Agents have a tough row to hoe. It is our job, of course, to give good news. But just as often, unfortunately, we also have to give bad news. And often, quite often, when the news is bad, we, as the messengers are blamed for it.
Years ago I remember I had an author who ultimately had a huge bestseller. I, however, represented him at the beginning of his career and handled his first three books. Each book sold less well than the one before and in each case, because of this, we had to switch publishers. Finally, he fired me and went on to a new agent. Soon after, I was having lunch with one of his former editors who said to me, “Of course, he had to fire you; he had fired each of his previous publishers and when that didn’t work, he had to blame you for his bad sales – there was nowhere else to go.”
Authors should really think about what we are saying to them when we bring bad news; I for one am trying very hard to be constructive as I passionately believe that when we are turned down or when a book doesn’t sell, oftentimes there is an important lesson to be learned.
I am very persistent when it comes to submitting my clients’ work; there are many cases where I go to as many as 35 or 40 editors to find a buyer. But when I don’t, I usually come around to feeling there is a valid reason why the book hasn’t sold; and it is constructive to find that reason and either deal with it or put the proposal aside and go on to something new. (I always tell my clients that when they become bestselling authors, they can go back to that other project and sell it for lots of money.)
When a book doesn’t sell, it is totally inappropriate to blame the agent as so many authors do. We are on the author’s side – if only because when they do well, we do well. I care deeply about the writing careers of each and every one of my clients and when I am blamed for their projects not selling either to a publisher or in the marketplace or when I am blamed for the advance not being high enough, it is incredibly discouraging.
Authors select their agents carefully, I hope, getting recommendations from other authors, looking us up online, etc. Once they’ve landed an agent, they need to trust us more and understand that we really do have their best interests at heart as well as the professional experience to guide them through the process.
Many years ago, a young man came to me with a novel I liked a lot. We tried to sell it and failed; he then presented another and again we tried and again we failed. But he and we learned from each of these experiences and he is now finishing the last novel in his second three-book deal. Of course this willingness to absorb and learn from what seems to be bad news has helped him to grow in his career.
The purpose of this blog is to ask authors to think before they shoot. We agents are trying our best to help you grow in your careers. Please listen to us, know we care, and trust that we are doing our very best.