Confusing Agent Behavior
Blog reader Laurie wrote:
A friend of mine has an agent interested in her first novel, but the agent has not made an offer of representation. Instead she has asked my friend to hire a book editor (done), beef up her blog and platform (done), and finally get blurbs from famous authors (on an unpublished manuscript, but this is done now too). Today the agent said she has interest from two big-name editors and will hopefully hear back by the end of the week. This seems really unusual to me — don’t most agents offer representation BEFORE going to publishing houses? My friend is too intimidated by the agent to ask these questions.
The agent is certainly behaving as if she represents this author. Asking the writer to edit the book, beef up her platform and get blurbs would not be unusual prior to offering representation; however, the agent shouldn’t be talking with editors about the project if she doesn’t represent it.
It sounds like the agent might be talking it up, trying to get an idea of whether she can get editors interested, before officially committing to representing the project. Understandable, maybe — but it’s not how we do business. Sometimes before offering representation on a certain manuscript, I’ll ask general questions in conversations with editors to determine if they’d even be interested in looking at the genre. But without a representation agreement (verbal or written) ethically I shouldn’t be talking to anyone specifically about the book.
Of course, your friend might be thinking, “What’s the harm if the agent is going to sell my book?” But I think she needs to immediately ask the agent, “Since you’re talking with editors about my book, does that mean you’re representing me?” And she needs to ask questions until she’s satisfied she understands her situation. She should ask that the agent refrain from talking to editors or anyone else about her project without a representation agreement.
I do have to mention that all agents run their businesses their own way and I can’t speak for everyone. This is simply my viewpoint, but it’s only one opinion so don’t take it as gospel.
It seems your friend has an even bigger problem than the confusing agent behavior — and that’s her own behavior. If you’re going to do business and protect yourself from being run over and totally taken advantage of, you simply cannot afford to be intimidated by people. I understand how scary this can be for authors, but if you’re going to play in the big leagues, you’ve got to find your confidence somewhere and don’t be afraid to ask questions and speak up for yourself.
At the very least, ask questions via email — it’s not intimidating like trying to talk to an agent on the phone.
Have you come across any agent practices that confused you or didn’t seem to fit your understanding of what agents do?