Friday, August 01, 2014

Query Question: Dumped

After a short query process, I was fortunate to sign with a new, young agent at an established literary agency. She and I worked out an explicit revision outline and timetable. I did my best to incorporate her suggestions; I turned in said revisions on deadline. I did three rewrites this way over the course of about a year. She was always effusive with praise and enthusiastic about my project. However, after reading the third revision (that I honestly thought was “the one”) she emailed me to say that her editorial vision was not guiding me effectively. She wished me well in finding a new agent for my next project and apologized for this “false start.” I was blindsided; I asked if she’d reconsider. She wished me good luck and godspeed.

So my question is threefold: Is my current project washed up? (It never went on submission.) If not, should I mention that I was previously represented in my queries to other agents? Do I have to wait to query until our contract is void (sixty days after written termination of the contract)?

Zoinks! Talk about blind-sided, dumb-founded, and caught flat footed.  That sounds like a pretty wretched day for you.  Ok...week.

This is very bizarre behaviour on the part of the agent. Normally, (and I've had to do this) when a project isn't working, the client or potential client knows it cause we've had several back and forths,
and it's gone on for a good long while. When "that call" comes, the most frequent reply from writers? "Yea, I saw this coming."

So if you DIDN'T see it coming, my guess is that it's not about the work.  Two things to look at:

The only way I can see this happening in my office is if the client was giving off the beeping sound of impending doom.  Were you too clingy? Did you call at weird times? Did you harass the agent about reply time (that more than anything else will sever a relationship with me)  Did you get snotty with the office staff (that's a firing offense here)

So, was there anything else in play? I'm not asking you to fess up in the comments column or even in an email to me. Just look over your email communications and see if you had started giving off a crazy vibe.  It's hard to recognize your own crazy, but give it a shot.

Be honest with yourself here.  If this is what happened, you need to be recognize it and resolve to NOT DO IT again.

If you can't see anything amiss, well, this agent might be one of those that just went bonkers; I've seen it happen a lot recently and it's hell on all concerned.

But regardless of why, now you have to deal with the situation at hand.

In her termination letter to you (you have one, right? if not GET ONE) she'll say whether the 60 day period is being waived. If not, you should wait.

And you never have to mention this to anyone, ever again. And I suggest you don't.  Your ms didn't go on submission, you have no ties to the agency that repped you, it's like an annulment not a divorce.

This is brutal, no matter the reason it happened. Give yourself some time to be angry, and vengeful and all those wonderful writing prompts before starting back on the query trail.  The LAST thing you want is hot words of vengeance pouring out of your mouth when your next agent calls to discuss your work.


french sojourn said...

I read your link ( Did you get snotty with the office staff (that's a firing offense here)...and all the comments.

I was at a restaurant, with an ex-friend of mine, and he was a real putz to the server. After our meals were ordered, I excused myself and walked over to the waiter at the waiter station and said politely to him. "Please remember, I ordered the Haddock." I smiled and the three other waiters started laughing hysterically. I guess there may have been a discussion about my friends order.

"Don't worry I got the orders straight."

I left a nice tip.

Colin Smith said...

Will I get banned from the comments if I keep saying that you and Barbara Poelle need to write that SNARK & SHARK'S GUIDE TO PUBLISHING book? I know--when would you have time? And especially after this post, I feel a little guilty bringing it up again. But I can dream, can't I? :)

Susan Bonifant said...

"It's hard to recognize your own crazy but give it a shot." I do hope this author will take that step - scan through the communication and spot when the crazy happened. If it's on their side - well, at least the disappointment will have come with a lesson in the middle and maybe one that would have come harder later on. I'm sorry, author. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Okay, writer, now that you've examined your sins, I'm going to second, third and fourth the suggestion that you did nothing wrong.

Some agents behave bizarrely sometimes. Fact.

I'm also going to advise you that, instead of waiting 60 days if your crazy agent sent a letter that didn't bother to cover the legalities, ask her to write another letter specifically releasing you from the contract. Ask that it be signed by both her and the head of her agency.

And while I agree you never have to mention this in your future queries, please do mention it in the right circumstances. Mention it if another writer asks about the agent, in private. I know there's a certain amount of word-of-mouth, not-online buzz that goes on at conferences and writer gatherings. If you ever feel sharing your experience (in person) might help another writer, you should probably do it.

And one more thing, writer. I know this seems like a horrible experience now. But just as the shark said about a writer recently... you've dodged a bullet.

Some published authors I know have been through four agents. Almost all have been through two. Things don't always work out. And when things do work out, you'll realize getting dumped was your lucky day.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

I got nothing to add to all the good advice here except when someone says, "It's not you, it's me," you can usually believe them.

All the best and may the surprises around the next bend in the road be much happier ones.


John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

My only comment is in response to alaskaravenclaw that you mention this tale "in the right place" to warn away other writers. I would say not just no, but "Hell no!" You never know who talks to who. You never know how word gets around, but you do know word gets around. Maybe it would save some other writer a problem, but it's equally likely to get you known in some circles as the crazy one, or someone who carps and complains, a trouble maker. Sometimes it feels SO GOOD to be snarky, but there's karma, you know. Put out good vibes. Chalk this up to experience and move on, and that includes letting it go.

Stacy said...

Yeah, this is brutal, but not necessarily unprofessional. I wouldn't pass on a warning about this agent unless she scammed you out of cash, or something equally unethical.

Sara said...

The same sort of thing happened to me! I signed with a young, newer agent at a reputable agency who'd already made a few sales. She had a lot of enthusiasm and a number of editorial suggestions, so we spent a few months polishing up the manuscript before starting submissions. After a number of close calls but no offers, back to edits. The agent gave more suggestions and I spent a few months making significant changes. When I sent the new draft back to her, I felt confident in how much better my manuscript was (and gushed my thanks about her editorial suggestions that inspired the changes). I got an email response from her saying that she agreed it was a stronger manuscript but she didn't know how to guide me editorially anymore and so she was ending our contract. She offered to give me a call and finish things up over the phone if I'd prefer but said she wouldn't be changing her mind about representing me. She also said she welcomed future queries from me, which made me go "...what?" because why would I query her after this?? If she wanted to see my next projects, she would still be my agent.

Since my manuscript went on submission, even though a number of editors expressed interest in seeing a revised version, I'm pretty sure no agents are interested in representing that book. Which sucks. And so, I've resigned myself to it being a trunk novel and am working on my next project. I worry about querying my WIP because even though it isn't complete and (obviously) hasn't been represented, when (if at all) do I tell a new agent about this experience???

I wonder if the agent described in this question is the same agent I had. Too many similarities. I had no idea it was coming either. And I still can't think about it without frustration, including frustrating with myself because despite how it ended, her suggestions really did make my manuscript better.

At least I know now what I DON'T want in an agent.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Years ago I cried when I was dropped by a publisher who, through no effort of my own, offered me a wonderful deal. My future as a writer, with the promise of success was handed to me. I did not have an agent and I should have. I thought agents worked for the FBI.
It was all me and I mean, all me. I was stupid, clueless and swelled with pride.
It took years for me to forgive myself for being young and uninformed. It still tugs at me though, how close I came to wearing the brass ring.
Look inward first my dear and if it is not you, never, ever, badmouth anyone in the industry. If you are asked about the agent you once had...silence is the greatest rant.

Anonymous said...

Chumbucket, "the right place" is never online. The right place is when a fellow writer says to the questioner "I'm thinking Ms. Crazy sounds like a great agent! I hope she likes my query."

Then I would give that writer an honest answer. And the reason is this. We are not on an even playing field here. We need to help each other. This has nothing to do with "snark".

Jenz said...

I gotta agree with Chumbucket John. You want to be damn careful about how you represent this if you ever decide to talk about it. It's like dating someone who tells you early on about how their last ex was crazy. Watch out, because you're about to be the next "crazy" ex. How you characterize old relationships (business or personal) says as much about you as it says about them.

Anonymous said...


Did you get a list from the agent of who saw the manuscript, and who asked for revisions? If not, do so. As the Shark has said before, you've got a right to ask for this.

Also, make sure you have a letter from the agent in which she clearly relinquishes any rights to your work. If you don't, read over your contract and, if necessary, get her to send you a release letter that voids all terms of the contract.

Decide whether you want to go it alone or get another agent. If you decide to go it alone, do this.

Contact the interested editors and tell them that you are no longer represented by Agent X (that's all you need to say) but that you are very grateful for their interest and you will be revising the manuscript with their suggestions in mind.

Some people will now say "Heavens to Betsy! Sell without an agent! It can't be done!" Not true. I've done it. You just have to decide, Sara, if you want to do it.

If, however, you decide you want another, better agent, start querying. In the closing paragraph of the query simply state that Editor Bighouse and Editor Lotsabooks have expressed an interest in seeing revisions of the manuscript.

You will get responses. Many of them will ask "Why don't you already have an agent?" Answer as simply and honestly as you can, without laying any blame on yourself or the agent. Above all, answer briefly, since the topic is far less important than your book. Everyone knows it doesn't always work out.

Good luck, and don't give up on the manuscript. It obviously has promise since there was some interest in it.

literary_lottie said...

I don't think anyone here is suggesting the author trash talk about how crazy Agent X may or may not be at the next writers' conference happy hour. Instead, we're suggesting that when approached by a writer who is thinking of querying or signing with Agent X, it's okay to say "Just so you know, I found communication with Agent X to be very poor," and, if asked to elaborate, stating that Agent X dropped the author from her list suddenly, and without prior warning.

That's not having sour grapes or being snarky; it's important information about the way Agent X has chosen to run her business. And it's information that potential clients have a right to know. Certainly, it would make me think twice before querying or signing with her.

Janet tells us time and again that agenting is a business. If an agent makes business or client management decisions that cause writers - and even other agents - to raise their eyebrows, then that agent should expect to be talked about. Professionally, respectfully (unless they're a crook) talked about, but talked about nonetheless. (Correct me if I'm wrong here, Janet.)

Now, it's totally possible that the author is crazy, and that Agent X runs a perfectly respectable business wherein she treats her clients quite courteously. In that case, anything the author says about Agent X is going to be drowned out by all of Agent X's other clients talking about what a terrific agent she is. One disgruntled writer won't be any skin off her nose. (Which is why it might behoove the author to make some discreet inquiries and find out if this is a one time problem - in which case the precipitating factor for being dumped was either the manuscript or the author's behavior - or if dumping clients is a trend, recent or otherwise, for this agent. I have a feeling it's the latter.)

Reading between the lines, this sounds like the young agent is either experiencing burnout, or trying to streamline her client list in order to avoid burnout. Either way, I expect that the author isn't the only person who's just been dumped, and they certainly won't be the last. In which case, regardless of what path the author chooses, people are going to be talking about Agent X.

Steve Stubbs said...

Janet Reid’s comments are valuable and very well taken, and there is another possibility. Maybe the agent just did not want to represent the book for any reason or no reason at all. Nobody owes anybody anything. Being cut off is much preferable to having an agent whose strategy is just to shelve the thing until you get wise and move on. I don’t know about publishing, but in other industries letting people under contract drift out to sea is Standard Business Practice. It seems to me this agent handled it in the best possible way. Kudos to her.

Look at it this way: this author got a lot of valuable editorial advice and assistance at no charge that she would normally have forked out her monthly rent payment to get anywhere else. She got something valuable for nothing and has a better MS to show for it. That sounds like a good thing to me.

Good luck to her shopping this around.

Stacy said...

I really think mentioning this to anyone, except anonymously, is risking self-sabotage. It's just one of those things the writer should examine and then sweep under the rug. No matter how it's worded, the writer risks coming off as looking crazy by "warning" other writers over a situation that may not have been the fault of the agent.

MNye said...
This comment has been removed by the author.