Wednesday, March 09, 2011

When to Part ways With your Agent w/ Elizabeth Engstrom

First off, I'd like to thank Elizabeth for taking time out of her very busy schedule to answer a few questions for me. I truly hope this helps all aspiring writers when it comes to "The Agent" as no doubt the excitement often overwhelms the cautions we should take.

The first question I’d like to ask you is, looking back, what were some of the signs that perhaps your relationship with your first agent wasn’t going to work out?

The first sign was that she charged a reading fee. When she agreed to waive that, I got an eight-page contract of fine print. Both of those should have been red flags, but I was so desperately delighted that any agent would represent me that I was ready and willing to sign anything. Here's what I know now: If you're good enough to get the attentions of one agent, you've got that certain something that they're looking for. You don't have to sign with the first one who woos you. Hold out for someone you really enjoy working with, because the agent/author relationship is legal and contractual. Getting a divorce is neither easy nor pleasant. You want it to last for the long haul.

How long did were you with your first agent before you let him/her go?

She only represented my first book. We had a parting of the ways over my second when I realized she really had no familiarity with the genre I was working in.

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?

Alas, like most beginning writers, I had serious confidence problems and didn't believe that I would ever get another agent. I fell back into the desperation trap and hooked up with another agent who wasn't very good for me. It took me a couple of tries to find a good fit. But eventually, I found him.

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?

Don't shy away from it. Bite the bullet and ask the tough questions. You might not like what you hear, but it's infinitely better than what your imagination is telling you.

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?

I have sold books without an agent, but it's not my favorite way to do things. My agent can say: "This is the best book I've read in a decade." I can't say that about my own work. It's also difficult for me to know what the going rate is, since I'm not swimming in those waters all the time, so I can't negotiate a good contract with any confidence. I'm happy to pay an agent to know that side of the business so I can concentrate on my writing.

How do you think, we as writers can better improve our working relationships with agents?

Consider him or her your business partner. You may be the one who pays the agent for their services, but never think of them as employees. Know your place in the hierarchy of the agency. Don't demand 90% of an agent's time when you're paying 1% of their overhead. On the other hand, let them know you're loyal, hard working and want to have a hand in how they handle your career. Stay focused, stay involved, but don't be a pest.

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?

Timing is everything. You're young, you've got lots of stories to write, many books to write. Concentrate on your writing and your career will take care of itself. Let your agent do his/her work without you micromanaging it. Stay in contact, be respectful, and if at all possible, do some business in person. An agent and an editor and a publicist (and anybody else) will work harder for you if they know you in person, instead of just another manuscript.

Be sure to check out Liz's new book, York's Moon

York’s Moon is an unconventional murder mystery, a love story and the story of the little guy fighting city hall and winning. Sort of.

1 comment:

Shoshanna Evers said...

Good post, thanks for sharing your experience!