Thursday, January 28, 2016

Well, that was quick

This fall I signed with a literary agent for a YA novel. When we discussed plans for submission, she said she would contact approximately 10 editors, we would examine the responses, and (if no offer was made) decide if any revisions were necessary before expanding the submission. Well, we did not receive any offers in response to the first 10 submissions and the agent has decided to step aside. She felt there might be issues with marketability (it's a historical novel, set in a somewhat unusual time period), but only one editor actually mentioned that as a reason for passing. To my eye, there wasn't a clear pattern in the editors' responses (they all liked different things and disliked different things). She has said I am free to seek other representation. So I am wondering:

1. How common or uncommon is this scenario?

2. As an agent, how many submissions would you expect to send out before getting an offer?

3. Is it worth seeking another agent or will these 10 submissions effectively kill my chances?

4. How much of this should be mentioned in the query?

While I'm reluctant to stick my long pointy nose into another agent's business practices,
A couple things perplex me here.

1. The initial statement that she's only sending to ten editors. While I do not work in YA, I know some pretty successful agents who do. Their war stories often have ten editors coming to an auction. That means there are LOTS more than ten places to submit YA projects. Hell, I can think of more than ten myself.

This seems like an early warning sign that the editor isn't in this with you for the long haul. That's certainly one way to agent, but it sure leaves authors in a pickle more times than not.

2. She's ditching you rather than asking you to write something else.

3. If you signed with her in the fall, and it's now the last week of January, that's barely four months, and one of those months had a lot of "out of office" email replies cause we were all snogging Santa or his reindeer or both (Fifty Shades of Doe, Ray and Me)

Now for your questions:

1. I've seen this kind of thing before. I've blogged about it too.

I think it's becoming more common as agents need to sell big books and decide not to spend time on books that aren't going to go big.

2. My practice is to send out rounds of submissions. If you have ten first choice editors, and they say no, I send to ten second-choice. I've sold books to publishers who weren't my first or second choice, but the author and I discussed the submission and agreed on it. If I run out of places to submit, I generally have already asked the author to start on something new.

3. This book is dead. You need to write something new. I never take on "lightly shopped" let alone seriously shopped books.

4. None. You'll write a new book, and when your next agent calls to chat, you'll mention this and I hope it will become a hilarious story.

The lesson to be learned from this is: ASK what strategy an agent employs for a book they can't sell. If it's the WhamBamPartingGiftsPlan, you'll want to think long and hard about signing with that agent.

Almost without exception each client I've signed wrote a book I loved. If editors turned it down, I thought they were short-sighted and I wanted to make sure they'd live to rue that rejection.

When the client and I have parted ways over my inability to sell their work, it's absolutely not for lack of effort on my part. Yes, sometimes a fresh perspective is needed. Sometimes a new agent will know a category better than I do. When that happens, I am sorry to see the client leave, but I understand their thinking. I have some very successful former clients and I'm pleased as punch for them.

I can't think of a single instance where I sent a book to ten editors and four months later fired the client (even passively) unless there was something else going on. You've mentioned nothing that leads me to think that might be the case here and I hope it isn't.

Some of the things that can lead an agent to lose enthusiasm quickly:

1. Nagging. I don't mean follow up emails once a week, I mean "what are you doing" emails once a day.

2. Micro-managing: "I saw this editor bought Book X on Pub Lunch. Are you sending to them?"

3. Incessant over-analyzing "what does she mean "the book isn't big enough.""

4. Eeyore emails "oh, I'm so discouraged, woe is me, maybe I'll just self-publish" after each rejection.

If by some dreadful coincidence, you see yourself in this list, it's not the book and it's not the agent, it's you. (I hope it's not.)

In any case you now know three things:

1. Your agent has fired you.
2. You need to write a new book
3. You're never going to sign with someone who practices the WhamBamPartingGifts Submission plan again.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

It's time for one foot in front of the other and moving on. Yes, rejection hurts, yes, setting aside what you thought had promise, sucks but you learn and carry on.

So what is it you have learned?

You will know that answer after your conversation with your second agent regarding your second book.

Brigid said...

Oh, OP, I'm sorry. But you now know two things: 1) you can write a novel that catches an agent, which 2) means you can do it again.

Is it possible to resurrect this after you sign with a career-long agent for your next book? They say, "Congrats on the sale to Harpenguin, now what else do you have for me?" And you pull out this novel, which you've conveniently polished up using all your new skills from writing your second book.

Lucie Witt said...

Sorry about your situation, OP.

I'm mildly alarmed by how long my list of things to ask an agent offering rep is becoming.

Tony Clavelli said...

Oh man, this one is painful. I'm sorry, OP. Thank you for giving us new questions to ask, but that's a rough price.

Even though I'm in favor of a day or two of mourning, with your favorite movie and people and booze, a new book will change how you feel. Like Brigid above said--you've proven you have the tools! It might not seem like much now, but it is a lot.

So grab the friends, take a week, and then start typing again.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

What a dreadful situation. So close and so far away. Something we learn well through this blog and shared experience, not all agents are created equal. Which makes this query process all the more difficult because not just any agent will do. Oh OP, I feel for you.

Good news is that you write well enough to attract an agent. Write something new and chalk this up as one of the myriad of battle scars earned in the trenches of traditional publishing. You will be a better and wiser writer for it in the end.

nightsmusic said...

OP, I echo the sympathy. Almost feels like they didn't like your child. After all, you put all of you into it. But you must have many more stories inside. Janet said once a long time ago and it's in the sidebar of my site, Write the book you love. Take one of those other stories inside, write it, put your love into it, you've done it once, you know you can repeat it and this time, with the knowledge you've gained, you'll be able to make it really shine.

Good luck, I know it sucks, but it will be okay.

Colin Smith said...

I have no agent, I have no publisher, and right now, I don't even have a finished novel to query (i.e., still working on the WiP), so I can't offer any advice beyond, "You know you can do this thing, so plow on and all the best to you!" (which I mean most sincerely, btw). As an unagented writer, this is one of the scary aspects of the business: being so excited at agent interest that you lose perspective, common sense, the ability to think. Not saying this is you, Opie. I'm sure you thought you were going into this agent relationship with eyes open and brain in gear. I'm sure you thought you had asked all the right questions. I could quite see myself saying yes to the "ten submission" game-plan without thinking to ask "What then?" So thanks for offering up your experience, Opie. It helps to make us all a bit wiser.

Janet: Is this kind of scenario more likely among newer, or junior agents, or is this something you see across the whole spectrum of agenting?

Anonymous said...

When we discussed plans for submission, she said she would contact approximately 10 editors, we would examine the responses, and (if no offer was made) decide if any revisions were necessary before expanding the submission.

Am I reading this wrong? This sounds like it answers the "what next?" question. It sounds like the agent said she didn't subscribe to WhamBamPartingGiftsPlan, and then changed her mind.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

So, something that comes to mind reading Opie's question and Janet's response: Does Opie have something else his/her agent is aware of and doesn't want? It does seem awful fast that the agent subbed to 10 editors and then was like "M-O-O-N, that spells done." How many of us have a single book right now?

For one, I kind of thought a question agents asked when in the courting period and/or after they've signed is "What else do you have?" and "What else are you working on?"

For two, I frequently see the advice "When you're querying one, write another/the next." I'm in fact working on a new book right now, the existing text of which I wrote the bulk of last July and the preceding November.

For three, the book I'm querying isn't the first book I've finished and polished and edited until I could see the sentences in my sleep. It's the second. The first one is werewolves, which is "a dead genre", as many far and wide will say. I figured my urban fantasy Orpheus was perhaps different enough from the currently well-trodden paths that I could get in with him, then move to the werewolves. My werewolf book is also the first in a trilogy (well, intended in my head to be a trilogy).

CynthiaMc said...

This is just a quick flyby as my life belies my blog - Escape from Chaos has become living in chaos for the past month or so but of late good chaos rather than bad.

Janet, so glad to see you on the mend. Welcome back! You were missed.

nightsmusic said...

Jennifer, what do you mean werewolves are dead?? Oh NOES! What am I going to do with the story I'm polishing now to sub to a request? Oh, wait, it's been way over a year. She's probably forgotten about that now... *sigh*

And really, reCaptcha, if you want me to pick all images with bread, make the pictures a little more obvious, would you?

Lennon Faris said...

As luciakaku pointed out - This seems deceptive of the agent, since she gave OP a different impression at the beginning. I hate to think there are agents like this who will take on something they aren't planning to fight for if things don't go peachy right away.

I like the suggestions here, OP, to keep your story and work on another, with plans to bring the original novel back out in the future. I am sure the situation must be discouraging to say the least but that first novel isn't all lost.

This is on a much smaller, less heart-breaking scale, but sometimes I write a scene that I REALLY like, and then realize I can't keep it for some reason. I cut it out, put it in a separate word doc, and essentially use it for parts - turns of phrases, action clips, sometimes even a side character.

Even if your novel is 'dead' right now to new agents, if you know there's a story there and feel passionate about it, you can resurrect it in some form. Best of luck. Thank you for sharing this with all of us.

Lucie Witt - my list is getting long, too.

Donnaeve said...

This is one of those situations where, as I read the post, I got a sinking feeling - even though it's not happening directly to me.

I'm really sorry for this OP. I agree with luciakaku that it "appeared" like this agent was in it all the way.

And then? When the spaghetti didn't stick...

I think the thing that would really get me (make that irk me) is OP wrote a book which resulted in acquiring an agent. I had to bold that sentence because it SO simplifies what took place over the course of the writing, the querying, the excitement (finally!) and the end result. I bold it because I can't make the sentence bleed, cry, experience states of depression/anxiety, reveal the perseverance and the guts of a writer.

Did all that work, all of the efforts get squandered by one agent's fickle'ish, fly-by submission process?

I don't think so. Here's a bit of HOPE for you OP. Do like the others have mentioned with regard to a new work. It's hard, but you'd have to keep writing anyway - even IF the book sold, or the agent was in it for the long term. You would keep writing anyway, and so, this is what you will do.

But don't give up on this submitted book either. Here is where I can speak from experience. My first book didn't sell either. It went out to editors in 2012, and they all passed. And then? When my next book went on submission in 2015, it was quickly rejected by editor (quickly meaning he read it within one day of getting it) but, but - he liked the writing enough to see something else. And what was that something else? The first book - and it SOLD. Three years later. Sometimes you get the chance to dust off a previous work and offer it again.

Keep writing. It will all work out in the end.

Dena Pawling said...

Here's my two cents [and we all know in today's economy, there are people trying to phase out the penny].

First, I agree that (1) congrats on writing a book that attracted an agent!, (2) this situation is really REALLY disappointing, (3) hopefully you are already writing another book, and (4) keep this book around because you might be able to sell it in the future.

With those things in mind, I would recommend – (1) get the list of the 10 editors who have already seen this book, so you can give it to your new agent if/when you shop this first book again in the future, and (2) get the agent's step-aside in writing, to prevent questions of whether you have to share your future earnings and at the very least so you can throw darts at it [in private, of course].

Good luck.

Susan Bonifant said...

I'm getting out my soapbox that is labeled "Pollyanna, etc" for this one.


We really don't know what was going on with the agent, OP, but it's not important because a) you've shown you can draw an agent, you lucky duck, and b) the next one will likely be different, and c) you will definitely be different in your negotiations after you take out your scroll of questions and follow the do's and don'ts of being a nice client.

But mostly, OP, remember we look to you as the little writer that could and DID. If that gets lost in the confusion or haze, it will emerge again because it has been tested. And as we all know, when a truth is tested, it becomes a super-truth and wears a cape.

Good luck, don't be sad, and do something self-indulgent while you rally.

Kitty said...

Wow, kinda makes a writer want to TP the agent's house. Or at least fantasize about it, and then write a book about it. Or at least fantasize about writing a book about fantasy revenge. Fantasize... like what Dudley Moore did in his hilarious movie Unfaithfully Yours.

Oh, yeah, and write a new book, too.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Oh, nightsmusic, I'm sorry! Write the story you love. And if it's for a request, geeze, don't listen to me at all! (other than the "write the story you love" part). The last thing I want to do is discourage my fellow woodland creatures.

I've seen many agents I have an eye on be like "werewolves, nope". I work in a library and go through the catalogs we order from, as I'm the one who puts in the orders (publisher's weekly, kirkus, library journal, among others) and don't see a werewolf saturation in the market at all. But what do I know? I wrote the first book, which at this distance needs some work but has a core I'm confident in. The other two are stewing while I work on other projects.

Colin Smith said...

I just want to echo Jennifer's encouragement to NM (nightsmusic). If the werewolf book is what's on your heart, write it. Heck, even query it. Just because "the market is saturated with werewolves" doesn't mean this will always be the case. You never know. By the time your novel's ready, agents might be clamoring for werewolves. Worst case scenario, your brilliant novel sits complete on a shelf until the time's right for it.

Matt Adams said...

I am always amazed at how easily the words "Write another book" slips from the mouths of people other than the one who's being told to write another book. The singer Dar Williams described it as "the easy courage of my distant friends," the idea that something as hard and personal should be discarded simply because it's the logical next step. Or as if just writing another book is a minor thing.

10 submissions isn't enough to know whether there's a market for your book or not. I know this sends me on my way to Carkoon, but you ought to disagree with Janet and keep querying -- mention it in the letter -- and at least see whether another agent is interested enough to get past the inconvenience of it being lightly shopped. Many won't -- and that's their right and doesn't make them bad people -- but maybe someone will. And if you have the submission list from your previous agent, then a new one would know who to avoid. It costs nothing but pride-filled bodyblows to press send. And you never know.

You should be writing, because we all should be writing, But it would be a mistake to abandon this one just because an one agent decided it wasn't worth the effort if it wasn't an easy payday. And if you fall into one of the "bad client" categories Janet mentioned, then don't do that next time. But writing a book is too important -- the action of it and the consequences of it -- in your life to let someone else's jerky behavior decide when it gets cast aside. Another 100 queries might leave you in the same place you are now, but if you don't query again, then you'll not know whether it actually could have sold to someone else or not.

Craig F said...

I didn't know that my first wife had gone into screwing up the agent business too. She is the only person I ever met that could trash a relationship in four easy lessons.

As my queen says, write another book, market it and laugh about this one until it becomes a best seller. Then laugh at your first agent with a laugh containing chortles that sound like "eat me".

nightsmusic said...

Jennifer and Colin, it will probably end up sitting. It's okay. It's a historical werewolf anyway and I don't think there's much of a market for that. But I finished the first, am 2/3 through the second and have tons of notes for the third so whether it sells or not, I have to finish the story arc. I just can't leave it open ended like that. And I'm working on other stories as well.

Which brings me to a couple of points: If you write the book you love, which is exactly what I think anyone should do, and there's no market for it, and you don't really love much of anything else, where does that leave you?

And number 2: While I admire people who can 'write to the market' and seem to do well with it, it seems to me that unless you get into some sort of mainstream genre and, if you write in a sub-genre like: Romance - Historical Romance, you're sort of left out. Because mine is Romance - Historical Romance - Paranormal. That's getting pretty far away from the main and I am not one who can 'write to the market.'

I know, rhetorical points, but they do prey on my mind occasionally.

Dear reCaptcha, pizza is not crab legs!

Anonymous said...

Or as if just writing another book is a minor thing.

Matt, I doubt any of us are belittling the difficulty of writing another book just because it's our advice. Not only is it the next logical step, it's what you need to do if you want a career out of writing books, whether you're already published or want to be.

We all know it's hard. We're all writing books ourselves. Whatever our current flavor of disappointment may be--from getting disappointing reactions from beta readers to not landing agents to scathing reviews on Amazon--we all feel it. And we always will. Working on the next book isn't abandoning the first one unless the writer wants it to be.

And you don't have to be a writer to know how hard it is. Our illustrious queen isn't saying "write another book" as if that's the easy way out and it's a minor feat. She's not constructing the thing, but she's standing on the ground with a megaphone and expertise, looking at the whole thing and screeching when it starts to fall.

It's hard. It's still the next thing. Whether Opie keeps shopping this novel or not. Eventually, there's going to be a next book. And us encouraging its development isn't belittling.

Colin Smith said...

NM: "there's no market for it." You'd be surprised. When agents and publishers say "there's no market for it," they are speaking from a particular context. Agents are thinking of publishers that might be interested in such a novel. Publishers are thinking in terms of sales, and depending on the size of the publisher, a viable market will be determined by how many copies of the book they think they can sell. But I'm sure Janet will be the first to tell you that while we should listen to and respect the advice of agents and editors, they don't know it all. Janet has passed on books she didn't consider saleable that went on to be sold and do quite well. Publishers often pass on books that go on to find a market in the self-publishing world.

And I guess that last point is my main one. There's always self-publishing. The more years I'm allowed to hang around here, the more convinced I am that there is a market for just about anything--you just have to find it. I'm sure there's a market for your novel series. It may take some digging to find, and it may not be huge, and you may have to self-publish to bring your work to that market, but if your goal is to publish, and get a readership for your work, don't be discouraged. Keep going. If you love this series, and are willing to put the time in to shape and edit it til it sings, I'm sure you can find readers who will share your passion--even if traditional publishers tell you no-one's interested.

That's what I think, anyway.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

I missed yesty's post because busy. Shame, as I was one of the first people in the world to have a Web page.

Imagine what you want your career to look like in the future. What does success look like to you?

Did anyone imagine only one book published, and no more? Anyone?

Of course not. Commercially successful authors have more than one book out. When one book has come out, another is in post-production, one is being written and yet another one is in pre-writing.

Do not lose yourself to just one book, especially your first book. You are not a one-hit wonder, if you aim for a career as an author.

Write another book, even if (especially if) the first one hasn't sold yet. Then write another, and another. Then go back and rewrite one of the early books if you love it very much.

Just because you're not focused on a book or it's languishing doesn't mean it's dead or trunked. It just might not be its time.

Write another book. If you're pursuing an agent, its because you want a career. A career has more than one book.

Go write another book. This is possible because I have done it.

Not every book will sell the first time. The more books you write, the better the chances one of them will sell.

Can anyone come up with a good reason why not to write another book?

Because I can't.

Donnaeve said...

Matt, I have to (again) agree with luciakaku.

No one is belittling the effort.

If you read my comment you would have seen this: I think the thing that would really get me (make that irk me) is OP wrote a book which resulted in acquiring an agent. I had to bold that sentence because it SO simplifies what took place over the course of the writing, the querying, the excitement (finally!) and the end result. I bold it because I can't make the sentence bleed, cry, experience states of depression/anxiety, reveal the perseverance and the guts of a writer.

And this: It's hard, but you'd have to keep writing anyway - even IF the book sold, or the agent was in it for the long term. You would keep writing anyway, and so, this is what you will do.

And yes, (ad nauseum) this: But don't give up on this submitted book either.

Etc. etc.

For all we know, OP does have another book they're working on. I hope so. But if not, it's the natural course of The Writer. We write, not one book, but many. Writing new material renews hope.

Janice Grinyer said...

I did not know that one-night stand contracts were possible with literary agents.

I also did not know they like to snog Santa AND his crew. ALL at once.

I think my vision of all Agent contracts being sunshine, kittens puppies, and ponies has been shattered.(AND DO NOT TELL ME WHAT AGENTS DO WITH THEM.NO.)

I need to go wash my brain with bleach now...

Colin Smith said...

Janice: Have you not seen "Agents Gone Wild"? Trust me. You don't want to. ;)

nightsmusic said... came through as a link on the notification email. I clicked it just out of curiosity (don't worry, I have enough measures in place, the government couldn't get into my computer) and it was interesting!

John Frain said...

I so feel for you, OP.

My guess is that there's been a little bit of time gone by between the tenth submission and your note to Janet. Everyone's advice to move on, write the next book is correct, of course. But it's HARD. You probably spent a good year of your time perfecting that book, garnered the interest of an agent, and now -- Splat.

Time is finite. Totally understand where you are right now.

I think Donna said it so well. You'd keep writing anyway. It sounds callous if you're not in the right frame of mind to read it, so wait till you're in the right frame of mind if you're not there yet. Because that's the right advice. You just have to be ready to receive it.

When you doubt yourself during the writing of your next one, because you will, come on back and we'll remind you how far you actually traveled down the road to publishing. You're gonna make it.

S.D.King said...

Opie, this has to feel discouraging. So sorry!

I recently listened to a podcast from Ted Dekker (sold millions!) who talks about discouragement and he has a good way of viewing our lives as writers and creatives. You can download the podcast here:

Colin Smith said...

S.D.'s link:

Mary said...

I'm in the opposite boat where so far my book hasn't sold but my agent has said she won't give up! So it's hard to know how far to take it. I am distracting myself by yes, writing another book. And my heart does sink a little because writing another book is going to take me years. Good luck with whatever you decide.

Karen McCoy said...

So sorry, Opie--what a horrible thing to go through.A lot of really useful things have already been said, especially by Dena Pawling, Her Grace, the Duchess of Kneale, and Colin Smith. Interesting questions too.

My other question to Opie is one that has been addressed in the past: does this WhamBam agent have other clients, and if so, is Opie allowed to contact them to see if they had similar experiences? That might help put some of the puzzle pieces together.

The term "Eeyore" reminded me of a post I read recently from Ask a Manager, so I'm sharing it here.

BJ Muntain said...

Regarding the 'this genre is OUT' frame of mind:

1) Agents and editors have super market sight. That is, they can see two years into the future to see what is going to be published, not what is already published now. They're selling for the market two years from now, and have an inside track on what is coming out in the next two years. Editors, especially, and agents can pick this up telepathically through editors' responses to other submissions or by buying them drinks.

2) The market goes through cycles. Annie Rice wrote about vampires, which made them popular, but then it waned enough that Stephanie Meyers' vampires were able to reach the summit. That brought ALL the vampires out, and flooded the market for years to come. Give it a few years, and the glut will ease.

3) That DOES NOT mean you shouldn't write it if the story means a lot to you. After all, by the time it's written and polished, the glut may be over. But if the glut is still on, then just be aware that it will be a harder sell. It has to be darn good - and there has to be something unique about it. Then you have to find the exact right agent who knows the exact right editor.

4) Even with a two-year insight as to what will be coming out, no one really knows what is going to sell. If everyone knew what the 'next big thing' will be, then everyone would be publishing it. Sometimes the 'next big thing' comes out of the blue - both Twilight and Harry Potter did that.

As for 'writing for the market' - that's very hard to do well if you're not in the publishing industry. And even if you are. After all, see above - what we see is two years behind what is going on at the publishing houses. Oh, kale mysteries are selling now? Quick! Write one and get in on the market... only will they still be as popular two years from now?

And that's not counting the time it takes to actually write a book. That's just the speed publishing moves. It's a slow-moving river, but what you see now was put in there a long time ago.

The only thing the market never gets tired of is GOOD BOOKS. Write those.

Cindy C said...

Oh, Opie this sucks. I don't even want to think about how badly this is hitting you. I have no advice to offer other than to echo what others have said. Take some time to mourn and/or rage, then sit down and start thinking about what to do next. And, of course, keep writing. You've proven you have talent and skill so don't let this news stop you from trying.

AJ Blythe said...

Bummer, OP. I know I often think when I sign with an agent I'll be able to breathe a sigh of relief, and I'm sure you felt the same. But if you were able to write well enough to get an agent the first time you'll do it again!

Janet, thanks to you and your Fifty Shades of Doe, Ray and Me I'm now wiping peppermint tea off my keyboard.

Claire said...

My deepest sympathies, OP. It seems almost criminal that a decent book could be rendered untouchable by the cack-handedness of an incompetent agent. I really hope you bounce back quickly and keep writing.

On the 'werewolves and the market' question... I'm always a bit dubious about the idea that certain topics are 'in' or 'out', like Capri pants or hipster beards. Surely if the book is good enough, it doesn't matter what it's about? Like I might enjoy a really well-written novel about the Gold Rush, but it wouldn't necessarily make me want to read other books by other authors about the same subject.

But maybe some people really do rush up to the sales assistant at a Barnes & Noble and pant "Give me all the vampire books you have! ALL OF THEM!"

literary_lottie said...

nightsmusic - I for one would LOVE to read a historical werewolf novel, and I know plenty of other people for whom that sort of genre mashup would also have an appeal. It's true that it doesn't fit squarely into either the paranormal or historical genres, but to me that's a good thing; we need more "outside the box" books published, because there are lots of readers whose tastes cross genres and age groups, and I don't think publishers are doing enough to capture that market. One of my favorite books of all time is Lauren Owen's THE QUICK, which is a Victorian-set vampire novel that's about as far away from Anne Rice as it gets (and might be worth a read for comp purposes). I seriously dig books that defy genre expectations.

Janet, I had a question: I know that, when talking to an agent that has offered representation, you should ask what happens if the book doesn't sell. Is it also appropriate to ask where the agent plans to submit, how many submissions they plan to make, which editor do they think would be a good fit for the book, etc? It seems like knowing an agent's submission strategy before signing with them is the only way to avoid the OP's situation, but I don't want to offend an agent by micromanaging or appearing to doubt their abilities. If I signed with an agent who then told me "oh, btw, I'm only submitting to ten editors," I would feel very misled, but at the same time I'm worried that asking "you're not just going to submit to ten editors and then call it quits, right?" would make me seem pushy and paranoid.

I think authors often avoid asking important, relevant questions of agents prior to signing because they're worried about committing a terrible faux pas and having the offer of representation withdrawn.

AJ Blythe said...

Janet, at the risk of finding myself with a one-way ticket to Carkoon, I was wondering if you could blog about what authors should do/ask an agent before signing (a la the things Charlotte mentioned and anything else we don't know to ask) and accepted protocols? By the latter I mean things like... Is it okay to ask questions and then think about saying yes? I'd be so worried they'd think I wasn't keen that they'd change their mind, so I'm liable to agree in panic and excitement.

I know you've talked about a lot of these things in the past, but I can't remember a post where it's all on the one page. Please forgive me, your Sharkness, if my brain is just faulty.

Colin Smith said...

AJ: Check out this list of questions:

The Engagement Period

Anything you'd like to add to this list, O Mighty and Wise QOTKU? :)

Theresa said...

Condolences, OP. This must be a hard thing to deal with. And you were at your very best going into the author-agent relationship. You have a quality mss that attracted an agent. You had a detailed conversation with said agent about how the mss would go out on submission. After the first round, there was supposed to be a discussion about possible revisions before the second round. But the agent bailed and the second round never happened.

That's something to feel bad about for a while. Get it out of your system and then think about what comes next. Yes, it sounds so cavalier: Write another book. (Every time I finish one, I swear never again. Then I get an idea and I'm off.) But that is what you would do anyway.

We're all here for you.

nightsmusic said...

Well, Charlotte, when I finish making my pass through this, if you're interested, I'd love the extra eyes.

And I think reCaptcha is schizophrenic. Now, I'm typing text...what happened to the pictures? Oh, reCaptcha, you're confusing me so...

(I love ellipses, but not in my novels...)

Anonymous said...

It's funny, sometimes, how what seems like defeat can be a driving motivation. I rather like Janet's attitude of "I thought they were short-sighted and I wanted to make sure they'd live to rue that rejection." OP, I hope you write dozens more books and they all get published to great commercial success and critical acclaim, and one day you will have the extreme satisfaction of knowing that one agent and those ten editors were WRONG. There will always be nay-sayers along the path. Don't let the bastards get you down.

Off-topic rant/pep-talk:
Nightsmusic, don't make me come over there. You have a REQUEST FOR A FULL on that ms. I remember Janet telling you, recently, in no uncertain terms, to send it to the agent even though it had been a while. I seem to remember her making you promise to send her proof that you'd done so. Good lord, woman. I understand self-doubt and fear and all that other self-defeating crap. I understand it better than you'll ever know. But there comes a time when you need to tell your inner critic to put a sock in it and then shove her out of a fast-moving car into a ditch too deep to dig her way out of. All this talk of "probably she forgot about me" and "dead genres" is fear. There isn't a single genre that hasn't been declared dead, and yet they all come back to life. Maybe your particular genre is just waiting for YOUR BOOK to breathe new life into it. If you let fear stop you, it will become a habit. Don't do that to yourself. I know it's hard. Do it anyway. I have faith in you and am more than happy to hold your hand and drag you to the other side of this scary thing. Believe me, it's a thing that ALL of us have to conquer eventually. Whatever the result, I can guarantee it will not kill you. But it just might liberate you. No more excuses. Do it.

Lance said...

Just to reinforce the encouragement from the others. But don't wait until someone else tells you to start the next book. When you have one accepted by your agent, then is the time to start the next one. Keep writing.

nightsmusic said...

*peeks head in*

*shuffles over to KD*

*yes, ma'am.*

*goes to sit in the corner*

I'm working my way through it. Really, I am. It's so bad! It's good I let it sit for awhile, so I can better see what needs fixed. And I'm fixing. I really am!

Panda in Chief said...

Oh dear, OP. I feel for you. I think bailing on you was downright crappy, especially after saying that if there were no takers after the first 10 submissions, that you would revise your query (or revise something anyway) and do more rounds of submissions.

When I was first dipping my toes in the kid-lit river, I went to a SCBWI event to hear an agent speak, and she said she rarely (if ever) gives up, and had submitted work as many as 32 or more times before selling it. And that she would have kept on submitting until it sold or there were no publishers left.

Colin, the question you asked about whether this wham-bam submission tendency was just among younger agents or whether it was going on in all phases of agenthood, was on my mind as well, so would love an answer to this one.

I'm surprised no one has suggested voodoo dolls but maybe that is the sort of suggestion that gets you sent to Carkoon.

Having shown in galleries for over 30 years, I know there is a difference between the ones that work hard for you, and the ones who are just phoning it in. I also understand how hard it is when the excitement of "I have an agent" keeps you from asking the hard questions, that might cause you to say, "thanks, but no thanks, ...oh...I DON'T have an agent" :-((((

Write that next book, and when your excellent new agent sells that one, maybe that first one will sell too. You did it once, you can do it again.

And why is it that reCaptcha hardly ever shows me any pictures? Is it because my smiling pandy picture looks so innocent that I couldn't possibly be up to no good?

Anonymous said...

*pets NM and offers cookies* If it was so bad, you wouldn't have a request. Hush now.

And my copious emails to CPs about how awful my MS is before I shoved it under the bed and turned to a WIP are completely irrelevant to this encouragement, and in no way make me a hypocrite. >.>

Panda, reCaptcha doesn't find me suspicious, either, except if I hit it once, and then went back and edited for five minutes, then tried to post. Apparently it finds the insecurities of woodland critters to be suspicious.

Anonymous said...

Aaaand, still off-topic:
NonononoNO. Nightsmusic, there will be no shuffling and no hiding in the corner and ABSOLUTELY no more negativity. You are not allowed to say your work is bad. You have zero objectivity on that score. None. You are a writer, a damn fine one. Your work is worthy of attention and praise. Stand up straight and tall, shoulders back and chin up, and own it. I also recognize procrastination when I see it, so don't think for one minute I don't see what you're doing. Give yourself a deadline to be done futzing with it. Yes, futzing. What day is it... Wednesday? Oh, right, Thursday. OK, by end of day Sunday you will be done messing around and on Monday you WILL send the full to that agent. Feel free to send me a panicked email immediately afterwards. [I'm not kidding: kdjames.99ATgmailDOTcom] You can do this.

John Frain said...

Thank you, BJ, for this:

The only thing the market never gets tired of is GOOD BOOKS. Write those.

Would that it were that easy, right!

Also, note to self: Don't piss off KD James. I'm trying to get coffee cup samples of KD and our Queen and run the DNA samples at to see if they're related. Yikes. Careful where you swim in these shark-infested waters.

No ma'am, wasn't me talking. I've got my head down working on these here revisions...

Anonymous said...


John, that wasn't me being pissed off. That was me being supportive. OK, sternly supportive. You do not want to know what I'm like when I'm pissed off. Luckily, I have a very long fuse and that's a rare event. One I usually keep to myself until I calm down.

Maybe one day I'll tell the story of the time I got epically pissed off at Sears and ended up with not only the exact goddamn stove they sold me at the price they (mistakenly) advertised, but also a new kitchen floor and an abject apology and job offer from some exec VP in the Chicago office, who said it was the best complaint letter he'd ever seen.

Lennon Faris said...

John Frain - lol. KDJames - you make an effective pep talk! nightsmusic - I would read that subgenre.

Off to a little more editing before bed! This blog is a great motivator!

Anonymous said...

Nightmusic, write the story you love. Vampires were supposed to be over until someone named Meyer wrote some series or another. I don't think a writer should ever worry about what is popular. Write something great and be the next popular trendsetter.

My Civil War novel has a lamia in it, but is heavily researched and story centric. I hope people won't think, "OMG! Another paranormal!"

To the OP. I'm very sorry. On the plus side, there's always a bright side, when you write your new book and the agent asks, "what else do you have?" you actually have something. Yes, it's been lightly shopped, but your new agent may have some ideas about it. Plus, a new editor for you new book probably hasn't seen the old one. Think of it as inventory, not wasted time.

Good luck in future endeavors. Soldier on. Keep writing. It's what you do.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

nightsmusic: historic werewolves sound pretty rad! What're the chances that there were two of us here with werewolf trilogies in mind? (mine's contemporary.

Claire: I don't know about at Barnes and Noble, but people have come to the library and put in requests like that. Sometimes they've read a "gateway" book like Twilight or something and need something with more meat on it, sometimes they've finished one series and need another similar or caught a particular flavor and want everything in the system to do with witches, that kind of thing. And I tell you, I know author research when I see it, and have been able to have some great conversations that way! (like a patron who was getting alllll the occult and non fiction witch books in the system)

kdjames should give more of us pep talks!

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Yeah. Gateway books. When readers read one book of a type, they get this insatiable hunger for more. Romance readers are especially voracious like this; that's why Romance is a top-selling indie genre.

When I was working in a library a few years back we created some Recommendation Lists. Stephenie's vampire books hooked 'em. The readers wanted more, so we recommended Richelle, and Anne and so on. We listed every vampire/werewolf/ghostie book we had in the library. Had the same thing going for my drinking buddy Jo's books about some boy wizard, and a few other popular reads.

Our readers would devour all these and beg for more. Thank goodness for InterLibrary Loans.

So yeah. I don't worry too much about glutted genres. The glut only exists in commercial publishing. Indie's got room for everything and more. I'm not above indie publishing something if I can't get an agent to love it. May do that with my Regency Romance after it's won "Ticket to Ride--Agentville".

LynnRodz said...

Late once again to comment, but OP, I'm not going to repeat what Janet and everyone else has said. Instead, if you strongly believe in your novel, I think you should continue to try and push it until you find it a home. Why not? Just because that wham, bam, agent gave up, that doesn't mean you have to.

We've all heard success stories about an author not giving up and I don't think you should either. Find out which editors have seen your ms and take it from there. If other agents won't touch it, like Janet has mentioned she wouldn't, submit it to publishers that accept unagented submissions. Do all you can before putting it away to write something else. And if all else fails, you can think about self publishing. There again, we've heard of numerous success stories.

Good luck, ten passes (all for different reasons) does not mean your novel isn't good enough to one day find it on the shelves of bookstores.

nightsmusic said...

I hereby nominate KD to be the pitbull motivator of the Reiders!


I fear just a couple days is not long enough, but I have the whole thing here in front of me (printed because I don't do electronic editing) and will work on a LOT of it every single day until I get it done and sent.

Jennifer, werewolves because: dobermans! ;)

Lucia, cookies? Chocolate chip ones? Chewy? With big chocolate chunks?

Panda, reCaptcha doesn't like me. Period. Not here, not most places that use it where I post, doesn't even like me on my own site. Go figure...

But I do have one other comment and this one is out of my control...what happens when you've written your book, polished it to within an inch of its life and you continually hear; I can't sell this, there's no market right now for this. Not that I've heard that yet, but I have other writer friends who have. And it's consistent from all the agents being queried. I think that goes back to the glutted/passe genre.

Sort of another rhetorical question/comment there, but something to consider.

Oh, reCaptcha, make up your mind! A river is not a puddle behind a train!

Claire said...

Interesting points, HerGrace and Jennifer, thanks for the info. There's a distinction between genre and subject matter, though, isn't there? I can completely understand someone only reading romance novels, or sci-fi, or crime, if that's what they enjoy. But just seeking out vampires or werewolves or, I don't know, mid-century female zombies with relationship problems...? Anyway, I'm rambling. Clearly some people have very specific tastes.

Anonymous said...

nightsmusic, actually they're chewy CHOCOLATE chocolate chunk. The most alliterative of foods.

RE: what to do when everyone says there's no market, I imagine that would be when you hook an agent with a different book, then when they ask about inventory, you dangle your shiny "unsalable" MS in front of them. At that point, it's their job to represent your work, and "not now" doesn't mean "never."

LynnRodz said...

Luciakaku, "everyone" did not say there was no market, only one out of only ten editors referred to it not being marketable. Those odds would not make me quit on my bs&t novel. OP, keep going!

Anonymous said...

LynnRodz, sorry for the confusion! I was addressing nightsmusic's question a couple comments up, not Opie's situation. "Everyone" most certainly hasn't said no to poor Opie.

Sara said...

I'm sympathetic to the OP, having gone through the same sort of experience. After landing an agent, submissions to multiple publishers, some close calls, no offers, and lots of edits, I was blindsided with a Dear John email saying the agent was terminating our agreement. You think agents are in it for the long haul (my own former agent said this too). You also assume that if a book doesn't sell, the agent will tell you to write a new book, not drop you as an author. I understand that agents want to sell big books, but it sucks to have this happen.

My question is, what can be done about this? I don't want to publicly name the agent for fear of being blackballed by other possible (future) agents and I'm sure the OP feels the same. If the agent in question has other bigger and/or happier clients, talking about your own experience online makes you seem petty. But if you don't name the agent, then another author will probably go through the same thing and wonder if it's just them. I wish someone had warned me. What can be done??