“Yeah, I’m the agent, but you do it.” – The Great Passoff

There’s something that never ceases to puzzle me. If I have an agent, I expect them to, well, be my agent, and that means acting on my behalf, regardless of the feedback from an editor. But I’ve been noticing a troubling occurance of what I term The Great Passoff.

When I’m interested in a project, I request a full proposal. There is a protocol to proposals, which I wrote about in this blog post. This is basic, standard, run-of-the-mill stuff that every agent should have tattooed on their arms. And yet, I see proposals that make me wonder if the agent’s elevator reaches the top floor.

I know what it’s like to represent something, since I represent all my authors in some manner, shape, or form. If I have a request to send review copies of an author’s book to a major library book award, or to the producer of a TV show, I put out nothing but my very best. Why? ‘Cause I wanna sell the doggone book! Ostensibly, agents are no different.

And yet…many suck stale Twinkie cream. I’ve broken them down into categories:

Too Important

Ohhh, how these folks boil the tequila flowing in my veins. I’ve had the great honor of working with some very big agents, and they couldn’t be lovelier. But there are times when a big HooHa agent gets to believing their own press.  They seem to exude a certain je ne sai quoi: “Yes, ’tis I, The Great Agent, gracing uou – lowly editor – with my presence. And, hey, could you kindly bow before me because I am querying you? This means I don’t need to supply all those pesky things that will actually help you because, well, I am The Great Agent!”

Blah, blah, blah, they all suffer intestinal gas and burp after drinking a Pepsi just like us commoners. Few of us are impressed by the blathering of the self possessed. We need what we need because WE NEED IT. So what does Mr. Bloated Agent do? He performs the Great Passoff to his author. “You take care of it!” he bellows. This forces the author to contact me and possibly ask for a phone conversation in order to provide what was missing in the original proposal.

Mind you, we’re at the query stage, and I”m not looking for a phone conversation. It’s real simple; include the darn stuff in the proposal – which is the agents responsibility to ensure that it’s totally complete. This puts the author in an awkward position of doing the agent’s job. Gah!

Can’t Be Bothered

I’m not sure why these folks bother at all. They’re apathetic, and it’s amazing they make any sales at all. Their proposals – incomplete as they may be – are lifeless. They don’t care whether the Overview whets my appetite or makes my mouth run dry. They’re just going through the motions. I’m convinced they make sales quite by accident because it’s certain they did nothing to whip up excitement.

When I see something missing from their proposals, they usually tell me they don’t  normally include that information. Huh? I’m not talking about anything extraordinary. It may be that they didn’t include title comps/comparisons – which is vital stuff. This is when I reach a crossroad; am I interested enough to press them, or do I just reject it and move on?

If I push the issue, Mr. Can’t Be Bothered and passes it off to his author. Again, this forces the author to contact me – something I don’t want to do at this very premature stage.

Too Dumb To Cross the Street Unaided

Ohhh, the clueless agent – always a favorite because it amuses the beagle something awful. These types shouldn’t be allowed to get dressed without the aid of someone in possession of a brain. Thankfully these types don’t get in my way too much because I zap them before they can become too much of a nuisance.

These are the folks who query willy nilly. Reading the submission guidelines? “Duuuude, you, like, have submission guidelines? Totally missed it.”

As a result, they send me queries for works that are only 60 pages long, or they’re genres we don’t publish. I zap them all with my Dummy-Be-Gone spray the beagle bought me last Christmas.

But there are times when Mr. Clueless gloms onto something interesting. Can you please send me a full proposal, sez me. Wha’? sez they. Whatsa proposal? Title comps? Srsly? Promo plan? Gee, we didn’t write one of those…

Ah geez.

So I explain to them through gritted teeth, wondering why I’m bothering. Then they perform The Great Passoff. Their  author emails me and asks what I want, or “gee, can I call you?”

Hell no, you can’t call me! Aayiyiyiyi, the clueless leading the blind. This is when I usually pull the plug. It’s not worth the effort to educate not only an author, but her poor, stupid agent. Been there, done that. Soooo want to avoid that at all costs.

My point with all this is perception. Everyone wants to – or should want to – be perceived as being the consummate professional because the agent not only wants to sell the project, but set a good impression with the editor. If your agent performs The Great Passoff and puts the monkey on your back to provide the editor with information that’s lacking in the proposal, then you really have to wonder about which category your agent resides.

They REPRESENT you, so this means they should shoulder all the responsibility of providing the tools necessary toward aiding an editor. They get 15% of your take for their efforts, so I don’t think its right to be talking to you – as lovely as you may be – because your agent is too cool for school or his brain seeped out his ears during the night.

And you know what’s really funny – in a sick sort of way? These agents have all been men. Every. One. Of. Them. Weird, eh?

Be aware. Don’t permit The Great Passoff.

Edited to add:

I had some great questions that suggested I hadn’t offered any viable options as to how one avoids this. The short answer is, there isn’t any way to avoid this. If you have a fabulous agent who makes great sales but who may reside in the Too Cool For School category, then what to do?

Talk to your agent

They initiated a relationship with the editor, and it is they who should carry that through. Suggest that you’ll provide him with whatever the editor requested but urge him to maintain the agent/editor conversation.

Be a Good Girl Scout – Be Prepared

A great way to avoid all this is to be prepared in the first place. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, you really should write a book proposal. I know, it’s a bore and time consuming. But let’s say an editor asks to see title comps/comparisons for your YA. Novels don’t normally come with a book proposal because, well, you’re not “proposing” a book – you’ve already written it. It’s that reason I wish we’d call it something else, but I digress. That book proposal you wrote ‘way back already has the title comps/comparisons.

Same goes for your market, promo plan, and readership. So when Ms. McBitchy Editor asks to see title comps, your agent isn’t going to bug you because – ta dah! he already has it!

I’m not saying it’s perfect, but it cuts down on your exposure if your agent fits in one of the categories I mentioned above.

5 Responses to “Yeah, I’m the agent, but you do it.” – The Great Passoff

  1. Lauren says:

    The obvious question (for the writer who is trying to avoid being represented by one of the above)is: other than avoiding male agents what can one do?

  2. Good question, Lauren. Now why didn’t I think of that?? First off, I’d take serious umbrage with my agent if he tossed something back in my lap. I’d probably say something along the lines of, “Gosh, you’ve already established a relationship with the editor. How ’bout I send you the information and you submit it to her – or you insert it into the proposal?”

    If they demure, then, personally, I would worry about their commitment to my manuscript. Do they not care enough about my story and are content to do a half-assed job? Am I that insignificant that they won’t make my proposal something editors will like?

    This is standard stuff – agents should control the relationship up until the time the contract is signed.

  3. writtenwyrdd says:

    Horrors! I just wish there was an accurate BS-meter for the new authors who want to find an agent. Because (I presume) it’s a bit difficult-to-impossible due to legal issues to switch agents after they commit the Great Passoff.

  4. Voidwalker says:

    Have I mentioned that I love your angry posts lol. Tis good to hear and fun to read. You and the beagle can take the day off. 🙂

  5. > Because (I presume) it’s a bit difficult-to-impossible due to legal issues to switch agents

    I believe you can fire your agent, unless you signed a long term contract. But then you’ll have to start querying all over again. 😦

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