Kay: An Agent’s Nightmares

The Nightmare (Henry Fuseli, 1781)

Several of the Ladies have committed to pursuing indie publishing careers; others are more interested in a traditional path. Each strategy has its pluses and minuses, so whichever way is best for the individual, or whichever way opens to an author, will work.

We’ve given some thought here at Eight Ladies to what it’s like being an author, especially the difficulties thereof, but most of us don’t think very hard about the publishers’ side of the equation. I recently ran across a [hilarious] Twitter feed from an agent, describing the difficulties of her work. For those of you who’d like to read the original thread, go here. For those who don’t want to click through, I’m quoting the rest here.

The thread is from Ginger Clark, a literary agent at Curtis Brown. She describes herself as a Bryn Mawr alum. She says her Twitter account will often feature wombats, and I should warn you that if you go there, it does.

Here is her “incomplete list of Literary Agent nightmares” (with minor edits and some explanations):

    [Kay’s note: for a full discussion of joint accounting, see Nathan Bransford’s explanation here. In short, joint accounting means that the royalties for books in a series are calculated together, rather than each book separately. In joint accounting, a poor seller in the series can reduce the royalties of a best seller in the series to zero. In separate accounting, each book is figured individually, so you’d lose royalties only on the poor seller.]
  2. “Dear Agent, [BLANK] Publishers is rolling out a new boilerplate and we would like to….”
  3. Client’s book is orphaned, and the editors left are not acceptable.
  4. Too many familiar faces on Frankfurt flight
    [Kay’s note: “Frankfurt” must refer to the Frankfurt Book Fair, which, according to Wikipedia, is “the world’s largest trade fair for books, based both on the number of publishing companies represented, and the number of visitors. It is considered to be the most important book fair in the world for international deals and trading.”]
  5. Backlist buyout goes horribly wrong.
  6. The one editor in your client’s career who got them, who made them a better writer, who truly understood their way of thinking—that editor is leaving/retiring/disappearing.
  7. Same as 6, but this time it’s the publicist.
  8. Client dies. There is no will. (thank GOD this has not yet happened to me)
  9. It’s the night before you fly out to your first LBF and you have forgotten to print your badge (true story).
    [Kay’s note: I think “LBF” is “London Book Fair.”]
  10. “Dear Agent, [BLANK] Publishers has decided to revamp our royalty statements.”
  11. That editor who HATES you keeps getting promoted.
  12. Your client is very late with their book and has gone off the grid (please note, my clients would never do this).
  13. Twitter. Twitter itself is an agent nightmare.
  14. Your editor’s boss is at the next table at Molyvos.
  15. “Dear Agent. [BLANK] Publishers is introducing a new clause about [FRAUGHT SUBJECT]”
  16. You are volunteered to moderate a panel for the AAR when you skip a committee meeting (also a true story THANKS PEOPLE)
    [Kay’s note: The AAR is the Association of Authors’ Representatives]
  17. Reply All on an unsolicited query.
  18. You are on a six-hour transcontinental flight with four client manuscripts to read, your seatmate brought nothing to do, and THEY KNOW WHAT A LITERARY AGENT IS.
  19. That editor who hates you lives on your subway line.
  21. You wake up some mornings wondering how long this business will last, and if you are doing enough to survive the coming apocalypse. You worry for your clients, and you worry for the business, and you worry for your friends and colleagues. You worry for yourself.
  22. Someone is a dick to your client and you can’t destroy them.
    22(a): Someone is a dick to your assistant and you also are not allowed to destroy them.
  23. Editor you are having lunch with cannot make conversation.
  24. Editor sends back food twice at your lunch.
  25. You have been volunteered to attend a breakfast meeting and no one has told you what it’s about, so you are planning to show up and “be brilliant” and hope that is sufficient.
  26. You have been back from Bologna for six days. Seven clients have sent you manuscripts.
  27. Editor who was once reliable has turned into a black hole and you have multiple clients with them.
  28. “We are invoking First Proceeds.”
    [Kay’s note: This means when a publisher rejects a book for publication because it is editorially unacceptable, some publishing contracts will allow the author to retain the advance and repay the publisher out of the “first proceeds” from the sale to a second publisher. Basically, the author uses Publisher #2 to pay back Publisher #1. For more publishing terms, see Nathan Bransford’s publishing glossary here.]
  29. Clueless civilian: “I couldn’t find your client’s book at Walmart, so I downloaded it for free online.”

And that’s 30 nightmares from Ginger Clark, literary agent. Makes you sort of glad that all you have to do is figure out the conflict box, right?


10 thoughts on “Kay: An Agent’s Nightmares

    • Well, you’ll have a different set of problems. That stuff that Marie Force is talking about right now? The issues that she wants to start that indie industry group for? Those problems will be your problems. There’s never a shortage of problems to go around!

  1. Wow…I’m with Jeanne. Not sure I want to deal with all of this. Granted, I’m not an agent, but it seems like there’s lots of jerking around going on in the publishing industry.

    • There is a lot of jerking around in traditional publishing. And there’s plenty of jerking around in the indie world, too, when you’re dealing with the publishers (Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Apple, et al) by yourself. It’s just a question, I think, of which set of problems you want to deal with. In the case of Ginger Clark, of course, she’s dealing with the author’s problems, so the writers are free to write.

    • Yeah, it sounds awfully familiar, in tone if not in exact detail. Sometimes if feels like a miracle anything gets published. I read a really depressing novel about being an agent once, that’s not work I’d be suited for. That novel was billed as a comedy. At the end, I wanted to slit my wrists.

  2. All are pity-inducing, but number 24 just kills me with laughter and empathy. If the editor is like that with the LUNCH someone else is paying for, what are they going to be like with the manuscript? (OTOH, the editor knows what s/he likes, and isn’t afraid to ask for it, which can also be a good quality.)

    When we were researching agents for class, Ginger Clark was one of mine (-:. I follow her on Twitter, but I’m never on Twitter at the right time to see her tweets.

    • So you have a connection to Ginger Clark! Well, it seems like she’d be fun to work with. I’d want to, anyway, if I had an agent. Number 24 is hilarious. I think going out for lunch constantly with editors would get old after about three months, but maybe that’s just me.

    • Ginger Clark was the agent for a really good friend of mine. That friend is now self publishing, but if she ever went back to traditional, I think she’d be thrilled to work with Ginger again. She had nothing but good things to say about her.

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