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I Fired My Agent

There is a myth, that if a writer has an agent, he/she has it made. The reality of that is, itís not true. An agent is only a step in one direction. The question is, is that the direction you want to take?

ďYou are your own worst enemy,Ē my agent wrote me upon receiving my notice to dismiss for non-performance. My answer was he was right. ďBut how many enemies can you get to know as well as I know mine.Ē As in lawyers or doctors or accountants, or anything important, there are agents and there are agents. To have an agent is not an end-all, but the beginning. It doesnít give you the right to become brain dead and think all is in good hands. My contract with a publisher is so bad, that I have been told, it gives me nothing and is a license to take Ė and I have no recourse. I signed it because I thought my agent knew what I was signing. He did Ė I didnít. He got his percentage, I was the receiver of shattered dreams.

You donít need an agent if all you want to write are short stories. They arenít interested Ė too little money for the same effort. You donít need an agent if they arenít interested in working with you to become known Ė you need a publicist. Itís a better investment. You donít need an agent who has a bigger ego than you, for what he/she will focus on is whatís in it for them before they consider whatís in it for you. You donít need an agent if what youíve written is for a niche market. You could self-publish. You donít need an agent that forgets when your royalties are due. You need a businessperson. In fact thatís what you do need to be Ė to be a publicist and a businessperson before you even consider whether you need an agent.

Before I had an agent, I self-published a book and made thousands of dollars in royalties. After I had an agent, I heard thousands of excuses. I left the doing to the agent and forgot I had the ability to do the doing as well. Donít get me wrong you do need an agent, especially if you have a novel or non-fiction manuscript. To get past the receptionist on your own is like competing on an obstacle course. There are winners but few and far between as your manuscript languishes in the slush pile waiting for recognition. There is a place for agents, but only if you find the right one, not just anyone. That was where I went wrong. I had a manuscript and I had a publisher. I went shopping for an agent thinking I was bringing with me the fruits of my labour all ready attended to, and an agent would be more than interested in assisting in my career. I was wrong. I lost almost two years of my life and an equal amount of time regrouping. When your age is a factor, two years can be a lifetime. It is something that cannot be recovered.

Not long after I dismissed my agent, an agent from the United States approached me and asked if he could represent me. I asked what could he do for me? He outlined what he had in mind and I sent him an outline of a novel. He said it was a winner and would get back to me. I never heard from him again and he doesnít answer my calls. I stopped calling.

A writer is a dreamer. Some agents steal dreams. They imply, they may even make promises, but the bottom line is still the same. If they donít believe in you, what do you have? The answer to that depends on the amount of effort expended by them on your behalf. If you believe in yourself, then you overcome the disappointments and struggle on. There is no easy path for most. A writer lives with rejection. Itís a part of the business that has to be accepted. Having an agent is optional. If what you write doesnít need one Ė avoid them. If it does, being rejected by one only means you havenít found the right one. Like marriage, donít rush into it with your eyes closed. When you do, what you have is not an asset but a dependent.


As appeared in Canadian Writerís Journal: August 2001