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    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Dear Lady, Can You Hear the Wind Blow?

Dear Betsy:
What is the right way to end a relationship with an agent/representative?
How can a writer assess whether the still, small voice saying: “Enough is enough, time to move on” is the voice of reason, and not the voice of: “My dead father didn’t love me enough, here’s a cry for help that’ll show ‘im!”
When a representative seems to already be a step ahead of the game, not returning emails and phonecalls, leaving the writer to make submissions and handle follow-up on her own behalf, and generally projecting an air of radically depleted enthusiasm, must a writer make the effort for face-time?
Or does a writer who breaks up with a rep via email doom herself to the Permanent Asshole File?
Some friends have advised that it is better to have a non-functioning relationship with an absentee rep than to have no rep at all, and that one should only cut ties once a replacement is in the wings. However, I saw a dating guru on reality TV who advised that to meet Mr. Right, you need room in your closet and a clean house. Where do you fall on the “take what you can get until something better comes along” spectrum?
Thanks for any hard-won wisdom you can spare,

Dear A:
Break up. Now. In your situation, this person is hurting more than helping. If there was history, past deals, happy times, bad times you weathered together, well that’s another story. But so far this representative has not gotten you work, has not been there for you, has not followed up, etc. Now, in fairness, if he or she has tried and failed for some length of time, it is possible that he or she has hit a wall. Which, of course, is another reason to amscray. Is an abusive husband better than no husband? Even Robin Wright Penn finally said no can do.

Does one window close and another open? Sure, especially if you’re sitting in the last row of an Al-anon meeting and someone with Munchkins comes in and sits down next to you. Whenever a writer comes to me on the verge of leaving his or her agent, I always counsel him or her to talk it through, maybe the person needed a wake up call, maybe lines of communication got clogged like my purple bong circa 1978. That said, by the time most writers start looking for a new agent, they are usually past the point of working things out. It’s probably time for a divorce. Since you two don’t have any kids, it should be pretty clean. I’d send a handwritten note over an email, but that’s just me. From what I can tell, breaking up via email is the norm.
Good luck, Betsy
p.s. any break-up stories you feel like “sharing”?

13 Responses

  1. Shortest pairing in history: At a conference, I paid for 15 minutes of an agent’s time to sell her on my book. I was the only one in line to see her, and stood waiting before her empty seat. Finally I asked a woman gossiping nearby if she knew where this agent was. She replied, “Oh, I’m her.” Seems she was waiting for me to figure out who she was.

  2. Sat at breakfast with two big, NYT bestselling authors at a conference once. When I asked about agents, they laughed ruefully and lifted the curtain for my newbie eyes: agents, they said, were like hairdressers. It’s all about getting the new client, it’s wonderful the first time, then they don’t work so hard to keep you. Or like farmers, always interested in the new cow, not the one who’s been giving them milk steady for years. (Lovely metaphor, that one.)

    Not you, Betsy. You obviously love all your clients better than their mothers. Not my agent, either, he answers all my inane emails. It’s a tough job, writers shouldn’t kid themselves. But do agents have go-to agent/shrinks, like shrinks have shrinks?

  3. Forget about your lifetime of rejections and those who you allow to steer the rivers of your being – for you will be wayward- and read this:

    A Braid of Garlic by Marilyn Hacker

    Aging women mourn while they go to market,
    buy fish, figs, tomatoes, enough today to
    feed the wolf asleep underneath the table
    who wakes from what dream?

    What but loss comes round with the changing season?
    He is dead, whom, daring, I called a brother
    with that leftover life perched on his shoulder
    cawing departure.

    He made one last roll of the dice. He met his
    last, best interlocutor days before he
    lay down for the surgery that might/might not
    extend the gamble.

    What they said belongs to them. Now a son writes
    elegies, though he has a living father.
    One loves sage tea, one gave the world the scent of
    his mother’s coffee.

    Light has shrunk back to what it was in April,
    incrementally will shrink back to winter.
    I can’t call my peregrinations ‘exile,’
    but count the mornings.

    In a basket hung from the wall, its handle
    festooned with cloth flowers from chocolate boxes,
    mottled purple shallots, and looped beside it,
    a braid of garlic.

    I remember, ten days after a birthday
    (counterpoint and candlelight in the wine-glass),
    how the woman radiologist’s fingers
    probed, not caressing.

    So, reprise (what wasn’t called a ‘recurrence’)
    of a fifteen-years-ago rite of passage:
    I arrived, encumbered with excess baggage,
    scarred, on the threshold.

    Through the mild winter sun in February,
    two or three times weekly to Gobelins, the
    geriatric hospital where my friend was
    getting her nerve back.

    At the end of elegant proofs and lyric,
    incoherent furious trolls in diapers.
    Fragile and ephemeral as all beauty:
    the human spirit –

    while the former journalist watched, took notes and
    shocked, regaled her visitors with dispatches
    from the war zone in which she was embedded,
    biding her time there.

    Now in our own leftover lives, we toast our
    memories and continence. I have scars where
    breasts were, her gnarled fingers, these days, can hardly
    hold the pen steady.

    Thousands mourn him, while in the hush and hum of
    life-support for multiple organ failure,
    utter solitude, poise of scarlet wings that
    flutter, and vanish.

  4. One time I had this agent… oh, wait, no I didn’t.

  5. Canned response to writers whose works an agent cannot sell, just like rejection of query.

    Dear, Dear writer O’ mine:

    I tried to sell your work to the top six in publishing, but your work was rejected by four marketing teams for the Schmuck, et. al Publishing. Two eidtors have never replied to me despite my calling ,emailing, sending flowers and low-fat Subway sandwiches. I even invited one to the Transgender Bingo Games, but ne’er a guffaw. So. I’m saying adios, my sad, sad writer. I want to tell you to find another agent, but when another agent asks if your work has been sent out, especially to the big six and you tell the truth, you will almost never get another agent. Sorry to do this to you, but life’s a bowl of shit sometimes. Since we had no written contract, I feel legally safe in severing out relationship. Best wishes. Live long and prosper. Oy
    and meow. V.

  6. Had a fabulous agent at a well-respected agency. Fabulous Agent left for a new publishing gig. No one else at Well-Respected Agency repped my current genre, so the agency and I amicably parted ways. Now looking for new agent. Must love music, long walks on the beach and my latest novel.

  7. I have yet another relationship to feel insecure about? Must “mom” always like that other kid best? How to know if you are being dissed or maturely accepting business as usual that is
    my forever quandry

  8. Oh my god. Are those donut holes?

    • Yes. They were transcended from mere holes into munchkins by Dunkin Donuts.

    • The kids in Finland think my kids lie about ‘them.’ There couldn’t possibly be a place such as D&D with their magical munchkins. Seriously.

      • At Tim Horton’s in Montreal (and I’m sure the other parts of Canada in which I have no interest), they’re called Timbits and they are delish.

  9. It may seem tempting to try to hook a new agent before you dump your current agent, but don’t do it. That new agent will KNOW you went behind the last agent’s back, and will never fully trust you. Be honest and make a fresh start.

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