I had an agent for (5) years with a well-known NYC agency, and although my initial novel had some interest, it didn’t end up going anywhere. Which is ok . . . it blends genres, and I knew it’d be a hard sell. However, I recently sent my agent another MS, which she’s since declined. Her critique was honest and decent, and she stressed that it was only her opinion and I could feel free to shop it around to see if anyone else might be interested.
So I’m kind of at a crossroads; I knew this new novel would also be difficult (all told in the present tense, doesn’t fit neatly into a genre, unsympathetic protagonist, etc.). But I’m also a firm believer that an author should write the kind of stories he/she wants to read . . . the trick being to pick stories other people want to read also. However, I didn’t expect my biggest critic to be my agent, who wasn’t even interested in a revision (the things that caused her angst being endemic to the story).
The agent liked the writing and some of the elements, but wasn’t digging the main character or how the plot developed. I guess what I’m wondering is: 1) does this happen often, and 2) would it be gauche mentioning the agency in a query letter? Or even sending query letters? I’ve had the first (50) pages workshopped with my book club, and the response was very positive (he said, knowing the next 280+ pages could suck). But agents have to make money, and I don’t know if this is simply a nice way of saying she doesn’t think the MS is up to par. I guess I’m looking for a Diogenes (with a pectoral fin) to light the way . . . if you have any opinions one way or the other, I’d love to hear them.
This is one of the questions you want to ask an agent before you sign on the dotted line: "what if I write something you hate. How do you handle that?"
My job is selling the work my clients write.
There are some exceptions to that: I will not send a book on submission if I find it offensive. That's simply my personal position, and I will tell a client that if needed. I hope we will have determined this BEFORE the book is written, but you never know.
I try not to send out books that I don't think will sell. That said, I've sold some stuff that I thought needed more work.
When I get a project that I'm hesitant about, I talk to my client. Your agent has done that too. She's said "shop around."
You now have two choices: sever, or write something else.
I can't tell you what to write, and I wouldn't presume to tell you your agent is wrong about a novel I've never read.
It's always less terrifying to do nothing, but you can't do that and have a career.
Talk to your agent again. Be ready to listen to what she's telling you. Ask her to be completely straightforward. Does she want you write something new, or is this a sign she doesn't think you're a good match.
Agents need to make sales to stay in business. If she's shopped one novel to no avail, and gotten a second in that she doesn't like at all, be ready to hear that she's not as enthusiastic as you want.
As to your questions: this happens enough that my colleagues and I talk about it pretty often. It's a horrible situation for us, just like it is for you.
You can't query if you have an agent. There are probably some agents out there who will talk to you on the down-low, but it's considered a pretty slimy practice.
I'll talk in general terms to an author who has an agent, but my most frequent advice to them, as it is to you here: talk to your agent directly. Find out what she's thinking. Make your decision based on that information.
PS I'm having "Diogenes (with a pectoral fin)" engraved on my business cards.