Sometimes I get questions about life, and sometimes I get questions about the politics of the writing business. Here’s one of the latter.
Dear Smart Bitch Sarah:
You’ve said that you won’t reveal the names of the people who write to you for advice, and I really hope that’s true. I’ve got a problem and I’m really not sure what to do. I have the most amazingly talented critique partner. I think she’s amazing, I love her writing – I can’t say enough good things about her.
The thing is, I think her agent just blows. We’re not represented by the same person, and I don’t want to upset my critique partner but some of the things her agent does are just awful. Her agent doesn’t respond to phone calls at all, and requires that she set up an appointment even to discuss an upcoming project by email. The agent is unsupportive of my CP’s ideas, and tells my CP not work on projects that I know specific editors are looking for. The agent encourages ideas that are not at all my CP’s strengths or interest, and seems totally out of touch with what’s going on in the market right now (which arguably isn’t much). Most of all, this agent does a number on my friend’s confidence every time they speak, and some of the things I’ve heard her agent say are just appalling.
I think my CP is starting to doubt her agent, but she’s also told me she’s terrified of having to hunt for another one, and figures she’s better off represented than not at all. I’ve tried to raise a few of my own questions and talk with her about what my agent and what our colleagues’ agents do that’s different and seems to be more effective, but I don’t think she wants to hear it.
I hate seeing her talent under represented and I don’t know how to get that through to her.
Fuming and Supportive
Oy. Oy and whoa. I can well understand her fears of not being without an agent, especially in a difficult publishing market, but if her agent is ringing your alarm bells, I don’t blame you for being concerned, especially if this agent is making your friend feel badly about herself and her writing.
Unfortunately, I think you’ve done all you can by telling her your doubts about her agent, and discussing the issue with her. If your CP is already feeling neglected and ill-used by her agent, you’ve probably given her more to think about. The decision is hers to leave and it doesn’t sound like she’s ready and willing.
It’s a lot easier for people outside the situation to recognize when two people ought to be together, working or otherwise, and when they should move on apart from one another. Fear and habit can keep a lot of people in a state of inertia. I don’t confess to always understanding the relationship between agent and writer but your letter doesn’t describe what I would want as a healthy working partnership. I think at this point, having brought it up and having listened to your CP’s concerns, your only option left is to remain her friend and hope she reaches a conclusion similar to your own: that she may be better off elsewhere.
While it’s certainly not fun to help your friend recover from any conversations with this agent that have left her doubting herself, your support and encouragement likely do a lot, and your continued presence as an enthusiastic critique partner may one day help her make a decision that could help her career.