Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Agent question: inventory/old novels

Say you have written manuscripts A, B, and C (A being your oldest written, and C your newest). You are lucky and land agent with manuscript C. Would an agent look at manuscripts A and B at all? Is this decided by how recent they were written, or if the author wants the agent to also look at them? Just curious over all, how does this type of thing work and what factors play a role in these types of decisions?

When I sign a client for a Shiny New Novel, one of the things I do ask about is inventory. If you have inventory, and you sign with an agent, you tell her about it.

Most likely she's not going to read any of it while her hands are full with Shiny New Novel.

If Shiny doesn't sell, then I look at inventory.
Chances are inventory isn't going to sell either, so it's on to New Book.

There's no way to quantify this because every writer has different inventory, and agents work differently.  This is why you want good clear communication with YOUR agent. Ask HER what she wants to do.

I've sold inventory novels. I've flat out refused to look at inventory novels after hearing about them. There is no one answer here because the question has four dimensions: the author, the agent, the book, timing.

You thought three dimensional chess was tough? Add time as a factor and you've got  a good metaphor for this.


Marc P said...

Some authors have published inventory novels after big time success and I wished they hadn't. Sometimes publishers do it and I really wish they hadn't. Go Tell a marketing Watchman. Sometimes Authors rewrite their inventory novel which was fan fiction and become Multi millionaires - and then re write that book again from another characters penis perspective and make another billion dollars. It's a funny old world. I got asked to rewrite a script from one tv show into another and then used part of the story in a book. Never throw anything away - especially your dreams, or stuff on old digital formats!! :(

Marc P said...

Some inventory noels are great though - the marketing/agent/sales break isn;t always the same as an artistic breakthrough

DLM said...

Being pre-published and still feeling so early in the WIP, I get all cart/horse-y on this kind of question. Of course, that is sour grapes, but not everyone has access to the cotton candy grapes (yes. this is A Thing).

Query one novel. Have an inventory, if you're lucky. But sell something, and sell it well enough you have an audience you can appreciate.

Sometimes, I think life's all in the gratitude. Focus there. And on the story.

RobCeres said...

Great and timely post that I've started wondering about now that I'm not published (yet, fingers crossed), and plugging along on number two. Perhaps it’s worth pointing out that Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice was written well before Sense and Sensibility, which was published first. Think about it. One of the greatest novels of all time was an inventory book.

As an aside, Jane is a great example of why having an excellent agent is important. She didn’t have one. (Was there such a thing in 1812?) She “sold” Pride and Prejudice for 110 pounds. Flat. No royalties. A bit more than 1 one thousandths of Mr. Darcy’s annual income.

Marc P said...


@DLM yes life is all in the gratitude. I stumbled across this just now.

DLM said...

Marc P - I'm firewalled from YouTube at my job, will have to peek later. Darnit!

Rob, you actually got me curious so I went and looked at the "Literary Agent" article at Wikipedia. Not one of their best (*), but at least it's functionally correct. I'd be so interested in seeing the history of the agent beyond "they appeared around 1880" though!

* The dreaded word "gatekeeper" is employed! Query letters are described as 1-2 pages!!! Some questionable comma non-usage, and italicization. As always, the references are interesting. Janet DOES NOT appear in their Notable Agents list. The fools!

Tony Clavelli said...

Just a few weeks ago I had to decide Shiny New has moved onto the dank basement pastures of "inventory novel" (I was calling it the less-flattering "DOA-novel"). Part of wishes it had a home so badly, but maybe someday in the future if I land the right agent, but it's good to know the answer to that question. So many of us think that first or second one is going to be the big one. It sort of deadens the pain and gives my poor Lostronaut a nicer label. The inventory is a promise that everything after will be better writing.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I have inventory. But in the cart horse-y world, will be so grateful for a super awesome agent for shiny new book. Then they are free to paw through inventory if they really want to, but I have started second shiney new book so onward.

Any agent that agrees to rep me immediately becomes super awesome - I am just saying. And brave. But they should keep kale on hand just in case I get too beastie like. Ok, I am rambling. Sell something and then cotton candy grapes. That at least sounds better than kale.

Donnaeve said...

Marc, that song certainly brought back memories, and the cult following of theater goers who danced in the aisles. Me included.

Donnaeve said...

ON TOPIC, I have an inventory too. Three fully completed novels, the start of two others (around 8K to 15K) and a WIP I'm into by 25K. I'm happy to have ALL of this stuff. I've heard once published, other works are considered more valuable. One can hope.

Marc P said...

I'm still dancing too and as ever completely out of step. Just wish I had some inventory novels - I've got some old poems!

Janet Reid said...

Since Colin Smith must be off doing something productive like working or raising children, I shall provide linkage for Marc P:

Dammit Marc P, I think I love you

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Marc P. Love this,
"Never throw anything away - especially your dreams,..."

Shred my inventory and I single-handedly could furnish a ticker tape parade for every American hero since the ticker tape parade Audi Murphy never got.

BTW fellow Reiders I'm heading to Italy tonight so I may not be posting for awhile. I'm gonna' try though. I'll say hello to George and Amal at Lake Como, although I here it's up for sale. (Ya think the lake was named after Perry? Nah....

Susan said...

Marc's comment is everything.

To add: I have a bunch of half-written manuscripts in the proverbial drawer that, for some reason or another, were never finished. What I'm finding now is that I'm going back to them because certain plot points and/or characters work perfectly for a new book. In that sense, the old stuff is being repurposed. Upcycled literature. On second thought, that should never be a thing.

The point is, you wrote those older stories for a reason: maybe they helped you with your craft and were only meant for the experience; maybe you'll revise them into something new; maybe they'll standalone as your next best seller; or maybe it's some kind of combination of everything. They're still serving a purpose by being outside of you, even if they're left in a drawer.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Dammit that's awesome. LOL.
Someone should bring that balloon the next time QOTKU does a seminar.

@Tony, I'm sorry Shiny New is moving to inventory. But kudos to you for letting it go there.

I've got unfinished inventory. Shiny New is still green.

Donnaeve said...

Marc, you'll notice an uptick in the views - I believe I've listened three times now.

Talk about a "Time Warp."

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Marc- sneak your poetry into your fiction. I have noticed a lot of authors doing that. Especially in fantasy but I've seen it done in other genres - make your brooding, slightly alcoholic detective a masterful poet or what have you.

I do steal from my inventory - taking the good bits and incorporating them in WIP. Ah but to get an agent...

But indeed no writing is wasted.

RobCeres said...

I have one critique partner who has no inventory. She self published or tiny-house e-published all her books. I keep telling her they could see the light of day if she just took the time to polish them up. An e-book with major flaws is DOA, and can never take advantage of the better writer who is to come.

DLM said...

Rob Ceres "the better writer who is to come" ... SPLENDID!

Thanks to Janet I had David Cassidy running through my head, and then thanks to Donna, it turned to Rocky Horror. What is the song in the link?

Every now and then I remember the first two books I ever REALLY tried to write, both perhaps best lost to the electronic vagaries of time. I don't tend to ever remember them in the context of attempting to resurrect them. But as for The Ax and the Vase, I still hope it may see the light of day. I'm no longer working on that. But I still hope. Even just letting it lie fallow has been a heartbreaking decision, but it is the right one unfortunately. But it has no headstone.

Anonymous said...

I have nothing of use to add, I just wanted to cheer at the reference to Spock and his 3D chess :D

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Rob - totally agree. It's hard to put a book aside but we do get better the more we write, and a little time can also help you solidify your vision. Your Jane Austen example is very much on point.

Theresa said...

I'm all Time Warp-y this morning, too, between YouTube and Janet's Spock-Bones photo.

All of these stories about writers' inventory leaves me a bit stunned. Having all those ideas, writing all those words, and the pages end up in the desk drawer. I understand the value of practice and perseverance; all of you personify that. And it's good to know that agents might be interested in inventory.

Craig said...

This is the reason I was willing to shelf the book I originally wanted to be my first published. I went straight to D, from A, when the plan changed.

I get an e-mail a week from the betas that were up all night when they started A. They feel that I dropped it too quickly. I could not, however, get a query I loved out of it. Such is life when you call something a thriller but doesn't become one until the second half.

The revised plan is to get the speculative thrillers and the first of the sci-fi out and then come back to the prequel trilogy.

Hopefully by then the taste of Watchmen will have been Listerined away.

Brian Schwarz said...

Ooh 2Nn's - I'm off to vacation as well, only instead of Italy it's Vegas, and instead of seeing beautiful things I'll be triple mortgaging my house on football bets... Hope I don't lose my kneecaps, but then again it'd make a great story!

Pharosian said...

@DLM - LOVE the "cotton candy grapes" reference! Did you make that up?

Although this isn't exactly an inventory example, I like to remember that John Grisham's first-published book "A Time to Kill" didn't get much publicity until "The Firm" (his third, I believe) became a hit. In my opinion, ATTK was a better book than Firm. If he hadn't been able to attract an agent until Firm, ATTK would have been an inventory book.

I've got a slew of novels I started but then abandoned for one reason or another. I'm just trying to get *something* finished. Then I might know what to do with some of the older ones.

Marc P said...

ha ha blushes at Janet! It is weird sometimes the things you stumble across ;)

Marc P said...

@ EM Goldsmith... I may well do that with a limerick spray painted somewhere lol..
If My detective started quoting poetry they would think he had read too many Spenser novels! And of course he has only read Raymond Chandler ;)

DLM said...

Pharosian, I work at a food distributor, cotton candy grapes are the latest buzz with one of my favorite marketing dorks. He's mad for the cotton candy grapes.

They're actually sort of grim looking, but seedless and large, and supposedly they taste phenomenal. We had a bag out yesterday; I really should have tasted one. But I fear such new-fangley innovation. I'm Virginian.

Bon voyages to 2Ns and Brian!! (Carolynn, say hi to Ravenna for me if you go thereabouts; it's a major character in my WIP!)

Seriously, WHAT is the song Marc posted???

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Marc - I respect your detective. Chandler is wonderful. I love the idea of a limerick spray painted on a wall. Or a serial killer that uses his victims blood to spray paint said limerick... Ah well

Marc P said...

I am taking notes EMG ! :)

Anonymous said...


That is awesome!

Years ago I wrote a suspense novel called DANCING HORSES. It was about a young cutting horse farm manager who was also a rodeo bareback rider. He'd given up rodeo to manage the farm. Then champion horses started dying mysteriously and he suspected they weren't all accidents so he loaded up his horses and quit.

They weren't. The owner was involved with the mob and had hired a horse hit man, yes there is such a thing, so he could collect on the insurance.

Long story short. One of the MC's horses was a colt the owner had given him that was an embryo transfer from a champion mare. At the time AQHA only allowed owners to register one foal from embryo transfer. Since this colt had been born with a crooked leg, he gave it away. The vet cast it and it was fine. The colt the owner kept had zero talent. The colt he gave away was on his way to becoming a champion so the owner swapped out the horses and altered the markings via freeze branding.

A string of murders ensues to cover up the mess. Colton has hooked up with two Cajun cowboys and disappeared on the rodeo circuit and hit men are on his trail. yada yada.

I love the story. Love the characters. Then AQHA changes the rules so owners can register all foals from embryo transfer. That kind of kills a main plot point.

So, yes, timing is everything. DANCING HORSES will never see the light of day even if I felt like finishing it again. It was good practice.

The fantasy is important to me. If an agent doesn't want it, but wants something else, I may have to consider self-publishing, but I want to see it in print someday. I'd rather not, but it's an option.

It's a conundrum. That's why I mainly query agents who rep both fantasy and historical.

Another option is doing what I did in a previous life and get two agents.

Marc P said...

JMW .. plot problems are opportunities give me a cup of coffee and I will get back to you :)

Marc P said...

Okay I know nothing of horses... can rather than it be embryo transfer... is there such a thing as IVF through stallion sperm donation??
I hope this is ok as still on topic . I hate to see whole stories go!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

JMW- cool story. I love horses too. My aunt raises quarter horses. We write in same wheel houses sounds like. But 2 agents? How did you manage that? It seems a gargantuan task to capture just one. I am hoping to get an agent that does fantasy in addition to other things, but for now one awesome agent for my fantasy series will make me sing. I'll worry about my inventory after that.

RobCeres said...

Julie, not sure why the rules of today should govern your book. Just set in 2006 or whenever works! Sounds like a lot of interesting and unique plot opportunity here.

BJ Muntain said...

I like Janet's term: inventory. Meaning, the novel is there, in a type of storage, waiting for the day when it might be useful.

I have a few of those that will most likely never see the light of day. I have some that I hope will.

Marc: I still have work saved on floppy disks. Unfortunately, I no longer have a computer that can read those particular floppy disks. Someday, I'm going to have to get them translated to a current format. But I'll probably need a Commodore 64 to do that. Or I need to find someone with some very specific computer programs.

And you don't honestly expect us to believe you just 'stumbled across' that video, do you? I especially like the scene where the little fish is saved!

Diane: I was going to give some vague hints at the song, so as not to give spoilers. But then I realized that you really need to see the video when you hear the song. The video is the more important part.

Marc P said...

At Bj lol.. I might have stumbled on it in my iMovie maker lol.

Janice L. Grinyer said...

"There is no one answer here because the question has four dimensions: the author, the agent, the book, timing."

I find this comment comforting: its nice to know that flexibility is the main player when dealing with Inventory.

Marc P said...

The main thing is invent story

Adib Khorram said...

I'm curious what constitutes "inventory." Are manuscripts "inventory" before they're finished—that is, is a rough draft, or half of a rough draft, inventory? Or are they still concepts until the author has typed "THE END?"

Also...the Janet video just made my week.

Donnaeve said...

On my trip to the mountains recently, I spotted a large suburban beast of a vehicle that had a sign on the passenger door.


Of course, I had no camera with me at the time. It was back up the mountain, three and half miles away. Since I was running, I wasn't about to hot foot it up the mountain and down again. I tried to get a pic before I left. Alas. No luck.

That still wouldn't beat Marc's video.

Bon voyage 2N's and Cap'n BS! Enjoy your trips!

Donnaeve said...

Diane, it's DAMMIT JANET.

Marc P said...


Hahah DN and Adnib et all... bloody hell I better make a proper one one of these days. :)

Anonymous said...


I had an agency for my suspense and one for my children's books. It was hard enough finding an agency who repped the adult things I was interested in, let alone the children's stuff, so I split them off.

Janice L. Grinyer said...

JMW - Cloning. I follow the USEF circuit (United States Equestrian Federation), but I know AQHA is against it.

Right now, a very famous jumper, Gem Twist, is in the news again (he died a very ripe old age of 27 after his career). Since he was a gelding, they cloned him. USEF says that no clones are allowed to participate in any shows/competitions. But what about the clones get? A colt and a filly from this cloned stud have finally reached the assessment age (3 years) and it looks promising.

I know it takes you in a different direction, but the topic at hand in today's horse world is definitely Cloning :)

Sorry; off topic!

Colin Smith said...

I think I mentioned on Sunday that my Mum's in town for a few weeks from the UK, hence my lack of activity in the comments. Yes, at last, other people get to talk! :D

Thanks for catching Marc's link Janet. And what a link! Marc wins the internet today. Or at least Janet's affections--and that's certainly the better win. :)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Sat down for lunch (soup) just before the limo arrives to take us to Kennedy and hahahahahaha
I love it. Too funny. I mean really, too, too funny !

Ewwww there's a fly in my soup. It was swimming. Dammit Janet in miniature? I don't think so.

Hey Capt. BS, if you win big, party is on you babe.

Anonymous said...


I am dead set against cloning and I was against registering multiple embryo transfers.

Frozen and shipped semen improved the quality of Quarter Horses and helped smaller breeders. Multiple embryo transfer registrations only improved pocket books of rich breeders. Of course, it was a rich breeder who sued to get multiple transfers registered and a judge who wasn't familiar with breeding who ruled for it.

When a horse dies, let them go.

Yes, I could do cloning, but I've moved on to other projects. Plus, I despise that subject so much I don't even want to write about it. I keep hearing whispers about bronc riders and stuff.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Ah, I don't think horse cloning is off topic today. I mean really, we're talking about inventory, old, new, rewritten originals and originals presented as what they once was. All the same to the non-giddy-up girl I am.

Janice L. Grinyer said...

JMW- Totally understand your personal opinion. It is interesting to think that even though clones aren't accepted right now, their get could be, at least by some industry standards. Anyway, it is beyond the concept stage now - cloning is here in the horse industry. Everyone is scrambling for setting standards, since it has now been proven beyond a concept.

CarolyNN :) - I like the cut of your jib - great way to swing back to the topic at hand :D!

AND OMG - Marc P - that video, LOL... Im glad Janet loves it otherwise it could be construed as...stalkerish? :D I mean, a lot went into the making of that...Dang, you even went to a public Aquarium for her sake...with a mobile aren't hiding any misdemeanors or anything from the production of that fan flick are you?

Karen McCoy said...

Late to the party, but I know of at least a few authors who were able to publish shiny as well as inventory. Tom Leveen comes to mind--and his books are fabulous.

And who wouldn't want to clone horses?

Donnaeve said...

OFF TOPIC...back in 2012 I lost both my Yorkies b/c of jerky treats. I would have considered cloning them if 1)I had the money and knew where to go, 2) it didn't sort of creep me out.

Once you come to know an animal like I knew them, it's like cloning a family member. Although...what's likely creepier are folks who stuff their pets and put them around the house.

Another off topic - I'm in a fizzle about Bouchercon and a potential conflict. Nothing definitive yet, but this is what happens when I try to plan something over a year out.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

If I could clone anybody...actually I can't think of anyone I'd want back because I'd never live long enough to know if they turned out like they once were. Would I really want to be Abe Lincoln's mother or Jesus's nana, nope.
Gotta go, we're on our way. By y'all.
Hey, I'm gonna miss you guys.

Kate Larkindale said...

I have several inventory novels. I just don't want some of them ever to see the light of day. My first published book was the 5th I wrote. Books 1-3 will never come out of the drawer and neither will #6, my one attempt at historical romance.

The book that got me my agent was an inventory novel in that it was my 8th book, and I was already querying 9 at the time. I just happened to Twitter pitch the older one as well during a Twitter contest. When I get time, I want to try and polish up #4 because that's the inventory novel I would be proud to send out into the world.

Anonymous said...

Re cloning horses. The purpose of breeding is not only to reproduce, but also to improve the breed. By cloning horses we're saying this is the best this breed is ever going to be. That's a bit egotistical of that owner to believe that he or she owns the perfect horse of all time.

Three Bars, who changed Quarter Horses forever in all aspects, was considered a nothing Thoroughbred through no fault of his own. One owner tried to sell him and the prospective buyer replied he wouldn't give a rusty jack knife for him. Thankfully, someone had the presence of mind to realize he was the perfect cross on Quarter mares.

Cloning makes for good science fiction, such as Star Wars, but in real life I'm not that enthused about it.

Janice L. Grinyer said...

JMW - Cloning actually is already an accepted practice in the Biology/Botany field for close to a century - micro propagation of plants... It is now arriving in the medical field; possible organs, tissue growth in the future for those who need repair or organs etc. without sacrificing human life. How important, especially for burn victims... So it is no longer science fiction...It is Science.

But you have brought up a very important point - it is important that those in charge set standards on what they think is acceptable within their "community", like the AQHA and others. A whole animal being cloned does not make it easy for those who work on lineage as their main focus in their breeding program (im more of a conformation girl myself). With your strong opinion, Im sure you would write an excellent piece on it!

In the meanwhile - female Bronc riders ;) A story that does need to be told, and you would be able to tell it well :) Actually, living in Otter Montana, just south of Miles city, I know quite a few legends around here, both female and male...The history is amazing when someone can go back 5 generations in their family living in this area. My inventory itself is growing, because I hate to see these stories disappear. Even if it never gets published, at least its documented...

Darth Lolita said...

Glad to see this was asked.

I have a ton of inventory novels I most likely won't be querying. If somewhere down the line I manage to sign with a literary agent, I'll probably thoroughly revise those manuscripts before showing them to my agent.

DLM said...

Okay that vid is beyOND.

Adib, I'm the last authority in the world of course, but my feeling is works in progress might be resources, but only something which is very nearly in shape to be sold would be called inventory. I think of inventory as product, and unfinished writing is not product.

And now, thanks to Janet, I need to watch TOS while writing a bit about 6th century (heretical ... ?) Christian worship and the night. Building inventory.

BJ Muntain said...

We'll miss you too, 2Ns!

The problem I see with cloning someone (person or pet) that you love, is the nurture part of nature/nurture. Would the person or pet really be the same as the person or pet you knew?

If I could have cloned my dog, Koko, before he died in 2013... Maybe. But I wouldn't be able to look at him as Koko. Because my Koko went through a very tough spell before he was rescued and I got him through rescue. Would he be the same sweet, easy-going yet OCD little guy that he became?

If a person is cloned by their parents, just to give a bit of similarity in background... would the clone be the same person? If the parents are older, they'll be more experienced and more likely to dote on a young one. If the clone is raised beside the original, would the parents be able to treat the clone as they treat the original?

I think cloning is a cool idea, but I don't think it would really work for a beloved pet. Or person. Because personality.

Anonymous said...


I understand cloning is accepted as part of science in biology for many purposes. I disagree it enhances animal breeding programs.

Having been born in Sidney, Montana, spent quite a bit of time living on a farm out of Savage, gone to school in Miles City, Billings, Hardin, Savage, Yellow Tail, and Great Falls, and being the first woman to ride a bucking horse at the Miles City Bucking Horse Sale in 1970, I'm familiar with the country.

My dad rodeoed with the Greenoughs and mugged horses for Bill Linderman. I still have Bill's wild horse racing saddle. I used to visit with Bud Kramer quite a bit when I lived in Miles.

You're right, it's fascinating country with fascinating people. I'm glad you're documenting some of their stories.

BJ Muntain said...

And Donna: (((hugs))) I knew a lot of people affected by those tainted treats - Koko had kidney disease, and I belonged to a very good, very active e-mail group for people with dogs with kidney disease.

It's so heartbreaking to think it happened because of food. Koko's was for another reason, but there were so many people and pets affected.

I'm so sorry for your losses.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Late to the column. Great video. And yes, I have David Cassidy stuck in my head too.

Marc P said...

Dammit Janice... stalking is a good thing right?

Donnaeve said...

Thank you for that, BJ...much appreciated. It's been three years - and even that is hard to believe, and we've come a ways since losing them. I think what made it most difficult for us was having to decide their fate - which was ultimately sealed anyway. Still. We wanted them to die of old age, in their beds. Not on a vet table.

Janice L. Grinyer said...

Marc P - Only when you are paid! ;)

JMW - I think some of my neighbors ran around in the same circuit as you did in 1970 - seems to be the thing here - rodeo, then become a rancher on the family homestead :D And thats a lot of living going on in Montana - you saw ALL the towns - no wonder you have so many stories to share!