Besides the toxic emotions that can afflict both writers and agents (paranoia, jealousy, self-loathing, encroaching unwillingness to bathe regularly etc), bad stuff can infect our relationships with each other.
One of the Hollywood agents I work with says he does the Cringe Test when considering a new client. He imagines what it’ll be like picking up the phone to the writer six months from now. If he thinks it’ll make him cringe, he politely declines. As he says, ‘Represent in haste, repent at leisure’.
What makes an agent feel the relationship with their client has gone septic?
– They pay you for your advice but won’t listen
– They listen to your editorial advice, then spend twice as long justifying their writing (especially the self-indulgent bits)
– They don’t keep in touch often, and in the meantime write something you could have told them in a second couldn’t be sold
– They tell you about problems so late you can barely do anything to put it right (‘My book’s published tomorrow, and all my neighbours will be able to recognise all the libellous things I’m saying about them’ or ‘I met my producer at a party last night and told him all the bad things I’ve been thinking about him’).
– They nag you, even when they know you’re doing what they asked you to
– They find ways to waste your time
– They need constant affirmation, to the point where you feel like you’ve had to give them a pint of your own blood to get them back on their feet
What makes a writer complain about their agent?
– Failure to return calls, answer emails, tell them what the hell they’re doing with your work, or contradictory information
– Impatience when explaining important parts of your contract
– Obvious laziness
– Tendency to boast about more successful clients than you, or boast about important people they know in the business but have never introduced you to
– Preference to discuss personal matters or the football scores, rather than make a selling strategy or have a proper talk about a script
– Failure to sound enthusiastic about your work, ever
– Having way too many clients
– Sounding desperate, or spending too long moaning about the business and why they can’t sell your work
– Crying on the phone
I’ve been sacked for:
– Being a rubbish agent
– Not explaining something crucial (although it was plainly expressed in the contract that the writer signed)
– ‘Change your luck, change your agent’
– The writer got dazzled by another agent who said ‘You’ve never met [Head of BBC1 / Stephen Spielberg / Harvey Weinstein / etc]? What is your agent doing?!’
– ‘It’s not you, it’s me’
– One kind man said he couldn’t bear to watch me worrying about him any more
Not all relationships are meant to last forever. Sometimes you run out of steam with each other. Sometimes there’s a blissful honeymoon period that suddenly ends in shocked disgust. I love that the agent/writer relationship often is a long one – and it takes a while to learn to work with each other effectively. I grieve over some of the writers I no longer have a working partnership with. But I guess we’re all human beings, even some agents.