Know when to walk away, know when to run…

I warn you, I’m feeling crabby this week.  Christmas is in ten days and I’m woefully behind on my shopping and general preparedness.  Sure, I’m not like Jane who’s finished buying everyone’s holiday present by July 4th weekend, but I like to give myself a little leeway and not have to deal with the last minute rush to buy, wrap, and decorate.  This year, I’m so swamped, I can’t even run out during lunch to visit the shops in Union Square Park.

I know, I know, I should be grateful that business is booming at a typically dead time of year.  And in theory I am.  Unfortunately, I’ve been busy with a slew of difficult contract negotiations that have me yanking at my already unmanageable hair.  In general, difficult contracts don’t make me all that crabby.  The difference right now is that the negotiations are unnecessarily difficult—lots of lawyerly requests for language that does nothing but overgild the lily  without adding anything of substance to the deal.  Or, worse yet, a negotiation that has taken weeks of pointless back and forth for something we advised our client to walk away from in the first place.

To be clear, we don’t often advise our clients to walk away from any deal that has the potential to make money for them.  That would go against their interests and ours.  But we draw the line at allowing our clients to be treated unfairly or exposed to onerous terms and liabilities without a strong word of caution and a push in the direction of “run, don’t walk away from this deal.”  It pains us when our advice is not heeded because, usually, we’re right.  And even when the most dire consequences do not materialize, a process that starts out as contentious and unreasonable usually continues to be so up until the bitter end…of the book project that is.

So, while we like to keep our clients busy and happy and in funds for their own Christmas shopping, sometimes the only thing that makes sense to us is for them to walk away no matter how tempting it might be to take a bad deal.

Here’s my question to you guys:  If your agent is suggesting that you walk away from an offer—whether it’s a publishing offer from a house that wants your first born in exchange for print publication of your work or a chance to collaborate with a celebrity housewife on her juicy tell-all, say— and you are not in desperate financial straits that leave you without choices, would you listen and take his/her advice?

P.S.  Boy, you guys really don’t have any interest in headlines, do you?  I’m gonna call it a tie between Tamara and Sarah.  Send me your addresses at miriam@dystel.com for your prizes, ladies.

9 Responses to Know when to walk away, know when to run…

  1. Kathi Taylor says:


    Though I do remember wanting to go with a really teeny and ridiculous movie deal that you advised against, just because it was… well, you know… a movie deal. Luckily, nothing came of it, so I got the fun of saying that I had a movie offer and you didn’t have to tear your hair out over my silliness.

  2. Gina Black says:

    I would walk. Why have an agent if I’m not going to heed their advice? I would want to discuss it, of course.

  3. Catherine Whitney says:

    I have in the past considered turning over my first born to a publishing company, but he balked at the long hours and low pay. In general, I am terrible at sticking up for myself, so it’s nice to have someone else tearing out their unruly hair on my behalf.

  4. Meredith Gilley says:

    I look at it this way, as a writer, though I know a little about the publishing industry, I do not know enough to negotiate my own deals, or to know with 100% certainty that a deal is a good one. With that being said, if my agent (that is, if I could get one — haha) advised me against taking a deal and had good reasons for doing so, then I would take their advice:-)

    • Exactly. If I sign with someone, it will be because I’ve investigated and decided that they’re credible and good at what they do, and more knowledgeable than I. (If they’re not, I won’t sign, or if I’m already signed, I’ll begin exploring my options.) If they advise me against something, I will consider it with care and probably agree with their assessment. Why have them if I’m not going to listen?

  5. ryan field says:

    Probably listen and take the advice…cuz I’ve already made many of those mistakes.

  6. Nadia Lee says:

    Even if I were in desperate financial straits, I’d walk and get a day job. I don’t see why I should accept crappy offers.

  7. I supposed it would really depend on the specifics and if I thought I understood them, but as a general matter, I agree with most of the folks here: why have an agent if you’re not going to listen to their professional advice. I do understand being desperate to be published at any cost, however — another good reason to have an agent, who can be level-headed when I’m not.

  8. Emily says:

    I’ve made way too many mistakes in my life to voluntarily and knowingly walk into something that has BAD written all over it!

    I wish my real estate agent had had the guts to tell me not to buy the house I have now [where a renovator guy is head down in my shower as I write with tiles pulled away from the dry wall showing me that the $300 tile regrouting job has turned into a $2000 tear the whole thing out and start all over again job :( arggg!].

    So, yeah, I vote with the class — when an agent says “RUN” — I’m laced up, head-down and tail-up in the starting block ready to sprint away.

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