Leaving my first agent was the hardest decision I’ve ever made. Looking back at it now, it was unequivocally the right decision, but at the time I didn’t know that. All I did know was that after years of querying, I finally had an agent and the idea of taking that step back was enough to send my anxiety spiraling. I was with my first agent for nearly two years, but I think mentally I was ready to leave after the first. It took 8+ months of stressing out and looking at the decision from all angles before I finally left.
A note here before I get more into specifics: I’m not going to name my first agent so please don’t ask me to. They have clients who are very happy with them and others who have made their frustrations known. You can find people discussing their experiences with agents and more on sites and forums like Absolute Write. Picking an agent is a lot like settling down in a relationship–what works for some people doesn’t work for others.
So there were a few red flags that happened before I left that I didn’t recognize as red flags at the time. I want to talk about those in today’s blog post not to trash talk or rant but to help other authors who might find themselves in a similar situation. Since leaving my first agent, I’ve interned at two literary agencies and signed with my own brilliant agent, so I’ve gotten a lot of insight about what, exactly, agents do and don’t do.
The first red flag was that I was never really sure what was going on. I signed with this agent on one manuscript and finished another shortly after. We agreed that the second manuscript was stronger and did a few small edits before it went on submission. Beyond that, I didn’t really know what was happening with it or what the submission strategy was. On the surface, this is fine–some authors don’t want details, some do. I’m definitely in the latter camp. The red flag was that I asked for more details several times and was never given any more information.
Specifically, I remember during an in person meeting, I asked if there was any news and my agent told me that we’d just gotten a rejection. This was probably about six months after we’d gone on submission so I assumed there had been other rejections and, after six months of distance, I had the clarity to see the flaws in this manuscript and I was ready to dig back in and edit. I knew enough to know that editors usually gave reasons for their rejections and that those could be handy to keep in mind while I edited. But when I asked my agent for them, I was told that there were reasons (and I assume from other editors as well) but that she couldn’t find them at the moment but they weren’t really important and we were going to keep submitting it as it was.
Just to reiterate–it’s fine to be kept in the dark about submission stuff, if you want to be. I repeatedly asked to be looped in and was rebuffed, which was the first big sign that it was not a great fit.
The editorial issue was another big sign. There are two kinds of agents when it comes to this–editorial agents and non-editorial agents. It’s fairly self-explanatory and again, a personal preference. I will say, though, that it’s tough out there for debut authors–especially in saturated markets like YA–and your manuscript usually needs be pretty close to perfect by the time it goes on submission in order to get an editor’s attention. Agent Laura ended up doing two pretty sizable edits with me before we went on submission and I don’t think Ash Princess would have sold without them.
The biggest red flag, and the reason I ultimately left, was that there was a lack of communication. While this agent was responsive when I first signed with them, it got to the point where weeks or months would pass before I got a reply to an email. This is the most important thing I want to talk about because I thought this was normal. Sure, maybe when you’re Leigh Bardugo your agent gets back to you in a few hours or days, but I hadn’t even sold a book yet and I’m sure my agent was busy with her other clients and
No. Not normal. It should not take your agent months to get back to you. You shouldn’t feel like you’re annoying them by checking in. No. If that’s the case, you need to have a serious talk with your agent.
TL;DR: Signing with an agent is the start of a partnership. There are different styles of agents for different styles of author and what works for one person might not work for you. But no matter what, communication is key.
Also, if you’re querying you should check out my agent, Laura Biagi. She’s pretty phenomenal.