Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Well that was fun, now what?

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.

To wit:
Dear SharkForBrains,
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.

47 comments:

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Undevoted/undivided, a true and unadulterated vomment for sure.

The concert you studied for, rehearsed and dress-rehearsed got canceled.
OP, your situation sucks.
But, continue to sing until someone hears your voice, sings along and books another venue.

CynthiaMc said...

Thank your lucky stars you escaped. Wounds heal. Leaving your beloved manuscript in the care of someone who hates it is worse. You'd be fantasizing about it being enthusiastically pitched to a million editors. In reality, it'd be under cobwebs somewhere.

Mama always said "You can't make someone love you" (or in this case your book). Either they do or they don't. Treat it like a bad date. Move on.

Kitty said...

Fava beans? Ewww.

Mark Conard said...

Your Shark-Ship,

I’m truly embarrassed at having sent you a missive with a typo, but you’re certainly right that the irony is hilarious.

Thanks very much for posting my sob story and giving me as-ever very helpful feedback.

Colin Smith said...

Opie!! :( This really sucks, but thank you for sharing your story. A great warning to us all. I hope you have much better success the next time.

Janet: Without disagreeing with what you said (I value my limbs), doesn't the agent who dropped poor Opie have a point? After all, if an agent doesn't love your work, it'll be really hard for that agent to sell it. That's what we keep being told--and I believe it. So, while it was a betrayal of an agreement, wasn't the agent simply being consistent with that idea of only representing what s/he loves? I know you love many of the novels your colleagues at New Leaf represent. But do you think you could represent any one of them with the same passion? Just saying, I think it's a tough call on both sides.

Kitty: What's wrong with fava beans? They're great! :)

Colin Smith said...

Hey, Mark! Thanks for sharing your story. :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Oh. OP! Well, this sucks. Administer medicinal whisky every three hours until the pain stops. I got nothing. I think I am traumatized. I need a drink now. And possibly cake.

OP, endure. Write a best-seller. Success is the best revenge. Just persist and keep writing. Swim here in the Reef to keep your spirits up. It helps. It really does help.

Lennon Faris said...

Mark, thanks for asking and Janet, thank you for posting. What a terrible situation. I never knew we were supposed to write down and send back verbal stuff, so that is totally new territory covered for me.

Colin - I think the worst is that the Head Agent gave him a choice (!) and THEN told him no, and in an email no less. Without being too harsh since I wasn't there... it feels awfully cowardly.

MA Hudson said...

Mark - my commiserations. That was a harsh, harsh journey you went through. Thanks for sharing it with us and putting us all on alert. Good luck with your next book, and don't think for a minute that your first ms is dead. It's just having a beauty sleep.

Theresa said...

Condolences, Mark. This is beyond disappointing. Allow yourself some time to feel bad about it, because you're certainly entitled and those medicinal-purposes beverages are quite tasty. Then get cracking again.

AJ Blythe said...

Mark, ugh, what a rotten situation to find yourself in. It's the stuff of nightmares. I agree with our Queen, you wouldn't want them to rep you anyway.

Colin, could I possibly nudge you to make a note of what to get in writing in the Treasure Chest please? In the excitement of an offer I could see myself forgetting.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Hi Mark, thank you for sharing your situation. I'm so sorry you went through this. A few medicinal drinks sound like a wonderful way to get through if needed. And focus on your next story.

And...congrats to John MS Frain and Melanie Savransky for your wins on the Spidopuss and box contest.

Colin Smith said...

AJ: I might add that at the end of the "Questions to Ask a Prospective Agent" doc in the Treasure Chest. Something along the lines of: "Take notes and verify with the agent via email after the call." I should also add the question: "What happens if my Agent quits/dies?" Thanks for the nudge! :)

Amy Schaefer said...

Ugh. So, so sorry, Mark.

I agree with the commenters who wonder why you would want Head Agent if she doesn't love your book. It's terrible to be left with no agent at all, but a less-than-enthusiastic one wouldn't be good for you, anyway. It's a bad relationship.

I do hope NAG gave you the full information on your five submissions: publisher/editor, dates, and so forth. If not, get it. You might need that information someday when your next agent wants to put this book out on submission again, after you've sold some other works.

Kitty said...

Colin, I eat a lot of different beans -- prefer them to meat most days -- but not fava beans. I make a vegetable barley soup using cannellini beans and Del Monte stewed tomatoes. I don't use a recipe, so the taste can vary. But most of the time it tastes remarkably like Campbell's vegetable soup.

PS... And hold the nice Chianti since I don't drink.

Kregger said...

OP,
I read your typo as devolved, which is why all my typos remain hidden.

Anyway,

crappy, crappy, crappy.

The school of hard knocks is never exclusive.

The good news is, unlike the majority of us, you have now developed a keen eye for the pitfalls in getting representation.

Another step on the journey.

Good luck.

Matt Adams said...

I guess I'm a little more callous, because all I can say to Opie is dem's da breaks. The agent who loved your book decided to quit agenting, and their boss didn't like your book. Agents are a kind, fickle breed of fish when they love your work. I'm not going to say you're better off without the head agent, because you're not -- without an agent, you're stuck in publishing neutral -- but if someone's not going to work for your book and rep you out of obligation they'll just be counting days and submissions until they can tell you they gave it their best shot, but ....

Here's my quick story: My agent loved my first book madly. But no one bought it. My agent didn't love my second book and was unwilling to rep it -- didn't even want to talk about revisions or fixes, just didn't want it. She wasn't being cruel, but rejecting is what they do. If they don't love a book, they aren't going to rep it even if they have a relationship with the author. So while Janet's advice about getting things in writing is reasonable, I doubt it would help you in the long run. If the agent who stayed didn't want your book, no bit of contract in the world is really going to help you. Breathe in, breathe out, move on.

Good luck, man. It sucks.

Panda in Chief said...

Opie: OUCH!
No advice to be had. This justs sucks. Having the rug pulled out from under you is never fun. Sorry it happened.

Stacy said...

Sorry this happened to you, Mark. Good luck in your future endeavors.

Mark Conard said...

All,

Thanks very much for the expressions of sympathy and for the good wishes.

Colin and Matt: You’re right that a) the agent was being consistent; and b) those are indeed the breaks. But the teeth-kicking really comes from the fact that not only did the junior agent, speaking on behalf of the agency, tell me that I’d continue to have representation if he quit; but also from the fact that the head agent herself actually offered me representation when the junior agent quit. If there was any possibility that she wouldn’t want to rep me, she shouldn’t have offered.

Others on here are correct, that I wouldn’t want an agent who isn’t enthusiastic about my work; but, honestly, this whole process is so difficult and demeaning as it is, without having people mislead you in this way.

Amy: Yes, NAG gave me that info about the five editors and presses.

A further question I have, and I should have posed it to Janet originally, is: is it typical for editors to not respond to a pitch like that (4 out of 5 didn’t)? It’s expected of agents these days, but also editors?

Mark

Colin Smith said...

Matt: Am I correct in presuming your agent didn't sever the relationship because she didn't want your second book, just told you to write something else? If this was the case, I presume you would have the choice to either cut ties with your agent and query book two, or shelve book two and write something your agent will love? Set me straight here, because these are the kinds of "I've got an agent... now what?" stories we need to hear more about, I think.

Mister Furkles said...

What is especially sad is that some writers have only one story in them. What if the author is quite innovative with an original style that will influence future writers? Lost to the great land-fill in the sky.

Suppose Margaret Mitchell’s one-and-only “Gone with the Wind” had met with form rejections with one editor writing back:

“Slavery? Ooh, yuckie. And violence? Like gag me with a lace doily. But that Rhett Butler sounds like a real hottie. Tell ya what, make the slaves into circus clowns and the battle of Atlanta into a floral festival. Then I’ll have another look at it.”

Then where would we be. No color movie with Clark Gable and Olivia de Havilland. Clark would have done all right but poor Olivia might have had to go back to making china dessert plates, or was her family making biplanes?

Matt Adams said...

Colin: It was a little confusing. She switched agencies, and the one she went to was work-specific. Because we weren't actively going out on the first one anymore, she said we'd wait to sign anything until the second one was finished. When she didn't want the second book, she told me I was more than welcome to shop it around (which of course I was), and that she'd keep an ear out for anyone who might be interested in the first. She said she'd always want to read what I've written, and her door was always open and all that, but because her new agency is work-specific, we don't have any formal relationship now. While I respect her right to make a choice about what she reps, it did feel like a kind of betrayal. So it goes.

When I first signed with her, her agency was author-based but when she switched, it wasn't. I do think that's a good question to ask, but it also opens the door about what happens when your agent doesn't like subsequent work. My guess is that they'd terminate the agreement in any case.

Colin Smith said...

Mister Furkles: This is why we are so blessed today that self/indie publishing is a viable alternative. If you really believe in your book, and no-one in traditional publishing wants it, you can hire an editor, hire a cover designer, and go your own way.

Steve Stubbs said...

Several things jump out at me:

(1) I believe Ms. Reid has opined that thrillers by new writers are almost impossible to sell. That may be why the editors did not respond.

(2) If you have any teeth at all, you've not had much experience in the business world. Welcome to the business world.

(3) There is nothing personal about The Jungle. Business is business. The gods smile on some people and glower at others.

(4) My lawyer says verbal agreements are not worth the paper they're printed on. Unless you are Don Corleone. Dion O'Banion's life ended with a handshake.

(5) A hungry agent makes sense, but someone with NO sales?

(6) If NAG sent out only five queries in MONTHS, methinks you have been slept, not rept.

(7) It may not be reasonable to expect a successful agent with a client list longer than Al Capone's rap sheet to rep an Unloved MS.

kathy joyce said...

This makes me want to stop writing for publication. Mark, please report this to one of the websites that tracks squirrely agents and publishers, and to AAR. It's not enough to feel badly for you about this. It's despicable. But I do feel badly for you, and I'm sorry it happened.

Colin Smith said...

Matt: Wow... how can you even plan for something like that? What question could you ask? "If you switch agencies to one that's work-based... will you still love me tomorrow?" I wonder if your agent could have said, "This is the agency policy, but this is what I do." For example, New Leaf, as an agency is NORMAN... but Janet isn't. Can an agency be work-based but an agent within that agency (especially one who just moved there) be author-based?

Sorry, Janet--I know I'm straying from the topic... :)

whiporee said...

Colin: my agreements were with the agency. When she left her (she moved twice) previous agencies, I had to terminate my agreement with them in order for her to rep me at the new place. So I don't think there's a way for an agent to have agreements that violate the overall agency agreement. But I could be wrong.

Joseph Snoe said...


Mark,

For what it’s worth, I didn’t pick up on the word choice error even seeing the asterisks until Janet Reid called it to our attention at the end.
Intriguingly, after reading the whole saga, undevoted seems a very appropriate adjective (even if unintended).

Early on in your story I thought you were leading a charmed life (losing a new agent and rebounding with a successful experienced one). But then that one hidden landmine changed everything. You have to be philosophical about it, but it still hurts.

BJ Muntain said...

Dang, Mark. That really, really sucks.

I'm sorry you had an experience like that with an agency like that. I'm glad you're not giving up, though. There are hundreds of agents out there, many of them nearly as great as our beloved Ms. Sharque.

Writing notes like that during The Call (TM) hadn't really occurred to me, but of course you'd want to do that. Not just for purposes like this, but just to keep your own head straight. I'm going to have to get a notebook or something that has the questions to ask and many blank sheets for notes. Maybe question and answer pages... Hmm.

Joseph Snoe said...

Steve Stubbs

One, I hope you are wrong about debut thrillers being nearly impossible to sell (or as I call mine now – escapist fiction).

Two, verbal contracts are just as enforceable as written contracts (unless the Statute of Frauds applies). They are just harder to prove. In one famous case, Pennzoil v. Texaco, Pennzoil won over $11,000,000,000 in damages because of an oral contract (ultimately being happy with $3,000,000,000 after Texaco declared bankruptcy).

BJ Muntain said...

It might have been better if the Head Agent, rather than dropping Mark completely, had simply found another agent to rep him. Maybe pass him off onto another new agent in the agency.

I have to wonder what was happening behind the scenes. Maybe Mark was unlucky enough to get the one agent that everyone else in the agency hated for whatever reason.

Janet: A question. Since there were no clients to check for references, would Mark have been within his rights to ask the Head agent what they thought before accepting representation? Or even another agent at the agency? Just curious.

kathy joyce said...

Mark, I'm still stuck on one point (well, maybe three, but they're related). First, you had a contract with the young agent, but the contract did not cover what happened if the agent left, correct? Also, was the contract with the agent or the agency? When the experienced agent offered to rep you, was that under any contract? Another nightmare for writers! You find an agent and sign, but they can dump you on a whim. Sheesh!

Beth Carpenter said...

Mark, I'm so sorry. I sincerely hope that someday, when you're rich and famous, this will be an entertaining tidbit to spice up your "road to publication" story.

Ardenwolfe said...

Wow. What a hellish nightmare. But, once again, the adage proves true: a bad agent is worse than no agent.

Mark Conard said...

Kathy,

To answer your questions:

“First, you had a contract with the young agent, but the contract did not cover what happened if the agent left, correct?”

That’s correct. I had a verbal agreement with the younger agent that the agency would still represent me if he quit, but it was not in writing.

“Also, was the contract with the agent or the agency?”

The opening clause of the contract reads that I’m entering into an agreement in which ‘Agent and Literary Group will represent author and author’s works’, etc. After that, the contract speaks only of the agent and myself.

“When the experienced agent offered to rep you, was that under any contract?”

It was a verbal agreement over the phone. She asked if I wanted her to represent me or to seek other representation, and I said I wanted her to represent me.

Another part of the tale I didn’t mention. She was preparing a revised contract, but I was leaving for Europe for three months the following week. She didn’t have a chance to send it to me, but suggested that the existing contract would cover the work we were about to embark upon.

So, yeah, she screwed me pretty badly.



Colin Smith said...

"Agent and Literary Group will represent author and author's works"

So, the agreement is to represent both the author and what the author writes. Now, clearly this doesn't prohibit the agent from rejecting her client's work. But I presume it means that whatever work the agent and client deem publishable, the agent will represent the work and the author's interest. But doesn't the bit about representing the author also mean that the agent can't just cut him loose because she doesn't connect with his novel--especially after agreeing to represent it? After five or six duds, I imagine there might be a discussion about the author's future with that agent, but I don't see how this gives an agent the power to drop a client because she didn't like his book.

What do you think, Janet? Legal experts?

(Aye aye aye... three edits later! One day I'll learn how to express myself clearly... then maybe someone will publish me... okay 2Ns, I'm shutting up... ;) )

Dena Pawling said...


Putting on my attorney hat, I hope you sent a letter and confirmed that final conversation in writing that the parties mutually agreed to terminate the relationship as of DATE.

Colin Smith said...

Dena: In the immortal words of Rod Stewart, you wear it well. :) (Y'all can look up the song on YouTube--I've probably already punched my ticket to Carkoon today with my ramblings and questions).

Karen McCoy said...

Thank you for sharing your story, Mark! It just goes to show that all journeys have unexpected twists and turns, and that none of us should give up. I would love to read something you've written--and I'm sure this is only a stumble on the switchback up the mountain path. Lots of ouch, though. So sorry. :( Keep climbing!

Joseph Snoe said...

Mark

To avoid further confusion down the road, assuming you are cutting ties with this agency, get a release or revocation of contract signed by them. If your original contract licensed them or gave them any rights to your copyright, ask them to release their rights back to you in writing. Be nice about it.

I had to do that once with a publisher.They were very cooperative (I think they were relieved I was wasn't pleading or badmouthing them).

Karen McCoy said...

I found this article helpful too--demonstrating how convoluted writing journeys can actually be.

kathy joyce said...

Thanks to our lawyers for addressing the question I didn't know how to ask. What's sad is that this is one reason we want agents, to manage all the contractual stuff for us!

Sarah Jensen said...

That kind of betrayal has to hurt. I hope your next project far outshines your current one.
Random thought. I wonder if the problem stemmed from poor record keeping on NAG’s part. It seems unlikely, but maybe head agent couldn’t find any contracts or emails to prove that an agreement was ever made. It might explain why she was so curt. She may have thought you were trying to take advantage of the agency by pretending to be a client. At least, that’s what the customer service side of my brain came up with.

Ginger Mollymarilyn said...

Sorry this happened to you, Matt. Sucks big time!

This caught my eye: Agent "and Literary Group" will represent author and author's works

Mark Conard said...

Dena: “Putting on my attorney hat, I hope you sent a letter and confirmed that final conversation in writing that the parties mutually agreed to terminate the relationship as of DATE.

Dena, I hadn’t thought of that. The Head Agent straight-out said that the contract was void, given that the younger agent had left the agency. But you’re right that it’d be better to get it in writing.


Karen: “Thank you for sharing your story, Mark! It just goes to show that all journeys have unexpected twists and turns, and that none of us should give up. I would love to read something you've written--and I'm sure this is only a stumble on the switchback up the mountain path. Lots of ouch, though. So sorry. :( Keep climbing!”

Karen, thanks! I’m always on the lookout for beta readers, so I’d be happy to share something with you.


Joseph: “To avoid further confusion down the road, assuming you are cutting ties with this agency, get a release or revocation of contract signed by them. If your original contract licensed them or gave them any rights to your copyright, ask them to release their rights back to you in writing. Be nice about it.”

Joseph, thanks very much for this advice. Makes good sense. I don’t have a good head for the business or legal side of these things, so it’s great to have this input.


Sarah: “That kind of betrayal has to hurt. I hope your next project far outshines your current one.
Random thought. I wonder if the problem stemmed from poor record keeping on NAG’s part. It seems unlikely, but maybe head agent couldn’t find any contracts or emails to prove that an agreement was ever made. It might explain why she was so curt. She may have thought you were trying to take advantage of the agency by pretending to be a client. At least, that’s what the customer service side of my brain came up with.”

Sarah, no, the agency is very careful about crossing t’s and dotting I’s with regard to their contracts. I just failed to have it spelled out in the contract what would happen if the junior agent quit. I had a verbal agreement with both him and the head agent, but it was never in writing. That was the mistake

Mark

Mark Conard said...

All,

In response to my question about whether it’s typical for editors not to respond to pitches, Janet wrote:

“No.
It's clear this guy was new and didn't have established relationships.
The missing piece of (crucial) info here is how much time went by. 30 days? No one has replied. 180 days? Everyone should have, or the submissions should have been closed out.”

If anyone’s interested, the pitches went out on March 14th. The junior agent (NAG) assured me that he’d worked with the Head Agent on the pitch, and that he was using her contacts at those presses. It was clear that the Head Agent was mentoring NAG, and that he wasn’t just on his own working on my book. So I remain puzzled why those other editors never responded.

Also, fyi, in my response to Head Agent’s curt email cutting me loose, I asked her what would happen, should she receive a positive response to any of those pitches. She told me that she would certainly let me know, and if in the meantime I’ve secured other representation (I haven’t), she would forward the responses to the new agent.

Mark