Thursday, June 26, 2014

Query Question: talking about your ex-agent

Dear Selachimorpha Maximus (1),

Two years ago I accepted an offer of representation from a well-established NYC agency. I had recently made the final 10 in my category for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, out of something like 10,000 total entries. Fun and surprising times.

After working with the agent for about 9 months, we realized we were on two different paths with the manuscript. I was writing historical fiction; he was hoping to shape it into a genre thriller. In itself this wouldn't have been a problem. I enjoyed trying a different style. But when an editor friend at BigAss Publisher pointed out that this agent was suing a former client, and that they hadn't sold anything in a couple of years since the lawsuit, I decided to look for representation elsewhere.

I first terminated my existing representation agreement, then plunged into the querying process again. (Worth noting that I parted with my former agent on great terms and he left the door open for me. Quite classy.) Fast-forward to the present. I've got a second manuscript now and I've been fortunate to have requests for the series.

At what point, if ever, should I share the details of my previous agency relationship? I can't help but wonder if agents talk about prospective clients, and if so, I suppose I'd want to control the message about why I left my previous agency.

Well, sure we talk about prospective clients all the time. In the office, to our colleagues. But if you mean do I call up Her Slitheriness Barbara Poelle to dish the dirt on prospective clients, the answer is no. For starters, Barbara is the most discrete discreet (oops) person in publishing and if a client's hair were on fire, she'd have gotten the extinguisher out, called 911, wrapped up an auction and called for a hairstyle consult without mentioning a word of it to anyone, even if she was on the phone to me whilst this
was happening.

Mostly what I talk about with other agents are the problems we're all dealing with. Queriers are not problems generally.

The ONLY time I will ask another agent about a prospective client is if there are red flags. Red flags are things like: six agents in six years for six books.  Red flags are: "my agent dropped the ball" or "didn't understand me."  Even then it's just to check that my cautionary feelings are correct. A consult, so to speak.

Here's how you query when you have parted from your former agent:  You query the new project and in the query you say "I was previously represented by Harry Hirsute, but have since parted amicably. The book was not sent on submission."

We can read between the lines on that.

And rest assured that this happens a lot more than you think.  I've got at least six or seven clients who had agents before they came to me. Some of them were pretty good agents too.

(1) Yea, I had to look that one up, too.


Joyce Tremel said...

It definitely happens. In my case agents (yes that is plural) changed careers. My queries followed Janet's suggestion: previously represented, parted amicably, etc. I ended up with a very hard working, incredible agent, so all is well!

David Edgerley Gates said...

I had a very high-powered guy, a few years back, who sent a book of mine out on multiple a number of times, and couldn't even get a nibble. Disappointing for both of us. He really believed in the book, but in the end, we had to agree that it was either the wrong book for the publishing climate at the time, or he was the wrong agent for it, and we parted friends. Shit happens. I have great respect for the guy. He did his best.

DeadlyAccurate said...

When I googled it just now, this link was the first one.

Lance said...

Same for me as Deadly Accurate. However, I would point out that plankton-eating shark does not fit the image of you on this blog. More like Carcharodon carcharias, don't you think?

First author: I have a real shark for an agent.

Second author: Yeah? What's her bite radius?

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing you meant "discreet." Because while Barbara Poelle is definitely one-of-a-kind, that's technically true of most people :-)

Susan Bonifant said...

I'm going to work the word "whilst" into my conversation today.

Janet Reid said...

Discreet indeed. Thanks! I missed that even though I looked at this twice before posting. ARGH!