What I Know About Agents

After I signed the book deal with my publisher, people often asked me how I landed an agent.

I took way too much pride in saying, "oh I don't have an agent. I did things...differently than most."

Here's the thing: by the time I realized that yes, if you're going the traditional route you absolutely need an agent, I'd reached a stalemate in the communication with my publisher, the publicity surrounding my supposed release date was sketchy at best and non-existent at worst and—I cringe when I tell you this—I hadn't signed any contract. 

It's true.

A year after agreeing with Rhizome that I would publish with them, I still hadn't received any contract stating how much I would get paid or where my words would be located or what would happen if the publisher went out of business. 

So I did the one thing I beg you not to do - 

I went searching for the first person who would show interest in my words.

The agent I signed with was new. He wasn't even with an agency, he simply worked out of his home and decided to help a friend write a book and through that process, decided he would take on other clients. Being desperate, I signed a contract without taking a second glance anywhere else, despite friends encouraging me to look around.

First lesson :: when finding an agent, know that you're choosing them as much as they are choosing you.

I started planning with my agent and setting goals for Come Alive. I had no clue what normally happened in one of these relationships, but he asked me what I wanted and I said, "well. I think I need a contract. And probably some type of firm release date. I've had neither." 

I had both within the week, and for this I'm grateful.

But a few weeks into the whole gig, I started feeling weird. There wasn't anything shady going on with my agent in general, but I started questioning my decision. I would make casual comments about blog posts or scenes within the book and my agent would respond with non-committal gruntings that made me wonder if he even read my words at all.

And here's the second lesson :: when finding an agent, you need to make sure they're reading you—whether this be your blog or your manuscript—or both!—they should know what you're about and where your words land.

I kept pushing, though. Regardless of my misgivings, my agent was working through some sticky territory with my publisher—asking questions and pushing for answers. It wasn't until late November, when he began whispering of talks with my publisher hinting at closing shop and selling, that I started noticing the response time in emails begin to spread thin. 

My fears were confirmed when my agent dropped me the moment I needed him most—when my publisher notified us that they were in fact closing and I still hadn't received a check. Instead of advocating for me and helping me clean up the mess left behind by a failed book deal, I was dropped because of dwindling book sales and lack of turn around. In other words, I wasn't a good investment. In other words, my agent knew he was making no money off me with my publisher screwing me over. 

Third lesson :: when finding an agent, choose someone who will fight for you. You sign because of a personal connection. Unlike publishers, agents are representing you and not a project. 

Looking back, I should have said something sooner. The stitch in my gut happened quick and with a lot of force and I should have paid attention to those red flags begging for my attention. I had no idea there were so many agents. I didn't believe there were agents who would be interested in my words. My lack of confidence resulted in rash decisions, oversight and me being left worse for the wear by people who should have known better. 

But these things happen, and hopefully you can learn from what I didn't know.

Because my fourth lesson is the most important :: when finding an agent, remember that there are some kick ass people out there who are damn good at their job and they are waiting for your words to cross their desk. Don't give up. Check your gut. Follow those instincts and if you're let down, keep moving forward. 

I almost gave up. When my agent dropped me, I had friends ask if they could help. Connections and networking go a long way in the industry. I knew this. But, I was so shaken and so confused by what happened I turned into a gun-shy wordsmith who didn't know what the hell she was doing anymore. But I know now. And a few weeks ago, I emailed those friends and told them I was ready. I've been researching, too. I have my eye on a few people and am working on query letters to send out once I have a better idea of who I want.

One thing's for sure: I won't make the same mistake twice. Hopefully, you won't make it at all.

Posted on April 18, 2013 .