September 28th, 2007

books

can o' worms

I was over on this entry on Agent Kristin's blog and was struck by the vehemence of many of the comments. I've been thinking about it on and off ever since.

Why, oh why, is the dynamic of the agent-author relationship sometimes like this? And is there a way to discuss it without defensiveness or anger?

I am blessed with very understanding clients who realize I can't always read everything immediately. Or even sometimes as fast as I initially thought I could. They've also been very patient with server crashes that lose emails or my own tendency to not respond until I have something to say. They are a wonderful and creative group of talents. And they are professional and patient.

I have also had clients who have unrealistic expectations, don't realize that I am not psychic, or seem to forget that I represent 40+ other hard-working writers. Can I say that in public? In those cases there have certainly been communication disconnects. This can be unpleasant to deal with and make you feel down-right rotten. So the two of you start mincing around each other, and then what happens is probably self-evident. And regretful. The question is whether it was avoidable....

And when it comes to non-clients, nearly everyone is very professional and VERY patient. I appreciate that. I want that to go on the record right now. But there always seems to be someone here and there who doesn't understand the pace of publishing (SLOOOOW), who is by nature demanding and full of entitlement, or is just plain anxious and let's it get away from them. And, like they say, a few rotten apples can ruin the whole barrel. So, once in a while, you feel defensive or prodded or poked when people ask for updates. Especially if they come on a day when everything else seems to be falling on your head. Everyone has those days. So, what do you do when it's 7pm and you're craving dinner and feel like you haven't even spoken to your family in several days, and there are still queries? You go have dinner. Honestly. And that is really what it's like sometimes. You spend the day on correspondence with clients, phone calls with editors, contract review, royalty statements, etc. and so on. And you do nearly all your reading on nights and weekends. On your own time. I'm not complaining. Not exactly. I love this job. I love working with creative and talented people. I love the journey of each story. This has become part of who I am. But sometimes the workload is intimidating. And sometimes I forget that I'm only human. It's a flaw.

I realize most writers also have extremely busy lives and steal their writing time from their families and friends, in the van waiting for the soccer team, in doctor's waiting rooms. And waiting after one has spent all that energy and self on producing the story in the first place must be torturous. I don't do much better when a book I've fallen in love with is out on submission. It can make you crazy. But reacting against those who you hope to team with is a disservice to everyone involved. Maybe the post lost your query. Maybe the mailroom did it. Maybe you forgot the SASE. Maybe the server ate your email. Maybe there was a hard drive failure. Maybe there was a death in the family of the agent's assistant. Maybe the agent was on vacation (I took one in August and it backed up the queries about two weeks worth extra). Things can fall through the cracks on both sides. I have sent requests for material and never gotten a reply, too.

Part of the issue seems to relate to the old supply and demand aspect. There are a lot of writers who want agents. I get about 130 queries a week, which is almost 7000 a year. And some agents of my acquaintance would tell me that's a low number. How long would it take you to read and respond to 130 letters that often include sample pages if you were promising yourself that you would carefully consider each one? At five minutes for each one that is almost 11 hours, which is roughly a day and a half of a five-day work week if you're only working 40 hours (and I know most agents would laugh at the idea of only a 40 hours week). And those that don't get answered right away might generate additional correspondence. Again, not complaining. This is R&D. I want new clients. I am excited when I find a new story that makes me stay up until 3am. Please send queries for those right away!

But, on the other hand, queries are a little like cold-calls. Not exactly, because we're asking for them. But somewhat. Do you call back the person trying to sell you something and tell them you got their message and thanks for their time but you're not interested? I know this is a weak parallel but I am trying to come up with a comparison that works and failing.

In any case, I guess the real question comes back to courtesy. Should agents get back to you in a timely fashion? It sure would be nice if we could always do that. But sometimes we just can't. And I'm not apologizing for those agents that really are lacking in courtesy, but most agents, like most writers, are professional and really want to work with talented writers and build both their careers. It just seems like all the angst and negativity could be energy redirected to more positive endeavors.