Parting Ways – DDWID (Don’t Do What I Did)

Ed. Note: In our spring/summer series – “The Tough Times, and How I Wrote Through Them” – one of this site’s regular contributors will write about a complication they’ve faced in writing and/or publishing, a complication you’re likely to experience someday, and they’ll disclose how they got past it (alcohol may be part of the answer but, no, it’s not the whole answer).

By Gwen Florio

It was almost impossible to imagine parting ways with my agent.

You hear of writers who land their dream agent with their first query letter. I am not that writer. My first crack at representation netted exactly zero interest, possibly because the novel I thought was so brilliant was actually crap.

I’ve written here before about my long – very, very, long – journey to publication, but suffice it to say that it took another couple of rounds of agent queries (sixty rejections, only to land a lovely agent who quit the business entirely not long afterward) before I finally had an agent, a two-book contract, followed by one for three books.  

Tra-la, tra-la, right?

Meh, not so much. There was always a nagging feeling that my agent and I didn’t quite connect. Nothing I could put my finger on, just little things here and there. “Woman up,” I’d tell myself after conversations that felt more like lectures.

After all, it wasn’t my agent’s job to be warm and fuzzy. The job was to sell my books. Still, the feeling persisted, and when it came time to pitch a new stand-alone novel, I mentioned my unease to a friend – who slapped me upside the head with her reminder that, as long as she’d known me, I’d expressed doubts about my agent. Then she reminded me that we’d known each other five years.

Five years of dissatisfaction in any other relationship would mean a break-up.

Hence, her suggestion: Get a new agent.

Duh.

But first, I’d have to part ways with the old one. There’s a process for this, a letter mailed, etc. That’s the easy part. The hard part, the one that brings in the DDWID? Letting your agent know that letter is coming.

I scoured the internet for permission to do what I knew was wrong – I wanted to send a note. I didn’t want to call. Of course, given that everything exists on the internet, I found what I wanted and sent off an email thanking my agent for all those years of work, but etc. etc.

In other words, I didn’t Woman Up.

I wussed out.

A word of stunningly obvious advice, should you ever find yourself in this situation: Don’t wuss out. Pick up the damn phone and call. My agent break-up probably wouldn’t have gone well no matter how I did it, but sending that email – the equivalent of a break-up by Post-It, or I suppose these days, text – did not help matters. It put me in the horribly awkward situation of having to make a stammering explanation to my new agent that my previous agent and I had not parted ways on good terms, because God forbid he hear it elsewhere.

He took me on anyway, and from the moment he told me my manuscript’s first chapter was actually the last, I knew I’d lucked out. I’m beyond happy with his representation, and look forward to his calls rather than dreading them, proving that my friend’s advice was spot-on.

Here’s the thing: We’ve all got to be the best managers of our own careers. But this writing business is a career, demanding the same sort of professionalism as the day jobs (cough, cough, salary, benefits, cough). Unpleasant situations arise, just as in any workplace.

When they do, don’t DWWID. Wo/Man up.

Gwen Florio is a veteran journalist whose Reservations, the fourth novel in her Lola Wicks series – called “gutsy” by the New York Times – was released in March.

To learn more about Reservations, click on the cover below:

Previously in The Tough Times (And How I Wrote Through Them):

The Tough Times, by Tom Sweterlitsch

Writing Through Rejection, by Elizabeth Heiter

Writing Against Deadlines, by Rob Brunet

Facing Your Personal “issues” and “Issues,” by Shannon Kirk

Shutting Down Places Like Eliot Ness, by J.J. Hensley

On Time Management, by Mark Pryor

 

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