The Worst Parts of Being an Agent

I’m not one to complain. Although I didn’t sleep too well last night, and my coffee was a little weak this morning. And I spilled some on my shirt.

But I mean, otherwise, I’m not one to complain. After all, there are many great things happening in my life right now, some of which pertain to me being a literary agent—which I posted about last week (“The Best Parts of Being an Agent“).

But not everything is sunshine and rainbows. Not every day is the Fourth of July (or even Canada Day). What do I mean? I’m so glad you asked, because otherwise I could be misunderstood as complaining. Which I’m not. But here are a few of the suboptimal parts of being a literary agent:

  1. I have to say no.

One good friend of mine who happens to be an agent himself, whose name I won’t mention (though his last name rhymes with “lobby”), has been known to answer, when asked what he does for a living, “I say no.” Ouch. It’s too close to the truth. Way too much of the job involves saying no, which I’ve never been good at and never enjoyed. It’s necessary, of course, because not everyone’s writing is good, not everyone’s work is ready, and even when both of those boxes are checked, not everyone’s timing is right. But it’s always extremely painful—for me as well as for the recipient.

  1. I have to exercise patience.

I’m not a patient man. (Are you finally finished reading that sentence, for crying out loud?) So I became a writer. Go figure. And then I became an agent. I guess I hadn’t learned enough patience waiting for my own queries, proposals, offers, contracts, manuscripts, edits, and galleys to come to fruition, so I had to enter a line of work in which the waiting is multiplied by dozens of clients. At a time. For months. 

  1. I have to deal with people.

I don’t mean you, the person who is reading this. I mean other people. It’s not just that I’m an extreme introvert (no, really, I am), but also that (I know this will come as a surprise to you) there are a handful of unkind people out there in the “writing world.” People who accuse me of not opening their documents or reading their proposals (crazy, I know). Even one or two who accused me of being a fraud (which would have hurt if I had any idea what I was doing). These folks are the tiniest part of the people I interact with on a daily basis, but they sometimes absorb vast amounts of energy.

  1. I have to fly.

I do enjoy experiencing new places and seeing new things, but air travel ain’t what it used to be. And since becoming an agent, my air travel has increased threefold, I’m guessing. On rare occasions, I get to take my wife, the lovely Robin, on a trip; but most of the time, it’s just me and my frequent-flier number. Also, most of the time, the trip goes off without a hitch; but it’s always stressful and time-consuming. And I hope never again to spend the night in the Minneapolis airport.

That’s about it, really. My “worst” list is shorter than my “best” list, which ought to tell me something. I think it says that the highlights outweigh the lowlights, which I think bodes well for the future.


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