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October 09, 2012



Wow, Laura, what a story! And what fab book titles. :) This is so inspirational. Forging on with your writing had to be tough considering the "help" you got. I love your Go Forth and Conquer attitude. Thank you for sharing - I feel much better. :)

Charlaine Harris

Laura, I've had my agent for over thirty years and never regretted a moment of it. He stuck with me when sales were very bad, and now we share the good fortune of things going well. I'm sorry you had such bad experiences.

Toni L.P. Kelner

I know a lot of people have had poor experiences with agents, but I'm delighted to have mine. It's not just the primary book deals he manages, but the subsidiary rights--audio and foreign rights I'd have no idea how to handle.

Like everything else about writing, you have to pick the best path you can. Glad you've found such a profitable one for yourself.

Laura Resnick

Charlaine, my father, a science fiction writer, has also been with his agent (not his first) for about thirty years. I respect his agent enormously, and I know from their association that a beneficial longtime partner ship with an agent is sometimes possible for some writers.

What experience has taught me (as well as having become, ever since I went public about my own experiences, the recipient of many private queries and anecodites from writers about their agent problems) is that such a result is all-too-often not how an agent-author association turns out--and that, precisely because of this, it's important to stand up and contradict that conventional "wisdom" of the genre that a writer MUST have an agent--which was the falsehood that kept leading me back to throwing away more time and money on agents even after I knew it was a business model that didn't work well for me.

Pat Brown

I had to keep checking who wrote this to make sure I hadn't written it in my sleep.

I had the gotta have an agent' disorder. And I got my first agent right away, with my first book. She sold, but when I sent her book two she just handed it over without even reading it. The publisher rejected it. End of agent one.

Agent two was a big gun, with lots of major clients. When he read the manuscript he came back very excited and wanted to represent me. It was about 4 months, maybe less, when he came back -- well the agent's assistant came back and told me they couldn't sell it and dropped me like I was radioactive.

Agent 3 was even more enthusiastic -- it was a different novel -- and we met a few times. She even suggested a book two and I agreed. We worked on both novels together. Around the beginning of August I lost contact with her. First response I get is 'family' issues. Later I get a disjointed email about not being an agent and having to drop me. I'm not happy and start looking around. Her QueryTracker profile still listed her as looking for novels. Their website was the same. Even her blog said nothing about a new status.

I kept emailing and she finally said she couldn't keep clients who didn't make her money. I'm really pissed now. More emails and I'm getting less polite. I haven't heard back to my last email where I said she was unprofessional. I also sent the email to the head of the agency. I want answers and I want a list of who she queried and the responses.

Meanwhile I've given up on agents. You're right Laura, they only want something they can sell immediately without any real effort

Laura Resnick

Pat, and the real problem for writers is that every writer who goes through your experiences (or my experiences) tends to feel as if IT'S JUST THEM. But, in fact, it's EXTREMELY COMMON. It's just that there is so much silence and secrecy around the subject of failed agent relationships and bad agent behavior that writers wind up feeling unique and isolated with these problems--but the problems are extremely common.

Pat Brown

If I had heard some horror stories like mine and yours, maybe I would have rethought my strategies.

Just the other day I realized the biggest reason I wanted an agent was to have one of my books in bookstores all over America. It's an ego thing and that's not worth 15% of everything I make.

Libby Hellmann

Interesting post, Laura.

I've come to the conclusion that it's best to work with agents on a "project" basis -- that is, to hire them to do things that I can't. That includes foreign rights, TV, and film. Some agents are willing to work on that basis, and I suspect as time goes on, more will. I'm finding that everything else, as you said, can be handled by a good literary/copyright attorney.

Donna Andrews

My agent and I have been together for nearly 13 years, and I'm happy with her. BUT . . . I know people who have had really negative agent experiences and been afraid to speak out. Thanks for giving us the reality check!

Laura Resnick

Libby, that's a good point--I definitely think widespread changes in the business model would be improvements, including more variety and flexibility in how the overall job of representing writers' available licensing rights works, and more geniune expertise among agents working in key/complex areas.

Laura Resnick

Pat wrote: "Just the other day I realized the biggest reason I wanted an agent was to have one of my books in bookstores all over America."

But that's my point: My books (most of which have NOT been represented by a literary agent) ARE in bookstores all over America, and have been since the very start of my career. I never needed a literary agent for that.

I don't go around saying that NO ONE should work with an agent, or that you (generic "you") here should fire an agent you're happy with, or that you (generic) should NOT hire an agent if you want an agent.

But I keep contradicting the widespread assumptions that you need a literary agent to sell to major publishers, to have a successful writing career, to get better money, to get better contracts, etc.

Having a literary agent is one possible choice for how to run a successful writing career dealing with major publishers--but one ONE POSSIBLE choice for a writer to make. It's not The Way, or The Best Way. It's an individual choice--and once which, if it hasn't worked out for you (generic), you should realize, in fact, OFTEN doesn't work out for MANY writers, and that's no reason to shed ANY other plans (such as making the NYT or selling to big houses or whatever).

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