Let Your Agent Be the Bad Guy
One of the primary advantages of having an agent is that you have an advocate who can handle all the negotiations with the publisher and navigate difficult territory, allowing you to maintain a positive working relationship with everyone at your publishing house.
This positive relationship can have huge implications when it comes time for a publisher to decide whether they want to work with you again. It can also affect how you’re treated— whether it’s with respect, with kid gloves, or with dread. Most importantly, it can determine whether your publishing experience is mostly pleasant and rewarding… or not.
When I say the agent can handle your negotiations, I don’t mean just the contract. I mean every point of discussion or disagreement that comes up between you and your publisher through the entire publishing process. Unfortunately, things can get stressful behind the scenes sometimes. You may feel unsupported by your publisher for a variety of reasons, especially when they don’t communicate with you very frequently. You may not like the cover or title they’ve chosen, you may not think they’re doing enough marketing. This journey isn’t always a smooth one. That’s one of the reasons you have an agent. So here are some thoughts:
♦ Don’t be impulsive.
If you have an agent, it’s crucial that you avoid dashing off angry or panicked emails to your editor. Send those to your agent! Things can happen that appear inconsiderate, and while there may be no deliberate insensitivity on the publisher’s end, it can be difficult for an author not to lose it, emotionally, when you get hit with something unexpected that seems disastrous. ONE honest email from you to your publisher, that the publisher interprets as “angry” or “emotional,” can sour the whole relationship, which if you think about it, is true with any relationship. You can’t take back what you’ve already said. It can be difficult (or impossible) to recover from saying things you didn’t mean… or simply saying things you did mean but with a tone that can be easily misunderstood in writing.
Your agent needs to be included, and this isn’t a power play to make your agent feel important. It’s for your protection… and it’s also to help the agent protect the work they’ve already done to help you get where you are. If you try to engage in difficult conversations with your publisher without your agent’s knowledge, they can’t protect you from the backlash or unfair judgment, they can’t help advance your career, they can’t negotiate for what you want. You’re emotional about these things, your agent is not. They will find the most tactful and effective way to help you get what you need.
♦ This is a partnership.
And the nature of the partnership is this: The agent gets the business side, the unpleasant parts, dealing with the sticky stuff, being the ogre when necessary. You get to WRITE. And be nice. And be the kind of writer that publishers want to keep on their lists.
You can and should tell your agent when you are so upset that you’re about to blow. I’m not trying to shut you up, I’m trying to get you to vent to the right person.
If you don’t think your agent is doing enough, tell them your thoughts. Give them the chance to explain their approach and/or change it to better meet your needs. If you tell your agent how upset you are, and the agent doesn’t get it or gives an offhand answer, then get very, very clear with the agent and work towards an acceptable solution. You should NEVER think: “Well, my agent doesn’t get it, so I guess the only person I have left to talk to is my editor.” Talking to your dog would be preferable!
♦ Publishers are human.
And that means they may read an email from you, which you didn’t intend to be rude, and interpret it wrong, take it personally, get defensive, and make judgments about you—because they don’t know you. Most of the people who touch your work at the publishing house know one another very well and have tight friendships, but the author is an unknown quantity. If there’s a conflict, those who feel criticized may vent to one another, so the in-house chitchat is not in your favor. It’s not fair, but it can happen. Ideally, in a community governed by grace, judgments of authors under trying circumstances would not be harsh, but just like other businesses, publishing is run by busy people who are not perfect and who may be stressed-out and thinking, “I don’t have time for this.” So don’t give them a chance to think that, or to have a reason to hold a grudge.
♦ If you have an agent… use him or her to your advantage!
As agent Steve Laube says in his 10 Commandments for Working With Your Agent, “Thou shalt vent only to thine agent and never directly to thy publisher or editor.”
Q4U: Do you think it would be hard for you to step back and let the agent handle it if things aren’t going to your liking? Have you ever been in a situation like this?