My thriller MS went through revisions and revolutions, thanks to feedback from a number of very good agents (at least a dozen requested) and fellow writers. The book was almost queried out, when—hallelujah!—I received an offer of rep.
Now, this wasn’t the dream situation. The agent in question was brand new—I was his first client. BUT he had a good editorial background, and he worked for a very well-established agency. So, why not give the kid a chance, right? He could be young and hungry, eager to do well, and I’d get his undevoted attention.****
He pitched the book to five editors at five publishing houses. (And only ever heard back from one, for some reason.)
But then, a few months later, I get the phone call: Head Agent informs me that New Agent Guy (NAG) quit. Head Agent gives me the choice: Does she represent me, or does she cut me loose? Of course, I say I’d love to have her represent me! So, NAG’s quitting had a silver lining after all. I’m all of a sudden repped by an agent with a long track record, someone with connections.
Only, she hadn’t yet read the whole manuscript. When she does, I get a curt email informing me that she didn’t connect with it, and since NAG quit, the contract was void. Good night, and good luck.
This was a real kick in the teeth, since I asked NAG straight out when he first offered, what would happen if he quit. Would I be left in the void, or would another agent represent me? He told me that any client represented by any of the agents is really a client of the agency itself (one big, happy family), so if he quit, I’d still be taken care of.
I felt like I’d been pretty seriously misled by both NAG and Head Agent. I didn’t kick up a fuss about it, since what would be the point? But my teeth are feeling pretty loose.
There’s a lesson to be learned here, but I’m not sure what it is. So, let me ask two questions:
1) Should I have gone about things differently in those negotiations with NAG (e.g., somehow get it in writing that I wouldn’t be out on my own if he quit)?
2) Is my beautiful, polished MS dead in the water, vis-à-vis other agents, since NAG sent it out to five publishers?
Before we get into what lessons are to be learned, let's have a round of a medicinal-purposes beverage, cause oh man, my heart (cold and dark as it is) hurts for you.
I don't want to fling aspersions without knowing all elements of the situation, but yegods and little fishies, this feels like an epic betrayal.
Your mistake was not getting anything in writing. Some agents/agencies do not have written agreements, and that's fine and dandy until everyone has a different recollection of what was said or a different interpretation of what it meant.
If an offering agent does NOT have a written agreement (and more than a few very solid agents/agencies do not) what you do is memorialize your conversation in writing. In other words take notes on the answers to your questions and then email them to the offering agent.
It was lovely to talk with you on the phone today. I'm delighted to accept your offer of representation. Here are my notes on the points we covered:
1. You will hand deliver the weekly submission database to my house while singing the score from The Music Man.
2. If you die/dematerialize/spontaneously combust/are kidnapped by aliens/make tracks for a better job, the agency will continue to represent my Work/s.
3. At Yuletide I will refrain from sending drummers, pipers, leapers, dancers, milkers, swimmers, layers, callers, hens, doves, or partridges, no matter the number, but will send choccies, spirits, and vino.
You get the point there, right?
And you're right, there's no use to saying anything now. Besides, would you want these people as your agent any longer? To quote Hannibal Lecter when presented with a vegetarian meal of fava beans and Chianti: "Ewww"
Where do you go from here?
This ms isn't the one to secure your next agent with. It's not dead, but it's on the back burner. Time to get the next one ready. Query with that. You might leave out the whole dreadful story here when querying but DO mention it when you have offers. It shouldn't have a negative impact at that point in the process.
And overall: this is a really crappy thing to do to a writer. Agents have to do crappy stuff for good reasons sometimes (form letters, saying no to publishable work etc) but to leave you stranded like that isn't anything close to a necessity.
***the irony of your typo here is hilarious.
Of course you meant undivided, not undevoted.