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Protecting Yourself
Posted: Sunday, June 5, 2011 7:26 PM
Joined: 3/11/2011
Posts: 30

So, this week I've had the unfortunate experience of finding out that I made the wrong decision when choosing an agency. I cannot and will not go into detail here due to contractual obligations. While this agency may not behave professionally, I am better than that. (I have written of this experience to Writer Beware, just so you know.)

This is something that needs to be talked about. Dewey-eyed writers who are so jazzed to get an offer of representation from an actual factual agent, I know what that's like. I know that elation and I know the squealing-bouncing-can't-say-yes-fast-enough hype of it all.  I get it. I really do. That's where I was last year when I signed. But, with the perfect vision of hindsight, I've seen where I made mistakes. So here are a few things that I know I should have done to protect myself.

1) Don't say yes too quickly. If you've sent out queries and have gotten 0 response but one person who jumped and offered...send an email to those other agents letting them have a chance. Let them know you've got an offer. They may pass, they may ask for a shot. You won't know until you ask. Selecting an agent because s/he is the only one interested can be akin to settling for a relationship with Mr./Ms. Right Now rather than Mr./Ms. Right. 

2) Sleep on it. More than once. 

3) Listen to your gut. If something just feels off, listen to that little voice and trust your instincts. 

4) Scour Writer Beware and Predators & Editors before and during your query process and revisit after you get an offer. Read it again. If this agency/agent is on either of those lists, think very hard before signing with them.

5) Talk to other authors who are represented by that agency. (You should've researched this before you queried anyway. Revisit that.) Talk to them and get their experiences, see what a typical month for them is like. What is their relationship with the agent like? Are they happy? Are they being productive?

6) Review the contract. A LOT. Repeat ad nauseum. If you have a contract lawyer in your pocket, ask them for insight. If you have other professional contacts that are not affiliated with the agency, ask them to look it over with you. Know every line before you sign. 

7) If you've already signed and your agent doesn't seem to be holding up his/her end of the bargain...if s/he isn't living up to what you talked about pre-contract...if you're made to feel like a nuisance for asking questions or wanting updates...these are red flags. Again, listen to your gut on this one.

Ask for help. If something explodes in your face, don't just be a victim. Ask for help. If you're uncertain about your relationship, ask for outside help. Don't be afraid of looking dumb. Be smart and ask. for. help. 

9) Be proactive. If something goes wrong and you find yourself back on the market or trying to clean up a huge mess: Be your own advocate. Get your hands dirty. Take chances. Email that person you never thought would give you the time of day and see if you can get some advice. 

While we all want ours to be a Cinderella story where we get Agent Charming and live happily ever after on the NYT list...that doesn't always happen. Sometimes, bad things happen to good, talented, trusting people. That's life. There are people out there who can/will take advantage of your trust. The good news: There are amazing people out there who understand that shit happens and those people are willing to help.  There are genuine souls out there and I am grateful to have found some of them batting for me this week. 

Protect yourself as best you can when on the hunt for the perfect agent. If you find yourself in a crappy situation, though, know that you aren't sunk. It's not the end of your career, it's probably just the beginning and only good things can follow.

Good luck, authors. 

Carl E Reed
Posted: Sunday, June 5, 2011 10:35 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608

Wow! Terrifying. And oh-so-disappointing. Granted, we're only hearing your side of things—and that carefully couched in language meant to conceal rather than reveal (to avoid a lawsuit, I presume)—but your frustration, anger and bitterness come through.

I believe you completely when you say that you've been wronged. (Paging the lifetime experiences of Mr. Ellison, Harlan Ellison. . . .) It's too bad that you can't be more detailed in the specifics of just HOW and WHY that came about, so that other writers can learn from your experience.

Nevertheless, I appreciate you writing and posting about it here. Good luck in your battle with these jokers.

Be well. Be wary. Beware!

Posted: Monday, June 6, 2011 12:14 AM
Joined: 3/11/2011
Posts: 30

Thing is, I did all of those things thinking I'd protected myself. In hindsight I would've done them more thoroughly.

If at some point I can go into specifics, I will. Because I agree that others need to LEARN from this. I do have to couch things at the moment, but publicly, I have to keep it vague for now.
Carl E Reed
Posted: Monday, June 6, 2011 12:46 AM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608

Understood. Protect yourself, first and foremost.

But don't beat yourself up too badly. None of us do anything perfectly the first time around.

I'm sending empathy, good luck and best wishes your way.
Posted: Monday, June 6, 2011 5:19 AM
Joined: 3/11/2011
Posts: 30

Thank you, Carl. I've been amazed at the people willing and able to help and have been blessed that this situation is going as well as it is.
Posted: Wednesday, June 8, 2011 3:45 PM
Joined: 3/11/2011
Posts: 30

Here's a more specific account of what happened. Still not naming names, but if you dig a bit you can put the pieces together. http://tinyurl.com/3egl7nq
Colleen Lindsay
Posted: Wednesday, June 8, 2011 6:37 PM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 356

Jamie -

Keep me posted on this privately if you need more help with anything, okay? Sorry you had to experience this, but thank you for taking the time to share this post with other writers on Book Country.

Posted: Wednesday, June 8, 2011 9:24 PM
Joined: 3/11/2011
Posts: 30

Absolutely. Colleen, you have been phenomenal this week and if anyone else can learn from it, that turns a load of crap into awesome.
Tara Kollas
Posted: Thursday, June 9, 2011 1:36 AM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 19

Jamie, I don't have much to offer, but I'm so sorry that happened to you.
Posted: Thursday, June 9, 2011 3:40 AM
Joined: 3/11/2011
Posts: 30

Thanks, Tara. I appreciate that.
Posted: Thursday, June 9, 2011 2:15 PM
Joined: 5/4/2011
Posts: 11

Want to share an old proverb I'm fond of, though it sounds like you already live by it.

Fall seven times, stand up eight. ~Japanese Proverb
Bill Gleason
Posted: Wednesday, June 22, 2011 6:06 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 18

Thanks for the words of warning. What you describe here and on your blog site are just about what I fear most. It's why I'm also really leaning toward submitting directly to publishers and only querying agents who have been referred to me by reliable sources (the problem there being I don't know many people who would know good agents from bad ones). It seems to me anyway that a legitimate publishing house would be far less likely to be unprofessional than an unknown agent. This isn't to say that an agent can't be a writer's best friend, but how is the writer to know? Thanks again!
Danielle Poiesz
Posted: Thursday, June 23, 2011 1:45 PM
That's an interesting point, Bill. However, the majority of publishers, particularly the Big 6, won't accept unagented manuscripts (aka slush). Most likely, a submission of this kind won't even get read--it will either go directly into the garbage or sent back with a form letter, or go into the slush pile, if the editor has one, and sit there for months until an intern or assistant sits down and goes through them (and even when this happens, they're basically reading the query and deciding from there).

Yes, there are cases where a now bestselling author had been discovered in the slush pile but it is rare, rare, rare. I highly recommend getting an agent, not only because they can get your manuscript looked at in the first place, but because they have the connections and resources to determine what editor is right for your project. So many unagented writers submit to the wrong editors--as a fiction editor I got so many random history book submissions and that's just not what I did!--and it will annoy the editor and cause them to form letter you immediately.

Getting an agent can certainly be difficult, and there are definitely some bad ones out there. But do your research using Publishers marketplace and literary marketplace, talk to people who are represented by each agent you're looking at, and be smart about it. Unfortunately, even when you do all those things, like Jamie did, it doesn't always go the way you'd expected. But it's the most you can do to give your book the best chance.
Posted: Thursday, June 23, 2011 3:56 PM
Joined: 3/11/2011
Posts: 30

Danielle has just outlined a big reason I'm STILL all for getting an agent. I know that I don't have the contacts in the industry to get in the door at the Big 6 (and I'm a "shoot for the moon" kinda girl...go big or go home). I also know that I don't know the ins-and-outs of this business well enough to protect myself. I know that I need an advocate, a navigator who can help me meet the goals I have set for myself. Despite this experience with one bad agent, I am back in the query game...wiser, stronger, better at my craft and ready to rock.

So, please, do not misconstrue my warnings for an outright indictment of agents. I'm on the side of the fence that favors traditional publishing with an agent involved.
Bill Gleason
Posted: Thursday, June 23, 2011 9:50 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 18

Thanks, Danielle & Jamie, after some research, I must accept that you are right, whether I like it or not. I think the key is finding/querying legitimate agents in the correct genre. FWIW, here are some of the websites I suggest people look at before querying an agent:

Writers Beware (SFWA)
Preditors & Editors

I'm sure there are others, but these should give anyone interested a good start. After all, there's no use trying to play the game by your own rules if nobody else is going to follow them.

Thanks for the help!
Lucy Basey
Posted: Monday, May 4, 2015 3:05 PM
Joined: 4/23/2015
Posts: 38

I know this is an old post but I had to have a look, and quite frankly, I'm shocked. I knew there were snakes out there but I never thought that there would be many, and that they'd be easy to spot. Apparently not. I'll be watching even more closely. As if finding an agent isn't already hard enough, it suddenly seems so much more complicated.

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