Anonymous Author

  1. This article is NOT for agents. It is for writers and authors!
  2. Professional etiquette from author to agent is a whole different article. There are absolutely examples of authors behaving badly and overwhelming their agents with calls or emails, making unrealistic demands, being unkind or abusive. It is essential to remember that agents are people, too! They have feelings and while you should have a professional relationship with them, that doesn’t mean you can walk all over them.

Be aware of when you are getting gaslit

Because at the start of our careers, agents know way more about the industry than we do, we trust that what they say is the unequivocal truth. If they tell us a certain advance is all we can get, we believe them. If they tell us we can’t fight this particular clause in the contract, we roll with it. They’re the agent. They know.

Regarding agent recommendations

A very natural thing to do when you’re looking for an agent is to ask your friends about their agents or to check the social media of agents in the industry to see if they’ll be a good fit.

  • It is not normal for an agent to go weeks without replying to your email. You are not nagging or pestering if you follow up and if you’re made to feel that way, or if this remains a pattern despite nudges, this is a warning sign.
  • It’s not normal for months and months to go by without your agent reading a manuscript you submitted for feedback. Ask for a time frame for when you’ll hear back. Sometimes things come up and an agent can’t read in the timeframe they promised, that’s life. But be wary if it becomes a pattern.
  • It is not normal if your agent refuses to update you on submissions that are out to editors and to provide you feedback. Some agents offer feedback as the editor responses come, others in a summary. Some give a lot of detail, others keep it minimal. Either way, this is information that can be helpful to you and your agent should provide at least the basics if you ask.
  • It’s not normal if you want your agent to read your books, but they don’t. Note: some agents don’t read their clients’ books by mutual consent. But generally, in order to promote your work and advocate for you, they need to read your books. This also comes into play if your agent is negotiating film rights for your book. To effectively sell film rights, your agent (or a film agent) needs to be able to pitch your book with authenticity and passion. That usually requires reading the book.
  • It is not normal for an agent to belittle you and say “you aren’t [insert famous author]” as they explain why you can’t ask for something from your publisher. Respect is a baseline.
  • It is not normal for an agent to be confused or opaque about the financial side of publishing. An agent should be willing to talk to you about it, and explain it to you. From one of our authors:
  • It is not normal for an agent to not understand how the business in general works. If you are having to explain things to your agent such as how marketing works, the NYT list works, etc. this is a big red flag. Sometimes we can outgrow our agents. They may have been exactly who we needed when we began our careers, but if you reach a point where you are guiding and educating them on the industry, this is an issue.
  • It is not normal if your agent is making excuses for publishers. If your agent is defending a publisher dropping the ball on marketing plans they committed to or other breaches, and then acting powerless to hold them to account, this is a huge red flag. It indicates that the agent values their relationship with the publisher over their relationship with you.
  • It is not normal for the author to have to point out specific terms of your contract to make sure they are honored. (Bonuses, etc.) You *should* know and understand your contracts! But at the same time, this is a key part of the agent’s job: to ensure that their clients are getting paid. You wouldn’t believe how much this happens; when authors are forced to put the agent hat on in addition to writing books. Your agent takes a commission for doing the job of an agent. You should not have to do their job!
  • It is not normal to chase your agents for royalty statements months after they were due to you as per schedules outlined by the publisher. Sure sometimes payments are late. If that happens, you should inform your agent and they should get on it right away.
  • Agents should also review your publishing contracts with you and not simply give them to you for your signature even if they’ve been “vetted” by others. From one of our authors:
  • You should never feel uncomfortable in your agent/author relationship. Disagreements certainly happen. You might have a difference of opinion and that is normal. It is also normal to be able to talk about that difference of opinion like adults. Your agent should not make you feel stupid, low, or bothersome. Nor should they ever expect any other compensation than the industry standard 15% commission on books that they should earn from your contracts. If they make you feel like you owe them something more, that’s a huge red flag.
  • If you part ways with your agent, it is not normal for them to withhold their sub lists or claim it’s company policy not to share where they are subbing *your* books. The lopsided dynamic that we begin these relationships with affect many authors for far too long.

Conflicts of interest are not okay.

If you feel your agent has a conflict of interest, you should be able to share/explain that to your agent without them gaslighting you. An example of a situation where conflicts of interest may arise are if you have an agent who is also an author or editor. In and of itself, this is fine! There are lots of wonderful agents who also write or edit books.

  • Does your agent’s agent sub their work to the same editor/imprint your agent is subbing yours to and at the same time? If so, that’s a conflict. They’re directly placing their work in competition with yours.
  • Does your agent have the same editor as you and therefore seems reluctant to intercede on your behalf when conflicts arise with the editor for fear of ruffling their editor’s feathers? If so, that’s a conflict.
  • Does your agent appear to be leveraging their authors against each other so that one gets a higher advance? If so, that’s a conflict.

Client Lists and Reputation

Do NOT assume that an agent is above board and wonderful because of the agency they work at or the client list they have. Some of the agents the authors of this piece have dealt with are agents you likely know. Simply having a great client list or being at a good agency doesn’t guarantee that they will be an exemplary agent.

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Sabaa Tahir

Sabaa Tahir

Writer. Musichead. Book Junkie. Sock Aficionada. #1 NYT Bestseller. My books have long titles. A SKY BEYOND THE STORM out 12/1/2020.