Scott Phillips is an excellent writer (The Ice Harvest, Cottonwood) with a strange and entertaining blog called Pocketful of Ginch. Scott recently posted about his agent’s refusal to submit his most recently completed work to publishers, as she found it “offensive.” (Scott’s term.)

Yesterday I read an interview with James lee Burke, where he tells of his agent receiving 111 rejections of The Lost Get Back Boogie, the book that earned him a Pulitzer Prize nomination when it finally saw print. (Previous agents had rolled up their own impressive totals.

Here’s my question: How much of a two-way street should the author-agent relationship be? If an agent agrees to represent your “work,” should the author not be able to infer this means “all of your work.” Authors sign exclusivity agreements with agents; we can’t shop individual books around to different agents. If agents can cherry pick which book they feel like representing, should they then be entitled to come back later in the process, read the contract, and collect their 15%? Or should this be grounds for severing the relationship?

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My experience is also limited, Dana, but I think you're right that it's good to talk to an agent and find out a little about their expectations as well. In the case of my agent she accepts that the best case scenario for my books is a slow burn at best. So far sales have been very low but reviews quite good. The hope is that someday there will be sales but everyone involved (me, agent and editors) is okay with the idea it will take a few more books, if it happens at all.

Now, he can speak to it himself, but Grant McKenzie who's also member of Crimespace, has the same agent and I think the expectations (and results so far, good for Grant!) are for a lot more sales and bigger advances than I'm getting. At the moment I'm not worried that if I don't get the kind of foreign deals and advances Grant gets that my agent will drop me, but that's mostly because we talked about that stuff up front. I didn't sign with an agent who was full of big talk of huge advances and big foreign deals because I really don't think my books are that type of book at all and I felt the chances were really high that I would get dropped.
I should have gone into more detail with her before I signed up, but I was caught up in what IJ mentioned above: new writer, an enthusiastic New York agent, where do I sign?

I have no qualms with her efforts with the big houses, but I always figured I've have to build a readership, and I don;t think she had the kind of patience I did for the long term slog. That's not a rap on her--I'm sure she's been successful that way--but I should have aksed about, and considered, that going in.

Oh well. This is how we learn.
I suspect my situation is similar to yours, Dana. It raises other problems, such as demanding a high advance while retaining subsidiary rights. Mind you, in my case, the firm has worked diligently to sell those subsidiary rights and made me some money in the process. But the downside is that the publisher's profits become smaller and you may find your series canceled. All of this becomes moot if the book catches on. At that point everyone is happy.
This is a simple one--agents are in business to make money, and if they feel sending out a book will damage their own reputations, then they're well within their rights not to do it. Agents are only going to get editors to read their submissions if they're sending appropriate submissions--if they're wasting an editors time with a submission, they lose that relationship. Of course, it's also possible the agent is trying to help Phillips own reputation by not sending out an unsellable book (as Charles Willeford's agent tried to do by refusing to send out Grimhaven--probably Willeford's best book, but it would have cost Willeford his commercial success).

I loved Cottonwood--maybe this book is just as good and Phillips needs to find another agent that he connects better with. Or maybe he needs to take a hard look at what he's written and figure out whether the agent has a valid point. But it sounds to me like the agent is just doing his or her job.


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