Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishings. Asking Your Agent Permission

I have to ask permission from my agent. I have heard that sentence in one fashion or another more than I want to think about lately. Drives me crazy every time because of how really, really wrong and flat stupid it is.

I figured I answered this myth a great deal in all the other agent chapters and I had no real plans on addressing it directly. If you haven’t read all of those earlier chapters, please, please go to the top of this page and click on the tab for this book and read the chapters and comments with “agent” in the title. There are a bunch of them.

But now, since this has come up so much lately and in different places around the web, I figured I better hit the point directly on the head at least once.

So, let me try.

Agents are hired by writers. When, in business, do you ever ask your employee permission to do anything?


And that should be the simple answer to this myth, but of course, writer after writer, including many, many professional writers, utter the words “I need to ask my agent to see if I can do that.” (means permission)

And that puts an agent in control of your career. And that way lies huge problems in many ways already outlined in other chapters of this book and the comments following them.

Asking for advice is another matter completely. We hire agents for their opinions, their knowledge, their ability to know things we don’t know. Fine. Ask advice, not permission. A very clear difference.

Asking Permission: Just imagine a young, fearful child (writer), standing in front of an adult (agent), head bowed, waiting for permission. That’s how writers act around agents. Not all of us, but more of us than I want to admit.

Asking advice: The scene should be powerful person (writer) sitting behind a large desk in an office while an aide (agent) stands in front of the desk offering advice only when asked.

After all, who gets 85% and who gets 15%?

So let me give some ways this problem of asking permission from an employee shows its ugly head with writers and agents and a few solutions to the problem. These I have heard just in the last month.

1) “I want to write in another genre but I asked my agent (permission) and she won’t let me.”

This is being talked about over on the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books website. It stunned them as well. And they have some great points about writer as conglomerate that I agree with.

Solution: Let me say simply that writers write. We write what we are passionate about, what we love, what interests us or scares us at the moment. That’s where the top books come from. I certainly am not going to ask some employee if I can write something. I will write it and then if the employee can’t deal with it when I am finished, I will find an employee who will. That simple. Blunt, but simple.

2) “I want to send a book to that (certain) company but my agent doesn’t like them (or an editor) and won’t do it.”

Solution: Your employee (if forced to mail it by you) will more than likely stick a bad pitch and cover letter on the book to prove to you that they are correct. So send it to the company or editor yourself. (You think I’m kidding about agents killing a submission to prove a point? Boy are you living in a cave.)

Remember, a large number of us out here who are working professionals don’t believe in having an agent submit a manuscript. I know my own books better than any employee ever would, I am a better pitch writer and letter writer than any employee. I will send in my own books, then have an agent or attorney deal with the contract if I need help at that point. Worked for almost 100 novels now. Agent never sold a one.

3) Agent says, “I think it would be better that you slow down and just concentrate on (blank).” (Translation: You need permission from your employee to write your normal speed and do your normal production.)

Solution: Let me think. Professional writers write. We make our living off of our work. If we write more, we sell more, but you have a lazy employee who wants you to slow down YOUR PRODUCTION to not make them work too hard. FIRE THEM the moment those words come out of their mouth. Don’t even hesitate. You have an employee that is too stupid for words and if you, heaven forbid, took that stupid advice and put yourself in a situation where your agent had to give you permission to even write, start looking for a day job. You will need one very shortly, and then the agent will drop you anyway.

4) Agent says, “I won’t send this book out without a rewrite.” (Translation, you now need permission from an employee to send your work to editors when you want to.)

Solution: Say simply, “Fine, I’ll mail it and call when I get an offer.” Many agents will be just fine with that. It saves their reputation and they don’t have to do the work. But, and it does happen, if your employee doesn’t want you to do that, say simply, “You are fired.”

You have no other choice on this one. You must, to make a living, get your work in front of editors. You can’t have an employee slowing this process down. Again, don’t force them to mail it or they will trash it in the pitches and cover letters and thus prove to you they were right. And, of course, don’t tell them where you are sending it. Just surprise them when an offer comes in. Trust me, after that, they won’t again ask for a rewrite from you. And you should never allow them to in the first place. Read the chapter on that I have already covered.

Also, on this topic, also covered before, agents give up after they have gone through their six or eight editor friends, so take the book back at that point and mail it yourself as well. Same goes if the agent doesn’t want you to, fire them.

These are just four areas that writers ask permission from agents I have heard in the last month from different writers. There are a ton more, but I think you get the idea. Or at least I hope you do.

You are in control of your own career.

Don’t hand it to an employee and hope for the best. Keep the control yourself. That’s what every one of these chapters have been talking about in one fashion or another.

Writers are in control. Writers are the “talent” in Hollywood terms. This industry runs on the work of writers. Agents are hired by writers. Agents are employees, not partners, not in charge of the writer’s business. They are a writer’s employee and nothing more.

Keep that clearly in mind and stop asking your employee for permission to do anything. Stay in charge. Believe in your own work, trust your own voice and your own skill.

And, for heaven’s sake, GROW A BACKBONE.


Copyright 2010 Dean Wesley Smith
I did not ask any agent for permission to write this book. I’m just doing it. And now this is part of my inventory in my bakery. (Confused on that, read the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing post about making money with writing.) I’m giving you this small slice as a sample. I’m giving you a taste, but not selling any of the pie.

If you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery.

And I would like to thank all the fine folks who have donated. Once this book is done, I will send you a copy. The donations and the comments both after the posts and privately are really keeping me going on this. Thanks!

If you can’t afford to donate, please feel free to pass this chapter along to others who might get some help from it. Every week or so I will be adding a new chapter on the myths and sacred cows of publishing. Stay tuned. Upcoming are chapters on bestsellers, rejections, more on agents, and so much more. This business has a lot of myths. An entire book full.

Thanks, Dean

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