Some Inappropriate Agent Behaviors: A Guide to Their Identification and Classification

So, dear little creatures, in the course of our tenure as an extremely intelligent, also modest, Assistant, we have encountered more than a few noble, talented Author-friends who are in recovery from encounters with Very Bad Agents. These sad persons relate horror stories of previous agents who signed them and then disappeared off the face of the earth, mismanaged their submissions, or otherwise did a Very Bad Job. Now! This is not surprising to us, that such things happen! Although 99.99% of agents are fabulous, dedicated, passionate, and savvy people who are a delight to work with, all agents are also human beings--meaning, like other human beings in other industries, they are very occasionally incompetent jerks. What IS surprising to us, however, is the degree to which these Author-friends will tolerate such abominable behaviors!

Author-friends, we KNOW it is a terrifying world out there, the world of publishing! We know it is intimidating and bewildering and there are ten bazillion TOTALLY CONTRADICTORY opinions all over the internet about how you should behave and how to write your book and what to do with it and how many words is it and courier or times new roman and if you use a comma wrong no one will ever talk to you again and if an actual agent actually calls you on your actual phone about your actual book maybe you will poop yourself &c&c&c. HOWEVER. Dear ones, that is NO REASON TO LET ANYONE TREAT YOU LIKE DOODY. Okay? OKAY. In effort to aid you, we have compiled a (not comprehensive or authoritative, okay? so don't get mad at us if we forgot one WE ARE TRYING TO HELP YOU CALM DOWN) general list of Inappropriate Agent Behaviors, so that you may identify them and act accordingly.

Please note we are not covering here Extremely Illegal "Agent" Behaviors. Preditors and Editors and Writer Beware are great resources if you wish to look into that topic. Please also note we are referring exclusively to behaviors exhibited by an agent with whom you have signed a contract. This patented Rejectionist analysis should not be applied to the query process. SHOULD NOT. NOT.

Inappropriate Agent Behaviors

1. Not Communicating. Different agents have different relationships with their clients (this is a great thing to ask about when you are first talking to someone interested in representing you). Some agents will return your emails within minutes; others will take a few days. However, your agent should be returning business-related emails in a timely manner. Your agent should be especially communicative if you have a project on submission. Everyone has unforeseen calamities, goes on vacation, has an off week, etc., but if your agent is consistently demonstrating a pattern of not responding to you, either you are emailing them too many intimate details of your personal life or something is up.

2. Not Being Clear About Your Submissions. You should know which editors have your book! Why yes you should! Many agents will ask their clients how MUCH they want to know about the submissions process--for example, if they want to see the actual rejection letters from editors, or just know that so-and-so passed; this is quite normal and is for your own mental well-being. But your agent should be open with you at all times about what's going on with your book, what said agent's plan may be if the first round of editors all pass (hint: "not return your emails anymore" is not an acceptable plan), and what s/he thinks your chances are for exciting possibilities like Pre-empts and Auctions.

3. Not Submitting Your Project to As Broad A List of Editors as Possible. This does NOT mean your agent should randomly send out your book to 9,000 editors at once; but s/he should have a solid first-round list of editors in mind for your book. There are exceptions to this; perhaps your book is entitled Hermeneutics of the Sith: Tattooine, Transference, and the Hegelian Dialectic, and your agent thinks said project is maybe only suited for Death Star Publications International. Or maybe you have written a collection of short stories without a novel even though the Rejectionist told you not to, and your agent is sending it out only to smaller, indie presses. Those would be reasonable exceptions to this rule. "I don't know that many editors" or "I didn't feel like it": not reasonable exceptions to this rule.

4. Raising the Pink Flags of Your Heart. We worked at a domestic violence shelter for many, many years, and in our Advocate Lingo referred to a sort-of-sketchy but not-exactly-terrifying behavior as a Pink Flag (as opposed to Red Flag. Get it? So clever!). Like, maybe you just feel weird. Maybe your agent doesn't seem very excited about your project. (REMEMBER YOUR AGENT IS ALSO READING EVERY OTHER CLIENT'S SPECIAL FLOWER OF A PROJECT SO GIVE HIM OR HER SOME TIME TO GET EXCITED OK??? OK.) Maybe your agent is kind of jerky. Maybe there is nothing you can put your finger on, but some little inner voice is tugging at your sleeve, muttering "SOMETHING IS WRONG." Look deep into your heart! Ask yourself, "Am I sending a lot of emails about my personal life? Am I making unreasonable demands of this person? Am I expecting my agent to provide mental health counseling/reassure me constantly that I am brilliant/hold my little Author-hand? Am I shouting at the noble, hardworking assistant on the telephone?" If the answer to these questions is "no," and you can SWEAR UP AND DOWN to the Rejectionist that you are behaving in an appropriate and professional manner, then listen to that little voice.