I share all my good writing news here, so I figured I should share some of the crummy news too in case someone can learn from where I went wrong.
So. In the spring of 2021, I got the authorial Holy Grail: an offer of representation from a literary agent. That was the good news.
The not-so-good news was that she wasn’t an experienced agent. She’d never worked with an agency before opening her own. But she had one big-money sale to a major publisher as well as an editorial background. OK, the one big sale was for a notorious TV celebrity rather than an awesome writer, but still; at least she actually had a big book deal to her name. And I wanted an editorial agent.
I enjoyed my phone call with her. She had great ideas for how to get my manuscript into submission shape. She didn’t ask me for a dime for representation. It was a tough decision, but I figured the big book deal, the editing background, and her enthusiasm for my book were enough for me to give her a chance. Also, the contract terms made it super-easy for me to end the relationship if it came to that.
So that’s how I justified signing with someone while ignoring the obvious warning signs like the lack of agency experience and the lack of other sales. I saw the red flags. I signed anyhow. That’s on me. But never again will I sign with any agent if I feel like I’m taking a chance on them. While there’s no guarantee that even a high-powered, experienced agent will be able to sell my manuscript, I should be absolutely certain that they can do it.
She sent me a ton of edits last summer, and it took me a long time to get them done because my brainspace was completely occupied by Tidepool’s release and the aftermath.
But while that was going on, she was signing a lot of new clients, which made me nervous. How on earth could she represent all these people effectively? She added a couple of associate agents to her agency, but they had even less experience than she did. In addition, she hadn’t made any new US sales since I signed with her.
After she reviewed my revised draft, we had a phone call earlier this year. She sounded really enthused about sending my MS on submission. As she talked through some strategies with me, I got all excited. Maybe this gamble I’d taken was going to pay off.
And then…nothing much until last Friday, when I (and every other client) got an email announcing that she was shutting down the agency.
I can’t say I was all that surprised, but I felt pretty foolish anyhow. I’d signed with her somewhat against my better judgment, and now my better judgment was dancing around hollering “SEE, I TOLD YOU SO—HOW COULD YOU BE SO DAMN STUPID?” My brain is very rarely on my side in these things.
Let me be clear: I don’t think she was a scammer or a crook. I don’t hate her and I’m not even that mad, though I think the abrupt notice last week was not too cool. Mostly, I suspect she’s just one of many people who thought agenting would be easier than it is and didn’t know what to do when it wasn’t. She’s not the first, and she won’t be the last. I see more agencies like this springing up all the time, and I suspect they will all eventually come to similar ends.
So don’t do what I did. Don’t sign your hard work over to someone unless you’re certain they’ve got the experience to represent it well.
All told, I got off pretty easy. My manuscript was never on submission, so I haven’t burned its chances with anyone. And to give my former agent credit, I do think the edits she suggested made my book a lot stronger overall. I signed with her in part because of her editorial background, so that, at least, paid off.
The biggest blow was to my ego. I’m now someone who signed with a schmagent (I pretty much could have written that question even though it’s from before my ex-agent was active), and that knowledge smarts even if it doesn’t leave a long-lasting mark on my career. By now, I wanted to be more savvy than that. I will definitely be a lot more careful and thoughtful going forward. And humble.
I finally talked a little about what happened on Twitter and was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from writers and agents. Even if people were thinking “Well, what did you expect, dummy?”, they were kind enough not to say it. I truly appreciate that. And I’ve made a whole new crew of writing friends among the other abandoned agency clients, so that’s cool.
But man, it hurt to open up Querytracker again. If I had a tail, it would have been between my legs as I loaded that website for the first time in almost two years.
So that happened. Back to the grind.