First off I'd like to welcome Jeremy McNabb to my blog and thank him for taking the time to answer a few candid questions about dealing with an agent that may not be the right fit for you and your career. The decision to end a business relationship is always difficult and I hope that by having Jeremy here his story can help other writers that come to this point in their careers.
Jeremy, looking back, what were some of the signs that perhaps your relationship with your first agent wasn’t going to work out?
My first agent was a high-profile name, responsible for discovering some of the biggest authors in what was, at that time, my intended market. I was fortunate enough to have made several friends that were, or would shortly become, best-selling authors. One multi-published friend referred me to him with a recommendation and the agent took me on without hesitation. But after our initial contact, it was three to six months before he responded to me again. I was new to the business and still leaping for joy at my luck, but somehow, it still didn't seem right. I e-mailed my friends and found that both of them had found new representation, and they suggested I do the same.
How long did were you with your first agent before you let him/her go?
It was probably about a year, but it was a one-way conversation for the last six months of that year. I had e-mailed him several times, each was met with no response. Finally, I sent a very (hopefully) courteous e-mail that said that if I didn't hear back from him within the month, I would take that as a suggestion to seek representation elsewhere.
What did you learn from that first experience with an agent and were you able to take what you learned and apply it to the next agent relationship you had?
I had no official contract with my first agent. It was just a verbal agreement. That was my first lesson. The next lesson was to speak up for myself. My time was as valuable to me then as it is to me now, but I spent a whole year in limbo, afraid that complaining would jinx my luck.
It seems to me that communication is # 1 when working with an agent, do you agree and if so, what is your best suggestion for dealing with a difficult topic?
I do agree. When you communicate, I try to use a reasonable amount of humility and grace. I can almost guarantee that I will make more mistakes with my career than my agent will, so it seems only fair that I give them at least as much room to be wrong as I give myself.
A lot of people think that agents are not worth the trouble, do you think that is true? Would you ever submit a project or work with a publisher without an agent?
My second agent opened more doors for me than I could have opened on my own. When a publishing house passed on my first proposal, he convinced them to look at a second proposal—for a novel I hadn’t even finished. I couldn’t have gotten a second chance like that on my own, I don’t think. Can it be done without an agent? I’ve been told that it can, but it wouldn’t be my first choice.
How do you think, we as writers can better improve our working relationships with agents?
Again, I think it goes back to what I said before. We need to learn to take professional criticism with grace, and we need to stay humble in the face of success. It probably doesn’t hurt to follow half a dozen on them on Twitter, to learn some of the mutually shared peeves. I would hate to work with an agent for two or three years, only to find that some little quirk of mine made me an unpleasant client.
Last, but not least, what is your best piece of advice for up and coming authors as they step into the agent/author contract world?
Learn how to write a query letter for an individual agent. That means paying attention to what each agent wants from you and sending exactly that. Those of us who have been writing and submitting for a while know what it’s like to receive a rejection in the shape of a form letter. For agents, I suspect that it’s a little bit like the reverse of that. They might receive ten, fifty, or a hundred impersonal form-like queries at a time. I imagine that “To whom it may concern…” gets depressing after a while. When they’re sending out fifty or a hundred rejections a week, “Dear Sir/Madam,” is probably all they can manage and still stay sane, but for a writer, it doesn’t take nearly the same effort to just get the agent’s name correct.
Jeremy can be found on his blog, and below is a teaser of his current work! Definitely worth checking out.
Long Tail City is a steampunk tale that centers around the first-person narratives of Cage Donnagan, a blacksmith, wolf, and do-gooder. His adventures with Constance the gremlin, and their flying friend Emma, get them into all sorts of trouble with the Guild of Angels, winged would-be aristocrats.