agent? Or repaired a potentially broken agent-client relationship and had it work out positively?


MaNiC MoMMy™ said...

Hey Allison, I know you've told me before but I can't remember--are you ressurecting that first ms?

Also, do you have blurbs from authors ... Oh, never mind, I already know this question! But maybe for others who don't you might want to explain author blurbs and the importance of them, and how to get them (after the sale of a novel, of course!)

Great going on the blog--tons of good info, and I entered KC Write's contest!

MBT said...

I parted amicably and mutually with my first agent after a year with no sales (non-fiction). I didn't seek representation again until three years after that, and I am happy to report my new agent and I are two peas in a pod about where I want to be career-wise - she has sold one book already and is negotiating contract terms for a second in the nine months I have been with her.

I didn't know how wonderful it was to have an agent who is a great match since I wasn't all that impressed with the experience the first time around. Had I known, I might have tried to find another agent a lot sooner than I did.

Larramie said...

Allison, have you heard from Agent #1 since the sale of TDLF at auction?

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Manic-Yep, I'm in the process of tearing book #1 apart, then trying to put it back together again. Shrug. We'll see. It's a totally different book than it was before, but I'm still not sure about it. My agent is reading it right now. Oh, and will deal with blurbs in a few more days!

MBT-Thanks for sharing! So true.

Larr- Nope. Never heard from her again, in fact. Sort of disappointing really, since I thought we left on really nice terms.

Larramie said...

More than "sort of disappointing," it's sad. Yes, I know that publishing is a business, but how could she not be happy for you? Ahem, it's obvious you made the right decision to part ways.

P.S. In flipping through the morning talk shows, I saw PD -- dressed in suit and tie -- being interviewed on GMA. That made my morning! *bg*