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Author Topic: Made "handshake" agreement w/ agent who's gotten bad QT comments recently.  (Read 668 times)
weirdpsyence
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« on: May 18, 2018, 07:56:06 PM »

I'm a newb writing my first novel (will be finished this month!). A year ago, I got ahead of myself and sent a query to a reputable agent just to see if they'd be interested in the concept. I only had a quarter of my novel written then, and I was trying to feel out whether it was worth it to take a year off my day job (freelance journalism) to focus solely on the novel, which meant no income and many missed freelance opportunities. I sent a query to this agent, who I read was "ranked #1 in overall deals by Publisher's Marketplace." At the time I had not researched agents much, and didn't realize that this wasn't really the best metric for picking an agent if you are looking for a big advance (turns out the agent makes a whole lot of deals, but only has a single 6 figure deal). But I did read a lot about him and listened to interviews, and I loved everything he had to say, and the only feedback online about him was neutral or positive. I had no reason to be wary at all.

The agent immediately requested a manuscript, I sent what I had, they said they loved it and offered me representation, and told me they thought I should focus on finishing it, even if it takes a year. I said yes because I was thrilled to have a well-known agent who said they loved my brainchild.

However, I should point out that they gave me no feedback at all, or edits, or suggestions, on the story I sent. Just an offer of representation, and an explanation that they don't do contracts, as a personal rule.

That agent and the agency followed me on twitter that day.

This was a year ago, and about 4 months ago, after I had written 70% of the book, I noticed the agent and the agency unfollowed me on Twitter. When I saw this I panicked. I sent him a quick email asking about it, and he said that he didn't mean to, was just "thinning out the herd." Made me a little concerned, but after he said he was still anticipating the novel, I didn't worry about it, and just told him I'd be done soon. That is the only contact we've had besides the initial one.

I still haven't sent him anything more since that very first day, so he hasn't seen anything beyond the first few chapters.

A few weeks ago I decided to google him to see any recent comments. I saw that Query Tracker had multiple comments from different users, all made in the last few months, that warned authors against going with this agent. A lot complained that he didn't give them any revisions or advice, just quickly sent their manuscripts to a bunch of editors in a spam-like fashion, not really taking time to make sure the matches made sense. And in cases where that didn't work, he basically went silent. Similar comments continue to come in.

Despite all of this, he is legitimate and is at a massive agency. His client list is not mind blowing but he has some very successful authors.

I've really put my life into this book. I have a lot riding on it. Now I see that there are a handful of other agents who consistently get 6 figure deals who I didn't even try pitching to—with one specifically who seems like my dream agent (rep'd some of the biggest authors in the genre). The agent mentioned above was my first and only choice.

While I'd like to query a couple of these dream agents, I'm not sure how to go about doing this without ruining the relationship with the initial agent. While some of the comments on this site make me think parting ways could be a good idea, I'm afraid I'll get rejected by the other agents and will have lost the agent who told me they loved my work and thought they could get a great deal for me.

I thought about sending him an honest email explaining that I was naive for not at least seeing what a few different agents had to say, and that I didn't want to part ways with him, but since we had no contract and he hasn't given me any advice or even read the full novel, that I felt querying a couple more was a reasonable thing to do. Do you think this is a reasonable thing to request?

I just don't know where to go from here. Any advice would be greatly appreciated, to say the least. And I'm worried he might see this thread, so please avoid using any names if you think you know who I'm talking about.

Thank you again!
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Spat
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« Reply #1 on: May 18, 2018, 08:25:51 PM »

Hi!

The points in this response apply to your situation, but are mainly for future use as things we learn as new authors trying to get an agent. My primary response is this: RED FLAG that you, as a new author without a complete ms, no major sales history, no publishing contract in hand, was signed; you haven't been contacted in a year about your ms; and also a wariness that there was no written contract.

First, you agreed to the agent, so you are signed. How are other agents at his agency? Their clients? (I've heard of very few who agree without a contract. It's good in that you can part whenever, but it's also bad because there's no guidelines and the agent can drop you, too. Also, the contract outlines commissions, payments, rights, etc. You could always ask for a contract, even if it's per book basis. I'm wary of no contract agents.) (Also, I find it VERY odd that an agent signs a new author on an unfinished ms. It is a red flag. Usually an agent MIGHT do this if the author is a big name/bestseller.)

Secondly, your honest email to query other agents is a bad idea. It's like being in a relationship. You can't keep your bf and go clubbing for a new one to potentially replace the first. Do you think you'd keep a client that wants to shop around but keep you as a safety net? That wouldn't make for a strong relationship or a trustworthy one. If you want to query other agents, send this agent a letter about parting ways and explain there if you want. Then query other agents. And don't try to query other agents while still attached to this one. Small industry. Word gets around. But if you feel this was a mistake, or that you want better, then cut ties. Also, agents who appear to be "dream agents" have faults. The only "dream agent" out there is the one who makes your particular relationship work, aka, you won't know until you sign with them and see how they treat you.

Lastly, don't take just the bad comments on here about your agent. Every client can be different. For example, I had two previous agents and their clients loved them but the agents did not interact with me the same way and we split. Maybe you should contact his clients, if you haven't already.

But honestly, RED FLAG that you were signed as a new author with an incomplete ms. If you decide to leave this agent, better sooner when they don't have their hands on your ms than later when they've subbed it.
« Last Edit: May 18, 2018, 08:32:03 PM by Spat » Logged
weirdpsyence
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« Reply #2 on: May 19, 2018, 12:34:30 AM »

Hi Spat,

Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply. I will give your advice careful consideration. However, I'd still be interested in hearing others' opinions on here, seeing as how the two other members I reached out to directly gave me different advice in private messages (these were two of the commenters who had the same agent and left negative comments).

It's not just that he got a couple of bad comments, it's that in that thread it was almost as if the whole query tracker community came to a consensus that this agent is known for a process that isn't ideal. At the same time, he does get a lot of deals and represent good authors—that doesn't mean he's the best choice. The comments made me worry that he'd just blast a bunch of editors with it in a day, because that's how they made it sound like he does business (which apparently works well enough for him).

You say that since I agreed, I am signed. But if he hasn't shopped my novel around, or read it in full, or given me any revisions, edits, or advice, and no contract, is he really my agent at this point? He hasn't included me on his list on the agency's website. And as I mentioned, he deleted me from Twitter months after this initial discussion, and I believe would have never emailed me again had I not followed up with him. Don't get me wrong, he was extremely enthusiastic about the manuscript, and I believe it was genuine, but he seems to be casually taking on a lot of clients so i don't think he's exactly holding his breath.

I thought the honest route—explaining that I didn't ask him critical questions, and taking the general advice everywhere online that you should query at least a few agents with such questions—seemed like the best option to me, because at best he'd be OK with it, and at worst he'd get mad and we'd part ways, which is the worst case scenario anyway, right? How could he blame me if I'm honest about wanting to make the smartest business decision I can? Especially since he hasn't invested any time or effort in me or my manuscript.

If anyone else has any opinions about the best thing to do here, I'd really appreciate hearing them. I do think my story is rare in how timely it is (recent current events have happened that have greatly increased its relevance), and that's the reason I'm wanting to query one or two more agents—to really try to go big with it. I've put everything into this, and I really need to make the best financial decision here. An agent with +50 6-figure deals seems a lot different than an agent with none or one, as far as what kind of advance you can expect with them.

To Spat, I understand your suspicion of an agent who offers representation to someone who has an incomplete manuscript, but he said the idea was exactly what he's been looking for (as mentioned above, it's extremely timely). I've also been widely published by news outlets and academic journals and have a solid online presence/platform.
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NextChapter
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« Reply #3 on: May 19, 2018, 05:33:07 AM »

I have no advice, but do tell us what you decide and how it works out.
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007 fan
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« Reply #4 on: May 19, 2018, 06:06:35 AM »

My opinion is that you should ask yourself if you would be happy entering into a business relationship without a contract and if you could be happy having queried only one agent.

Would you query that same agent today, knowing what you do now? No agent is better than the wrong agent.

Something to think about is that most people do not get a request for material and an offer of rep from ONE query. With your 'timely' material, credentials, and possible name recognition, I suspect you'll generate interest from other agents.

If you do want to query more agents, and surely there are more than 1 or 2 more that you could reach out to, end the relationship with the one agent first. State the truth, that after the time passage you want a contract and someone who is more communicative, thank him for his encouragement early on, then move on. Don't feel bad. Like you said, he's only read 3 chapters and you've communicated by email twice, in what, a year and a half? Since you don't have a contract, you don't have conditions to follow for terminating the author/agent relationship other than simply stating you want out. Do this via email so you have a record of it.

You can post your query on this site in the query review forum if you want extra eyes on it before sending it out again, then remove it once you receive feedback. You can remove your work yourself. No need to ask a moderator to do it. If you can't figure out how to do that, just ask and we'll explain it to you. If you do post your query, be sure to exclude your contact info.

Good luck and keep us posted.

ETA: I do agree that it's very odd for someone to offer rep for an incomplete manuscript. My guess is your work is non-fiction, not so odd to offer rep on an incomplete work in that situation, or you are recognizable due to your profession.

« Last Edit: May 19, 2018, 06:18:18 AM by 007 fan » Logged

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NextChapter
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« Reply #5 on: May 19, 2018, 07:04:37 AM »

I know I said I had no advice, but perhaps you should have a phone conversation with this agent. Ask whatever questions you feel you need to ask, and if you are not satisfied with the answers, then say so and move on. But don't give up on an interested, successful agent without learning more.

I have no idea who this agent is, but sometimes, if one unhappy author leaves bad feedback, it empowers other unhappy authors to contribute more bad feedback. People are also more likely to complain than compliment. Check the feedback on some of the other agents you might consider and see what authors say.

Good luck with all this. I hope your book is a bestseller!
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Tabris
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« Reply #6 on: May 19, 2018, 07:50:32 AM »

I agree with calling. Act as though you have no second-guesses at this point, but call, explain the ms is ready, and ask what happens from here. In effect, interviewing the agent for the job once he already has it. That's going to give you a sense of how things feel, and once the agent is actively engaged, you may find yourself pleased with the situation. I wouldn't say anything about second-guessing. Just say, "I want to know what your plans are, and how you want to work together on this. What do you want me to do? What will you be doing?"
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« Reply #7 on: May 19, 2018, 10:27:58 AM »

Sorry to be the party-pooper here, but you need to be extremely wary.  I know who you're talking about. My take is that he's riding on the coattails of his father with minimal effort on his part. Keep in mind, you are entering into a business arrangement. You MUST have a contract detailing how much he/the agency is getting paid, what the term is (one book, one year,) the process for either party to terminate said contract etc. You do NOT currently have a legally binding contract with him - a verbal contract is worth the paper its printed on.

If you do decide to proceed with him, it is standard and recommended to at least have a phone call where you get to ask such questions - there are several good lists online about what to ask during "the call." If he refuses to schedule a call or provide a contract, run. At the end of the call, don't give another commitment.  Say you'd like a week to think about the discussion and you'll get back to him. At the end of that week, if you decide he's not for you, send a simple, professional business letter saying, "Thank you, but you decided to explore other options." No details are necessary. Remember, you are hiring HIM, essentially as a paid employee or at least a partner. You'd vet your mechanic better than most of us vet our agents.

If you decide to test the waters and query elsewhere, you do no and should NOT mention anything about this prior arrangement in your queries.
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Waterfall
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« Reply #8 on: May 20, 2018, 09:08:29 AM »

Thanks to jldelozier's hint—"he's riding on the coattails of his father"—I think I also know who you're talking about. A friend whom I met at Bread Loaf last summer had exactly this same experience with (I assume) this same agent: first-time author with an incomplete MS who got strung along for over a year with no contract and no follow-through. Once the MS was completed, this agent essentially said he was going to do a one-time blast and then back off. If it's the same guy, he's apparently burned a lot of bridges with new authors, though of course we don't know if he's done the same with the editorial community. The agency still has a ton of traction, and that plus the family name probably open most doors.

It's good to be king.
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weirdpsyence
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« Reply #9 on: May 20, 2018, 01:35:34 PM »

Wow, thank you all for the very thoughtful and informative responses. What an awesome community this is. Glad I joined, as I know no other writers in real life.

007 fan, those are great things to think about. I never thought about the no-contract policy being a big deal, I suppose because I read that it is not uncommon. I do see how it could be used by agents who want to do minimal work for an author and easily break ties if nothing comes from it. That could certainly be a reason for wanting to go with another agent on its own. However, under pressure I wonder if he'd cave and agree to one.

Your words about the odds of finding another agent are encouraging. By the way, it is a novel, but I'm a scientist (PhD), and the story is very science and tech oriented. I'd call it speculative instead of sci-fi, but it is very transgressive, with a lot of things that some agents might find too raw/offensive for them. But I think maybe this is what resonated with him (think Chuck Palahnuik).

NextChapter and Tabris, thank you also for the great advice. Calling could be a good idea.

Jldelozier, I had actually been thinking about doing this, so I'm glad you suggested it. The only thing I worry about is that if I do decide to part ways it may be easier if I don't engage in more discussion. Tricky situation here.

Thanks again, everyone. I'll let you know how it goes.

And I'll be posting my query soon, as suggested.

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« Reply #10 on: May 20, 2018, 02:56:58 PM »

My concern is the fallout for you if this agent does a "one time blast" of your manuscript, "and then backs off" -- sounds like something akin to sending out spam to every editor on his auto-generated list, without regard for each editor's special taste or the special characteristics of your book.

Every editor who declines will be an editor some other agent will not be able to submit your manuscript to because it has already been rejected by those editors, if I understand the marketing correctly.

If those same editors had first received the manuscript from a different agent who is personally in love with your book, who pitches it accordingly, personalizing it as a good fit for reasons unique to your book and for the way it suits the editor's particular taste, the book would stand a better chance of finding a home, I think.
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weirdpsyence
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« Reply #11 on: June 02, 2018, 02:45:43 PM »

Munley, yes, that is probably the most important thing to consider. That's really a risk I'm not willing to take. If an agent routinely blasts editors with whatever, then submissions from them are going to start being treated like the slush pile. Sounds like that's already happened in some cases. I want an agent that makes an editor feel like they are getting a rare gem because they don't just submit anything.

Now that I think about it, the no-contract issue is kind of concerning. It seems like a contract puts more demand on the agent to give their authors the attention and time they deserve, and that refusing to use them probably usually means they don't want to take on the normal level of responsibility. Thoughts?

I will forever be grateful to the agent for giving me encouragement early on, but given that he hasn't read the final thing, given any feedback, or shopped it, makes me feel like parting ways is understandable, given the concern that any reasonable author would feel if they saw so many warnings from the writing community, and actual proof that the agent was essentially sending stuff out as fast as they can to as many editors as possible (in some cases, at least).

I was feeling stressed about actually contacting him though, because I do not want to be on bad terms with anyone, especially someone this well-connected and high profile, but I just checked and he unfollowed me on twitter again. Now I won't feel bad at all.

I wonder what the chances are that it was because he saw this thread.

Last question for you all—when I write him to make it official that I'd like to part ways, do I mention being unfollowed on Twitter a second time? Or do I just say that I'm looking for an agent with a contract (gives me more confidence that they'll do the job properly) who takes on less clients and provides more focus to his authors? While the twitter thing might seem petty to mention, it kind of makes my decision seem more understandable (does an author really want an agent who intentionally unfollows them?).

Thank you so much for all your help. I'll keep you updated on any developments.
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« Reply #12 on: June 02, 2018, 04:30:46 PM »

Weirdpsyence,

I would not mention Twitter or actually anything in specific. The less you say, the less he has to counter with or to use as ammunition if he does get peeved. Remember, this is a business conversation. A simple, "After careful consideration, I've decided to pursue other options" will do. Think of the very generic rejection letters we get from agents. There's a reason for that. It's an attempt to avoid any specific feedback which would result in an unwanted back-and-forth email conversation between the two parties. You should be striving for the same tone.
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Aubrey
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« Reply #13 on: June 10, 2018, 10:40:43 PM »

If you officially accepted representation, I'd just email saying that you're giving notice of termination. Add that, since there was no written agreement, you're giving 30 days notice. Thank him for your time, and that's it. I doubt he'll follow up. If he does, just say that you're not finished with the manuscript yet and feel more comfortable with a fresh start once it's completed. It doesn't matter if it makes perfect sense or nonsense. You don't plan on working with him. Besides, from what I hear, clients break with him all the time and he never follows up or says anything.

Good luck!
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