None of that surprised me. I remain nonplussed by the accusation that agents don't spend time on queries. That's a common one. And, sadly, it doesn't matter how long your novel demanded you write it. Everyone who queries has put their proverbial blood, sweat and tears into their book. We can't expend too much energy caring about that. Why? Because it's not our job!
What, exactly, are our jobs and what, exactly, are you entitled to? We represent our clients. Our clients are entitled to our very best effort. That's it.
So, if you are an aspiring querying author you deserve:
- a sense of pride. You finished a book. I never did that! Lots of people never have and never could. Go you!
- a brief break from writing if you want it.
- a treat, damn it, you worked really hard. (I recommend a toblerone and wine)
- investment in a resource that helps you in your craft, whether it's Scrivener or a tougher group of Critique Partners
- if you're very lucky, support from family & friends (sadly, you can't extract it from unwilling parties).
Things you are NOT entitled to:
- a personal rejection, from an agent who responds to queries
- a rejection at all, from an agent who does not respond to queries unless they want to see more.
- consideration from an agent who read something else once (unless he/she expresses the wish to consider it)
- correspondence from an agent who previosuly corresponded with you
- a swift response
- Tantrums, doldrums, bitterness, whining*
* you could throw them, have them, feel it, or do it anyway, but it's not going to make things any better.
Notice, that I say"deserve" and not "entitled," when I talk about the the things you've earned. You deserve much. You have worked very hard. But entitlement is dangerous. Entitlement tricks you; skews judgment. Like Jealousy, it creates comparisons when none need exist... "well, he was on the bestseller list and my book is better than his!" It makes demands... "I think my book would be doing better if my agent and editor and publisher had an e-newsletter and mailed out updates about my book." It blames... "my publisher didn't publish this properly, my editor didn't work hard enough." It projects... my publicist doesn't care about my book, the foreign rights people don't respect me." Like bitterness, Entitlement can undo your general well-being and sabotage your professional relationships because it gets in your brain and warps reality.
First at the querying stage. You worked so so hard on this book and you can't get a soul to even look at it. I get it. Believe me, agents more than most get how painful that is. Time goes by and people don't even answer you! How rude is that? It feels disrespectful and painful and infuriating. But it's not disrespect, it's professionalism. Again, it is my job to look after the professional well being of my clients. Queries must become secondary.
But, Victoria, your queries are a way for you to get clients. Yes, they are. But until you are a client, an Agent doesn't work for you.
Imagine querying is like applying for a job (where your potential employer reads, like, 50 resumes a day). If you never heard back after you submitted your resume, you might nicely inquire as to the status of the position. But you would certainly never insult the company for not answering you in a better, timelier, or more personalized manner.
But let's say you crawled through query hell and back and got yourself an agent! You STILL need to manage your expectations and take care that a sense of entitlement isn't warping your judgement. And please know I understand entitlement to be a fairly regular human flaw. I do it a lot. I submitted this to that editor 5 weeks ago and they haven't bought it yet and they will RUE THE DAY they ignored me. RUE THE DAAAAYYYYYYY! See. That's me getting entitled. It is unwise.
So, my friend, you have your agent. Here are the things, I think, you are entitled to:
*this could mean submission lists, reader responses, editorial feedback and edits. It depends on the agent.
- industry knowledge
- contract knowledge and reviews
* whether your agent, a contracts manager or a lawyer does them. Your agent should be able to explain
contract terms to you
- effort & hard-work
* I mean honesty. I do not mean gossip, fodder, hearsay, or flashes in various pans of non-fruition.
*I hope. I don't know many agents who represent authors they don't respect, but I suppose it's not a necessity. I will say if I represent you, I respect you.
- Many other qualities and services that I'm forgetting that you can talk about and ask about when you discuss representation with your agent.
Things you are NOT entitled to:
- sales both foreign & domestic
- approval of every book you write and every idea you have
- large advances
- book tours
- reviews in The New York Times, The LA Times, People etc.
- submissions to literary magazines
- an agent's weekends
- an agent's nights
- PR and Marketing from your agency (unless specifically stated).
I will caveat this right now by saying many agents are willing to give many of these things. If your agent said "Oh call me on Saturday" or "call me at 9 p.m. tonight" or "oh I know a guy there, I'd love to submit that to the New Yorker for you," that's awesome. You're not being unwise by accepting what is given.
You are being unwise by assuming the agent relationship guarantees you anything that can not be guaranteed. An agent absolutely can guarantee you hard work and their very best effort. They can't guarantee you a six-figure deal or a place in the New York Times or their undivided attention (except in scheduled increments). Even if you had it before.
My point isn't that you should expect failure (none of us courts failure) or even that you should expect less, but rather, that you should expect the right things; the real things.
Once, an agent told me about a potential client who asked "what can you do to guarantee me six figures?" That agent is far more gracious than I, but I feel the correct answer to that question is "absolutely f***ing nothing, and any agent who tells you otherwise is either lying or clairvoyant." I don't care if Andrew Wylie descends from literary Olympus, sits before you, gazes deeply into your soul with his steely blue eyes, and, gently holding your hand, solemnly guarantees you that he WILL get you a million dollars. That is false. No agent can guarantee you a particular advance. I personally, can give a general goal and a plan for achieving that goal, but I can't tell you the future.
Be clear about what you feel you deserve and be open to the responses. If you're feeling like there's not enough communication or attention, that's fine! Say that! Most agents would be happy to work on that with you. If you're feeling really disappointed about your book not selling in more foreign countries, that's fine, too. But if you think it's because the foreign rights team is disrespecting you, that might be an expectation that is not in line with reality.
Above All: TALK. It is the only way you'll manage your expectations and feel a sense of peace. I recently had a conversation with someone who asked how long I generally take to respond with editorial feedback. That's a great question. And now I know that if they get upset next year because it takes me three months to answer when I said it would take 6 weeks, that's on me.
This is all stuff to keep in mind not just during the hunting process, but once you have an agent. So you can have healthy conversations without being all " I AM NOT A NUMBER ONE BESTSELLER YOU HATE MEEEEEE" --> no one has ever done this. Thank goodness.