The Next Circle of Hell, Vol. 2

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Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

lizmonster

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If you had a brand-new book, would you trust her to pitch that one for you? Do you think the issue is this specific project, or the professional side of your relationship with her?

If you're talking about an expansion of a book she's already pitched, I'd expect her to be unwilling to pitch it to the same places. So the degree to which she can help you pitch the revision is going to be limited anyway. (Baen, btw, does take agented subs.) I'd also expect you'd have trouble finding new representation with that book. So if you think she's representing you well, and you'd be happy sending new work to her, it's probably worth discussing what realistic options are left for this project (revised or otherwise) with an eye toward keeping the relationship intact. She may be perfectly comfortable with you pitching the book to indies without her.

Does the 12-month contract have an out clause, or do you really have to wait until the anniversary if you choose to terminate?
 
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Fuchsia Groan

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That’s a tough situation, litdawg, but I think you’re doing the right thing by asking to talk. You need to get things out in the open, and you can be frank without being confrontational. A writer friend of mine suggested writing out a script for conversations like these, including introducing tough questions (“Just let me know if I’m crossing a line here…”), and I found it helpful. Agents aren’t scared of negotiation—if they’re good agents, they’ve probably played polite hardball with editors. And, as always, it might be good to hand out some compliments (“I really appreciate your editorial eye/pitching skills,” if that’s true) before getting to the ask.

I think it’s important to know exactly what you want before the convo. Everything Liz says makes total sense. If I were you, I’d have two main asks: Would you be okay with my pitching my revision to indie publishers? and, if NOT, How would you feel about letting me out of this contract early? It’s not in the agent’s interest to trap you in a contract that isn’t benefiting either of you.

But: whether you want to write something new, where you are in that process, and how you feel about giving something new to the agent also play a big role here. It’s a sad but understandable reality that agents are going to be quicker to give up on a book or series than its writer is. Maybe the new idea you have is brilliant and will propel this book over the top, but if the agent is out of editors, they probably won’t want to explore it. (I speak from experience … 10 failed subs in, I had a great revision idea. My then-agent was already done, and my next agent wasn’t eager to read the revision either. Maybe I’ll self-pub that book someday.)
 
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litdawg

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Thank you, Liz and Fuchsia, for these wise words. I've scheduled our phone call for the end of next week. I'm about 10-15k words from finishing my second mss, and I think that is playing a role in my feelings here. I'll sort them out more clearly before we talk. Both of you suggest ways of proceeding and questions to ask that are super helpful. I definitely ought to make myself a script for some of the points I want to raise.
 

Harlequin

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Have you been on sub wtih her for other manuscripts, litdawg?

After I died on sub the first time, I talked about different options with my agent, but I didn't really want to query again unless I had to - if she was happy to wait for me to finish something then it was my preference at the time to stick with her. Cost either of us nothing.

We really did exhaust everything though including small indie publishers so if your ms hasn't been shopped around enough and your agent is "done" then that's quite a different situation.
 
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litdawg

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Hi Harlequin, This is my first rodeo. For my genre, it's hers too. Your agent approached small indie publishers on your behalf? There's no payday there for an agent though. What's the incentive? 15% of 15% of a few thousand sales is not much to show for months of flogging a mss to dozens of editors at a score or more of presses.
 
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lizmonster

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Hi Harlequin, This is my first rodeo. For my genre, it's hers too. Your agent approached small indie publishers on your behalf? There's no payday there for an agent though. What's the incentive? 15% of 15% of a few thousand sales is not much to show for months of flogging a mss to dozens of editors at a score or more of presses.
I think the conventional wisdom is that many/most agents are investing their time in your career, not in one particular book, so any specific payout isn't the point (or at least not the whole point).

I suspect this is also why many agents take on as many clients as they can comfortably juggle (which is going to vary by agent) - it makes the income stream less dependent on a single sub.

ETA: There are stories one hears about agents driven primarily by money. While I'm sure there are individual exceptions...this is not what you want.
 
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litdawg

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I think the conventional wisdom is that many/most agents are investing their time in your career, not in one particular book, so any specific payout isn't the point (or at least not the whole point).
I like this perspective.
ETA: There are stories one hears about agents driven primarily by money. While I'm sure there are individual exceptions...this is not what you want.
I agree, but it's hard to keep in focus. My agent isn't one of those precious young climbers needing sales to pay New York rents. She's in the game for love of writing and writers and is doing so from a position of stability. Generosity, not need, seems to be what drives her. Perhaps I'm just ashamed that I haven't made her a buck in return for all the effort she's invested.
 

lizmonster

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I agree, but it's hard to keep in focus. My agent isn't one of those precious young climbers needing sales to pay New York rents. She's in the game for love of writing and writers and is doing so from a position of stability. Generosity, not need, seems to be what drives her. Perhaps I'm just ashamed that I haven't made her a buck in return for all the effort she's invested.
There is, as the kids say, a lot to unpack here. :)

The most basic thing, I think, is that she's a professional, who has survived for a long time in a business that has a pretty high turnover. You can probably trust that if she becomes bothered by her "return on investment," she'll initiate a professional conversation about you both moving on. IOW, she gets to decide if you're wasting her time or not, and she has apparently decided you're not.

The inverse is also true: if you feel her methods aren't serving your professional needs, you can initiate the same conversation.

Books that don't sell are incredibly common. It happens all the time, and it even happens to people who've had previous successes. My first book went to auction; I can't sell the one I've got now, and I believe it's a better book on every level. Once you get past a certain skill level, this business is 99% luck. Agents know this so much better than any individual writer does.

Don't be ashamed for letting your agent do the job she's chosen to do for so many writers for so long.
 

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Is it common for agent contracts to renew on a yearly basis? That's a new one on me.

I've parted ways with an agent before, but I'm not sure I can offer much specific advice. My agent very much paved the way for me leaving some time in advance, and the writing was completely on the wall for a while, so I was able to send her an email to move on. Has your agent dropped any hints suggesting moving on is an avenue you might like to pursue? If so, this might be meant as a nudge, if she's the kind who isn't a straight talker.

Either way, you're right setting a call up - you need to make sure you're on the right page for the relationship going forwards. I second Fuchsia's suggestion of writing key points down, including how to say them. Chances are, your agent will have had a call like this before, so you can be honest with her. How keen is your agent on new book ideas? That would be key for me, in your position. If she's ambivalent, that might be a pointer. If she's keen, ditto. And she *should* be keen - she's invested in you as an author, not just the book, and she'll have known there was a reasonable chance of your submission book not shifting just because of how incredibly common that is. So hopefully she'll be positive and reassuring, and you'll come away feeling confident. Sadly, I wouldn't expect her to re-pitch your submission book, even with the extensions you've made, unless she has some new leads of her own. It's worth popping the question on whether she is happy for you to pitch directly to the indies - I don't see why she wouldn't be.

I will just add that if you come away from the call not feeling confident, it is not the end of the world to lose an agent and hunt for another. Better not have an agent than have one who isn't a great fit. That sounds trite, but it's very true.
 

lizmonster

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I will just add that if you come away from the call not feeling confident, it is not the end of the world to lose an agent and hunt for another. Better not have an agent than have one who isn't a great fit. That sounds trite, but it's very true.

This is something that doesn't get discussed much, especially with all the focus on How To Find An Agent. Having more than one agent during your career isn't unusual at all. I saw a graph once (tried to put my hands on it and of course I can't find it now) of authors who've had more than one agent. About half had had two; the rest were divided between 3, 4, and 5. I have two writer-acquaintances who are no longer with their first agent; one is on her second, and one is on her fifth. I'm on my second agent myself.

TL;DR: Sometimes the professional relationship doesn't work out. That's OK, and if it happens it won't stigmatize you.
 

Fuchsia Groan

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I’m on my second agent. The transition isn’t fun, but it happens.

That feeling of “Am I earning enough to justify my agent’s labor?” doesn’t go away when you sell. (Unless you suddenly have bestseller status and foreign sales all over the globe and film sales. I wouldn’t know about that!) I find myself thinking a lot about how tough it must be for an agent, especially the kind of agent who’s looking to nurture writers’ careers rather than make a quick buck and get out. But it seems to be a numbers game in which one very successful client can justify taking on a bunch of other clients who have smaller or no earnings.

Some agents are quick to cut clients loose when they no longer think they’re worth the trouble, and others might just drag out the relationship because they don’t want to take that final step. That’s why it’s good to have conversations and sound them out. But don’t feel guilty!
 
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Putputt

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I think it's a great idea to have that call, Litdawg. It's worth discussing next steps with your agent, especially since you've got a new MS and in addition to that, are thinking of expanding the previous one by about...35%? I always find that it's worth discussing these things with my agent. I would say something along the lines of: "I'm just wondering what would be most advisable for me to do as a next step..."

I do this with my current agent (who is my 4th! agent!) and a couple of times, she has given me advice that I hadn't thought of before, so it was always very useful and productive. I hope the call goes well!
 

Harlequin

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I havent' encountered the renew yearly thing but every agent is different and so is every agency. Bookends signs for career so you are just automatically there until one of you wants to call it quits!

Yep, my agent subbed out to small indie presses. If she thinks they're a good fit she'll try anything (unless you ask her not to). Tbh there were some places like Nine Star where I possibly would have turned down an offer but they rejected anyway for that book. Very much career oriented rather than per-book I suppose.

When my first book went out on sub we had a chat about the next book :) Her marketability advice at the time, when I was considering two ideas, was to perhaps try the epic fantasy as that was a hot market then. (The book I had on sub was a contemporary/urban fantasy and that genre is notoriously difficult, or was.) However, I just wasnt' loving the epic fantasy and in the end trunked it. I wrote to her to let her know it wasn't working out and that I wanted to try my contemporary fantasy idea even knowing it would be a hard sell.

If she'd felt strongly negative about that then I suppose we would have parted ways but she was supportive and willing to give it a shot. In the end, that contemp fantasy is the book that sold last year lol so it worked out.

Definitley don't feel guilty and have The Conversation! On Writing Excuses, Sanderson talks about how agents are not your friend. Editors are not your friend. Publishers are not your friend. You might have a good relationship with these people but end of the day, however much you like them, it's a business, and you gotta look out for your own interests. They definitely will be looking out for theirs. I really like my editor (for example) but she also works for a company who would screw me over contractually if it could with joint accounting etc.
 

litdawg

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While musing on all of your sage advice in preparation for my call in a few hours, I happened to read these closing lines from Fay Weldon's Why Will No One Publish My Novel?: A Handbook for the Rejected Writer. They are perfectly in synch with your words:

"The writer, like the criminal, has always been at the base of an inverted pyramid, providing work and profit for others. The greatest good, politicians have observed, lies in the providing of employment. The criminal's one delinquent act provides work and wages for policemen and women, prison warders, court officials, solicitors, barristers, judges, journalists, academics, criminologists, legislators. Similarly, the writer's act of creation - making something where there was nothing there before - provides work for agents, publishers, copy editors, designers, printers, typographers, booksellers, sales reps, publicists, teachers, professors, critics, reviewers, journalists, librarians, festival organisers, academics, historians, cultural commentators and commissars of all kinds. That's a whole lot of people. Let them be grateful to you, not the other way round!"
 

lizmonster

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litdawg, that's a great quote.

The one piece of advice I stand by in all circumstances is this: Defend your work, no matter what the cost.

Nobody else has the same stake in your work as you do. They may love it, believe in it, have the same hopes and dreams as you do - but they do not have the same amount of skin in the game. If your book doesn't do well, they've got a dozen other writers to prop up their careers. You only have you.

No matter how much you like someone, no matter how much you want to please them, no matter how well they've done for some other writer - they do not care about your work like you do. They can't. It's not their role in all this. It is always better to walk away (professionally, of course :)) than to proceed down a path that's not working.
 

Fuchsia Groan

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Hey, Fay is my friend’s agent! She sounds great.

Because I deal with so many authors and books—seriously, I have a towering pile of books to consider for review—I tend to think of writers as over-plentiful and easily replaceable. Which is depressing. (And I worry that agents and editors think the same way.) But then I start reading a book that I love, and all of a sudden the writer of that book might as well be the only writer in the world for me and I would be very upset if they were replaced.

To generate that feeling of irreplaceability (even temporarily!) is all I want as a writer. But it ain’t easy. And, as Liz says, you have to be your own champion even (especially) when no one else seems to find you irreplaceable.
 

litdawg

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Hi all--quick update on my call. Thanks to all of you helping to normalize my feelings going into the conversation, it was a low-stress ramble that covered all of the points of concern. We got the issue of $$ and mutual benefit on the table. She's interested in career representation, like a few of you said. If one mss doesn't sell, write another. She thought/thinks first mss was salable and so looks forward to another. I also asked what might be a tactless question--just how long will she be agenting? Neither of us are spring chickens. She gave that the answer it deserved--long enough. Agent was interested in hearing about new work and accepted my assessment that the expanded mss will be better. We'll let the clock run out on a few pitches that are already out and hold off on making more until I can give her the new mss. We talked through ten or so options for pitching the larger mss--either publishers she hadn't gotten to yet or a few that hadn't replied to original pitches or with multiple editors she could pitch to. So I'm feeling good about my new direction. I hope to have a completed draft in July and take Aug/Sep to squeeze the whole mss into as concise a punch as possible.

Thank you all so much for sharing your experiences and advice. I feel good about this stage of the process and have no distractions from the real work of writing now. Happy Friday to all!
 

Fuchsia Groan

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I’m so glad it went well, litdawg, and she’s still interested in pitching the expanded ms.! It’s always good to know that there are agents out there who are in it for more than a quick sale.

I don’t think it’s necessarily tactless to ask someone how long they’ll be in the business, given the rate of turnover (among editors, anyway; not sure about agents). You may not get a straight answer, but it’s something worth knowing if you can.
 

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I'm glad your call left you feeling reassured, litdawg. It sounds like you were thorough in your questions, and your agent was thorough in her answers. Great to hear you have her support with the expanded manuscript. Best of luck with it!

My agent has had my completed New Shiny for two weeks and I am starting to get twitchy. You would think the waiting gets easier, or at least something we're used to, but no. I don't see any reason she wouldn't like it, but I'm still so burned by my previous agent not liking my books that paranoia is high.
 

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Glad the call went well litdawg.

Raggy - I sympathise I was where you were last week. Sent book 2 to my agent and, thank god, she loves it, but I was worried especially as it was far less polished than book 1 when I submitted to her. Of course, there is a lot of editing to do now but it's a big weight of. Hopefully, you'll get some (positive) feedback soon.
 

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Litdawg - So happy that your call went well! Your agent sounds like she's in it for the long haul, which is great.

Raggy - Omg, waiting for your agent to read a New Shiny is one of the worst parts! I'm always so stressed out and anxious during that time. Are you taking a break from writing while waiting, or moving on to a new project?

Elle - AH! What a huge relief that your agent loved your next book! I'm still very impatiently awaiting your first one...
 
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RaggyCat

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I'm glad your agent loved you Book 2, Elle! Book 2s are really scary things - Book 1s you can revise and pour over and feel confident in (and they're the books that net the agents anyway) but Book 2s have you questionning everything you know! And Putputt, I'm glad it's not only me who gets really stressed and anxious while waiting for agent feedback. I didn't use to be so bad, but my experience with old agent burned me.

I get more anxious if I take a break from writing, so I'm moving straight onto a new project. It's kind of sketchy, but at least I have an idea I can build on a little.
 

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*peeks head in*

Hello? Am I in the right circle of Hell? I can't even remember. I used to be here, and then my last manuscript failed to pass muster with my agent. So I slinked away for a few years and wrote something new, and it's the manuscript of my heart. I just sent it to her. Hold me?

Going to go back now and catch up on the past few weeks of discussion here.
 
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