Friday, October 17, 2014

Query Question: No, I want the other one

I attended a conference where I found an agent from a very respectable agency*** had an open pitch time slot. My pitch got a request for a full. My research after the conference showed that the agent had no sales in my genre. I did not send my manuscript, and many months have passed since the conference. I would like to query another agent at the agency who represents many authors writing in my genre.

What to do? Do agents keep track of conference requests? The agency website says nothing regarding querying multiple agents. Is querying the second agent acceptable? If so, should I mention the first agent in my query to the second?
That odd sound you hear if you tilt your head to the left is me tapping you none-too-gently on the noggin  with a clue-by-four.

Let's see how you got to that point:

(1) You pitched an agent you didn't know. 

(2) You assumed that because you could not find any sales in your genre, there weren't any.

(3) You didn't sent the manuscript.

(4) and now, you want to know if it's ok to query another agent at the same agency and mention s/he asked for the full but you declined to send it to them.

You've behaved rudely here. You've made some assumptions that have prompted you to act that way, and I hope you'll stop doing that.

For starters, not all deals are reported.  My Publishers Marketplace deal listings are sadly out of date, and not just cause I'm lying around eating bonbons and watching telenovellas. Some deals aren't announced till foreign sales are made. I'm waiting to announce one now cause I want to use the correct title, and I know the publisher is changing it. Never assume you know how many deals an agent has done, or not.

Second, you didn't write to the agent and say thanks and withdraw the manuscript.  When I get those emails, I don't ask why (I don't particularly care.) It does mean that I don't email the author and ask what happened.  I ALWAYS do that if a requested full doesn't show up because it's easy for mail with attachments to go astray.

Third, you're assuming the agent with lots of clients is a better fit.  And taking new clients.

And you're counting on the agents not talking to each other. Here's where that gets tricky:

Agent B: thanks for your query. This sounds terrific, but my list is pretty full.  I've passed this along to my colleague Agent A who is actively looking for projects in this genre.

Agent A: whoa, I recognize this. Didn't I ask for this at that writing conference? How come B has it a year later?

I can absolutely tell you that if you'd dissed any of my younger agents this way, and queried me, I'd have said no thanks pretty quickly.  I think my younger agents are often a better match for new writers than some of the rest of us: they're young, hungry, fresh, and eager. And they don't have "many clients" to torment daily.

You've screwed up royally here.  There's nothing to prevent you from querying Agent Two but you'd be very foolish to mention you've already talked to Agent One and decided s/he wasn't worthy.

***and what is a "respectable" agency? Do you mean reputable? I can assure you the best agents I know are very rarely respectable ladies with white gloves and delicate little handbags.

available here


Colin Smith said...

I don't normally like to link to my blog in other people's comments, but I think the picture there is particularly appropriate... :)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Dear Ms. Manners,
At the newest bar in town I met Roy, a really nice guy and he asked me out. Sure I said, let’s go dancing. Friends told me Roy doesn’t dance. As a matter of fact everyone told me they never saw Roy dance, anywhere, at any time. Well, I certainly didn’t want to go dancing with a guy who’d step on my toes and have a miserable time, so I stood him up. His best friend Chester loves to dance, maybe I could get him to take me dancing.
Question: Should I have a drink with Chester and hope he asks me out?
Thank you,
Perplexed in Peoria

Dear Perplexed in Peoria,
Stay home, stop drinking. I know Roy. He took dancing lessons and can’t wait to do the two-step with a lively chick. Regarding Chester, he likes to dance too, with his wife, ex-wife and houseful of kids. You lost out honey. Pick your spot at the end of the bar and cry. Lifelong happiness requires trust, and a leap of faith, neither of which you seem to have.

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

(Face palm!) At the query stage, an agent asking for a full is the Holy Grail, and you turned up your nose? I'd love to see the statistics (which no one keeps) on how many passes it takes to get one, "send me the full." I'll bet it's pretty big number. This writer has seriously overthought this.

french sojourn said...

John....dead on.

"Thank you for the get out of jail free card, but I think I shall await awhile. The food's not bad and the other guys have taken a shine to me."


Anonymous said...


I think if I were this person, I would send the original requesting agent the ms, and then lie my pants off about why it took so long. Make up SOMETHING plausible, and hope they still care enough to want to read it. By now, and unfortunately, this agent's interest over an ms from months ago might be non-existent. They may not even remember asking. They may think this writer is unprofessional.

What a difficult lesson to learn. Better make that lie a good one, although I think I'd avoid anything to do with death. Except for the fact you may have killed your chances with this agent.

Alexandra (Ola) J. said...

Jeepers. :\

I don't understand how people can be so unprofessional.

Then again, I hope they keep acting in such a manner, as it will make me look better when I get around to sending my queries (/MS, if I'm lucky) out :)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Setting aside my parable, allow me to add that when I was young and stupid I too disregarded opportunity. I’ve written about this before, about how I had a contract, was paid a handsome advance and yet, I never delivered the goods. I thought chances could be picked from trees that produced fruit season after season. That was over forty years ago. When contemplating writing second chances not a day goes by that I do not regret my young, inexperienced and arrogant stupidity.
Do what Donna said.
Send the full, lie through your teeth and hope the agent remembers and forgives. What if this is the only chance you have. It may be, treat it as if it is.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Hell, at this point, I give any FRIEND who asks me for my MS the MS. I beg my first reader to get it done. I can't imagine not sending a full to an agent, regardless of what s/he most commonly seems to represent.

Ardenwolfe said...

We call this self-sabotage 101.

Anonymous said...

A few points:

- It's smart to do your research on attending agents and publishers long before you actually hit the conference. I don't attend many, but believe me, I've got my potential targets set up before I ever get there.

- There is almost no way you can lose by sending an agent a full manuscript. Worst case, they reject it. It's not like you're signing a contract. Keep in mind that no agent is going to spend time on a full if they think it's a genre they can't sell. These people work on commissions, remember?

- I'd go with the "send it now with some amazingly creative excuse." Maybe something along the lines of being allergic to computers and having to retype it all on a non-correcting IBM Selectric. Or your Muse escaping from the attic.

Anonymous said...

Yikes. I'm always one to take the writer's side rather than the agent's, but in this case... yikes.

I agree with Donna about what could be done to salvage the situation, but it probably won't work.

For future ref: the internet is a lousy place to research agents. Unfortunately it's almost the only info source available to writers starting out. So use it, but never assume that you're getting accurate info from it.

And this is hard for all of us writers to remember, but you've got to be realistic about your own status in the scheme of things. We all imagine ourselves as stars, the next John Gri... er, the next JK Rowling. But let's not act as if we're already there, eh?

(And when we get there, let's still not act as if we're already there.)

Adib Khorram said...

I have to say, I disagree completely with the "lie through your teeth" approach. Assume this agent accepts your lie, accepts your manuscript, and offers to represent you. Do you really want your agent-author relationship to have started with a huge lie?

Sometimes you have to accept your mistakes and learn your lesson. And I think if you do re-query the original agent, you should be honest. (At least, mostly honest...don't necessarily need to explain to them how you liked their colleague better.)

Also, I think Captcha is drunk, because I cannot read this thing at all. It's completely blurred out. Upon a refresh, it's a perfectly legible street address.

Anonymous said...

A lot of teeth get lied through in this business.

For example, when people in publishing give me a big smile and tell me they loved my latest, I thank them and know perfectly well they didn't read it.

And yes, captcha is unreadable, but it's accepting anything as an answer so that's okay.

Jed Cullan said...

What you could simply say is:

Dear Agent-Scum-Who-Doesn't-List-Sales,

I pitched you at a conference last year and you requested a full. After this, I decided to work on the book a little more and change a few things. I now believe it is ready for your consideration. I hope you still wish to read the full and have attached it just in case.

Yours Truly,

You really don't need to make up an extravagant lie to cover it up, or to tell the whole truth. Simply say you worked on it somewhat, which I'd guess you probably did anyway, and it's now the best it can be. Simples.

Elissa M said...

I agree with Jed. You don't have to lie. Just mention the full was requested at such-and-such conference and here it is.

Odds are, the agent would have passed anyway. If you're lucky, they'll pass it on to the agent you think is a better fit. Otherwise, if the agency doesn't have anything against querying more than one of their agents, you can query agent two after agent one sends their rejection.

Amy Schaefer said...

I'm with Jed and Elissa. Stick to a short, polite note and do not over-explain.

Anonymous said...

Geez. You all are making me feel like pond scum. What did you think I meant by lie?

"Uncle Herbie died and I had to settle his estate." ???

Still. I'd make up some lie, or excuse, call it what you want, to get this agent to read the full. My attempt at being pithy here didn't pay off. I assumed everyone would understand what I meant. Now I'm just darn cranky. Maybe I need a cocktail/s.

DLM said...

donnaeverhart, you are not scum, but it's Friday and we can all enjoy a refreshing beverage, right?

I think avoiding the truth *is* only professional in a context like this, the equivalent of careful answers to the question "Does this make my @$$ look fat?" It's possible to dissuade a wearer without behaving like the thing that looks too big.

Anonymous said...

DLM - now THAT made me laugh. Thx for that!

This is a really sticky situation b/c even if you tell the agent something like what some suggested above...the agent just might think why were they pitching to begin with? If it wasn't ready?

This here would be what we call a conundrum.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

"the agent just might think why were they pitching to begin with? If it wasn't ready?"

Because for some of us...every second time we look at something it isn't ready. Or we got valuable feedback from a trusted long-lost Beta. Or something. It's not impossible, even if it is improbable.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Lets change the word 'lie' to the word 'fiction'. Isn't that what this is about.
Make it short fiction or flash fiction and in 100 words or less tell how it took you a few more months to get it just right. Maybe you'll win something, like an agent.

Craig said...

Ahh, paranoia, paranoia where have you gone. Was that the deal with this idiot or was he one of the younger generation that know no respect but at experts at disrespect?

Put it down to simple rudeness, learn from it and move on. And Pray.
Hope to God that the agent you jilted has left the building. None of us are any longer in the days that Carolynnwith2ns was lucky enough to screw up in. The world is a smaller place. agents go out to drinks together and share horror stories. Witness protection can give you a new name.

Adele said...

What about:

"I met you [where and when] and you asked me to send you a full manuscript. Here it is." Simple.

If the agent reads it and queries the lengthy delay - well, that's a good thing. It means the agent is interested and just checking whether you're always going to be such a slowpoke. So at that point you offer the humble truth. "I'm sorry. I'm new to this and I listened to some stupid advice and I thought it would be a mistake to send this to you. Then I learned better. I hope I'm not too late."

Would it really be so bad to say that?

LynnRodz said...

Sorry, Adele, I disagree with the second part of what you said. Janet has always said she wants to read the best we've got and I'm sure it's the same for all agents. After your first sentence, I would say:

"I've made some changes these past few months and I wanted to send you the best I've got. Here it is."

This eliminates the need for the agent to question why the manuscript is being sent so late. And I'm sure s/he has probably done some tweaking to the ms during that time, so what they're saying is true. Win-win IMHO.

Adele said...

I assumed the author had not done any tweaking, and didn't want to lie.

DLM said...

donnaeverhart, so pleased I could give you a grin!

Just came from day 1 of my favorite conference, and got the full request. Now to spend the evening not-watching britcoms or something, while digging into the completely unauthorized bit of development my WIP MC indulged at me this week.