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Should I Find A New Agent?

Posted by on April 21, 2019 in Creativity

Every month in my newsletter, I invite readers to ask me a question. I pick one that I’ll answer in the next newsletter, and send them the book of their choice. (you can get in on that here.)

One of this month’s questions came from another writer. She had a very specific question about a situation with her agent. I’ll rephrase the question more generally, for her privacy, but I thought it was worth answering here.

How do I know when it’s time to look for a new agent? My agent wasn’t able to sell my last book and I’m not sure I should give her the next one. Maybe we’re not on the same wavelength.

Here’s the thing: No two agents are alike. No two editors are alike.  Nine publishers will reject a manuscript and the tenth will snatch it up and make a success of it.

How is this possible? You would think that any agent would be able to recognize a publishable manuscript, and any publisher would want to publish one. Weirdly, it doesn’t work that way. A good friend of mine was rejected by an agent I thought would be perfect for her, only to be picked up by another agent and land a good publishing deal right away.

So–is it possible you just have the wrong agent? Maybe. Is it possible that your agent’s feedback on your manuscript was misdirected and not in your best interest? Sure, that’s possible.

Let me give you an example: with my second Kopp novel, Lady Cop Makes Trouble, one of the comments I received from an editor was, “I think you need to make the escaped fugitive more of a menace. I’m just not worried enough about the fact that he’s on the loose.”

So I could’ve made the fugitive into Hannibal Lecter. I could’ve turned the book into “a killer is on the loose and he must be stopped before he kills again.” But that wasn’t the kind of book I was trying to write. I didn’t want the readers to be worried about the fugitive’s next victim. I wanted them to be worried about Constance, and her job, and her future, and her well-being.

So I listened to that feedback, but I changed the novel in a different way. I made it more clear that the stakes were high for Constance. Another friend (who happens to be an editor) said, “You want people to be worried about Constance’s spirit.”

The point is–people can have a different vision for what kind of book you’re writing. Or they can sense that something’s wrong, but maybe they have a different idea about how to fix it than you do.

Here’s my suggestion. Treat this like the straightforward business conversation that it is. Your agent (and your editor, if and when you have one) are lovely people, but at the end of the day, they’re making business decisions. They will turn you loose if they can’t figure out how to make you a part of their business. They understand that you might have to do the same.

(Sidenote: I once told a friend who was waiting for an offer from a publisher:  Remember that your publisher is not Santa Claus. This is not Christmas. It’s not a birthday present. It’s a business deal, one in which they get to write the contract and dictate the terms. Treat it like a business deal, because you can be sure they are.)

First–do give your agent a chance to read the next manuscript. It’s possible that all of her comments and feedback on the last book helped you to become a better writer, and that the new book benefits from her advice. If that’s the case, she absolutely should have a chance to launch your new book into the world. Remember, she doesn’t get paid until you get paid, so she’s invested a lot of unpaid labor into you so far. Maybe that’s about to pay off for both of you.

But if her comments on the new manuscript leave you feeling like things are still not right, it’s probably time to have an honest conversation about why your vision and hers don’t align. Remember, it’s YOUR book. Nobody’s forcing you to take anyone’s input.  It’s okay to look for another agent.

And while you’re doing that, to distract yourself from the angst of an agent search. start your next book. Keep moving forward, and keep making art.