July 22, 2011

After The Call: Don't Ignore Your Gut

About a month ago, a literary agent—who represented numerous YA writers—left the business quite abruptly. Indeed, she left so quickly that she didn't alert her clients about her exit. Some of them had to learn about her departure via a status change on Facebook.

As the story unraveled, things got worse. Clients discovered that their books had never gone on submission, despite assurances that they had. One client even had interest from a publisher she had queried on her own, but the agent never sent the manuscript.

Scary, huh?

After the dust settled, a few of the clients stepped forward to shed further light on the situation. (You can read them here, here, and here.) Turns out, there had been a few red flags that had led to the agent's sudden departure: phone calls left unanswered, emails that received no reply. The agent would disappear for weeks or months at a time, only to call out of the blue.

As I read these clients' stories, my heart ached for them and I noticed a pattern in their posts:

"I had a few concerns about her at first."
"This agent gave me that strange feeling and I ignored it."
"My gut told me to wait, but I didn't."

My heart ached some more. Because I know this feeling very well.

Before my agent offered me representation, I was lucky enough to receive two other offers of rep. For a few days, I went back and forth between Agent #1 and Agent #2, reading over old interviews and replaying our phone calls in my head. I had a few reservations about Agent #2 due to a few things I had seen online, but our conversation went well so I decided to ignore the alarm bells in my gut.

But those alarm bells kept ringing. Agent #2 promised to refer me to a couple of her clients, but the referrals never came. I emailed her a few times, only to be met with silence. I figured she was busy—I know that agents are often swamped with manuscripts and contracts—but my gut kept nagging at me. What if this lack of communication was a sign of things to come?

In the end, I lucked out. Agent Jim offered me representation on the last day of my week-long decision process, and I knew right away that he was the right agent for me. When I finished speaking with him on the phone, both my gut and my heart told me the same thing, "SIGN WITH HIM RIGHT NOW!" My feelings were only cemented when he sent me a follow-up email shortly after our call, referring me to a couple of his clients even though I hadn't asked for a referral. (I was too excited that I had forgot to ask!)

And so, I'm a strong believer of following your gut in this roller-coaster world of writing. Whether you're signing with an agent or choosing a beta reader, don't underestimate what your gut is telling you. If it's nagging at you, then listen to it. Ask yourself why your gut is trying to get your attention. Re-evaluate what's going on. Then, make your decision.

You know, I have no idea what my "gut" really is. Intuition, maybe? A sixth sense? A weird pit in the middle of my stomach? Whatever it is, I'm really grateful for it. It really has been invaluable as I've navigated this thing called publishing.

So what about you? Have you had any gut feelings on your own writing path? How has it helped you as you move toward getting published?

6 comments:

  1. Great advice! I've heard this so many times . . . my big fear is my gut will leave me hanging. ;)

    Am totally loving this series!

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  2. Haha, I fear that too, Janet! Sometimes I wonder too if my gut is trying to tell me something or if I'm just being paranoid...

    I guess that's when I turn to a few writerly friends for advice!

    And thanks for the comment!

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  3. Gut feelings are SO important. Reading this just made me want to hug those writers!

    I agree that you have to give people the benefit of the doubt, but in the end, you have to trust your instincts. Personally, I think I'd cry for 24 hours straight if this happened to me. Not because of an agent dropping me, but because I could've prevented the situation by trusting myself.

    Awesome post!

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  4. Tiny modification but vital: always assess your gut and keep current on whether your gut is accurate, paranoid, or an idiot. Not everyone has a wonderful trustworthy gut; some of us have perverse, destructive ones. And the perverse, destructive ones steer people right into awful deals, relationships, etc. Think how many times your (sensible) gut has sunk whimpering into your shoes as a friend explained that his/her gut just said that an obvious jerk boyfriend, publishing scam, or bozonic MLM scheme was just right for them.

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  5. I had heard of this situation when it first happened, and thought it was really terrible. It is difficult enough for writers to separate the "real" agents from the scams -- but having to separate the good from the bad "real" agents... it's difficult. I agree you should always trust your gut instinct. Sometimes, it'll be wrong. But most of the times, it won't.

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  6. Wow. I hadn't heard about this, but I casually know one of the writers involved through a past beta read. So unfortunate that their "agent" was so unprofessional, but it sounds as though they all handled themselves incredibly well in the aftermath.

    Great advice, Caroline, and thanks for sharing their story and yours.

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