Sunday, March 20, 2011

When Your Agent Isn't Feeling the Love

Q: I am agented and my agent has sold several books for me. But he told me last week that he really doesn't like my latest book and he doesn't think he can sell it. I don't know what my next step should be. I really like working with him and trust his opinion, but I have to say... I love this book and it might be my favorite thing I've written. And he hates it??? Ack. My confidence has really taken a hit. I'm freaked out. What do I do?
Oh sweetie, this is a tough one.

The fact of the matter is, no matter how sympatico a client and agent might be in terms of taste and and personality, there are bound to be some occasions where you don't quite see eye-to-eye. This is normal, and OK. Agents aren't always right... but by the same token, manuscripts aren't always good.

Sometimes your agent will advise you to drop a project because it is something that they think they cannot sell. Other times they are thinking of your career as a whole, and how this book might be problematic for you in a big picture way. Or they think that this particular effort is just not good enough, and they want you to always put your best foot forward. And of course, sometimes they simply don't get it, are dead wrong and missing the boat.

In any event, getting an agent was likely a relatively fraught process to begin with. You may have a lot of time invested in this relationship, and it isn't something you want to throw away. But you need your agent to be out there confidently representing you and your work, and if he HATES it... well, that's no good.

So I think you need to do a gut-check.

1) You adore this manuscript. Why? Do you love it so much because it is truly the best you've written, or is it a pet topic or theme that you might have an attachment to for some personal reason, but that other people may not "get"?

2) Have you shown it to trusted crit partners or beta readers? Ones who tell the truth? Have they also had reservations, or have they loved it as much as you do?

3) After a day (or three), having had the chance to calm down and breathe, have you had a heart-to-heart conversation with your agent? Does he ACTUALLY hate it, or were you over-reacting? Does he have a problem with the topic, or the execution, or does he object because he thinks it will be bad for your career, or what? Does he think it is unredeemable, or does he just think it needs some work and the problems he sees are possible to tweak with revision?

4) Would he be willing to at least shop it a few places, perhaps editors you've had close calls with in the past? Maybe if the book starts to get good feedback from editors he trusts, it will make the him feel more excited about the possibilities, and more comfortable sending it widely. Alternatively, maybe if the project gets BAD feedback, it will be enough to convince you to chill out on it for a while or rework it.

5) Do you really trust your agent? Do you think that he has generally good taste and good advice?

6) Are you willing to put this manuscript away for a while, or perhaps forever?

If the answers are YES this is really the best book you've written, YES your unbiased readers agree, YES you've had a talk with your agent, but NO he doesn't think you should bother revising, and NO he won't send it out, and most of all NO you don't trust his judgment and NO you aren't willing to set the book aside... well then it is time to part ways. I'm sorry. It's a sucky situation to be in.

But the good news is, if having to find a new agent is the worst thing in your world, you are lucky. And if your manuscript is really that damn-hell awesome, you'll have no problem getting a new agent.

Otherwise it is probably a good idea to work on something new and let this one rest for a while. Then later, try coming back to the project with fresh eyes. See if you still feel so strongly about it, and if any of your agent's comments made sense. Perhaps you will decide to revise, or if you can't revise it, maybe you can cannibalize it for parts. Whatever you do, remember that any manuscript you write, whether you sell it or not, is something you will learn and grow from as a writer. No manuscript is a waste.