Years and years ago, I signed with a terrible agent. She wouldn't talk to me, refused to tell me where she'd sent my book, sent my ms to the wrong address of an editor who asked me to send it to him during a conference, told me two publishers wanted to see something else from me, but she'd lost their names... If she'd been my boyfriend I'd have dumped her at once, but it took a more experienced author telling me to get out of the relationship to make me fire her.
Earlier this year, I worked with a publisher who's great. He let me alter anything in the contract, but showed me how things are related - these are his production costs, this is my royalty rate, this is the bookstore's cut, this is his profit if we sell the book at $X, or $Y or $Z. "You pick," he said to me. I asked about the clause in the contract about foreign rights. "We can take that out," he said. "If you get a better offer than my small production in England, I'm not here to stand in your way." Ended up, I became more concerned about protecting his rights than my own. (Warning: even among small publishers, this is very rare.) He was a dream to work with. I hope he makes a lot of money on my book. I feel like I'm marketing it for both our sakes.
And now I have an agent. I really like her. Despite the disparity in our ages, we are in many ways alike. I love her enthusiasm and energy, she emails me updates regularly, suggests good changes to my ms and accepts it well when I reject some of them. We write emails to each other with lots of exclamation! marks! in them!! (NOT the way I write a story, but kinda the way I talk and definitely the way I email) She loves my writing voice and I love her email voice!! We're a good fit. She works hard for me, and it's important to me to be working with someone I like and trust.
But the traditional route is S-L-O-W. And I have three SF manuscripts, which I wrote when I was starting out, and she doesn't rep SF. So I'm thinking of going hybrid, which means using both routes. Polish up these previous novels for self-publication, and send her my memoir and historical fiction for the traditional route. We discussed it before I signed, and it's good with her.
Now what's interesting about this is, if I self-pub, who is my professional relationship with? Why, it's with my readers, directly. I'm not writing for my agent or a publisher's tastes, but for my readers. No one but them will tell me what will sell, or whether I can cross genres, or how long the story should be. They'll tell me democratically, not autocratically - by voting with their money. I really like that relationship.
I like the concept of being a hybrid author - I think it's the best of both worlds. But it's a little sad that I needed the agent and the publisher telling me my work was good enough to be printed, before I had the confidence to decide to self-pub anything.