Saturday, August 05, 2006

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Agent Kristen over on Pub Rants recently posted about being suddenly and unceremoniously fired by one of her clients via certified letter. Apparently, she'd worked hard for this client and rightfully felt she'd at least deserved some warning that things were going awry.

The majority of comments on that blog entry concurred that it is the height of rudeness and incivility for an author to drop an agent via certified letter without first having a "Let's fix this" conversation. And many opined that authors who go this route are "extreme introverts" with "confrontation issues" that are obviously so pronounced, all they can do when it comes to the Big Breakup is completely forget their manners and toss certified letters at their unsuspecting agents ("Duck and cover! Fire in the hole!") as they scurry on their cowardly ways.

Agent Kristen does note that if your agent "isn't returning calls and e-mails, has embezzled your money, or is a drunk," then by all means, one should go the certified letter route and forget about firing a warning shot.

You know, if I were an agent--or if I were about to be fired by an agent--I'd want a letter and ONLY a letter. Letter, e-mail, Post-It, whatever. Because to me, the distance words on a page offer is infinitely preferable to a "civilized," in-your-face phone call delivering a painstaking blow-by-blow of all my transgressions since I thought wearing an oversized turtleneck and leggings was hot (What can I say? It was the eighties). Sure, I would want to know what led to my untimely demise, but seriously, does anyone need to listen to someone pontificate endlessly on the subject? By the end of any such conversation, I'd be hard-pressed to pretend to be sweet and understanding. At the very least, I'd be giving the phone the finger many times over and then angrily crunching the receiver back into its cradle in a final, passive-aggressive goodbye. (I'm not normally passive-aggressive, but in a business situation, you mostly have to be. If you want more business, that is.) Whereas a letter I can scan, shred into little pieces, and try to forget about is less ego-crushing.

To me, it's like ripping off a BandAid (a cliche', but a useful one in this case). Look the other way, do it fast, and eat some chocolate afterward--job well done. (If you're my daughters, there's a goofy little Spanish song about healing that goes somewhere in there, too.) In the case of dumping an agent or client (or even a clingy boyfriend/girlfriend for that matter): Don't draw it out, don't leave the door open to the possibility of getting back together, and don't give the agent or client (or clingy significant other) the opportunity to talk about what a weirdo you are because you took three days to deliver your "How much do I want out of this relationship? Let me count the ways" speech. But that's just me.

Another blog I read on the subject awhile back suggested TAKING YOUR AGENT OUT TO DINNER to do the dumping. Then, the author pretty much pointed out the flaw in his own advice (though he still stuck by it) by noting that the last time he did that, his agent talked him back into staying in the relationship.

Dude. Agents are persuasive individuals. That's why they are agents--they persuade others to buy their clients' work for large (or not so large) sums of money. If they don't want you to leave and you give them an opportunity to talk you out of it, you may end up NOT LEAVING. (And if you do end up leaving anyway, wouldn't that be the Most Uncomfortable Dinner EVER? For both of you? Something to replay in your mind over and over again while you crawl out of your skin with embarrassment on an hourly basis?)

Amusing, semi-related digression: When I met my current agent for the first time, before we officially launched our partnership, I was impressed by his credentials, his client list, his warm emails and seeming interest in my work. But I knew from talking to other clients of his that he was going to strongly suggest I write THE WHOLE BOOK for any single titles I was thinking about doing before he submitted them. That, my friends, was something I considered a deal breaker--I've always sold on partials, I know other people who broke out on a partial, and there was no way I was sweating over a full--possibly for nothing--with two kids under three underfoot when a partial could sell just as well, thankyouverymuch.

Well, I met him face-to-face before we both made a final decision about each other, and a few minutes into our conversation, he broke into his "A full manuscript is a gift to an editor" spiel. I can imagine him giving this one often and well, like the sports psychologist in the film The Natural doing his "losing is a disease" schtick, except the "full manscript=gift" talk was much more effective. By the time he got to the wrap-up, I was nodding my head, thinking, "Yeah! I'm going to write the whole manuscript! It's a gift! Why didn't I think of that? Can't wait!" And I'm hardly a pushover--overcoming my stubborn streak is somewhat like getting a large grizzly bear to go vegan. Consequently, once I realized what had happened, I knew we were a great match. (I'm imagining editors all over NYC responding to his powers of persuasion like I did: "I love your client's work. It's better than Cats. I want to read it again and again." What's not to love about that?)

Anyway, all that said, I do see Agent Kristen's point of view--if your agent has been responsive, working hard for you, and is generally a decent person, then giving her some sort of warning is the civilized way to go. But it can't be said enough that if your reason is troubling behavior--"My agent doesn't return my calls or emails/doesn't seem enthusiastic about my writing/won't tell me where she's sending my stuff/is mean to me/etc." (I haven't heard anyone say her agent is embezzling money or is a drunk, but I would include those excuses as well.)--I think avoiding an in-person or telephone cataloguing of said agent's transgressions is the best course of action. Write that letter, toss it with all your might, and scurry away to your happy place as a writer.


Jen said...

I can actually see both points of view. Point by point arguements about "Why this isn't working" don't always come out very well. I don't know. Depending on how intimidated I was by the agent, I may do the same thing.
But then, the agent has a right to a heads up that it's not working. If I send two emails complaining that I'm feeling "ignored" or "bullied" and get little or no response, I would hope an agent wouldn't be surprised by a "Thanks but no thanks."

M Monkou said...

Unless you're passive/aggressive, the agent has a clue that she is not making you happy. It may take a dose of humility and objectivity to recall certain conversations and/or reactions as the clues that You-the Agent-are not meshing with me.

I'm on my third agent. The first one was a hand-wringing experience about whether to cut the relationship. The second one, I hung on as long as I logically could, but cutting the relationship got so much easier.

I'm still in the honeymoon phase with my current agent. She's my agent, we have a pleasant business relationship, but she's not my bud. I don't have to hear about the man in her life, her other authors, or her blase attitude to my work.

Life is good! Tracy - hang on if it's a good thing for you. Otherwise, get that certified letter ready.


Tracy Montoya said...

Thanks for stopping by, Michelle! (I usually don't take this long to acknowledge comments. I just had a month of burnout. It's over now!)

And I just made a switch and couldn't be happier. The etiquette of the whole thing still puzzles me, but I'm moving on. : )

Tracy Montoya said...

Jen, here's hoping you find an agent that doesn't intimidate, ignore, or bully you! (We should all have that.)

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Tracy Montoya writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue.

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