Although I’ve got one novel (with Publisher Good) and two non-fiction books (with Publisher More Good) to my credit, I lost my previous agent when she went into another line of work. So last January I jumped into the pool of unsoliciteds and started querying agents for my new novel.
When I query agents, I like to start at the top and work my way down. So imagine my delight when my very first letter hit home with one of New York’s most famous Superagents at one of the biggest agencies in the business. Woo-hoo! Time to start casting the movie and shopping for yachts.
Not so fast, Richard. Superagent warned me that he could only think of nine editors who would be interested in my somewhat offbeat manuscript. He also told me that he would be “co-agenting” it with his assistant, whom I shall call Assistant-to-Superagent. Given those two caveats, he gave me the opportunity to decline his offer. But I was so thrilled at the time I pooh-poohed his warnings and signed up.
Nine submissions and nine rejections later, my yacht is up the creek without a paddle. Assistant-to-Superagent has informed me that there will be no more submissions and we are officially kaputski. Goodbye and good luck.
Don’t get me wrong, I bear them no ill will. They warned me fair and square. Their only mistake, in my view, was sending it to the wrong nine editors. (By the way, the editors didn’t offer much advice—just the usual “we liked it but not quite right for us” rejection notes.)
My question for you, Ms. Reid, is what do you think I should do next? I know that finding another agent after the first one has shopped it around town is rather like trying to sell a used mattress with suspicious stains on it at a flea market.
Should I try anyway? (1) Should I chalk it up to experience and write a better novel next time? (2) Should I drop down in class a bit and send it to one of these new indie publishers who accept un-agented manuscripts but seem to do a decent job of producing and distributing them? (3) Any other advice?(4) Like where to unload a lightly-used yacht, for example? (5)
(2) Sort of
(5) I heard this guy is in the market:
But enough jocularity, back to your questions.
The first thing is next time you venture in to the shark pool you should remember to ask the question you didn't ask this time: what happens if you (the agent) can't sell the book?
I've seen very talented writers get hung out to dry, just like you did, by agents who practice the WhamBamThankYouPlan of submissions: send to a select few editors. If one of them coughs up big cash, yay. If not, kick the writer to the curb.
I understand this from a business perspective. I abhor it as a business practice. I can name probably ten writers on my list who are NOW PUBLISHED who did not get an offer on the book I signed them for.
That kind of hindsight doesn't do you much good though now.
Now you've got a lightly shopped novel and not much else. Sadly, you're probably done as far as agents are concerned for this particular novel. No matter how much I liked you or your writing, I would not sign you for a book that's already made the rounds.
And by the way: you don't know if this agent sent to the "wrong editors." You know s/he sent it to the editors s/he thought would buy it. That they did not does NOT mean they were wrong. Let go of that kind of thinking or you're going to be second guessing everything and you'll go nuts.
When you say try an indie publisher, I'm not sure what you mean. The term "indie" is used so fast and loose these days I think it's lost any kind of specific meaning. If by indie you mean small publishers that accept submissions from authors without agents, sure, go ahead. If you mean digital only, sure, why not.
However, if you sell this book to a small publisher, or a digital only publisher, you're going to end up with sales figures that are going to be VERY hard to overcome if you want to try for another agent on the next book.
An author with four books, the last of which sold only 3000 copies (because that's all the publisher would print) isn't as appetizing to sharks as writers without that disadvantage.
I can't tell you what to do here. I can only tell you there are risks and rewards for every choice. You have to decide what's most important: being published any way you can, or writing another book, applying what you learned here, and trying again.
Clearly you've got writing chops: you're published well with earlier books, and two agents liked your work.
Take some time and really think about what you want, cause you've got one more time at bat most likely.