Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

"too busy" isn't actually a reason

I signed with my agent over 2 months ago and was promised a submission plan upon signing. That hasn't happened and when I asked I found out she hasn't even read the manuscripts. Just a chunks of each. She said she's been too busy to read them fully and in order to sub she needed to read. Since then she's been either unresponsive or vague with any questions I have.

Now, I completely understand you awesome agents are way busy, but is any of this normal? Plus, I mentioned to her my the current book I'm writing and get nothing more than "sorry, too busy".

I'm VERY perplexed here. How is that you signed with an agent who has not read your book? The only time that happens here is when the project is non-fiction. And when that happens, the author has written a proposal of some sort, and I've read the proposal. Often times we've worked on the proposal for some time before we make the next step to representation.

So, now that you have an agent who hasn't read your book and isn't sending it on submission because she hasn't read it, what do you have?

Well, you've got a big barricade on your path to publication.

Agents are supposed to get rid of barricades not create them.

Yea we're all busy, who isn't, but in fact, if you prioritize your work (as we all do) the thing that gets TOP priority in my case are these:  contracts, submissions, follow up on submissions.

In other words, the things that are most likely to put money in the coffers sooner rather than later.

That's why queries aren't my top priority unless they've stacked up to the point they interfere with my peace of mind. Same with requested fulls.

That's why clients on editorial deadline trump clients with manuscripts that aren't on deadline.
That's why I try to read things only once.

So, now you have an agent who hasn't read your work, and hasn't given you any sense of why other than she's too busy. Busy doing what?

Since I don't know the specifics of your situation, I'm not going to tell you what to do. I will say this: I've never signed a client without reading his/her novel.

Hell, half the fun of this job is the thrill of finding a great book and then getting to talk about it to people. Without that, the job is warranty clauses and reconciling royalty statements.  Blrggg!


AJ Blythe said...

"Just a chunk of each" Like JR, I'm wondering how you got an agent if they didn't read the ms? Or did you not know they hadn't read it when you signed? 'Cause I'd certainly assume if I submitted a full and then the agent offered representation that they'd read it! Not a question I'd think to ask (and so far not one I've come across in the shark pool either).

Nothing to offer, Opie, sorry, except to wish you all the best with this agent!

Lucie Witt said...

OP, I'm sorry you're going through this!

I actually HAVE seen "did you read the whole book?" on a list of questions to ask a prospective agent. It seemed odd to me but I added it to my list anyways,thinking it might weed out agents who don't know what they're doing.

OP, good luck.

Jason Magnason said...

Janet, this has me scared. Am I going to find that you are the best agent on the market and that since you are the cream of the crop, my odds of getting your kind of work ethic out of another agent is slim to none?

I am convinced my MS is good. I have read a lot of books. Since I write from the hip, I often forget what I wrote. When I go back and read my book, after letting it sit for awhile, its like reading a great new novel.

If I like my novel like I like the novels I read, does that not translate into a good book? Anyway, OP I am feeling your pain prematurely, I have been querying for the last couple of days and now this kind of thing scares the heck out of me.

Janet please start representing fantasy so I can Query you!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Isn't this a little like having Marie Osmond as an agent, who didn't do the really important stuff before marriage. Look where not reading between the sheets got her. (Remarried to the same guy years later.)

I'd give my left arm (I'm right handed) for an agent but if you're agent is a little bit country and you're a little bit rock and roll, I say sing another song.

DLM said...

Reason #1707 to go with an agent who is deliriously in love with your work, who is greedy to enjoy it, and ambitious to make sure others will too.

How bizarre and alarming. OP, best of luck to you.

LynnRodz said...

Something doesn't smell right. By the way your question is written, it seems this agent has more than one of your manuscripts and she's only read chunks of each. If I were you, OP, I would investigate further. Talk to her other clients and see what they say about her. Go on the internet and find out more, what she's sold recently, etc. I hope you're going to read this and say, "Duh, what do you think I'm stupid? I've done all that before I signed with her." Hopefully, as she says, she's way too busy with all her wonderful clients and you'll be next. Good luck!

Colin Smith said...

I'm with the other Reiders, Opie. And, with Lucie, I would add "Have you read the complete manuscript?" to the list of questions to ask prospective agents. We want to assume, but we shouldn't. Though it makes no sense to me that an agent would take on a client based only on the query and maybe a few pages of the novel. Sounds like they're trying to quickly build a client base to show the industry how successful they are. Kind of like those churches that boast about their huge member list, when half those "members" are either dead, or haven't stepped foot in a church since they left home for college.

Janet's not going to say it, Opie, but I will because it's not even 8 am here and the morning tea is just kicking in: tell your agent this is unacceptable. And if your agent remains unresponsive to your concerns, exit the relationship, and leave a "buyer beware" note with QueryTracker and other such sites.

LynnRodz said...

Duh to me. I reread your question and yes she does have more than one ms and she signed you without fully reading a single one. It seems to me, something's not kosher here.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Clearly, while all agents may be created equal, they do not perform that way. I really feel for the OP as getting an agent is difficult, and it is so exciting to have someone say they like your work enough to sign you. This should be a major milestone, not a ticket to limbo.

This seems worse than a rejection after an R&R because it must feel like a passive rejection, almost as infuriating as a NORMAN after a partial request.

Is the agent burned out? Did they get cold-feet about the relationship? What recourse does the OP have at this juncture? Can they cut ties with the over-worked, disinterested agent and pursue a better one? Will other agents even be interested in them if the tired agent and OP cut ties? This is very distressing to this little woodland creature’s way of thinking. What to do. What to do.

OP, if you do find yourself back in the query trenches, do as Lucie and Colin have hinted, get the list of questions to ask an agent before signing from this blog. There is a great post about this. Best of luck. My pre-caffeinated mind is so perplexed by your dilemma. Come join us in the reef. We will at least support you as you navigate the difficult waters you have found yourself in.

DLM said...

Colin, it's a sad question to have to ask, but - ugh - yep. I'm reminded of the old Cosby routine where he described his wife instructing the children to take a bath: "I want you to go UPstairs. I want you to turn on the water in the bath. I want you to get INTO the water, and take a washcloth, and put SOAP on it and clean yourself" and so on ... Certainly I can remember, my mom had to specify every last dang detail like that with her lil' hellions, or we'd claim plausible deniability.

DAMN shame there are agents doing "business" (to use the term loosely) in this way. It's really bewildering.

Robert Ceres said...

Not said by OP:
1. Is the agent established with a solid and sold client base?
2. Has her/his assistant read/loved the ms?
3. Are his/her other clients happy?
OP's situation MIGHT be okay. Dear God that I ask about this stuff up front, in addition to a bunch of other info I'll want before signing:
1. What do you like/dislike out my MS and what should I be thinking about now?
2. What's the timeline and who do you see submitting this to? Are there any publishers that you already know might be interested?
3. What is the modus operandi for getting the ms idea in front of the agents?
4. Can I get a reference from some of your clients? (Maybe I pick one and he/she picks one.)
Good luck OP. Seems like a sticky situation. But maybe this will all resolve itself.

Colin Smith said...

Robert raises an interesting point that now has me curious. If Opie's agent hadn't read the complete ms when s/he signed Opie, what exactly did they talk about on "The Call"? Didn't the subject of revisions come up? Did the agent not talk about the strengths and weaknesses of the story, and their vision for the novel? I find it hard to imagine how an agent can talk intelligently about these things without having read and thought about the novel they're seeking to represent.

nightsmusic said...

My ever so harsh question to OP is, did you do a standard query and did the response to sign come from this agent based on X pages/chapters OR, did you send a query and the agent asked for the entire MS and then took his/her time prior to signing you so that you assumed he/she had read it? Or were you so thrilled to have an offer that you signed without thinking things through?

We all want to be published. We wouldn't be here if we didn't. Even Angie still stays (and I'm thinking she's subconsciously thinking she's going to get back to writing someday) because Janet is the best 'teacher' in this business that I've found. She's gone over contracts, things to ask, things to do, a dozen times at least. I know, it's easy to jump and sign because hey! Promise of publication! But in this case, I'd have to go through my contract and see if I could break it because it sounds to me like this agent isn't going to be your best representative in this business. I want an agent who has read my book and loves it. Not one who might see something in it but can't be bothered looking further until he/she has nothing better to do.

DeadSpiderEye said...

Although it might not be relevant to this circumstance, it's worth alluding to the risk/return relationship again. When engaging in any joint enterprise, it's essential to negotiate an equitable division of risk. That's not quite as simple as it sounds, because equitable doesn't mean: equal level of risk. It means a level appropriate to the tasks apportioned to a particular party in any agreement. For an agreement with an agent that would probably mean, the investment in time and effort required to sell your work.

What happens if you fail to negotiate an equitable agreement? Well you could end up with a rights grab. Imagine a circumstance where an individual, indiscriminately signs thousands of authors with exclusive rights to represent or market one of their works, with no commitment to actually do anything. A few years down the line, some of those authors become successful, hey presto that individual now has a marketable property, that is a return at the cost of no risk or investment. As I mentioned, that may not be applicable here but it's a principle worth noting

T.C. Galvin said...

My sympathies, Opie. What a frustrating situation to be in. It seems strange that an agent would sign a client without having read at least one of the submitted manuscripts.

Maybe request a timeframe from your agent as to when she'll read your manuscripts? That way you're not sitting there thinking that she's reading it when she's still another month off finding the time.

Best of luck Opie.

Craig said...

Yep, you signed something. The question is what you signed. It is always a good idea to know what is above the dotted line before you sign on it.

If you are not fluent in legalese you should take a deep breath and find an attorney when you get your first correspondence with an Agent.

I think what you ended up with is one of those blanket exclusive contracts some agents love. If there is no time limit on it you are stuck until the sky falls.

The other thing to do is write another book and start querying all over. It might be quicker than the wait. Be careful what you wish for and read the contract fully before signing. Not all starts with an agent are as auspicious as we would wish for.

Celia Reaves said...

Dear OP, we all feel your pain! This is a terrible situation to be in. As Janet and others have said, there can be lots of wrinkles and twists here that could change the situation by a lot, so it's hard to give specific advice (and Janet wisely chose not to). One really important question is what the agreement you signed says about how the relationship can be dissolved. Can you tell the agent, "I look forward to having a submission plan that we both agree on completed by XX date. What can I do to facilitate this? If we are unable to reach that point by that date, I will sadly have to take steps to break our relationship so that I can move forward with plans to sell these books through another agent."

This post sent me to the list of questions to ask an agent who's offered submission that I copied from this post here on this blog. That list of questions BEGINS with "Have you read the book all the way through?" Now I know how important that question is.

Good luck, OP. I hope you find a way through this to your publication goal.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I'm just as baffled as everyone else. I don't understand how anyone - let alone an agent - could love a book enough to recommend it without getting the whole way through. I've read several novels where I liked the story right up until about 20 pages from the end. Sometimes, I never even finish the book if I hate where the ending is going.

I would have classed the question, "Have you read the book all the way through?" right up there with, "Are you a human being or a potato?" That's why this blog is so helpful! Now I know that's a useful question, and the answer may actually be no.

Jenny C said...

I'm completely perplexed, both as someone who recently signed with an agent and as an agency intern. I knew my agent had read because we discussed the ending on the phone, as well as lots of the plot points. It didn't occur to me to ask that question!! Not all agents have interns, but it's simply impossible for me to comprehend signing a client whose book the agent hasn't read, as well as a couple of interns if she has them.

I wish I had some advice to offer. Perhaps ask Agent for a date and time when she could fit a phone call into her schedule. Then talk about what she sees as the next step for your MS.

Good luck! I will be thinking of you!

Colin Smith said...

YES! Thank you, JennyWith1C!!! That was my point! What did your agent talk with you on "The Call" Opie? The weather? I really do feel for you, but I'm as perplexed as everyone else. Perhaps I need to be on the other end of the phone, flummoxed and gobsmacked at actually being offered representation by a real agent, to really understand.

nightsmusic said...

BethanyE: Yes! re: the last 20 pages. Wallbangers! Never, ever a good thing. I sometimes wonder if those few wallbangers I've read that have gotten that close to the end and then fell apart, were ever read by the agent/editor before they went to publication.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

DeadSpiderEyes: Your scenario gave me chills. Brr. I hope that's not what OP signed up for.

Celia: thank you for linking to that page again. I've copied and pasted to make sure I know where it is instead of looking in a panic when I'm going to be receiving a call (even though that may be many away yet).

Opie: I'm puzzled too. You have some excellent suggestions and ideas from the Shark and the Reef gang of different options to consider. Best of luck to you. You've completed more than 1 manuscript. That's huge.

Colin Smith said...

BTW, I mentioned before about putting together a list of "Questions to Ask a Prospective Agent" and some of you even threw some excellent links my way to help with the project. Just so you know, I still intend to do that, and hope to have that list in the Treasure Chest soon.

I'll be sure to highlight: "Have you read my manuscript?" :)

John Frain said...

Thanks, Colin, for the Treasure Chest.

While this is a difficult scenario to imagine, it's not hard to imagine getting into it if you get The Call.

People buy cars sight unseen and plenty of other things, so I guess it's reasonable to assume an agent will buy a ms sight unseen. It's not reasonable to actually do it; it's reasonable to assume it happens.

I don't know the answer to this, but I wonder how easy or hard it is to learn what an agent is busy doing without asking and getting a direct answer. (I can't imagine calling my new agent and having the gall to ask "What are you so busy doing that's more important than me?" You can look for recent sales, but beyond googling their name, I don't know any other source to see what is taking an agent's time. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Mark Thurber said...

Note to self: While on The Call, ask prospective agent about surprise twist ending, but not so obviously that prospective agent can intuit what surprise twist ending was from the question itself.

Subheader nomination: "Agents are supposed to get rid of barricades not create them."

Good luck, OP!

Julie Weathers said...

OP Having been down the road with Super Agents Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, I have a little experience with this sort of thing. Although you may be made of sterner stuff than I am, if you let this fester, it might gangrene into something that robs you of your desire to write.

Get rid of that agent.

You don't buy a car by having someone roll out four tires and telling you how fast they are. How did the agent know your book was something she could sell or wanted to sell before she read it?

I know how thrilling it is to have an agent tell you yes and how gut wrenching it is to say, "Sorry, this isn't working." I've done it twice.

I don't know what you have now, but it's not an agent who's working in your best interest.

I know this is blunt advice. Blame it on the lack of caffeine. I wish you much success. You will find the right agent and we will rejoice with your when you do.

Julie Wet Blanket

E.M. Goldsmith said...

This scenario has unnerved me so much, I wonder, if when the call comes, I can conference in The Reef so that when my mind shuts down due to the overwhelming excitement of getting said call, all of you can chime in with questions to make sure I don't forget anything.

It may be a while. My boat sunk in the middle of query lake. My R&R was rejected this morning after less than a week.

This Agent said while she really loves my writing, she was putting all her effort into non-fiction for which she has recently signed a number of new clients, and did not feel she had time to adequately represent me. Perhaps, the OP's agent should have said the same thing instead of putting the writer in such an awkward position.

I was saddened by this rejection naturally, but perhaps, this is a better response in this case than an offer of representation that the agent does not have time or commitment for?

Of course, my little woodland creature mind thinks maybe my revision is rubbish and my book is crap and the agent was too kind to say so. Ah well, onward.

Jenny C said...

There's episode of FRIENDS where Joey takes Chandler to the premier of his movie, and Chandler falls asleep. Rather than just confront Chandler, Joey asks how he liked the scene with the kangaroo. Chandler, bluffing: "Well, I was surprised to see a kangaroo in a WWI drama."

Add to list of agent questions: How did you like the scene with the kangaroo?

Mark Thurber said...

That Gallipoli scene moves me to tears every time...

BJ Muntain said...

(The following information isn't necessarily for the OP, but for all our woodland creatures who get scared about the possibility of 'big bad agents' when something like this comes up.)

I think Janet gets a lot of questions about non-normal agents, simply because people want to know if this is normal or not. It's called selection bias - you can't colour all agents this way, because the selection criteria is 'questions about questionable agents'.

Make sure you check these sources:

Preditors & Editors
The Absolute Write Bewares and Background Checks forum (the site seems to be down right now, so I can't get the URL)
Writer Beware

I believe a couple of the querying websites also have places where people can discuss certain agents. Someone else can probably help you there.

Also, as LynnRodz mentioned, talk to the agent's clients.

Check these out before you sign with an agent. It won't guarantee you won't sign with the wrong agent, but at least you'll be better informed about the agent you sign with.

And if you find yourself in a situation you think is wrong, you can leave the situation. This is business. Janet can tell you how much of this you should put in your query letter for future agents, and how much can be discussed if a future agent is interested enough to call.

As Robert Ceres says, this may not be as bad a situation as it looks like. More details would be needed - OP has been with the agent for 2 months. We don't know anything about the agent's business at this point - new agent? established? clients? etc. What does 'busy' mean, exactly? Without that information, we can't exactly give advice. But at least the OP now knows that a) this isn't normal, at least the way OP has described it, and b) there is an out, if OP needs.

(As a note: not all agents have 'contracts', per se. 'Signing on' with an agent doesn't necessarily mean there was a contract signed.)

Colin Smith said...

Elise: Woah, that's actually an awesome rejection! The implication of that agent's comment is (at least to me) if she was NOT concentrating on non-fiction clients, you and she would be on the phone talking representation. So close! To me that says your R&R is NOT rubbish, your book is NOT crap, and, if Janet has taught me anything it's that agents are not going to tell you they love your writing if they don't love your writing. A form rejection is much easier.

If I was you, I'd crack open a beer and celebrate that kind of feedback.

Congratulations!! Seriously. :)

Julie Weathers said...


This may get me banned to Carkoon or to the nethers, but I think I need to say it.

You keep saying you write from the hip and don't plan your book. That's a pantser, though I'm not particularly thrilled with the term, it is what it is. Lots of successful authors write that way. Diana Gabaldon for one. She's also a chunk writer. That means she writes chunks of story as she sees it and then eventually it all starts fitting together and she realizes where the chunks go and she stitches them together.

Diana was asked to write synopses for her next two novels after Outlander. After that, her publisher told her not to waste her time and theirs as they bore no resemblance to the finished product.

One of my crit partners sent out queries to two top-notch NY agents. The book was three times longer than a long epic fantasy and not finished, but both offered representation. She writes linearly, but couldn't tell you what's going to happen around the bend if you held a gun to her head. It's pretty remarkable considering how wonderfully complex and gorgeous the story is.

If you visit with Diana, she can usually tell you anything about the books and what happened where even though Outlander was written 20+ years ago and all her books are pretty massive.

When I talk to B about her manuscript, she's say something like, "Well, remember R lost that knife during the fire."

She remembers what happened where in what must be over 700,000 words now. Yes, they'll be dividing it up.

My Civil War piece is still rough draft and I know what happens where to whom.

I know you're excited. Prancing Young Authors always are and that's good. Take some advice from a Plodding War Horse, though. If you tell an agent you don't remember what happens in your story, it's not going to be a selling point. You should know your story inside and out. If they ask you what happens next, you can't say, "I don't know, but I'm sure it's exciting!"

All right, I've sprinkled doom and gloom aplenty. I'm going to make coffee now.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Colin- thank you. I do intellectually realize that this was a very good rejection.This agent spent a lot of time on my work, even back 4 years ago when the book was not near ready for daylight. I rather expected this rejection when the agent tweeted that she was no longer representing my genre.

I must admit I was hoping this might work out despite the odds so as to spare me another rough ride on the query train. Well, into the brink once more as the saying goes.

Julie Weathers said...


No, the agent wasn't sparing your feelings. They don't do that, though they tend to be mostly diplomatic I've found. I think you'll do well and find the right agent. Keep your chin up.

John Frain said...

Colin beat me to it, but I would have said the same words. It's too raw for you to see it maybe, but that's a rejection that should give you encouragement after you've let it rip out your insides for twenty-four hours. (Okay, forty-eight, but who's counting.)

You just had someone who knows the publishing business tell you they were thisclose to representing you, but they're moving in a different direction. That's a vote of confidence in your R&R AND in your writing. I don't need to tell you to be resilient and patient and scores of other things. Right now, be proud that you're in a place few others attain. Now, at this moment, quitters quit and writers move forward.

I'll see you in the Editing Suite -- I'm going there now for a long day.

BJ Muntain said...

I wasn't going to specifically address anyone's comments today, but I have to agree with Julie. Sorry, Jason.

I, too, am what I like to call a 'discovery writer' (pantser just doesn't do the process justice). It means that I discover the story as I write the first draft.

Once the first draft is written, though, there are months of revisions. In those months, I learn my story back to front and inside out. Yes, there are some wordings I might not remember. Yes, I have thought of (very subtle) things I should add, then go back and find that I already had them in there. But I know the story inside and out. I know what my characters do and how it affects them and the story.

I have to suggest that, if you don't know your story well enough to write a synopsis, you may not have revised it enough.

Now, I could be totally wrong. I've never read your work. And I've been wrong a lot in my life. But no matter how good your novel feels to you, if you enjoy reading it like you enjoy other books, it's still a very subjective assessment. I do think you would do well to find some more critical readers - not friends or family or yourself - to read the story and make real suggestions. And revise it until you know it inside out.

Elissa M said...

This question does sound like Opie stumbled onto a Bad Agent, and I'm sure most of us have heard the axiom "A bad agent is worse than no agent." However, as others have pointed out, we don't really have enough information to draw on.

Opie, you asked if this behavior is "normal", and I think you've seen that everyone here believes it's not--at least not for an active agent who wants to make money for herself and her clients. I agree with those who say you're going to have to do a little digging to get to the bottom of this. Talk to some of her other clients, do some more online research, and see if you can somehow get her to respond with something other than, "Busy, don't bother me."

Two months is a short relationship, and it may be premature to dump your agent so soon. However, that's two months you could have spent finding an agent who will actually be enthusiastic about selling your work. The sooner you find out if you should hang in there or cut your losses, the better.

What you really don't want is to have an unenthusiastic agent submitting your work. This will more than likely result in no sale and that will effectively kill your chance of having another agent sell it (because editors have already passed), thus dooming your book to oblivion (or possibly self-publication, but that's an entirely different dimension of hair-pulling anxiety).

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Julie, thanks for telling us about your friends who write without outlines - that's how I write, and I've often been told it's the 'wrong' way to write. I think one of the best books on the subject (for 'pantsers,' anyway) is Story Trumps Structure by Steven James. He goes over the advantages and pitfalls of outlining and not outlining, then gives a solid 'how-to' about writing without an outline.

I can understand Jason's point, though. When I read over something I put away for a month or two I can be surprised by a clever snippet of dialogue I'd forgotten about or a subplot that was a little more in-depth than I remembered. That's usually between the first and second edit, though, so by the time the book is ready for querying, I've got most of the book committed to memory.

stacy said...

Wow. This is even more Shrödinger's agent than the last one.

BJ Muntain said...

Bethany: Outliners insist you have to outline, but that's because that's how their mind works best. I find if I outline, I get to know the whole story before I write it, and then I'm just not as interested in writing it.

I figure it's like mapping your route. You can map your way to a tourist attraction a mile away, and you'll get there, and probably have a good time. Or, you can figure out where you're going, walk in that direction and find your own way there. On the way, you might find new things to see and people to meet. You might not get to your original destination, but find one that seems better.

I generally know how a story is going to end, and I aim my writing that way. I usually find that ending, though sometimes I think of a better ending as I'm writing.

As E.L. Doctorow said, "It's like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."

nightsmusic said...

BJ, I am exactly the same way! Once I've outlined the story, it's done for me. There is no exploration, no 'new.' It's all told, even if it's told in brief. I'm a total pantser. Too bad they don't have a word for movie watchers because my best stories play like a movie in my head and I write it as I watch it, hitting the pause button when life interferes. And I can't write in anything but a linear fashion either. No chunking, no great sentences only, nothing like that. I have to write start to finish or I just don't end up with a story.

Julie Weathers said...


There's no right way or wrong way to write. There is only your way. You'll experiment with different things until you find which style fits you best.

Both Diana and B fiddle with their sentences endlessly as they go so there is very little edit to be done at the end. Others, like me, just slap the story down and then have to go back and edit and revise until we drive ourselves nuts. Neither way is correct as long as it results in a polished project.

I'll be honest, when I first start on a project I am completely in love with it. I love you! I do, never leave me! About the third revision it's, "Don't you have some place to go?" By the fifth go round I'm plotting its demise. After the seventh I lock it away in a dark room and slip a bit of moldy bread to it every now and then. A few months later I take it out and it's, "Oh, dear. It's getting a bit warm in here. I forgot how much I adore you."

When I started the A-Z challenge, I put up a bit from my Far Rider pirate. I hadn't thought about that bit of dialogue for a while and I realized how much I really like the characters and the story. I'll get back to them one day after Rain Crow and Cowgirls. Absence does make the heart grow fonder.

Me said...

I kind of thought that agents had to read the entire manuscript before signing an author. I kind of thought "plot" and the "ending" mattered. It's a very weird situation. Good luck and I hope things are going to get clearer.

Dena Pawling said...

As Janet said, we are ALL too busy. What matters is how your prioritize your busyness. For an agent, and absent a family emergency, clients should be number one. That's their business, their career, their profession. And this OP is a client.

I think what annoys all of us the most, is what exactly is too busy? If this agent had said “I have two clients right now in the middle of auctions and three on deadline that expires next week”, or maybe “I just received a medical diagnosis that's scary”, the fact of being shunted to the back of the pile wouldn't sting so much. But just the vague “I'm too busy” leaves too much to our over-active imaginations. Will this state of being too busy never end? Does this agent really want to rep OP?

The vagueness is bothersome. An agent who doesn't give a reason for being too busy, at least to my mind, means she might be hiding something that she doesn't want known. How will this affect the OP's business relationship into the future?

As others have mentioned, the best thing would be to clarify whether this agent still wants [or has time and energy] to represent OP. If not, or if the state of being too busy won't be ending any time soon, maybe there can be a mutual agreement to amicably part ways.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

BJ - I love that Doctorow quote! I think I'll use that from now on. :) My main problem is that I struggle most with endings. It's VERY difficult for me to end a story strongly. Plotting only makes it worse. But I'm learning! Nightmusic, I'm the same way!

And Julie, I'm with you on getting so sick of my MS after a few revisions. My latest has been put in a drawer for a few months (years) while I work on something else. I just can't handle it any more at the moment, even though I know it needs way more work.

Arri Frranklin said...

I seem to have the mentality of a pantser, but I'm a moderately extensive outliner. I've tried pantsing, but . . . I consistently lose focus, jump around like mad, the characters fundamentally change between one scene and the next, and I never get anything done. Obviously.

When I outline, I can write front to back. Sometimes I'll preemptively write a scene, but I usually don't end up including it. It just stops bugging me about being written. My outlining mainly gives me direction, and little else. I know where I am, I know the next spot I need to get to, and I can be surprised at the path from A to B. Sometimes I don't even get to B, but it doesn't matter. The story is going in a consistent direction that will not get trapped in a nitpicking session.

Just throwing my thoughts in the pool.

Adib Khorram said...

I find discussions on outlining vs. discovering (I too adore this term) endlessly fascinating. One of my favorite writers, Andrew Smith, never outlines—he goes where the plot takes him, occasionally throwing himself curveballs or puzzles to solve his way out of. And his stories are complicated and intricate as anything. Another of my favorites, Maggie Stiefvater, outlines extensively—and her stories are ALSO complicated and intricate as anything.

I tend to do first drafts discovery-style and then outline my revisions. It's taken me a long time to get to this place, and I've tried a lot of different ways of writing (including NaNoWriMo).

As to the original poster's dilemma, I too wonder about how the signing happened without the agent reading the whole manuscript...

Celia Reaves said...

BJ - Thanks for those links for pre-screening agents. Here's the link for that forum in AbsoluteWrite.

E.M. - Take the agent at her word and have confidence that the R&R was really good. It will find a home if you keep shopping it around. *sigh* I'm still just fondly wishing for such a response!

Lennon Faris said...

This stuff gives me nightmares (literally, once!). OP, I think everyone's said it here nicely - give agent more time and more chances at communication, and then if no acceptable response (and if what you signed allows), I agree with Julie - dump agent. And then refer to the 'List' of q's for your next one that Colin's compiling. Hope the situation improves!

I went to a writer's group last night for the first time, a SCBWI chapter. It was a LOT of fun to meet other people who understood this whole writing thing. But I did learn that nefarious agents (and not the excellent, many layers of teeth, kind) seem to be more common than I realized. Yikes.

EM (do you prefer Elise?) - so sorry to hear about the rejection. I know that's painful. I do agree with the others though - once you can get past the initial grieving, know that that's pretty awesome. Your story has something there.

Julie Weathers said...

I've been chunk writing with Rain Crow, which is kind of driving me crazy, but I have faith they will all find a place sooner or later. It is the Civil War, after all. I sort of know what happens.

I'm about half way in at 70,000 words, so I'm sure all the little blocks will fall into place sooner or later. There is a glimmer of a path.

For Whom the Bell Tolls was a problem which I carried on each day. I knew what was going to happen in principle. But I invented what happened each day I wrote.--Ernest Hemingway

Lucie Witt said...

Adib, I'm also completely fascinated by the different ways writers write books.

Jason, as you can see from folks here writing without an outline isn't a problem. Not knowing your book well enough and/or revising enough - that's a problem.

I don't really outline. I instead write the query first. A query tells you the main character(s) and the central conflict. From past experience and [redacted] desk drawer books I've found if I don't understand the core conflict enough I usually can't sustain a whole book, or I write a book that's too unfocused/too many conflicts/etc. A query gives me guidance but it leaves lots of room for discovery.

EM, I don't have anything to add other than what others have already said. I have full confidence your book will find the perfect agent. **hugs**

Lisa Bodenheim said...

EM: the Query Lake? What a lost image. But, as others have said, you've done an R&R that an agent loves! That's an affirmation. Run with it!

And on the off-topic of outliners and pantsers: I pantsed my first draft. And now I'm outlining so my revisions take me closer to a focused story rather than finding myself in the middle of the lake without a paddle. And, having braided timelines, I move them around, to find the most intriguing angle. I did that with my non-fiction book too. Wrote it in blocks then patchworked it together as I revised. Sometimes I wonder if I'm procrastinating as I take out and rebraid the timelines. But, on a positive note, I am learning the craft of storytelling.

Joseph Snoe said...

Bethany Elizabeth

I have the opposite problem. I don't think I've ever had a problem writing endings(except getting to them soon enough). My (big) problem has always been writing the beginnings.

Jason Magnason said...

Okay first and foremost let me just say THANK YOU!! You guys are great. I don't think there has been as much helpful, insightful advice, anywhere on Gods green earth, than there has been here in this forum. So for that, thanks ya'll I appreciate it.

As to your statement about knowing your work inside and out, let me shed some light on the subject. My book is one of nine. My book is an introduction to a world and magic system that rivals the intricacy and depth that is comparable to The Wheel of Time Series. I have enough material in my head to write for years. But.. I am not going to hate my book because I have spent so much time with it that I am sick of it.

I am not going to second guess myself, time and time again, and ruin the story with indecision's discretion. Stephen King said in his book, On Writing, and I quote: "The first word that comes to mind is usually the right word."

All I am saying is that while I know my characters, and their moods, and their vices, I don't remember ever word and sentence I have written. I cannot, nor do I know anyone in my circles that can, rattle off their book verbatim word for word at will. If you can more power to you.

When I was a kid we use to have freestyle story time around the campfire. Each day my dad would pick one of us to tell a story and we had thirty minutes to make something up. Usually it was about fishing or camping in the woods, or going back in time, but it was from within us; a story waiting to live in the world of those who would hear it.

I can tell you what my characters did and when, I can tell you what happened at any particular place in the story, but I cannot repeat the vernacular I used to do so verbatim.

Needless to say I am story teller, and the stories within me desire a medium to be told upon, and thus I am here trying. My endeavors are to bring to life not only a story, but a world of stories.

If the Ancients knew what Blackwater had been through, they would have asked someone else to save the world. Blackwater is the Last Key Master, able to travel anywhere in the blink of an eye, all the others have been hunted down and killed.....

Kate Larkindale said...

I tend to write each book slightly differently. I don't outline because once I've done that, I know what's going to happen and writing the book would be boring. I often start at an important, exciting or climactic scene and work both ways from there. Other times I start at the beginning, then skip around once I start getting stuck on where to go next. I usually write the ending early on so I have something to aim for, but often I don't get there because my characters have other ideas.

I draft fast. Usually 8 - 10 weeks start to finish. Then I set the book aside while I revise the last book I wrote and revising always takes WAY longer than writing. So by the time I'm ready to revise, the book has had a good 6-9 months to sit and become something new to me again. But by the end of revision, I will know the damn thing sideways, upside-down and inside-out.

Jason Magnason said...

Kate I like your style!!! I wanted to work on my book day and night, but my daughter who is a writer told me to leave it along for a month. So, as in your situation when I got back to it was a new and exciting. I wanted to read it again.

Now come on people, can you tell me their is not a book you loved that you didn't read more than once? So if that book was a bestseller, how is that any different that a book you wrote and loved in the same way?

Janet Reid said...

Topical= Good.
Word count <100
Frequency <3

For those of you with a math phobia:
Topical is good.
Word cound on posts should aim for fewer than 100
Frequency of posting comments should be less than 3 times a day.

Also: commenting on this blog is NOT WRITING YOUR NOVEL.
What is your priority today? Hanging out or getting your novel done?

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Too busy is not an excuse... Really!

I've missed a week of discussions, because I was at a three day party, a Florentine wedding. Three days of too much prosecco and food.

Nightmusic, yes I'm hanging around. Janet is the best and most generous source to the clueless and hopeful... I really wonder how many agents lurk here.

I think Robert asks some good questions. Who did read the entire manuscript?

8 weeks is not that long, plus we don't know the details. But it is strange to not have read the entire manuscript. If OP believes they have signed with a good person then I think they need to set a time limit before breaking the relationship. Meanwhile do that vetting that maybe wasn't done before hand. Contact the agent's clients. Dig for feedback. Write and try not to lose sleep over this.

I've worked with bad agents and divorced them (not literary agents). It's all a learning experience but Too Busy is not an excuse. Right now I'm working with a company that has over 600 artists. They always get back to my emails within a week, and on the rare occasions I telephone, they either talk to me immediately or call me back in 48 hours. It started out slowly with them, and they were not my first choice. But after 3 years of working with them I'm happy as a goat in a tree. The communication and kindness, is well worth the wait for a good relationship.

Finding an agent who loves your stuff and who is upbeat does happen. Perseverance, write, create. Creating and it's fruits is constant like a tide.

Brigid said...

"What is your priority today? Hanging out or getting your novel done?"

Oh, sweet Janet. Don't you know you're starring in my next novel? This here is research.

Donnaeve said...

I got stuck at "she hasn't even read the manuscripts."

Something is bogus here. Fishy. Stinks.

I wish OP would come out and tell what happened, i.e. how they signed with an agent who has, not only NOT read one, but more than one manuscript?

Cheryl said...

I used to be a pantser, but then I discovered beatsheets. I don't follow them slavishly (I have a horror of the formulaic) but I find they give me a goal to write towards that's not the end. So now I only plot the beats; how I get to each is still a mystery.

It's working better for me than either plotting or pantsing.

Anecdote: In one of my high school English classes we had to write a story, starting with a plot summary. We turned in the plot summary, then wrote the story. I got a C because my story didn't match my summary. That turned me off plotting completely.

Theresa said...

I've been thinking about OP and the agent all day. What an odd situation. Why did the agent take on OP as a client without reading the manuscripts? This sounds like a doomed relationship. If the agent isn't doing any agenting, then OP would be no worse off without her.

Craig said...

Once more into the breach I will state this as clearly as I can.

I do not think that the OP actually signed a contract to secure an agent. I think the contract sent and signed was only to assign the rights of that work in an exclusive. Probably one with no expiration date.

I have heard of agents who try to pass out contracts for exclusives like they were candy. If the asking was bland enough it might be legally binding because it is up to the signee to sign or not.

"Hi, OP, this agent Blah Diddity Blondie. I have a contract I want you to sign."

"Oh...Oh...Oh sure."

"I'll send it out today and I need you to sign it and get it right back to me"


Now the agent doesn't need to rush to read your work because you can do nothing else with it.

Steve Stubbs said...

I get the intuitive sense that the agent realized she made a mistake signing this client and is trying to find a way of Mokusatsu-ing her way out. The fact that the agent read “chunks” suggests this might be the case. She would not have to read the entire manuscript to discover what she hoped would be a cash cow was a cow turd instead. Lots of businesses outside of publishing use the “let ‘em drift out to sea” technique for getting rid of unwanted people. We would all prefer that rejection letters get engraved at the local print shop and hand delivered on a silver tray by a liveried footman with a British accent. But it comes the way it comes. If you waste time waiting on a ship to come in that sank at sea long ago there is no way to be successful. Write another book and move on.

The way I see it, the biggest favor anyone can do for you is to tell you that your work sucks before publication. Once it is published it is going to end up in the hands of hundreds of hostile strangers. They are going to enter every word into google the way they did with that Indian woman at Harvard to see if there is a similar phrase somewhere in Salman Rushdie’s novels. When they found a few accidental similarities, her movie deal with Steven Spielberg was canceled and her book removed from circulation. Cassie Edwards’ career was ended when they managed to prove she took a few facts from a non-fiction book on Indians. Dan Brown was sued by somebody who claimed to have written a book with a similar concept. Margaret Mitchell was sued eleven times in the first six months after GONE WITH THE WIND was published. She refused to write a sequel. Those same people were planning to sue her again. It’s a tough world out there. People are laying for you. You don’t want to hand them your own head on a silver platter by publishing a load of suckola. If it’s not ready yet, thank the person who tells you that. Then rewrite it or shred the evidence, Then when you've got it right, knock 'em dead.

AJ Blythe said...

Jenny C - that question won't help me at all because my book does have a kangaroo (actually, kangaroos!) 0_o

Joseph Snoe said...

What's the ethics on seeking a new agent while still under contract with another agent?

Assuming OP could cancel the contract with 60 or 90 or 180 days notice , could he or she (they)be querying other agents now?

Julie Weathers said...


When I divorced my agents, I just called them and they sent me agreements to sign immediately. The one I really hated to let go, but I just decided to stop writing. She was a doll and truly one of the best in her field. It was hard for both of us. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, not so much.

Kae Bell said...

I do like the idea about asking them about the surprise ending. Then perhaps move along? Not sure of legal ties here.

I had something happen in a contest, where I submitted my e-novel to a Writers Digest self-published contest, paid the $120 entry fee. Every submission was promised feedback, which I thought worth the price.

When said feedback arrived (I did not win, gasp!), it said some nice things, then gave the critical note that I needed to add ACTION. Hmm, I thought, that's strange. I wanted to clarify - Do you mean MORE action than the two-man fight to the death in the ascending helicopter? Or the exploding bridges and resulting mayhem? Or the story ending that is unforgettable, whether or not you like the book?

You see where I am going?

The critique showed the e-book locations for the judge's specific comments. The locations + feedback indicated that the judge had read only the first third of my novel. For $120, I expected them to read the whole novel. And not make such an obvious gaffe.

I wrote to Writers Digest, explained, and asked them to please ask 'Judge X' how the CIA book in Cambodia ended. Even generally? Any memorable events??

They did their due diligence, wrote me back, said the nice comments still applied, and refunded me the full $120.

Sometimes people don't do what they should. Hope it works out for you OP!

eap said...

So does anyone else see Janet use the word "trump" in her post and immediately picture a Shih Tzu? No? Just me?

Colin, that joke just keeps on giving :)

OP, my heart goes out to you. I hope Janet's advice and the input from the commentariat assures you that no, you're not just being impatient, you have some seriously legit concerns. Whatever you do moving forward, good luck and I hope something shifts for the better.

luciakaku said...

I'm currently lost on what kind of writer I am and what works for me. I'm trying to find it. I tried outlining when I was first starting out and got bored and quit the book. I tried just writing and flawed plots came out. So flawed that I have to completely rewrite 95% of the book, and it STILL comes out flawed. I get hives whenever anyone tries to tell me "how to write" instead of giving me options for new things to try--what works for them may not be what works for me.

And Janet, this is TOTALLY applicable to my priorities--I have a new craft book to read thanks to the comments today. I'm totally checking out "Story Trumps Structure," thanks Bethany Elizabeth!

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Dear Opie,

Do your best to establish communication with your agent. "Too busy" does sound like a cop-out. Something else is going on and it's to your benefit to find out what.

Part of that communication chain does involve having a chat with the other clients. Yes, you should be in contact with your agency-siblings. This is a good way of getting info about your agent. Maybe the agent is genuinely busy and maybe a little green and has bitten off a little more than she can chew client list-wise. Your agency-sibs should be able to confirm her modus operandi. If she's making satisfactory deals with Random Penguins on behalf of the other clients, then maybe you've simply been pushed to the bottom of the client priority list. But if not much is happening for them either, maybe you're better off parting ways.

If, after a few months, you can't establish good communication with your agent, maybe it's time to let her go. A bad agent will slow down your career.

Should you wish to seek greener fields, please make sure you've officially severed your connection with your previous agent before seeking another agent.

I wouldn't worry about the provenance of your ms. If she hasn't read the whole thing, she certainly hasn't put it on sub, so I believe it's as fresh as if you'd never signed with an agent.

On your next The Call with a new agent, you can mention you had signed with an agent previous, but nothing happened with your ms.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

E.M.: Sorry to hear about your rejected R&R. At the least, you keep pitching with the R&R ms.

As for the kangaroo scene, I was cool with it. But oh, that poor lone pine tree...

If an agent gushed over my ms and expressed that if they would acquire a ms if only they were taking on fiction, I'd be bold and ask them if they could make a recommendation to a fellow agent, or possibly pass your ms on (fr'ex, if they were in a multi-agent agency).

Panda in Chief said...

Pantsers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your...oh...never mind.

Liz Penney said...

Good communication is key. If you feel like something's off then it probably is. It's a common problem, unfortunately.