Home » Agents » Is It Time, Dear Writer, To Ditch Your Literary Agent?

Is It Time, Dear Writer, To Ditch Your Literary Agent?

15 February 2017

From Chuck Wendig, Terrible Minds:

It used to happen once every couple of months. Then once every month, now I’m up to about once a week. What I’m talking about is, authors emailing me to see if it’s time to leave their agents.

When this happens, the writer often frames it like, “Well, how do you and your agent do things?”

And I say things like:

ME: She sells my books? I dunno, I write them, and then Stacia helps them navigate the BOILING CHAOS STORM that is the publishing industry?

THEM: But what about emails?

ME: Emails, like, Hillary’s emails?

THEM: No, does your agent answer your emails?

ME: Well, of course.

THEM: In what timeframe?

ME: A reasonable one? Actually, an unreasonably fast one, usually — within the day, sometimes within the hour. Pretty fast turnaround to questions and stuff.

THEM: She not only responds to your emails, but she responds to them quickly?

ME: She does, and in fact endures a great deal of nonsense from me, including occasional Career Freakouts and other psychological gesticulations. But given your response, I’m guessing yours doesn’t… respond at all?

And from there, we uncover a host of uncomfortable sins. And this can be for a lot of reasons. Maybe the agent is wrong for you, or you’re wrong for her. Maybe she’s too new. Maybe she has too many clients. Maybe you’re too small a client and she’s got bigger beasts to hunt. Maybe she’s a terrible agent — or maybe you need to recalibrate your needs.

I never really like to recommend that a writer leave her agent — not because that’s a bad idea, but because I’m not comfortable being the one to say, YEAH, TIME TO JUMP OUTTA THE PLANE, as that’s awfully easy for me to say, because I’m buckled up in a nice, cozy seat. Telling you to do the hard thing is easy when I don’t have to do it with you. Plus, then you jump out of the plane, get sucked into a turbine, are turned into a red mist, oops.

. . . .

1. Your agent doesn’t communicate with you in a timely manner — or at all. That’s not good. Your agent is the champion of your book and ostensibly, your career. They are its babysitter — and I don’t mean that dismissively, I mean, you want your child to be in capable hands, and further, you want that babysitter to answer the phone if you would like to find out how your baby is doing. If you go weeks without hearing anything from an agent, or months, or forever, you have a problem. It probably means they forgot your baby at the mall.

. . . .

5. Your agent doesn’t seem to like your chosen genres. This is also a thing. You write erotic epic choose-your-own-adventure books, your agent reps self-help books for narcoleptic parrot-owners, and ne’er the two shall meet. You want an agent familiar with the genre of what you write, not just in terms of the books themselves but also in terms of the industry circles and imprints that support that genre.

. . . .

8. The agent seems to be on the side of the publisher, not the author. An agent who defends unethical publishing behaviors is not an agent you want to have. You certainly don’t want an agent who is hostile to publishing, and who has a realistic view of what you can get away with and what slings and arrows you’re probably going to have to suffer — further, you also don’t want to be a prima donna to the agent, acting like, WELL, YOU DIDN’T GET ME A MILLION DOLLAR ADVANCE SO OBVIOUSLY YOU LOVE THE PUBLISHER MORE THAN ME. But at the same time, an agent who seems to be more interested in protecting his relationship with the publisher than the relationship he shares with you, the author… eek, yeah, no, not good.

Link to the rest at Terrible Minds and thanks to Lou for the tip.


58 Comments to “Is It Time, Dear Writer, To Ditch Your Literary Agent?”

  1. Title be a question…
    Hail yes!!!!

    (At least in that scenario.) 😉

    Seriously, the bottom line in any business relationship is the added value. In this case, what does the agent bring that you couldn’t get on your own + an IP lawyer?

    • My favorite comment: “I’m desperate enough that I’d probably take a bad agent at this point.”

      I wonder what Laura Resnick would say in response to that.

      • With all those desperate dreamers out there I’m surprised some enterprising Agent hasn’t setup an online manuscript evaluation farm.

        Hire a bunch of part-time english lit students to fill out standard evaluation forms at $30 per manuscript, mechanical turk style, and charge dreamers $100. Skim out the one-presenters as new vic…er, customers, and pocket a couple hundred grand a year on the side.

        Considering the quality of material they’d likely get the students could easily clear a thousand or two a month doing good, honest, in-depth evals.

        Everyone wins! 😉

      • I haven’t seen Laura around much lately, but i always enjoyed her comments and used to rub my hands with glee when I saw the agent topic come up.

        But I think the people that can hear the truth about agents have already. There’s plenty of information online and I think the people who are serious about writing as a financially-supporting career have already found it.
        Then there’s the people who cling to the fantasy. There’s nothing that can be done for them.

        And maybe that’s why we don’t hear from Laura anymore.
        Her work here is done 🙂

        • There are also newbies all the time, who still need to know this. I don’t think the topic will ever be safe to abandon.

      • Whatever Laura would say, it likely couldn’t be posted here without extensive redaction.

        Most authors need an agent like they need an extra hole in their head. And why are people rewriting to an agent’s request, rather than an editor’s? That makes no sense at all.

    • ‘that you couldn’t get on your own + an IP lawyer?’ Aren’t you supposed to have a lawyer anyway? According to Kristine Kathryn Rusch, agents are /not/ allowed to do lawyerly things. At all.

      • 🙂

      • I’ve yet to come across an agent blog where I can tell the agent has got that memo.

      • A.C., there’s fifty state attorney ethics boards and attorney generals’ offices that would agree with Kris.

      • [A]gents are /not/ allowed to do lawyerly things. At all.

        Depends on the agent.

        One of my classmates became an agent. She passed the bar and keeps her CLE current. She was and is kind of flaky. Wears hats with flowers and always a paisley-print dress with flats. But she made law review. Think of Elsbeth Tascioni from The Good Wife. That kind of kooky. Kooky and effective. I would hire her in a New York minute.

      • Does anyone on here actually know what a publishing contract looks like or has anyone here ever seen one? The Contract with the publisher dictates the terms of the author/agent agreement. How long the author is with the publisher, what the author is paid and when, and what rights are involved. Lawyers would certainly like to get their grubby little paws on every contract but nope, agents have every right to negotiate these contracts and do so constantly Without a law degree. If this was not so (see First Amendment Rights), you would need a lawyer before you could sign that sign-up for your gym membership or any written agreement.

        What does need to be highlighted on these forums, and which is not yet, is the burgeoning number of Supposed “publishers” who are charging authors for publishing them under the premise they will market the book for them. One so-called publisher is charging $500 to publish, another $750 to place the book with Createspace (and ever more fees)to the author, who must bring an Edited Book to them. The “Publisher” will then take 50% of the author’s earnings. This should be illegal. These people are preying on author’s who have little knowledge of (mostly) Amazon publishing.

        Generally, by the time you can achieve an agent, most authors are fairly successful in their occupation and know what they are doing. Look at the credentials of the authors published by the big houses. These are already successful people; they are not fresh-born little piggies being taken advantage of and clearly find that the agent (knowledge of the publishing industry, can find a home for the book in a Tough Competitive Industry) and the publisher (offering editing, design, marketing) are worth what they take from the author’s earnings.

        Stop picking on the Great Publishing Industry, which has brought you Most of the Truly Great Books You Have Read In Your Lifetime. Duh.

        • Um, huh? All I have to say is read some of the posts here that cover this, or better yet, go to Kristine Katherine Rusch’s blog where she dissects in detail the points you mention. Including examples from actual, and horrifying, contracts.

          And if you think publishers who charge for “services” haven’t been covered here, you have not been reading this blog for more than five minutes, if that. The writer David Gaughran covers unethical publishers frequently, as well. Go check out his blog, too.

          Writer Beware is good for information about every kind of scam. Preditors and Editors has been around for a long time doing the same thing. Go there.

          There are more, but these sources will do for a start.

        • This is a genuine question and I would be grateful if you could answer it for me.
          If, as you say, authors who can achieve an agent are generally successful and Know what they’re doing, what exactly can the agent do for them?

          • Here is your answer:
            1. I’ve yet to see a writer that knew which editor at which publishing house takes on a particular kind of book. Or perhaps all the erudite bitching on here hasn’t yet covered that the Type of book an editor takes on is very limited. There are editors who only look at (for instance) non-fiction with a medical theme. And so on.
            2. Can anyone here name, say, six different publishing houses and what makes each of them unique? Or six mid-size houses and what they publish? Hmmm…those are the things that agents know.
            3. As an agent, I (once) completely rewrote a manuscript because I loved the story, but the woman’s writing was dreadful. And then I placed her manuscript with a lovely mid-size publisher. Of course, all that rewriting didn’t cost her a thing.
            4. Ya’ll keep saying how smart everyone on here is, and that you’ve all been around. If so, then you know exactly what Amazon is doing wrong..I wouldn’t put all those little eggies in Amazon’s basket, just a hint.
            5. Finally, the people working at the publishing houses (editors, publicists, graphic designers) are tremendously loving, caring, and smart people. Most of them went to the Ivies and have incredible educations. So ya’ll have No IDEA what you are competing against.
            6. One person said…oh, well just throw it up and let the public decide. Perhaps no one here has noticed that Amazon is tightening the ship. They don’t like refunding money when someone is suckered into buying a book that has been run through a spin machine by some overseas hack for a hundred bucks (see: Upwork) and then posted to Amazon with a fiverr cover.
            There you have it. Agents are angels and should be spoken of with hushed tones because ain’t none of you on here that could do that job.

            • 1: this is information that can easily be found online, with a five minute search on google.
              If an editor doesn’t have information about what books they edit on their website, they’re probably not the shrudest businesspeople to begin with.
              2: again, A quick search of the publishers website will give you all the information you need, So I don’t think an agent deserves 15% on that account. All of this is of course moot when it comes to self publishing.
              3: as for bad writing and grammar, some of the highest selling books over the last couple of years been pretty badly written, I am thinking of Fifty Shades.
              This isn’t to say that writers shouldn’t care about word craft, only that it’s not the most important thing, The story is.

              • To call you…well let’s just say that you have no idea what you are talking about or the complexity of a giant multi-billion dollar business.
                Agents thread camel’s through the eyes of needles and deserve much more than the 15% they legally contract for.
                As to Fifty Shades, can you morally pull that repugnant example as a point?
                And actually, writing is the most important thing. To know how to write shows respect for your audience, and a careful discernment of the greatness of words.
                Keep telling yourself that you think you know what you don’t have a club about. You know nothing, John Snow.

                • Attitudes like this are why self publishing has taken off so much, Customers don’t need to be told what to read by their moral betters any more, they can choose for themselves they don’t need intellectual gatekeepers.
                  And as for Fifty Shades, you might believe it is morally repugnant But the fact is that it is making Millions of dollars for the traditional publishing industry That you so adore.

            • You know nothing about any of us, not about my MFA or stupid, useless literary credits or awards, nor about my indie author friend Blair who also has an MFA, which we both recovered from because of great inner strength, while our classmates who had swallowed the Kool-Aid there at a gulp continue to make no money at all as writers.

              But I know you, Ms. Agent.

              I know that moment in your East Coast college dorm room when you realized you were not destined to become an Important Author. I know how you sobbed into your poseur black scarf at the realization and tried to call Daddy because you wanted to hear him call you “Princess.” Unfortunately, Daddy didn’t take your call because he was being serviced by one of his many mistresses (whom he also called “Princess,” but let’s not dwell on that for too long.) So you wiped off the snot and felt oh so alone, and instead of being a writer, you settled for being an agent. And to make yourself feel important and to pretend like you know anything at all about writing (you don’t), you rewrite “your” authors’ work, always to its detriment. And you have a rich husband, and you sneer at my readers, who you refer to as “WalMart shoppers” or “farmers.”

              And it’s true, my readers do shop at WalMart, and most of them don’t know a single brand name of the ugly overpriced shoes in your closet, and they worked their way through state universities and community colleges and now put in forty-hour weeks at work and want to come home and read a good, diverting yarn. While you sneer at them and do not support or usher into publishing books for them, I call them “the salt of the earth” and noble, hard-working people, and in fact any one of their little fingers is worth more than the whole lot of you East Coast snobs.

              These readers and we authors have bypassed the likes of you. Suck it up, honey. You’re passé.

        • Uh oh, looks like someone got their fee-fees hurt. Ouchies.

          Look, you aren’t lecturing crass newbies that don’t know any better. This place almost always attracts writers who’ve been around for a while and know the score. Some even had or have trad contracts.

        • Actually, yes.
          One of Hachette’s “masterpieces” is out for public inspection.
          Truly inspiring piece of work:


        • Of course we’ve seen publishing contracts. Many of us here at TPV have been published for years. The type of “contracts” you speak about in your lower paragraphs are vanity publishing agreements which most of us know better than to touch with fireproof gloves.

          IP attorneys protect writers, in ways agents no longer do (if indeed they ever did) from abusive terms in contracts. This is exactly what I’d expect my general practice attorney to do for me, and is in fact what he does.

          If you visit here, I for one expect you to remain respectful to the other posters here, and assume we know at least something about what we discuss. That’s simple courtesy.

          • If you believe that attorneys “protect” writers than you know less than nothing. If attorneys were so great, there would be no need for agents? Right? Unless you are a super successful author, their is little negotiation in contracts with publishers. The Goal of agents is to find a home for a (worthy) author and get them up and running. Contracts are Never for more than two books so all that agents do for the 15% can be jettisoned fairly soon, but why oh why do so many writers (the successful ones) keep working with agents and Not Attorneys? Hmmm…guess you’ll have to figure that out on your own.

            • The reason there is “little negotiation” in publishing contracts is that agents refuse to try to negotiate egregious clauses in them. In my experience, having had two agent relationships in the past, they were more fussed at the possibility of jeopardizing their important relationships — with the publishers — than with authors.

              If I were an author signed with you as an agent, and you had the cheek to even attempt to “edit” one of my books, that would be the end of our agency relationship. That is the job of the editor; or do you feel as an “agent” you’ve the right to do everybody’s job for them? Total audacity, and unacceptable.

              To your next point, contracts can be single-project or ongoing. Some run indeed for more than two books; for some authors they go on for years.

              And attorneys who know IP (you DO know that term?) are much better than agents at playing hardball with publishers who want us to accept abusive terms.

              I won’t answer you anymore; I have novels to write and send to my publisher, and to publish on my own.

            • If attorneys were so great, there would be no need for agents? Right?


              Wait… that was your counter argument?

          • You say to “be respectful…” Odd because all that seems to be printed on here is how the “publishers” are so horrid and taking advantage of these unpublished, never-sold-a-single-copy-yet-but-are-sure-to-make-millions-authors. Who…since ya’ll are so fond of self-publishing, should surely do so and keep all them monies!
            As to Rusch, she doesn’t note any particular qualifications on her site about her own educational background. No claims at a law degree or even any degree from one of those higher education places, which ya’ll would probably decry because, after all, aren’t they only letting in certain people? Kinda reminds of publishing houses, eh?
            My last post on this site. Keep selling your three copies and complaining about the great and lovely authors, who have real contracts with real publishing houses.

            • Here’s what the Author’s Guild thinks of “real contracts” with “real publishers”:


              Thing is, folks ’round here aren’t dreamers. They’ve been around the block a few times and have first hand experience. Or, if not, they’ve done their homework and mapped the minefield.

              The question isn’t Indie or tradpub as a philosophical matter but rather how to run one’s business to have a successful career, for whatever value of “successful” one might have. Blindly following dated myths from decades past is not conducent to any kind of success. Some here do use a traditional channel for some or all of their projects but they do so with a clear understanding of what they are doing and why. They know when traditional publishing is useful and when it isn’t.

              Around here, bad information gets challenged real fast.

  2. Then I went and read the comments on Chuck’s blog, and they made me want to cry.

    • Yeah. Immediately afterward, I also did my “face Seattle and have a moment of quiet gratitude” thing…which I do many days.

  3. That was actually reasonable. I’m not saying I agree with all of it, but it (mostly) made sense within the parameters of trying to work within traditional publishing, at least as I understand things.

    Wish his Star Wars tie-in books with their wibbly wobbly dongly Tie Fighters read half as well.

    • I can’t even read them. I had to get the audio books for those. The sound effects, music, and Marc Thompson’s excellent narration really help.

  4. The “you do all the work” scenario that Chuck says is so rare, happened to me with FIVE books. I made the deals; she’s still making the percentage off my royalties. I hate it, but I signed the contract thinking she’d actually sell a project of mine. I had two agents; neither of them ever sold a thing. Now I’m happily agent-free.

    • What a scam. Contracts should have an out for when authors 1. self-pub and 2. make the deals themselves. No agent should get a penny for a deal he or she did not put together sans the author’s help. If the author helped, then half of their usual commission.

  5. Not trying to throw any rocks at Wendig, but this reads identically to any one of hundreds of “laundry list” posts of reasons to stop chasing and pining after legacy agents and to go indie…circa 2011.

    Wish him luck if things are going tough.

  6. Part of the problem is that most agents I’ve come across don’t actually care about is it the authors they are representing, so long as they get the commission.
    I remember reading a post on the passive voice From a very entitled agent not so long ago.

  7. I just released a German novel that my then-agent told me was not good enough for him to even market. It took me ten years to get to the point, but I’m finally there, and getting ready to release my backlog of German novels I wrote while having that agent contract.

    I ditched him years ago. He never sold a single one of my books. But it has taken me that long to undo the damage he did.

    I’m not selling a lot of copies (lack of marketing for now, because of reasons), but I am selling some, and that’s much, much better than what that agent has done for me.

  8. Every agent or manager I’ve ever had (not just literary) the first thing I said, once we began to work together, is I won’t bother you with petty b*******, I won’t hassle you about rejections or complain… I won’t do that. But my requirement is that when I call or email, you respond in a timely manner, 24 hours is reasonable, on business days only…

    If if not, we can’t work together. I fired a manager last year for this very thing. He called back when he felt like it, days later. I fired him.

    Timely responses are necessary.

  9. I ditched mine five years ago.

  10. As a former literary agent, please bear in mind how few books actually make money. I placed many books that were simply because I loved the book/author and could find them a home at a small publishing house where the “work” of publishing was done for them. Some truly lovely books. The anger and hostility here seems to stem from the idea that Whoever is angry is surely a million-dollar book author. If so, one can raise the funds by selling the house or doing whatever and self-publish, a highly viable option now.

    I simply lack any understanding of the anger towards the professional publishing industry. If you could have seen, as I have seen, the truly competitive nature of publishing, you would shake in your boots. Really smart people are writing great books. Can you say that about your book? Most “authors” should not be published; their work is rudimentary, derivative, and downright bad. They just don’t know it.

    • I guess we just have different views about what books should be.
      Personally, I think that there should be as much content as possible out there And that the customers will decide what is good and worthwhile, and what is rubbish and should be put aside.
      I don’t believe that traditional publishing industry knows what will sell, and I don’t think that most authors are trying to make $1 million Although that would be nice, but rather they want to get the stories out to as many people as possible.

    • >please bear in mind how few books actually make money

      Again, you don’t know who you’re talking to. We know that. Been, there, studied the business, learned the lessons. We also know that many, many bad books are published. Sadly, we’ve seen some from that oh-so-nurturing trad pub you’re hung up on.

      We aren’t really angry, just not willing to settle for crap contracts and treatment any more. We don’t have to. We have options now. We can do things that weren’t possible even a decade ago. Our market share is growing, we’re being accepted into professional organizations (SFWA, and as of January 1st, MWA), readers are buying our books. And liking them!

      It might hurt that writers don’t really need agents anymore, but that’s just how the business is changing. We can do everything ourselves, and it’s awesome. Terrifying at times, but awesome none-the-less.

      It’s time agents look around and ask themselves what they can offer a writer. If they want to stay relevant, they need to adapt to the new paradigm. The same goes for the trad pubs. The times they are a’ changin’. Adapt or die.

    • As an indie author (no quote marks needed) making a decent living at it, at least I know that this:

      “As a former literary agent, please bear in mind how few books actually make money.”

      Is not a grammatical sentence. That modifier is dangling so badly, I’d rather see a 90-year-old man in short-shorts dangle. So the first phrase is supposed to modify “please?” Or the implied you? That would be, “As a former literary agent, (you should) please bear in mind….”

      I’m not a former literary agent/failed writer. I do honest work for a living.

      (shakes head) And these are the people who tell authors how to re-write their books? Jesus, save me.

    • Every book that I have ever self published, with the exception of two short stories, has made me more money than I put into them. This idea that “most books don’t make any money” is a holdover from an obsolete business model.

  11. I think it would help enormously if there were a list of IP lawyers across the nation, and internationally. It’s not enough to say, dont ride this horse, without pointing to the open land where are numerous ridable good horses.

    I’ve noticed some authors who use lawyers, being coy about naming them by name. I dont think that helps. Esp newbies, but also oldbies.

    • I think you can find intellectual property attorneys. (For example, your state’s Bar may have a lawyer referral service or you may find an online directory that lists IP attorneys.

      What’s makes the author’s search more difficult is that most IP attorneys aren’t positioned to serve or focused on the needs of author clients for such things as copyright, agency and publishing contract negotiations and dispute resolutions.

      Most prefer to focus in areas such as trademark and patent law… because the corporate coffers are bigger and the field is wider. They may not have done any serious work on copyrights and publishing contracts since they read about them in law school. And to the extent they are interested in entertainment, then they’re drawn to film production, cable and broadcast… not to authors and their needs for representation and book contracts.

      (I do suspect we all routinely read the blog though of a very good attorney who’s well-versed in the areas of our greatest concerns, with deep experience and a broad perspective. Not that I’m making any recommendations….)

  12. USAF, I wonder if the attorneys themselves ask not to be identified? The way things are going lately, they might be afraid of getting more authors than there are minutes in the day.

    • maybe youre right Deb. But it might seem like an author turning away readers because the next book is not ready to go yet? Seems like there are a ton of lawyers in the usa, and more to graduate and pass the bar every few months; seems like would be a fabulous oppty to put together a group of ace lawyers in IP that practice together to be able to serve the many?

  13. Speaking of literary agents best avoided, this fresh from writer beware

  14. Is It Time, Dear Writer, To Ditch Your Literary Agent?

    What agent?

    Ain’t got no stinkin’ agent! Nor am ever likely to. 🙂

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