Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Bad Agent is Like A Bad Boyfriend: How to avoid wasting time with both

Don’t be fooled by flowers or dinners or even, yes even, cheese. Flowers can make even the dirtiest bathroom seem festive. And I’m a sucker for a calla lily. The beginning of a relationship is all about impressing, but is there substance beneath? Whether it’s a dude who gets you immediate reservations at the place that’s usually booked six weeks out or the agent who sends you flowers the moment after you agree to let her represent you, be wary. It’s wonderful to be courted, but when either discuss your future (or all the money or children you will make together) after knowing you for less than 48 hours, you should probably get out of there. If they encourage you to order the cheese plate for dessert, it will be harder. Stay strong.
Stay away from the Lotharios. Numerous bestselling clients who don’t exactly write the kind of books you do? A few too many notches on the bedpost? Maybe it’s time to find the less popular kid at the party.
Is anybody vouching? Do other writers and editors say your agent scares them? Does a google of your new man turn up a secret identity?  You need to ask a friend or fellow writer if they know anyone to set you up with.
Trust Your Gut. You know, I mean c’mon! You KNOW. Listen to yourself.
Don’t kid yourself about who you’re with. Many people are waiting for the one. When they find someone who so clearly isn’t, they try to force it. Do you think you’ve got George Clooney just because he told you he once considered becoming a doctor? When I signed with an agent I was reading the memoir of Mary Wells Lawrence a brilliant no-nonsense advertising guru from the 60s. This agent was also no-nonsense. I think I tricked myself into believing I was going to be represented by Mary Wells Lawrence and my books were going to be as big as the “I love New York” campaign. It turns out sometimes no-nonsense is just a nice way of saying mean.
When they don’t call back, they don’t care. I think this is pretty straightforward.
Don’t go changing. Does he insist that you wear six-inch heels when you are prone to blisters? Does she refuse to read your book about friendship between Brooklyn moms and suggest you write a book about the cut-throat world of Upper East Side preschools instead? Would you even recognize yourself in the mirror if you did these things?
Listen to your friends. When you are tearfully calling your pals and they have to remind you that the definition of a boyfriend/agent is someone who simply cares about you, there is a problem. They will then tell you about the way their agent/boyfriend treats them. Their boyfriend makes them laugh ALL the time. Their agent wants to read ANYTHING and EVERYTHING they write. This is normal. It’s nothing like the way you are being treated. They have been trying to tell you this for quite some time. You just didn’t want to hear it. Now you should. You deserve better. Listen and let go.
Don’t ever go back. The guy may call to tell you he was thinking about you and wants to get together. Is he calling in the wee hours of the morning? Nothing good can come of this. The agent may email you two years after you last heard from her wondering if you still consider yourself a client (you don’t) and would you like the “added value service” of having her epublish the novel she never could sell for you? A simple check of your website would have told her you had already hopped on the ebook train, but she was always too busy care about you. Now is the time to tell her that you need her help like a fish needs an agent. Make sure you do it in a no-nonsense way. It will help turn the bitterness into a feeling of closure.
A mop for every rag.  Eventually that guy who you know is an a-hole will sweep someone off her feet. The agent who treated you like trash will have books on The New York Times bestseller list. That’s okay. It just never would have worked for the two of you. One woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure. Way it goes. Accept and move on. 

What do you think? What are your good and bad experiences with agents? With boyfriends? We’ve all got stories.

Ariella Papa is the agentless author of several novels, most recently Momfriends. You can visit her at and like her on facebook at She also tweets @ariellapapa


  1. Never had an agent, but this was a fun read! Thanks for sharing:)

  2. Great post. Here's another one that irks me. If all a guy can do is bitch about how stupid women are or continually poke fun at them, stay away. Likewise for agents who blog about stupid writer tricks or speak of writers in a disrespectful way.

  3. Bravo! I'm still learning to trust my gut. Great analogy.

  4. Wow. I'm giving you a hammer. You totally nailed this!!!

  5. My first agent dumped me in a letter, and—get this—in the paragraph in which she tells me what a pleasure I am to work with, she called me Dylan because she forgot to change the name in the form letter from the previous dumpee!

    Total bad boyfriend on two counts: didn't break up face-to-face, couldn't remember my name.

  6. What a humorous but incredibly true post, Ariella. There have been times I haven't listened to my gut -- with both boyfriends and agents -- and I always regretted it. Thanks for sharing this!

  7. Brilliant. I could write a book on this subject, and just about have! Short version? I love Agent 6.

  8. This is fantastic. I'm glad I'm not alone. I think the hardest thing about both is the embarrassment you feel that you ever actually believed in the partnership.

    I would love to hear more of some of these stories!

  9. Such a clever and funny post. And so, so true!!