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Holly Root @hroot
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So there’s been a run of news of badly behaving agents of late which has put me in mind of the challenge of ID'ing a bad agent from the outside, and the distinction between “bad at the job” and “bad for you.” (thread ahoy!)
Any agent who’s been doing this for more than a couple years likely has former clients. Sometimes those are friendly exes and sometimes not. It happens! People’s careers and needs change on both sides. And not everyone is a good fit forever.
I try to be open w/people about the ways I work best & there’s flex based on the individual who’s on the other end of the phone/email. But I think good clear boundaries are important and clear expectations are too; a lot of “bad for you” is actually “mismatched expectations.”
I’m a lot of clients’ second or third agent. There is no blacklist for leaving an agent who is not effective for you. Lemme say that again: there is no blacklist for leaving an agent who isn’t the right fit for whatever reason.
Biggest reason of course is they can’t sell your book. I’ve had calls with clients after a book didn’t sell where I say, look, if you think someone else might make the difference, I will send you forth with all the love in my heart and a glowing endorsement.
(90% of the time we just needed to stay the course, but sometimes it’s been the right call & it’s important for me to empower clients to take that step if needed.) But the core there is the focus on the client’s needs.
A bad agent is more concerned with their own standing (on Twitter, in their company, etc.) & appearances than actually getting the client's career where it needs to go. A bad agent doesn’t know the difference between a book deal & a good book deal.
A bad agent is very invested in *seeming* authoritative without ever actually demonstrating competence. Ofc, there’s a wide range of competence w/in the field of agents/agencies, and beyond that, legitimately a range of styles and plays you can run in service of the same goals.
(Like—Do you consider a wide submission 5 people or 25 people? is a q of style. Sending to none or to 85 is just being bad at your job.)
Figuring this out from the outside is hard and I have such sympathy for querying writers trying to parse what is necessarily and reasonably a relationship wrapped in a good amount of confidentiality. (Outward facing at least—the author should always have their own info.)
To that I would say the one thing I keep coming back to: results matter. A good agent will improve the prospects of their authors, not just for one outlier but across the board. You know what that looks like. It’s doing meaningful deals with significant houses.
It’s books getting attention—review, award, sales, etc. It’s authors meeting their goals. More than that, the good agent adds value: opportunities you couldn’t have seen, like IP gigs or ancillary rights, or a new line of business you hadn’t considered.
The more you look into this kind of agent’s list the more impressed you are. Don’t grade on a curve when it's your career. Think about: if your path looked like an average of their client list, would you be happy?
Now, figuring out whether that good agent is actually good for you will have to be a thread for another day. :)
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