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.


40 Responses to The Worst Parts of Being an Agent

  1. Avatar
    Brennan S. McPherson October 24, 2018 at 4:38 am #

    Your posts always crack me up. I have to agree, traveling alone is the worst! I hate flying without my wife. If only the airlines would agree that when you marry you become one, and charge you for just one ticket.

  2. Avatar
    Kathy Nickerson October 24, 2018 at 5:11 am #

    Thanks for being willing to persevere. If I send you a proposal, I promise to be nice. Mostly.

  3. Avatar
    Gail Helgeson October 24, 2018 at 6:01 am #

    Uh oh. Minneapolis is “my” airport!
    We have the Mall of America here. You could have practiced saying no AND exercised some of that patience. Best of all…dealing with all those people!

    There really are worse things than flying!!

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler October 24, 2018 at 6:57 am #

      Yes. Root canals. Trying to sleep in a wet sleeping bag. Listening to Yoko Ono’s “music.”

  4. Avatar
    Dalyn October 24, 2018 at 6:31 am #

    I’m glad the upside is upper than the downside is downer. At least you didn’t become a dentist. 😄

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler October 24, 2018 at 6:58 am #

      I do have that going for me. And for my would-be patients.

  5. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D October 24, 2018 at 6:42 am #

    Bob, I have many of the same complaints, except on the other end of the equation. I have to accept a “no” and I have to exercise patience (for me, patients are people in need of medical attention- note that this sounds better than it reads). The other issues are that I am a extrovert and the actual act of writing is introverted, from what I have seen. I like to travel but usually go alone… It’s hardest when you are going somewhere that families travel a lot (like to see a large rodent who lives in Orlando) and I am all alone with seatmates that don’t want to chat. Such is life.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler October 24, 2018 at 6:59 am #

      Wait. What is this “chatting” on airplanes of which you speak?

  6. Avatar
    Judith Robl October 24, 2018 at 6:54 am #

    Bob, you are a hoot!

    I’m glad the upside is upper more than the downside is downer.

    Flying is not my best thing, either. I always take a book to read or a notebook for ideas to help me compensate for seatmates who don’t want to chat.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler October 24, 2018 at 7:01 am #

      You too, Judith? I thought a plane was a cone of silence, except for screaming babies and the guy in 10A right behind me who is trying to impress his fellow college student, who punctuates EVERY sentence with “Ummm.”

  7. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser October 24, 2018 at 7:02 am #

    I used to fly…a LOT…

    That Minneapolis airport…it was the last place on Earth you could get the old-yle McDonald’s hot apple pies (with the crispy fried crust), and it does have some cool old aeroplanes hung from the roof in out-of-the-way places.

    I used to fly through Las Vegas so often that the ground reprovisioning crews recognized me, and eventually put me to work loading boxes of peanuts, and paid me in drink coupons.

    The old TWA terminal at JFK, designed by Eero Saarinen (try saying his name after you’ve cashed in a couple of drink coupons) always put me in mind of the opening bars of Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto.

    And the best…Helmut Jahn’s United terminal at O’Hare, with multicoloured passageways that felt like being inside all the world’s gemstones, on the way to Heaven.

    • Avatar
      Andrew Budek-Schmeisser October 24, 2018 at 8:02 am #

      Well, the very best flying story…while walking to my gate in Memphis, I saw a bloke suddenly jump out of the line he was standing, because he had seen an elderly lady drop to the ground.

      I went to help, and we kept her alive with CPR until professional help arrived. She survived, her name was Margaret, and I got upgraded to first class.

      With…wait for it…unlimited drinks.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler October 24, 2018 at 12:25 pm #

      Well, I once picked up a piece of candy a kid in a stroller dropped and returned it to her. I don’t think anyone even saw me take a bite.

  8. Avatar
    Tisha Martin October 24, 2018 at 8:20 am #

    The worst part about flying is getting stuck in the back row, which has happened to me only once.

    Thank you for being patient, for nearly all those writers you’re waiting on (perhaps) are truly taking the time to make sure they deliver a spot-on proposal or manuscript. Does that make you happier?

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler October 24, 2018 at 12:26 pm #

      I’ve been in the back-most row myself. Once or twice. Truly purgatorial.

      • Avatar
        Judith Robl October 24, 2018 at 4:51 pm #

        I only got the back row once, in a return flight from DC. The three football players in the row ahead were very nice.

        We taxied off into the middle of the tarmac where we sat for about fifteen minutes. Then the luggage truck came and unloaded some of the suitcases, mine among them. Then they loaded a number of plain brown oblong boxes.

        Since we were headed to KC, we assumed they were from the mint. Then they reloaded the unloaded luggage, mine, too.

        Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough turbulence to shake some of the contents of the boxes into my bag. Oh, well…

  9. Avatar
    Shirlee Abbott October 24, 2018 at 10:14 am #

    Well, Bob, you certainly make the best of the worst.

  10. Avatar
    Patrice Doten October 24, 2018 at 10:28 am #

    I beg your pardon, sir! Minneapolis has the best airport in the country. I may have to challenge you to a duel. 😉

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler October 24, 2018 at 12:27 pm #

      Second best, I’d say. Charlotte is the top of my list. But however good the Minneapolis airport is, it’s a rotten hotel. 🙂

      • Avatar
        Patrice October 25, 2018 at 1:40 pm #

        Ah, well. That’s true enough!

  11. Avatar
    Roberta Sarver October 24, 2018 at 11:12 am #

    Bob, Your “worst” list certainly is shorter than your “best” one. See, you’re becoming a bit of an optimist already.

    As for flying, the fact that you get to sit near the front (9A) says things could be worse. Not to complain or anything, but try sitting in the back. By the time you get to your seat, the luggage compartments all are full. But who’s complaining?!

    Annnddd…at least you’re not confined to a 12-hour bus trip, where people lean against you and slobber on your sweater. I’ve yet to experience that, but know others who have.

    Anyway, thanks for your creative posts. Who thinks up the topics for posts, anyway, your or Steve Lobby? Or do they come to you when you’re using your frequent flyer status?

    -Roberta Sarver

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler October 24, 2018 at 12:28 pm #

      Whew, bus trip. No thank you. I am counting my blessings.

  12. Avatar
    Kay DiBianca October 24, 2018 at 12:14 pm #


    In case I ever submit a proposal to you, you should know:

    1. I am a wonderful airline passenger. I fold up into the smallest possible version of myself and either sleep or read. I even decline the “snacks” they provide.
    2. I never, ever complain! (Well, there was that one editor …)

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler October 24, 2018 at 12:29 pm #

      Good to know, Kay. And just between you and me, I KNOW: Editors are the WORST!

  13. Avatar
    Claire O'Sullivan October 24, 2018 at 12:22 pm #

    Bob, your post had me laughing (and tearing up from laughing) and I was so happy I did not have a cup of coffee to my lips. The replies equally had me in a guffaw. I read it to my husband, not a writer, whose response was akin to ‘I Guess You Had To Be There…’

    Oh, well.

    I admit I have had many rejections. Some were downright funny because they were a rude ‘no.’ I mean, my writing had to be that bad for someone to take the time to write a full paragraph on ‘never send us anything ever again.’

    Finally after years of improved rejections I knew I was getting closer, and received the sincerely fantastic ‘no’ from the SLA. However, I suspect the agent who wrote the letter to me had a harder time writing it than I did reading said ‘no.’ And equipped me with further suggestions to improve my writing.

    I could only smile (because, one it’s not ready, two, the agent gave me great suggestions, and three, I want to frame it), and I pretty much told the agent that.

    Wow, Bob, I know you hate saying ‘no,’ but it truly is in the best interest of the writer. I can’t imagine how many times you have had to say ‘no’ thus far, but I am in the double digits. And I get it. The SLA is my favorite agency because of the agents. I love you all for your wisdom, wit, and wisecracking.

    ANNNNNND the worst ever airport I was in was Las Vegas. And Phoenix. My ‘international’ airport has 2 (TWO) gates. Still, the TSA. The shoes. I have vowed to never fly again. I’ll take a Greyhound.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler October 24, 2018 at 12:30 pm #

      Claire, I do everything I can to make air travel easier. Such as getting a “known traveler” number from the TSA. And getting there way, way early. And almost never checking (or gate checking, if I can avoid it) a bag. And so on.

      And I agree. The Steve Laube Agency is also MY favorite agency.

  14. Avatar
    claire o'sullivan October 24, 2018 at 12:45 pm #

    Ah, yes. Air travel was far easier years ago. I had as a teen the opportunity to fly to Hawaii, Malta, London, Kenya, and Jamaica. But as things have changed, so has my apprehension, not excitement.

    I am a ‘known traveler’ and I am pretty sure not in the good way, these days. I wasn’t rude, mind you. I’m not on the ‘no fly’ list, nor am I on the ‘Please go to the back room’ uncomfortable questioning area. I won’t tell you why (mebbe I will when you’re all grown up), but needless to say I arrived early and almost missed my flight.

    Car, bus, train. Car, bus, train. Cargo ship to travel to another country.

  15. Avatar
    'Totally Anonymous' October 24, 2018 at 1:14 pm #

    Andrew – of course! Why didn’t I think of that before carrying guns and ammo to a shooting range in another state? Well, those were appropriately packed but on the way home, one bullet (.380 if you must know) got stuck in a flap on a carry-on (which had served as the range bag) that was pointed out to me. Dirty drats. Apparently according to TSA you can throw a bullet at someone and they’d be truly annoyed. Who knew.

    anywhoooo, you can imagine my fright of ‘the back room.’

    • Avatar
      Andrew Budek-Schmeisser October 24, 2018 at 1:18 pm #

      Yeah, I tried to avoid back rooms, too. Unless I was the one asking the questions.

      Not a bad round, the .380. I think it’s underrated.

  16. Avatar
    Still Anonymous October 24, 2018 at 1:44 pm #

    Andrew –

    LOL you are crazy.

    The .380 is a 9mm in disguise, however despite all agencies moving back to the 9mm, it too gets grief. Why, I do not know. I suppose these 2 are considered girlie rounds compared to the .45 (or 50). Why, a well-placed .22, even a wadcutter or portable nail gun gets a job done. Ahem.

  17. Avatar
    Roberta Sarver October 24, 2018 at 3:53 pm #

    Oops! I misspelled Steve Laube’s last name in a comment up there. Sorry, Steve, if you read that.

  18. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser October 24, 2018 at 5:09 pm #

    Well, here’s another ‘aeroplane seat location’ story.

    I was on one of the first flights allowed airborne after 9/11, and my seat assignment (which had been in the back row) was changed.

    At the time I was 5-10, and 235 pounds, with virtually no fat and the endearing countenance and forthright manner of a rugby hooligan, so I was moved forward to sit behind two chaps of Levantine appearance, with the specific brief to do whatever I pleased if circumstances even SEEMED like they might warrant. A couple of other thugs were similarly seated.

    Nothing happened, and I bought the objects of our attention (strict teetotalers) enough drinks at the bar after the flight to ensure that their cab driver would have to pour them into their final destination.

    It was, after all, the least I could do.

    • Avatar
      Judith Robl October 25, 2018 at 2:30 am #

      Oh, Andrew, wow! I’m speechless, and that never happens.j

  19. Avatar
    claire o'sullivan October 25, 2018 at 12:40 am #

    Andrew, your stories amaze and entertain as always !

    I had a ‘airplane’ story but yours definitely takes the prize, and good thing you had everything well in hand 🙂

  20. Avatar
    Richard Mabry October 25, 2018 at 7:34 pm #

    Bob, I, too, used to fly a lot when I was still practicing medicine. People in various countries, even in the US, apparently got the idea I said a few things worth hearing when I delivered a lecture or two. I’ve even, for my sins, logged a couple of million miles on one airline. But I’ve come to side with Nolan Ryan, who once said that anyone who thinks travel is glamorous hasn’t done enough of it.

    Blessings on you, friend. You not only represent writers, but you fly some to do it.

  21. Avatar
    Dave VanAtter October 26, 2018 at 5:42 am #

    Bob, I too am an introvert. This is really difficult as a pastor. I can talk all day on stage, but one on one conversations can be stressful. I am blessed to have a wonderfully extroverted wife who can carry most conversations and bails me out when I don’t know what to say. I think that is why I enjoy the writing process. I feel that I can craft a conversation that makes an impact.

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