View Full Version : Total Newbie Here (Hi, Guys); Question about how much "Say" I have with my agent?

07-16-2007, 01:11 AM
I'm grateful to have found this place to pose this important question I'm wrestling with right now.

I have an agent who's absolutely legit, based both on his publishing record and the threads I've read on this board. I felt great about it when we agreed to work together, but over the past two or so months, his level of communication with me has left me frustrated, to say the least. It's not uncommon for me to email him (though I don't do it often) and not receive a response for over a week. This, and we've barely scratched the surface of the book's outline. That's my first point.

My most pressing problem/question, however, is this: my vision for the book is entirely different from his. Granted, my book would be more expensive to produce and I do value his perspective as someone with experience that this kind of book would be a harder sell. But I believe in my vision for the book, so much so that I'm willing to take the chance of not getting published at all in order to move forward with my idea.

My agent is nice, so I'm not necessarily afraid to approach him, but what I want to tell him is this: I want to do the book my way, and I want his input beyond that point. In other words, I want to continue to work with him, but I want him to be open to the format I envision.

Thoughts? How much does a first-time author have to take what his agent says as gospel, and how much does an author have to trust his own instincts? Thanks so much for letting me throw this out there.

07-16-2007, 01:21 AM
I'm going to move this thread to the Ask the Agent board, where it's more likely to be seen and responded to.*

Hold on to your hats . . .

*Yes, yes I did end a sentence with a proposition. Winston and Geoffrey would be so proud . . .

07-16-2007, 01:48 AM
Hmm . . . I think it might make it easier to help out if you told us specifics, what he wants to change and what your vision is.

But I think to try to answer right now, you have to go with your gut. You've already said you are willing to sacrifice being published in order to see your vision come true, so I think that answers your question. Totally talk it through with your agent, and if he disagrees then you could go your separate ways. In a way it's quite nice that you know that you will not compromise and are willing to deal with those consequences, I think it makes sticking by your principles a whole lot easier.

07-16-2007, 02:29 AM
Toothpaste, thanks. I haven't contacted him with my "declaration" yet, but plan to in the next day or so.

Don't want to give too many details, but I think his vision is to do a straightforward (a.k.a. safe) book/narrative about my story; while my vision is to do a totally different kind of book (one with photos, illustrations, lists, etc.) I understand it's a risk on my part, as the increased cost of producing such a book will make it harder to sell. However, my vision for the book is so clear, and I believe it's potentially very marketable.

Just didn't want to do anything crazy (i.e. put the kybosh on the other idea; go with my idea) before running it by a few souls first!

Thanks again.

07-16-2007, 02:47 AM
Your agent works for you, not the other way around.

I am curious on if this is an unfinished project...? From what you have wrote, it sounds like something that hasn't been written.

Just remember that you are the one paying the agent to be your representative. But, the reason you are paying them is because they are an expert in areas that you are not an expert in. Specifically, what will sell and how to sell it.

If you'd rather not get published then publish it different from your vision, I would start out by saying that you feel strongly in your vision for the book. If that doesn't work, say you are unwilling to do it a different way.

07-16-2007, 03:24 AM
Havlen, it is unwritten. But the material's a no-brainer---it's my specific story. The conflict is HOW I will ultimately present my story.

I appreciate the perspective that my agent's "working for me"---I'm so green, I needed clarification in that regard. :)

I was so thrilled when he "took me on" because of his track record, I've been reluctant to assert myself too strongly. But the combination of his dearth of communication with me in the past several weeks and my recent realization that I just don't want to do the kind of book he sees, has made me rethink my approach with him.

I'd love to continue working with him, IF he wants to given my new declaration. I think I just needed to hear that I wasn't a psychotic kamikaze pilot for taking such a hardline approach with my agent.


07-16-2007, 03:35 AM
As is the usual course, an agent will generally hammer out the details of a non-fiction project before he takes you on. I don't know why that was not done here. You must be an exception to this rule by having provided him with a solid outline and perhaps three chapters. Photos and line drawings are very expensive to reproduce and the time to ask if they can be included might be with a publisher that takes on the project. And of course that is down the road. This sounds like a memoire (I might be wrong), and straight narrative is most often called for.

In this case, I would listen patiently to your agent's suggestions and keep your alternate book plan on the shelf for the time being.

Much good luck to you getting this straightened out. It sounds like you have a great agent.


07-16-2007, 03:45 AM
Toothpaste, thanks. I haven't contacted him with my "declaration" yet, but plan to in the next day or so.

Don't want to give too many details, but I think his vision is to do a straightforward (a.k.a. safe) book/narrative about my story; while my vision is to do a totally different kind of book (one with photos, illustrations, lists, etc.) I understand it's a risk on my part, as the increased cost of producing such a book will make it harder to sell. However, my vision for the book is so clear, and I believe it's potentially very marketable.

Just didn't want to do anything crazy (i.e. put the kybosh on the other idea; go with my idea) before running it by a few souls first!

Thanks again.

I'm a photographer myself, and I've talked a fair bit with my own agent about an illustrated book. Your vision . . . photos, lists, illustrations . . . will, if insisted upon, probably make your book unsaleable as a first-time author if it's any kind of memoir or life story, as you imply.

The only exception to this would be if you're already, say, a famous actor or musician, or tv personality.

My publisher has a grown up illustrated book division that sells some of the biggest illustrated works out there. Read about Clarkson Potter. Does your story fit an imprint like that?

If not, I strongly suggest you heed the agent's advice to write a book filled with words alone, for a forst work.

07-16-2007, 04:12 AM
Triceratops, thanks for your thoughts. It is a memoir of sorts, but also includes practical tips (with photographs), humorous features, etc. I'm being cryptic, but I'm hesitant to lay it all out there until I communicate with my agent more.

John Robison, your advice makes sense. Hard to know how to apply it, as I am a "known" (though on a much smaller scale than famous actor or musician) personality and have a nice built-in audience (around 20,000 people). I've also had a good number of requests from my audience for a book fitting the description of the one I'd like to do. Now, whether that would translate to the kind of numbers a publisher would like is unknown. However, it does make me think that if x-number of my audience is requesting it, many in the general book-buying population would like it, too.

Of course, this is reading tea leaves! I am so appreciative of your honest thoughts, as I haven't had many folks to talk to who've been through the publishing process. So thank you.

07-16-2007, 04:26 AM
I don't know if an audience of 20,000 does it for a publisher; I suspect not. How many would actually buy the book? 5%? 10%?

The percentage of the population that actually buys books is pretty small.

Write and sell some print books. Get a following that buys books and can be quantified. Then look at the picture book project. That's what I plan to do.

07-16-2007, 04:31 AM
I had a similar problem. I wrote about the second largest Ice Age (megafauna) discovery in the U.S., being provided with all of the photographs, drawings, clippings, and quotes from the original dig team. I assembled it in a journalistic format and submitted it to about 15 agents. Without fail, all 15 agents said it was surely a "seller", but that it should be written in plain narrative style, much like a non-fiction story. Which meant no bullets, sidebars, photos, line-drawings and other inclusions.

I was heartbroken.

Well, that really killed its chances and I've been sitting on that book ever since. It sounds to me like you already have a good first-person narrative account here, so I would go with that and hold off on the other items for inclusion. Like John states above, this is a math/numbers game for a first book and the production costs do play a larger role in the style and format arena.


07-16-2007, 05:10 AM
Triceretops, sorry. Whew, what a disappointment.

Thank you again, everyone. I'm...more confused than ever! ;)

Not really. I feel like I have a lot more perspective now. Think I'll wander over to Borders and browse around...just for inspiration.

07-16-2007, 02:58 PM
It's all very well to dream of how you would love to see this project but are you REALLY certain that you'd rather not have it published, than published the way your agent sees it?

Because you must be absolutely aware that this is the risk you are taking. Go into it with your eyes open; don;t be misled by your vision.

I took the risk a few years ago, and lost. It was a completely different sort of project, and it was my fourth book, not my first; nevertheless, my editor had a very clear idea what kind of book I should write for this one (it was supposed to be my breakout novel). I had other ideas, and a finished manuscript I really believed in and was certain would make it commercially.

Both my editor and agent disagreed. I thought it would be easy to get another agent and publisher, as I was so in love with my idea. It wasn't. I fired my agent after my publisher rejected the ms.

That was in 2005, and the book is still not published,. I have written another one in the mean time, that is more commercial, and still have hopes for the-one-that-got-away. But it's in a bottom drawer and will have to stay there until I have succeeded with something more commercial.

Do I regret my decision? No. I grew a lot through the process and because I had to start from square one I had to put a lot more effort into my next book, just like a first time author. It did me good, but jeez, it was TOUGH. HARD. It almost ruined me financially (I survived - till now). I've cried and sweat blood i the intervening years. But I happen to believe in growing through the hard times. Do you? Are you prepared? If you are prepared, then go for it.
But you have to be fully aware that your vision JUST MIGHT NOT WORK OUT.

If I had been sensible I would have taken the safe option, written the breakout novel they wanted, made a success out of it, and THEN published the book I wanted. It would not have been a bad decision, just because it is safe. It is certainly more businesslike.

As writers we are often so in love with our visions/work that we lose sight of the reality. Agents are there to help us, an din the long run their expertise can be better for us. It's your decision. Like I said, I don't regret mine but I would not wish it o anybody else and I would advise another writer to take the safer route.

07-16-2007, 03:25 PM
Aruna speaks the truth.

But what I think we're all missing is that Writerwithagent2 isn't really a writer, true? Perhaps it's not his/her passion to be published but rather a passion to do a project his/her own way. Once this book is finished -- will writerwithagent2 continue to write? These are all things we don't know and therefore can't possibly direct him/her in the right direction.

I have gone the opposite direction of Aruna. I have edited and changed my work as my ex-agent and potential editor wanted me to -- to the point of hating everything about that manuscript and walking away from writing for quite awhile because I was disgusted, disheartened and flat out unmotivated. The manuscript still hasn't sold. Is it good? I don't know. The writing is solid but it's not the original story I'd wanted to tell. But I'm a writer. It is my passion to sell. And I'll keep on going, keep on heading the advice of the professionals (i.e. editors/agents) who know more than I do about what will get published and what will not. Because I am not an editor. I am not an agent. I am a writer.


07-16-2007, 04:15 PM
Than you, Aruna and Jkorzenko, for your thoughts.

Jkorzenko, I'm not a published author, but am a writer for the web. You're right that it's not a lifelong passion of mine to be published---I'm more of a personality than an author---so it could be that I'm more equipped to take a risk like this than a "real writer" who has spend his life working toward getting published. And I'm where you were with your manuscript---basically, I can't stand the direction it's going and haven't been able to make myself write that book. "My" book, though? It's writing itself constantly, whether I want it to or not. Though judging from what Aruna says, having a passion for a book does not necessarily mean a publisher will. (Why IS that, by the way? Grrrrr. ;))

Can't tell you all how much I appreciate your honest perspective. It's very, very helpful and has kept me from sending the ULTIMATUM letter to my agent I had constructed on Saturday. I needed to step back and see the big picture.

07-16-2007, 04:59 PM
"sending the ULTIMATUM letter to my agent "

Please don't do it unless you are sure you are willing to risk never having any book published, ever. Spend a week doing nothing but going through this entire site to learn about the struggles writers face. Many people think they have the great idea that is going to produce a bestseller. But the chances of actually getting an agent, much less a publisher, are miniscule. You are very fortunate to have an agent. You really don't even know if you can write yet. Writing for the web is different than writing a book which will be readable to the public. Many people come to this site thinking they can write only to find out they need to learn how, and that could very well happen to you too. When it comes to publishing, it all comes down to the bottom line. Your ideal book is too expensive to produce. Even most successful writers would not be in a position to make the kinds of demands you are suggesting. You are very lucky to have what you have right now. You have an incredible opportunity since you have an agent who supports your project. This is a real fluke. It would be a shame to see you lose it due to naivete' about how the business works.

07-16-2007, 06:34 PM
Hi. . . the only bit of advice I can think to give is this - My agent worked as an editor for many years at serval big name publishing houses. So when she tells me "this will sell better" or "this doesn't sound right." I get a peek into the eyes of how editors think. I'm not sure what your vision is - but if you are wanting photography on every page or something to that nature . . . unless you have written a non-ficition book that must have these types of images - then your agent is probably right. It is EXTREMELY difficult to sell something like that - because it costs so much to print all those images - the company will have more in the book than possibly they can make back - not to say your book is not going to be great and sell well - I'm sure it will. Publishers however - like to be sure they are bringing in more than they are putting into the book.

Find out with a little googling and asking around - if your agent has ever been an editor or an aquisitions editor or assistant. If he's as great as you say - I'm sure he knows what he is doing. Good things come from not compromising - but it can also lead to no sales - if it's over something that is just going to cost an outragous amount of dough - long story short . . . listen to your agent. Oh, and word gets around fast if a client is hard to work with . . . don't be hard to work with! These days - if you ever want to see your name become big - you HAVE to have one!

Good luck! Hope this helps.

07-16-2007, 08:11 PM
pollykahl, I should clarify that when I said "Ultimatum" I was really being tongue-in-cheek. Of course, I realize how lucky I am to have a good agent (though his lack of communication with me is turning out to be a frustration), and wouldn't presume to "demand" anything of him. But what I want to express to him is that I would like to fight for my book idea some more, understanding that doing so might result in my not getting published at all. I want to be frank with him so that he can determine whether or not he wants to work with me further. But I definitely won't present it in a "my way or the highway" tone.

BrookieCookie, Thanks for that. You all are REALLY giving me a shot of reality, which I apparently needed.

Still, I wonder if the fact that I don't have a lifelong dream of getting published, that I'm not depending on it (at least not now ;)) for my livelihood, gives me a little more "space" to pursue the book I really want to do?

Very confusing---my mind is spinning. I want to continue with my vision for the book, but don't want to throw away a good opportunity, but I'm not confident I'm capable of carrying out "his idea", but feel like I have a bit of momentum and should keep moving...yadayadayada!

Can't tell you how much I appreciate being able to vent and read your very sensible advice. Thanks, everyone.

07-16-2007, 08:26 PM
Whatever you decide: good luck! You sound sensible enough to make the right decision - for you.

07-17-2007, 12:29 AM
Best of luck to you, and no matter what happens, please let us know.

07-17-2007, 03:46 PM
You sound very grounded and you're doing all the right things. Asking questions, getting opinions and thinking it all through. Probably a good down-to-earth discussion with your agent about what your vision is compared to his and his proper explanation as to why that won't work would help. Do it on the phone, though -- because it's so easy to misread email. I reread my earlier post and realized I sounded like a bitch -- which wasn't my intention. I guess I hadn't had enough caffeine. I didn't mean that you weren't a writer but that you just had other platforms that were driving your career, etc. etc. and that your "vision" right now seems more important than publication.

Anyway, best of luck and keep us posted. And there's nothing wrong with asking your agent for the best way to communicate with him. This is a business relationship. If you had hired someone to remodel your house and called with plan changes, you'd certainly expect them to respond to you in a timely fashion. If your agent says "email, but it'll be a week or two before I can get back to you." Then you know and won't be as frustrated. In the meantime, write on!


07-17-2007, 11:16 PM
Lack of communication may mean the agent wants you to write the book rather than have a long drawn out dialog about how to do it. Why don't you write your vision out-complete your book - at that point you and the agent can have a dialogue about what is actually on paper instead of debating things which do not exist. I hear you say you have a particular idea (vision) but in my experience you lose a lot of creativity by talking about it rather than writing.
Get a rough draft done. Who knows. Maybe the agent will see your draft and decide it's a good idea.

07-18-2007, 09:43 PM
After much soul-searching and reflecting on the conversation I had with all of you over the weekend (thank you again for your words of wisdom), I realized some very important things:

1. I am a good writer, but I am not seasoned enough to pull off a sustained narrative for 200-plus pages. That is just not the kind of writing I'm capable of doing. I'm much better with shorter, entertaining vignettes and snippets.

2. I do not have a lifelong goal of/passion for getting published.

3. I have a vision for my book, and it does not require a sustained narrative.

4. I'm going to pull back from the idea of writing a book for now, and spend time refining and working on the book I someday want to do.

Since I came to this decision, I have felt incredibly liberated. Because of my success on the web, I erroneously believed it would be a piece of cake to carry that over to book form. I'm fortunate I figured out this early in the process that it isn't easy! I admire all of you writers who can do what you do.

So I did go ahead and lay it all out for my agent, very plainly, politely, and clearly. In doing so, I ran the risk of him not wanting to continue working with me...but I really think it was important to let him know where I stood. I don't want him to have to work his fingers to the bone to make me into something I'm not---a fabulous writer---when we could both be using our resources to develop other ideas.

So my point of posting this update is to, well, give you the update AND to say thank you again for your very, very valuable perspective and advice. It really helped me. In that sense, this message board is a real success story!

07-18-2007, 10:26 PM
A book of mine was in the hands of a publisher's editor who talked me into doing re-writes that seriously veered away from the book I'd set out to write. Then that publisher was taken over by Harper Collins and had to drop their planned women's fiction list. I was left with a de-railed book that I didn't know how to get back on track. I lost heart in writing what was a) a potentially good story and b) something that I had been enjoying.

I then asked myself why this editor wanted to so drastically change a book that had interested her in its original form.

The lesson I learned was to carry out some editing as suggested by a professional, as long as it doesn't change the original character of the story that interested them in the first place. Even more importantly be true to my own instincts.

This book will never get published, but it was mine and I allowed someone else to mess it up.