Literary Agents: Top Ten Ways to Make or Break that Relationship, Number 4, The Agent as Friend (when that is possible)


This will be a short post. Business and friends don’t work, right? No smart business person is ever in bed with a dear friend, because you can’t bitch at a dear friend (or sue a dear friend) if they (or you) screw up. Right?

Well, no. Wrong.

I’ve been friends with both of my agents. I like them both personally. I trust them both. They are both ethical, bright, charming, and good at their jobs. They shared me for the Rogue Mage books. Yeah. They shared me. (laughing) Agent One, my mystery/thriller agent, didn’t rep fantasy. He knew this bright, very good agent (Agent Two) who did, and when I started writing fantasy, he called her for me. They worked out a deal for me. And my career moved forward. That is what agents do, they make a writer’s career move forward even at a loss to themselves. That is also what friends do, make sacrifices for friends. Defend friends. Give friends the benefit of the doubt and work to make the relationship stronger. And sometimes step away to allow a friend to move forward.

If our wanna-be-published writers here at MW are ever offered a contract (paper or handshake) with an agent, make sure you and the agent “click”. Talk on the phone. Talk in person. Ask questions of that person, make sure your personalities and your vision of your future mesh. That is almost as important as how many foreign rights agents and west coast agents the primary agent works with. And if you do, someday, have to move on? It will hurt. It will be like a divorce. You will lose sleep, and agonize, and ache over it.

Fortunately I have not had to make that break. I am very happy where I am. Because my friend, Agent One, introduced me to my friend, Agent Two. How do the rest of you feel about agents as friends?

See? Short!

 TOP TEN list (revised)

  1. The agent as Negotiator — The Agent as Bad Cop to your Good Cop
  2. The Agent as Superman/Superwoman
  3. The Agent at Cons
  4. The Agent as Friend (when that is possible)
  5. When to Send Prezzies: (cards or gifts and what works and what doesn’t)
  6. When to Expect Your Agent to Drop Everything and Return Your Call/Email
  7. When the Agent Says No (to a new project after you have signed with and worked with him/her for a while)
  8. Know When to Say Goodbye: (when your agent has more problems than you do: Alzheimer’s, health issues, mental issues, drug abuse, bringing in the next {but flakey or dishonest} generation to run the family biz, refusing to pay royalties, lawsuits, and lots of other crazy stuff)
  9. Miscellaneous Stupidities (firing an agent improperly, dividing royalties, divided loyalties, having a big mouth, etc.)
  10. Keep the Agent in the Loop (and the times I failed at this)





17 comments to Literary Agents: Top Ten Ways to Make or Break that Relationship, Number 4, The Agent as Friend (when that is possible)

  • Thanks for the words of wisdom, Faith! It’s great to hear that not only is it possible to be friends with an agent, but that it’s also possible to continue a friendship despite a “breakup”. I guess it all depends on who the people are. It’s encouraging to note that your agent was willing to encourage your career, even if that meant introducing you to a different agent who could help you go in the direction you wanted.

    Question, though: if you’re an unpublished author and you find an agent that is willing to rep your work (and would do it well), would you decline representation simply because the chemistry isn’t right? Can first-time authors afford to do that?

    Take care, and I hope I’ll be needing this series soon! 😀 ~Scribe

  • I have a strange, I wouldn’t call it failing, exactly, where I consider most people I meet and spend more than a passing moment with friends to varying degrees, unless they give me reason not to feel that way. Friends as in, I’d help them move if they needed help. It’s weird and must stem from my major lack of friends throughout my school years. Then again, I’m just pretty easy-goin’ by nature.

  • Totally agree, Faith. Signing with an agent is about your career, your life. It’s not about selling one book. You have to be able to communicate. That said, and partly in response to LScribe, getting an agent is so hard that I’d be wary of not signing because you didn’t “click” right away. In agenting, as in life, relationships get only so far based on initial connection. Much of the really durable bonds are forged by shared experience, by the histories you build together. Of course, if you don’t trust each other’s instincts (in matters of either aesthetic judgment or business practices) or just don’t trust each otehr personally, you should probably be looking elsewhere. Thanks for this series, Faith. Very helpful.

  • LSH — By *click* I didn’t mean you have to, well, fall in love with them. But you have to get an internal feeling that this is a good, nice person, someone who will be straight up with you, who will listen to you (and not interupt every 5 seconds telling you what they want you to hear instead of what you are asking), who will answer your questions, who will take time with you. Someone with empathy. If they don’t click with you, they likely don’t click with editors and may not be the best agent to work with you. Listen to your gut. Listen to the creative part of you. That will give you an idea. And while it is hard to walk away from the only bird in your hand, instinct is often right and that bird may turn out to be a problem. Just sayin’.

  • Daniel, you are a nice person, and likely create nice feelings in others. You likely click with a lot of people. In cases like yours, a good search of E&P is a great idea!

  • AJ, I admit that turning down the bird in the hand is hard, and maybe not wise, but I’ve made some bad decisions by not listening to my gut. If something inside me said *NO!*, I’d listen. Even in this market.

  • mudepoz

    Ah. One of my bestfriends is our agent. He cleans, totes water, gets my checks cut, holds the grooming tools, oh, WAIT, you mean book agent. Never mind, he just gets our dog gigs. He is a friend, though. (Heh, I do feel sorry for him when he arranges a puppy shoot, though.) Never mind.

  • Hey all! I’m safely in California, though feeling jetlag worse than ever before. I must be getting old. Anyway, as to today’s post — two things. 1) Even if you don’t click on the level of friends, you must click in terms of a business relationship. Withouth that, I don’t care how great the agent is or how newbie you are — it won’t work. You won’t feel comfortable with the agent’s work and the agent won’t be putting his/her best effort into your work. 2) When things do click, alway be aware that this is a business relationship. I was (and still am) good friends with my former agent. That friendship overshadowed the business relationship to the point that when we both knew we should break off the author/agent relationship, it took us at least a year (if not longer) to actually do what needed to be done.

  • Still laughing about Faith being shared by her agents. *ahem* Great series, Faith. I don’t have anything insightful to add or immensely ponderous to ask. Lately I’ve just been coming by to read and throw up a comment (ugh, that sounds gross).


  • Faith, Sounds like your first agent was a smart one as well as an ethical one. He didn’t rep fantasy and he knew it. If he had tried and bungled it, it would have soured the entire relationship. It’s not easy to admit you’re NOT good at something, but it is smart, and so is your agent.

  • Mud, I must admit that I never asked my agent to pick up puppy poo. 🙂

    Stuart, this is true. You have to know when to hold and when to fold em, and when to walk away. And when your pal is the card-dealer, it can be difficult to walk away. The business relationship *does* have to come first. Good point!

    NGD — 🙂

    Edmund, my first agent — woh still handles my mystery stuff, though Lucienne is fully capable of that herself — is a great guy. We’ve had issues over the years from time-to-time, but the ability to talk through them was wonderful.

  • I find that the people in my life greatly affect my quality of life. No surprise there. Those people include friends, family, people I work with, people at the coffee shop I go to.

    So, I figure, why not surround myself with people that I like, if I have a choice. A few bad apples can make me miserable, even if I can gain much from my relationship with them otherwise. I’ve left very well paying jobs because of the difficult people I had to work with there, and my general sense of happiness improved greatly because of that.

    I’d fear that a bad relationship with one’s agent, editor, publisher or whomever could destroy the joy associated with writing, and drive one to be an accountant or something (no offense to those that enjoy accounting…it’s just not for me)

  • Exactly, Roxanne. I’ve talked with agents (who were slyly poaching) and got real bad feeling from them. Even if I didn’t have an agent, I’d have a hard time signing with them. That bird in the hand isn’t worth much if it’s a rotting bird. We all need good people around us — agents included. Or maybe agents most importantly!

  • I really like this post, because I like to be a positive person whenever possible. But the problem with that is that sometimes I can be too trusting. Do you have any examples of what constitutes a “bad feeling”?

  • If you ask a question, and the agent prevaricates, or dithers, or talks around and doesn’t give you specifics, and when you try to pin them down, they still don’t give you specifics, then you should be getting a bad feeling.

    Q. What European countries is your agency allied with?
    A. Oh, all of them!
    Q. Welllll, do you have someone in France? Germany? Estonia?
    A. Oh yea, we have all of them!

    Like that. That should give you a bad feeling!

  • I’ve had two agents and both have been good friends. This relationship — author-agent — perhaps more than any other, is dependent on trust. Trust in a business sense, trust in an artistic sense. This isn’t to say that all authors are friends with their agents, but I have felt throughout my career that the friendships I’ve enjoyed with my first agent and then with Lucienne, have helped me enormously.