Friday, November 09, 2007

Agents v. Editors

Galleycat posted this a few days ago--it's a polite and balanced response to various editorial tirades about evil agents and how much editors cringe at the thought of dealing with them.

Originally, I read this agent's response and thought, wow! That poor agent is totally right! Agents rock, and most of them are so smart and good to work with and really passionate about books! And I felt bad for him/her and was planning on posting sympathetically.


Suffice it to say that an episode this morning has me CRINGING and absolutely fed up with certain specimines of that partifular profession. Don't get me wrong, here--I can name off the top of my head at least 15 agents I would want to invite to my wedding (in the unlikely event I were having one), never mind the ones I think are smart, entertaining, well-motivated, and super-admirable author advocates. But I HAVE TO SAY right now that there are certain behaviors of other agents I've had to deal with that I will NEVER understand. They include:

1) bullying, harrassing, or belittling an editor who has politely rejected a proposal. Not only is this awkward, uncomfortable, and bad feeling-generating for all parties, I just don't understand why an agent would push a house that is unenthusiastic about your project. What's the best-case scenario (from the agent's point of view)? The publishing company, feeling stressed out and maligned, capitulates, buys the book, and treats it as a lower mid-list title that they don't have any faith in? (By the way, I can't imagine this happening--after all, no matter how bad you make an editor feel, he or she is protected and back up by an institution of checks and balances, even in the unlikely event that this agent does anything other than piss this editor off.)

2) approaching a publisher or even higher-up person at a company (if one exists) if an editor rejects a proposal. Again, seriously? You REALLY want to work with an editor with whom you've now generated bad blood, but who DIDN'T ORIGINALLY LIKE YOUR PROJECT? Does that REALLY protect your client? Even in the extremely unlikely even that this works out for you--most publishers, I would venture to say, protect their own employees instead of outside free agents--you're doing your client a total disservice by foisting them upon an editor who is going to work with them only begrudgingly. So again, I just don't understand why you would create these uncomfortable situations for yourself.

3) collect an advance and then make yourself scarce for the duration of the life of the book. Because honestly, that makes your day-to-day life a scramble, since it means you'll always have to be selling new projects just to make your bread. By refusing to do a little work to participate in the active life of your book, you're ignoring the potential backlist royalties and rights sales you COULD be encouraging--and the backlist is what can support you in your retirement. But whatever. When you're out of the picture because you're too lazy, then at least I don't have to deal with your carelessness on a day-to-day basis. I just feel bad for your client.

4) cash royalty checks and disappear without paying your client, my author. If the author tries to contact you, say that he hasn't earned out his advance yet. Yeah, this happened to one of my authors (we just discovered this week). That's effin' classy, right there.

I'm sure I could think of more. These are just reasons of which I was recalled THIS WEEK for why I sometimes dread dealing with agents.

I'll do a good agent post soon, though. Because there really are so very many good agents.



angelle said...

i read this and i cant help but make a publiclist vs. reporter/editor/producer analogy in my head here.

we're all each others necessary evils, apparently. that's how the well-oiled wheel works. there's always a certain amt of love/hate in any industry like these...

Bernita said...

It's usually writers who get reviled for these kinds of didoes - such as having nasty fits when they are rejected.
Perversely reassuring, somehow.

Jill Myles said...

It's a sales related job. Salespeople, I think, have to be aggressive by nature or they won't be successful.

I could never be in sales. ;)

Froog said...

Not that I want to stand up for this sort of behaviour at all, but.... I can perhaps see where some of it comes from.

You imply, MR, that it is at least conceivable that some of these unattractive, unpleasant, unprofessional tactics may just possibly get an author's book accepted after all. You ask incredulously whether it is worth it, if the agent has generated so much bad feeling at the publishing house in the process. They obviously think YES.

Better to be accepted than not accepted; better to be published well down the list with minimal support than not published at all; better to have an editor who's pissed off at your project (but will probably still do a decent job on it out of personal pride in their work) than no editor.

I suspect that for most agents it's just a desperate numbers game. They don't have the time (or the talent?) to choose the projects they promote with any discrimination, to make shrewd decisions to invest more time in the ones that might give them the highest return. They just want as many of their authors to get published as possible - because mere numbers of published authors must do wonders to boost their reputation; and the more people they get published, the more chance there is that one of them will break big and make them lots of dough.

Sales is always a wretched profession to be in, whatever the product. If you're a salesman, you'll just push, push, push to try and get what you want - and damn any other peripheral less-than-wonderful consequences. A salesman is never going to take 'No' for an answer. And you, the editor, might occasionally be wrong. And you are not - as you have tacitly conceded, Moonrat - the ultimate decision maker. If a salesman can't persuade you, he'll try to persuade your boss, or your boss's boss. That's just the way of the world. Try not to get so narked by it: it's not personal, it's just business.

It might not be the nicest, or even the smartest, way of doing business; but it is, unfortunately, still the way most business gets done.

angelle said...

i'm pitching something miserable to the media right now. i usually target assistant editors and associates first. and if they say no? believe me, i'll keep calling the executive editors and so-forth, because 1) everyone has a diff opinion and 2) u never know and 3) my client needs to know i pulled out all stops. i need to say i did it, even if in my mind, i know it's very unlikely anything will come of it.

i will, however, stop short of irking ppl so badly (and being rude) that i burn bridges. any sales/marketing/pr/representative job requires relationships. if u burn the relationship, it wont serve you well in the long-run. so i may be persistent, but i would never be out rightly rude.

Anonymous said...

dude, that last one's got to be illegal.

The Anti-Wife said...

There are some actions that can be explained and possibly forgiven, but to cheat an author of their money - totally reprehensible.

writtenwyrdd said...

Human nature being what it is, I'm not surprised to hear this 'dirt', but am glad to hear it isn't that common.