If you have an agent, then why are you querying?

This is short and sweet: If you have an agent, then why are you querying?

I’ve received two queries this week from authors who mention that they have agents, and their names. Now this just makes me do the blink blink thing. So again I ask, If you have an agent, then why are you querying?

I will put this very simply: This is unprofessional.

For starters, why bother with an agent if you’re going rogue? To whom do I answer? What purpose does your agent serve?

This sort of thing reminds me when a friend of mine had her first baby. She was grumbling over paying him. “The nurses told me when to push, gave me meds when I needed them. They were with me the entire way. The doctor rushed in long enough to catch the baby.”

While docs may get away with this, agents don’t let the author do all the work so they can rush in and “catch the baby.”


Going rogue like this creates a lot of confusion for me. And we all know that I confuse easily.

Authors have contacted me saying that they really appreciated my crits when their agent previously queried me. They have told me how they rewrote their books based on what I had to say – and could they please re-send the rewrites. That’s really lovely my thoughts were appreciated, but those crits were forwarded to you BY YOUR AGENT. Not me. You and I don’t have a dialogue; your agent and I do.

First off, if you did a rewrite, then those rewrites need to be approved BY YOUR AGENT. Once s/he approves them, s/he re-queries if that is the agreed-upon strategy. If you contact me directly, I have no way of knowing if your agent has even seen your rewrites. Just who is running this insane asylum?

I’ve seen situations where the agents have told their authors, “You are free to query the smaller commercial presses, and I’ll concentrate on the big six.” I’ll leave it up to your imagination as to how this ‘tude would set with a smaller commercial press. Either the agent reps you or they don’t. This isn’t Let’s Make A Deal, and I can tell you that I will be underwhelmed if your agent has given you this kind of arrangement. Do you really want to face a new query with an already-irritated editor?

It’s A Protocol Thang

I know many authors are rolling their eyes because they will perceive this post as my being a Ms. Snobby Pants. But ask my mother – she’ll attest that I may be a number of things, but snobby ain’t one of ’em. Don’t ask the beagle – she’ll say anything as long as there’s booze in it for her.

Truly, this isn’t about being elitist, but about making the query process easier. If I’m dealing with the GIC (Guy In Charge), then I know to whom to direct my questions or crits. If I’m being directed back and forth, chances are I’ll lose interest.

Bottom line: If you have an agent, let them agent you. If you would like your agent to re-query an editor, then discuss it with them, and let them take the proper steps. Why? Because he has to re-sell you and re-familiarize the editor to your story.

If you have an agent who is happy to let you query on your own, I would seriously question how invested they are in your book.

Your job is to let your agent do what s/he does best. Wait it out by writing something new, but please avoid contacting the editor. It’s tacky smacky.

I know

19 Responses to If you have an agent, then why are you querying?

  1. kimkircher says:

    You just have to face it. You have fans. And when those fans’ agents are not getting their work to you, they feel they have to take matters into their own hands. Nice job of clarifying the chain of command.

  2. Fans? Moi? Oh dear, must check out to see what the beagle has been up to again.

  3. NinjaFingers says:

    She’s been handing out margaritas again.

  4. Laura W. says:

    I think the problem is that some authors just don’t understand the publishing business. They aren’t querying you because they’re unprofessional or rude; they’re just…ignorant. Not that that’s a good thing, but it’s better than rude or unprofessional. Then again, maybe they’re overeager. If they don’t understand the purpose an agent serves, they wouldn’t think twice about wanting to open a dialogue with you directly. If they read this post, they’d be as confused as you are.

  5. Digital Dame says:

    This is like getting a real estate agent to sell your house, then contacting the buyers to work out terms on your own, or suddenly doing a FSBO. It may not be illegal, but it’s a little unethical. And that agent sure isn’t going to want to bother with you again.

  6. Lev Raphael says:

    It may be unethical, tacky, and antinomian for all I know, but I suspect that in some cases, it’s an attempt by authors who are dissatisfied with their agents to start to pull away. They’re putting out feelers, as it were. I know it bothers you, Lynn, but the authors doing it might be more hip to the business than you suspect. I confess: I was very unhappy with one agent who was so slow that editors would ask, “Is he dead?” No joke! As an experiment, I tried an essay/memoir collection myself and sold it in less than a month. That was one of the major reasons I left Agent Turtle. I realized I could get more done on my own.

  7. I totally hear you, Lev. I can always count on you to bring a dissenting view to agents and their uses because you’ve lived it – and I respect that. But I maintain that if an author is dissatisfied with their agent, they need to part ways. Authors simply can’t go rogue and pitch their own books while represented by an agent. It invites confusion for the editor, and we confuse easily enough as is.

  8. Lev Raphael says:

    I don’t think of it as a dissent so much as presenting the other side. You have to remember, Lynn, that leaving an agent can be scary. Many authors feel like the agent is the only thing between them and the abyss. So they take baby steps away sometimes rather than making a clean break. That doesn’t mean it’s not annoying on your end as an editor. But there are sometimes very good reasons for an author to act in a way that might look unprofessional.

  9. Mats Andersson says:

    Look, most people have simply no clue how business works, nor of the utter havoc wreaked on the best-laid plans when there is no clear ownership of issues. I’ve had rather large projects crash down on me, staffed by pros simply doing what they were best at, for ignorance of this. So they’re not trying to pull out of an agency deal, or trying to cut out the middle man, or anything of the sort. They’re simply unaware of how to behave, and why.

  10. Dissenting opinion/presenting the other side – same-same in my book. I appreciate authors’ fear about leaving their agents may entice them into unprofessional behavior, but I see my hands as being tied while they remain represented.

    As sad and awful as it sounds, it’s not my problem. If I go behind the agent’s back, then I open myself up to all kinds of finger-pointing and accusations – whether it’s warranted or not. There is a reason things are done the way they are, and editors have neither the time nor energy to parse an author’s personal tribulations.

    As an example, I contacted one of the agents who reps one of these rogue authors. The agent had passed along my crits to the author, and the author took it upon herself to do rewrites based on my crits. She then contacted me personally, even though I’d never dealt with her before on a personal level – only her agent.

    The agent wasn’t happy. Not only did he not agree with her rewrites, but he told me he had no intention of re-querying me with the rewritten version. Now, I suppose if I’d decided to read the work and liked it, and offered her a contract, there would be no harm, no foul. But the agent lost all control, and we basically struck a backroom deal behind the agent’s back – something that won’t enhance my reputation.

    So, whatever the reason an author is going rogue, it doesn’t matter. It’s troublesome for all kinds of reasons, and that’s why I’m trying to warn authors who are tempted to try this to re-think their decision.

    And Pelo, you guessed wrong about authors who perpetuate these rogue deals are simply unaware. Interestingly enough, I had an author of many books who’d sold millions of copies do this to me very recently. She claimed that she “wasn’t sure” if this was cool or not. Admittedly, she was breaking out of her past genre, but hey, publishing is publishing, bably, and I couldn’t help but judge her a bit more harshly, even though she was a lovely woman.

  11. Lev Raphael says:

    Lynn, I wasn’t trying to vitiate the impact on you in any way, because of course it puts you in a lousy position and make a mess.

    I was just trying to speak up for authors. Until you’ve been unhappy in your representation and felt trapped and scared and disappointed, you can’t really know how it feels, and what it might drive people to do.

  12. Lev, I think you bring up an important point. Authors should never feel trapped with their agent or publisher. There are always choices, and if your gut is telling you that they aren’t working in your best interests, then it’s up to you to take control.

  13. Add to the mix how impatient authors can be and it gets very messy.

    Publishing is a slow business. Nothing happens for ages, then suddenly it’s on!

    I’m wondering how ‘real’ these agents are if the writers think it’s their job to contact publishers? I can understand in some cases where a writer gets a pub deal and then looks for an agent – telling the agent they already have a deal in the hope of getting representation.

    But the other way around? A mix of desperate, silly or being unethical. I can see why you’d have alarm bells ringing.

  14. Kelley says:

    “Authors should never feel trapped with their agent or publisher. ”

    No. But sometimes we do, and I don’t think it’s a rarity. Once upon a time, a large-ish publisher asked for my book. I had no agent. I sent it. Then, eventually, I did and he knew of the situation. Said it was cool, he would take over. But, surprise, once I signed my agent wouldn’t deal with that publisher. Refused.

    Large-ish wasn’t good enough.

    And if I wanted my book anywhere but Large and Extra Large, I had to do it myself, he said.

    Um. That was so unfair, I said. I want my book in the best house for it and me. Maybe that’s a Big Six, maybe it’s a small press. I don’t know. But I can’t get my book into the Big Six without him. And since he’d already subbed them, if I fired him or pulled it the book was dead. No agent would take it on then.

    Did I kill all my chances but the one? Or let him kill the one? Damn skippy, I felt trapped, and he just kept saying he thought he was doing the best for my career and pocketbook.

    So. Long story short, I tried to play professionally. The editor became insulted. He wouldn’t touch her responses with a ten foot pole, and she wouldn’t deal with me because I had an agent now. SO. UNFAIR.

    There’s differences. A writer who goes behind their agents back is wrong. A writer who wants the best for their book, but is in disagreement w their agent on what that is, and their options have been limited for them, I don’t know. It’s different to me?

  15. Kelley says:

    (And I know this is getting OT, but, writers? TALK TO THE OFFERING AGENT ABOUT THIS BEFORE YOU SIGN. How will they sub your book? Will some agents just tell you what you want to hear? Sure. Some accountants will fudge your taxes and some dentists will overbill you. Every industry has their asshats. But know what you want for your career and ask. Ask. Ask. Ask.)

  16. Lev Raphael says:

    Lynn, how many agents have you yourself had? Because I can tell you from experience that no matter how many bases you think you’ve covered in the “interview” process, you can always get blindsided by something the agent decides to do or decides not to do. And that’s not based on what’s happened to me; I’ve heard the same thing from many authors.

  17. Kelley says:

    Agreed. I’ve had that experience as well. And you don’t even need to be blindsided, Lev. The agent (and writer) can decide they don’t want to do something at any point. I can write another book, doesn’t mean they’ll sub it, never mind like it. And even if they sub it, that they’ll agree to send it where I want.

    The key is supposed to be that you’ve hired someone you trust, that they make these decisions because they’re being made in your best interest. A lot can go wrong there, tho, and it doesn’t even have to be nefarious. Sometimes you can just disagree, but you’re still stuck not being able to submit on your own without insulting people, regardless.


    The frustrating part is I could fire my agent, submit my book agentless, get an offer, and sign with an agent to negotiate that offer, only to have that agent tell me that they would never have gone w that pub in the first place, and wants to shoot for the Big Six next book. It happened to my good friend…

    It all seems no win sometimes.

  18. Lev asked:
    Lynn, how many agents have you yourself had?

    I’ve never had an agent. We pubbed both my books because they fit in with our lineup. But I’m working on a romantic comedy that definitely doesn’t fit in with our lineup, and I will need an agent.

    That said, I’ve worked with quite a few agents with our company, and I’ve only had one sour experience. My authors appear extremely happy with their agent’s abilities. And that opinion isn’t unique. I’ve talked to thousands of authors over the years at conferences, and most are happy with their choices.

    I know there are plenty who have really suffered – and I’ve heard a lot of horror stories as well. To be honest, the horror stories were about the so-called “super agents.” Weird, no?

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