Saturday, February 15, 2014

Question: Lingering Manuscripts and Dawdling Agents

A well-reputed agent has had my full for almost a year now. I have nudged her once and she says she hasn’t read it yet. Her policy is to inform her if you receive rep elsewhere on fulls she currently has. I have received many rejections for this ms already – I’ve been told it’s a tough sell because it has a dystopian vibe – and personally, I want to shelve it.

Meanwhile, I've completed another ms in a different genre and plan to query that in the near future. My question is, what happens in the event I am offered rep for the new ms that’s in a different genre? How do I inform this first agent who still has my old full (when it’s a completely different ms)? Will she be upset that I want to go with someone else? But I can’t sit around and wait for her forever, especially on something that's likely not salable at this time. What’s the most professional way to handle this without burning bridges? 

It's not me is it? It very well could be.  Well, ok, I haven't had anything for a year, now that I check my submission data base, but that's cause I spent most of December reading madly to end the year with a clean slate.

I mention this because delays are just a part of the submission process.  For every story like Becky Albertalli's there are 1000 that start like your question.

The key piece of information here though is your last sentence in the first paragraph: "I want to shelve it."

This is your career, and you get to manage it as you see fit. Even when you have an agent who gives you advice and guidance, you get to do what feels right to you.  (If you continuously avoid taking my advice, we're going to have a conversation about what you think my value is, but it's not like I can have you arrested for Failure to Heed My Words--would that I could.)

The second thing you need to realize is that the submission process is dynamic, not static. People withdraw submissions all the time, and for all sorts of reasons.  It's not burning a bridge to do that.

I have to withdraw submissions from editors every once in a while.  It's not my favorite thing to do (that would be SELLING something, not taking it off the table!) but editors understand that circumstances change.  Agents do too.

Here's what you do: polite email to Agent Sloth saying you're withdrawing your manuscript (title) sent to her on (date) and thank her for her willingness to read same.  You don't need to explain anything but you can certainly say you're working on something new in a different category and you would like to query her on that project when it's ready.


LynnRodz said...

By some of the questions you've received, I've noticed there are people afraid of making waves, people afraid of standing up for themselves, etc. It's crazy! Don't they realize it's a partnership they're looking for in an agent, not a boss or a dictator? As you yourself said, we're not beggars, for Godiva's sake! We're looking to hire someone!

I think Nicholas Montemarano said it very well on Chuck Sambuchino's website, The post is entitled, A Literary Agent True Or False Quiz. The 3rd question and answer were:

3. Your agent works for you.

True. Your agent is your employee. She offers you a service—selling your writing to editors—in exchange for a fee. I highlight this because many writers, especially young writers, get this relationship backwards; they feel that the agent is the employer and they are the ones looking for a job. No, you’re hoping to hire someone. That said, notice that in the second paragraph of this post I wrote that my agent and I have been “working together ever since.” While it’s true that my agent works for me, it’s truer to say that we work together for both of us. We have the same goal—to launch my stories and novels into the world, to see them published with care and enthusiasm, and to help my books find their largest audiences possible. I trust her opinion—she knows the publishing world much better than I do—but she also trusts mine. She makes no decisions without me, and I make none—other than those related to the writing itself—without her. It’s a partnership.

Janet Reid said...

I'm absolutely NOT an employee of any of my clients, sorry. It is true that I work on their behalf, and they do pay me, but I'm not an employee and that is a pretty important distinction.

The agent/author relationship is a professional relationship much like a doctor/patient, lawyer/client. We work on someone's behalf but they are certainly not our supervisor, or department head.

DLM said...

I have to say, I had a full out a couple years ago, followed up with the agent twice, never heard back from her after the first follow up, and at that point I considered *her* to be shelved. A year is beyond me - why would I want to work with an agent so unresponsive? It'd be one thing if there'd been any sort of feedback, but never picking up the MSS at all?

I sincerely don't comprehend - why would it be worthwhile to partner with someone who keeps anyone dangling for such a period of time?

AJ Blythe said...

LynnRodz, it's very true that those of us on the 'searching for an agent' side of the fence are worried about making waves.

With so many people subbing you don't want to be labelled with the tag of 'difficult to work with'. While not going into an employee/employer relationship (noted, Ms Shark) it does *feel* very much like a job interview. No-one wants to give an agent a reason to reject them.

I think you'd find this would change once there was a working relationship with an agent.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

My garbage man performs a service for me, I pay him. Yes he works for me, in a sense, because he's hauling my crap away. But he is NOT my employee. He also makes a hell of a lot more money than I do. I'll bet he's got a hell of a story to tell too.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

When I was lawyering I had to disabuse the "employee" thing more than once.

But I do get the overall sentiment. The tiptoe through the minefield and fear of upsetting things and RUININGYOURCHANCESFOREVER.

I had a novella on contract with a reputable small press. During the churn, editors changed and the series was shelved. Nobody told me. The contract had a 2-year term. I made a few inquiries and then just let the contract expire.

As with so many first works, it is just as well. It is a good story with an adequate execution. It will see light of day again in an anthology of all my previously pubbed flashers, shorts, and almost-there contest entries. There is some decent stuff in that portfolio, but a lot needs reworking.

Lance said...

In regard to Terri's reference to "tiptoe through the minefield," Ms. Reid, you mark out safe paths with clear signposts. It is up to us to follow the path. Thank you for taking the time to do this. NFE.

Curt David said...

Janet, while you gave the best advice to the author who wants to shelve her project....I also assume the author would be giddy if her 1st manuscript would sell like hotcakes.

Couldn't she not email the agent YET, work on her new ms and send it around to different agents? That could take a year. And if thee agent ever gets back to her in the meantime- that's an extra plus. And if she never does, whenever a new agent offers representation, then she'll inform agent #1. (especially since she already has a policy to tell her if you receive rep somewhere else, she seems ready to hear that).

Why take something off the table too early?

Susan Bonifant said...

I recall my own case of agent-worship when I started writing and submitting. Worse than anything was fearing that normal communication was now, as Terri Lynn Coop called it, "a minefield" - fraught with opportunities to accidentally close the door on yourself. Once I began to read more agent blogs and articles,it seemed the behavior to worry about was the more outlying type ("never, ever send an agent a picture of yourself dressed as your characters") - and other stuff you would never do if you were a professional to begin with, and not, well, an idiot. Today, I have agent-appreciation which is much better.

Janet Reid said...

Curt, the guiding thought here is the author wants to shelve the ms. That's why I suggested she pull the ms from consideration.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

Now I want to dress like one of my characters.

*looks at cargo shorts and tank tops*

Oh wait . . .

Now I just wish I looked as good as she does.