This fall I signed with a literary agent for a YA novel. When we discussed plans for submission, she said she would contact approximately 10 editors, we would examine the responses, and (if no offer was made) decide if any revisions were necessary before expanding the submission. Well, we did not receive any offers in response to the first 10 submissions and the agent has decided to step aside. She felt there might be issues with marketability (it's a historical novel, set in a somewhat unusual time period), but only one editor actually mentioned that as a reason for passing. To my eye, there wasn't a clear pattern in the editors' responses (they all liked different things and disliked different things). She has said I am free to seek other representation. So I am wondering:
1. How common or uncommon is this scenario?
2. As an agent, how many submissions would you expect to send out before getting an offer?
3. Is it worth seeking another agent or will these 10 submissions effectively kill my chances?
4. How much of this should be mentioned in the query?
While I'm reluctant to stick my long pointy nose into another agent's business practices,
1. The initial statement that she's only sending to ten editors. While I do not work in YA, I know some pretty successful agents who do. Their war stories often have ten editors coming to an auction. That means there are LOTS more than ten places to submit YA projects. Hell, I can think of more than ten myself.
This seems like an early warning sign that the editor isn't in this with you for the long haul. That's certainly one way to agent, but it sure leaves authors in a pickle more times than not.
2. She's ditching you rather than asking you to write something else.
3. If you signed with her in the fall, and it's now the last week of January, that's barely four months, and one of those months had a lot of "out of office" email replies cause we were all snogging Santa or his reindeer or both (Fifty Shades of Doe, Ray and Me)
Now for your questions:
1. I've seen this kind of thing before. I've blogged about it too.
I think it's becoming more common as agents need to sell big books and decide not to spend time on books that aren't going to go big.
2. My practice is to send out rounds of submissions. If you have ten first choice editors, and they say no, I send to ten second-choice. I've sold books to publishers who weren't my first or second choice, but the author and I discussed the submission and agreed on it. If I run out of places to submit, I generally have already asked the author to start on something new.
3. This book is dead. You need to write something new. I never take on "lightly shopped" let alone seriously shopped books.
4. None. You'll write a new book, and when your next agent calls to chat, you'll mention this and I hope it will become a hilarious story.
The lesson to be learned from this is: ASK what strategy an agent employs for a book they can't sell. If it's the WhamBamPartingGiftsPlan, you'll want to think long and hard about signing with that agent.
Almost without exception each client I've signed wrote a book I loved. If editors turned it down, I thought they were short-sighted and I wanted to make sure they'd live to rue that rejection.
When the client and I have parted ways over my inability to sell their work, it's absolutely not for lack of effort on my part. Yes, sometimes a fresh perspective is needed. Sometimes a new agent will know a category better than I do. When that happens, I am sorry to see the client leave, but I understand their thinking. I have some very successful former clients and I'm pleased as punch for them.
I can't think of a single instance where I sent a book to ten editors and four months later fired the client (even passively) unless there was something else going on. You've mentioned nothing that leads me to think that might be the case here and I hope it isn't.
Some of the things that can lead an agent to lose enthusiasm quickly:
1. Nagging. I don't mean follow up emails once a week, I mean "what are you doing" emails once a day.
2. Micro-managing: "I saw this editor bought Book X on Pub Lunch. Are you sending to them?"
3. Incessant over-analyzing "what does she mean "the book isn't big enough.""
4. Eeyore emails "oh, I'm so discouraged, woe is me, maybe I'll just self-publish" after each rejection.
If by some dreadful coincidence, you see yourself in this list, it's not the book and it's not the agent, it's you. (I hope it's not.)
In any case you now know three things:
1. Your agent has fired you.
2. You need to write a new book
3. You're never going to sign with someone who practices the WhamBamPartingGifts Submission plan again.