Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Mon Deux

I parted with my agent a couple months ago and am ready to query a new manuscript. (No, I did not write a new manuscript in two months, but it is now ready.) The parting was amicable. There has been some debate among fellow writers as to what to do with this info in the query letter.

(1) Most agree not to mention Former Agent's name, but since this is a pretty well known agent, a couple have suggested using Former Agent's name in an attempt to show I've secured rep once so can't be totally worthless. I, on the other hand, think it can totally backfire somehow, someway, but . . . ?

(2) Should the "amicably parted ways" be at the top of the query to alert New Agent of that info or is including it in the last paragraph (after comps and bio) a good place for it so I can get right to the query?

(3) Since I'm including the parting ways bit (I should include that, right?), should I mention this book has not been submitted to publishers in case New Agent is wondering if this manuscript is old news?

(4) Should I mention anywhere that I've had two other books go through the publisher sub process (only about 15 editors each, some second reads, one failed acquisitions, but rest were passes or non-responding editors)? Not sure what this info would add, but someone mentioned it'd show I'm not expecting miracles or a quick sale, etc., and am in this for the long haul.

The purpose of a query letter is to entice your reader to request the full.
Thus, try not to include information that will make your reader (ie ME) hesitate.

Here's the unvarnished truth: when I get a query from someone formerly agented I do NOT assume this is a golden opportunity do what Former Agent could not. I view it as likely to be more trouble than it will be worth.

Now, I am sure you are not more trouble than you're worth. After all, you read this blog, and you knew to ask this question. And your former agent may be a dunderhead of epic proportion (there are more than a few of those.)

But, let's leave the details until after I fall in love with your work.  It's a whole lot easier for me to talk myself into this if I love love love your book.

I have several clients who had agents before me. In almost every case, I knew and loved their (published) work before they signed with me.  Since you don't have published work (yet) your book will need to do the heavy lifting.

In your particular case, your chances are helped because you don't have any published work.

Now, I can hear you woodland creatures frantically squirming with thoughts of "but what about transparency."

Transparency does not mean revealing all instantly. Much like you don't have to explain your stint in rehab when you decline the glass of wine, or reveal that your dear mum made you practice walking with books on your noggin when you get a compliment on your perfect posture.

Remember, you are pitching a product here. The book and you, package deal. All salespeople worth their salt know to lead with benefits. While your book is not a vacuum cleaner, selling is selling. Lead with your strengths.

Obviously you WILL tell Agent New about Agent Old, and the time to do so is if Agent New requests a full manuscript.   And yes, you will say who Agent Old is. If you're an ex-client of Barbara Poelle, who has been known to sell things off cocktail napkins, in a cloud of fire and brimstone, well, you're not a good choice for me. But if you're a refugee from one of those sludge pits of agents who don't know a gin joint from joint accounting, well, you're probably going to keep my attention.

So, at the requested full stage: yes on name, yes on amicable, yes on this is a new book, and no on the other stuff unless it involved an agent.

And if you've had more than one agent when you query me, you really need to meet me at a conference and we're going to need to have a conversation cause that's a pretty big hurdle.

And just so you know here are the questions I ask prospective clients about their former agents:

1. Have you parted ways formally?

2. Did you sign an agency agreement?

3. What went wrong?

4. What are you looking for now.

Any questions?


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I once asked a divorced friend of mine, "...did you ever think you'd split up?"
"No never," she said, "not in a bazillion years."

So for me, parting ways with an agent is about as unthinkable as divorce from my one and only, leaving a much loved job and giving up rocky road because my ass is too big. Well, I tolerate my 9 to 5, I switched to vanilla and I have been married to the same man since Mary was lactating.

I'm in for the long hall.

Bowl of vanilla for breakfast, gotta try it.

Colin Smith said...

I agree with 2Ns, the thought of parting with an agent is incontheeevable! That's because it seems so hard to get one, I can't imagine wanting to sever that relationship. But I know it happens, and heck, it could happen to me (Heaven forbid!).

That said, I almost nailed this answer. (Do you play "Guess what Janet will say" when reading these questions, too?) "Almost" because I said (to myself), "Lead with the book, get the agent to want your work..." but I thought Opie might then mention the agent situation with the "housekeeping." But I like Janet's answer better (and not just because she's Janet). Don't mention the hurdles until you're off and running. If the agent rejects the query, then you're not even in the race. But if the agent is bowled over with your work, then you want to talk about the former agents, the drinking problem, the criminal record, and the Milli Vanilli fixation in subsequent communication. As Janet says, if the query has done its work, the agent will be falling over herself to make these not a problem.

All the best to you Opie. The fact you had an agent, and a reputable one with whom you parted amicably, shows you have the chops and the right attitude. I hope you find your perfect match soon! :)

Amy Schaefer said...

Like Carolynn, I hope this is information I'll never have to use, but it is interesting all the same. I think I would have been tempted to cram my agent backstory into a query letter, too. But I can see why it makes more sense to wait. You want to be much further along in the dating process, as it were, before you dump your purse out on the couch.

Donnaeve said...

First, I commend OP for bravery. It takes panache and guts to say sayonara once you've got your foot in the door - even if it is an elevator door that got stuck at the lower level.

And yes Colin! I play that game as I'm reading. I'm already formulating the question in my head as I read an OP's dilemma, just for fun. I had the exact same conclusion as you - housekeeping - but then QOTKU's answer is even better. Of course it is.

OT: I wanted to also add this from yesterday's post about marketing. GIVEAWAYS! They're fun to do and everybody loves free stuff. I love Goodreads giveaways (there's one going on right now btw - hint hint), but I've also had them via FB and Twitter. It helps build readership. And here's something else I've done. I have NO idea if it resulted in any books bought, but...when I mailed off my bills the other day, guess what I did. I stuck bookmarks in the envelopes. :)

Colin Smith said...

Speaking of dumping one's purse out, before we were married, my then girlfriend (I don't think we were even engaged at that point) told me she has a three year old child who lives in Florida with his father. It was a total and utter bold-faced lie, and she got a good laugh at the look of confusion and bewilderment on my face as I tried to figure out if she is serious, and what to do with this information if she is serious. She followed that up a number of years later by telling our FirstBorn that she wasn't cooking a Thanksgiving meal that year, and we would be eating fast food instead. Oh the look on the poor girl's face! I, of course, had learned my lesson by then. :)

Donna: Bookmarks with bill payments! Why not? If it's legal and no-one gets hurt...? I think that was a stroke of genius on your part. :)

Amy Johnson said...

Hehehe, Colin and Donna. I play "Guess What Janet Will Say" too. It's a fun game.

Susan said...

Janet: Are there really editors that are non-responsive during the submission process? That seems...cold. And odd, especially considering the relationships built between agents and editors.

Dena Pawling said...

I'm sure there's a big difference between “she's not agenting any more” and “we mutually decided the other is an asshat”.

I never would have guessed to provide that information with a requested full though.

Donna – I never would have thought to include bookmarks with bill payments, but then I pay my bills online. I wonder if sending electronic bookmarks would be as effective =)

Donnaeve said...

Susan I can answer that for myself. Yes.

My agent sent my book off, and didn't hear from quite a few. He would just say, silence is silence - it's not yes, it's not no. Still. I was like you - huh? How can this be???

Colin I was laughing to myself when I did it. I love leaving them around. I give them to tellers at the bank when I make the rare deposit, the slide the drawer out with the receipt of deposit, and I stick a bookmark in. I give them to cashiers at stores when they hand me change. The other day I was in line at the post office. "Do you read? You do? Here, have a bookmark. I wrote this - you can find it anywhere books are sold."

Don't get me started on the "proper positioning" of the book in stores. (I moved it to the "Best Sellers" section in a store the other day. It's the truth. It wasn't subterfuge)

You gotta look for opportunities everywhere.

Colin Smith said...

Donna: I don't think Kensington need worry about your willingness to promote your book. Awesome! When you see your book in a store, do you sign it, or are you afraid you'll be thrown out for vandalism? :)

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Okay... *hops onto the rodent wheel. My three books about the sanctuary (nonfiction) are with a traditional publisher. When I wanted to pursue fiction, which they really don't publish, I asked to be released of my contract. They did release me and everything was on good terms. I've been putting all that in my query. Now I'm wondering if this is a mistake.

Donna: Terrific idea. Years ago, the owner of a huge manufacturing company read my books. He was deeply moved by the stories of the horses and drove 8 hours for a tour of the sanctuary, and ultimately became very supportive of our work here. He asked me to send him an entire box of bookmarks, several hundred. He put them in every single outgoing invoice. Fun!

Unknown said...

Thanks for this very helpful post, Janet. And to OP for sharing the dilemma! A follow up question: Do the same transparency rules apply if you part ways with an agent but there was no signed agreement -- and you divorce before going out on submission with a debut manuscript (the issue being revisions)?

Colin Smith said...

Melanie: I don't know that you can say it was a mistake, unless you know for a fact agents have turned you down because of this. From what Janet says, however, I think it's clear you don't need to mention your non-fiction books at the query stage, unless they can positively influence the sale of your fiction (e.g., they have sold enough to make your name alone a saleable commodity). Janet and others may have a different take on your situation.

Theresa said...

Great advice! I also play the Guess What Janet Will Say Game, and like Colin, I thought mention of the agent would go in the housekeeping section.

Donna, I like your strategy with bookmarks.I don't pay bills by mail any more, but I always keeps bookmarks with me so I can hand them out or leave them behind. Whenever I return a book to the library, it has a bookmark in it.

Julie Weathers said...

I won't be mentioning I've been previously agented. It was twenty years ago and the suspense agents are out of business and have been for twenty years and the children's agent has been dead for many years.

Being previously agented isn't necessarily a bad thing. See Kari Lynn Dell.

As always, the focus has to be on the current work and selling it to the agent. All the other details are like discussing which side of the family the crazy people are on. (Bonus if you have crazy people on both sides.) You do that later after someone is interested.

Susan said...

Donna: Honestly, that blows my mind. I can almost understand the no response means no between querying authors and agents (though it still doesn't sit right with me), but I would think the relationship between agents and publishers would be different--especially since those submissions are more targeted. Complete silence in this case just reads as disrespectful. I wonder how agents feel about it.

Sherry Howard said...

Great discussion today. I'm such a PITA about transparency that this answer surprised me a little, but it makes total sense. I'd have expected a single sentence in the end of the query.

OT: Wish me luck. I'm jumping in the query pool. I've finished last revisions on my YA, and I'm wearing goggles, carrying a spear (in case other sharks, yanno), and treading fast. Thanks to this group for being such a great support system.

DLM said...

Picturing Donna being thrown out of a bookstore for the rabble-rousing vandal that she is(n't!). Hee. Thank you, Colin!

Julie, I thought of Kari Lynn Dell as well. And parting ways with an agent is just part of the business; sometimes, in the desperation to get AN agent, any agent, we choose the wrong one. Always best to remember, "The Call" isn't the happy ending; it's a long road.

Julie Weathers said...

OP congratulations on having another book ready to go. That's a great accomplishment. You'll get there.


I also reposition books. If I can I turn volumes around so the cover faces out instead of the spine. I rearrange books in order of release. I brag up authors I know to the bookstore employees in hopes they will tout the books. If books aren't in stock I'll tell them what a huge mistake they're making not having that on hand. I'm sure these clerks breathe a sigh of relief when I toddle out the doors with my bags of books.

Writing quote:

“Your only responsibility as a writer is to be true to the story that has chosen you as its writer.”
― Jean Little

Kitty said...

Donna, your bookmarks with bills is clever and great! Several years ago, I made postcards featuring a friend's book and sent them to him. He lived in San Francisco at the time, and his market could be found in bars and coffee houses. So he took the postcards with him and left a few at these places. I bought the 4"x 6" self-adhesive postcards on Amazon and printed up photos of the book on the computer.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Colin: Thank you for your input...

Sherry: Congratulations on jumping into the query pool.

Unknown said...

Janet, what are the signs of a dunderhead agent of epic proportions? Also, how can they be avoided prior to signing? (If possible). Thanks.

Elissa M said...

For me, the takeaway here is this:

"Remember, you are pitching a product here. The book and you, package deal. All salespeople worth their salt know to lead with benefits. While your book is not a vacuum cleaner, selling is selling. Lead with your strengths."

One of my favorite movies about selling is "Cadillac Man" with Robin Williams. One step at a time, his character uses his best salesmanship skills to turn a horrible, life-threatening situation (and his own personal life) around. It's like a workshop on the art of persuasion wrapped in a thoroughly engrossing movie.

Selling is just showing the buyer why this "thing" is exactly what they've been looking for.

Donnaeve said...

*Makes mental note about Cadillac Man.* I love me some Robin Williams, R.I.P. and God bless his soul.

I'd love to have seen the look on the face of whoever opened my bills/payment. They may have File 13'ed them. IDK, will never know, and ya know the old saying.

Colin I haven't been that bold yet. There is a tiny part of me that knows I could prove I wrote it. "But wait, I wrote this! See? That's me!" (unless I'm looking like I do sometimes when I run out and pray no one will see me.)

I'm glad I'm not the only one who likes to promo with a little bit of a different angle!

That said, I don't know each stores policy on returning unsold merchandise, soooo. I could find myself buying my own books - which would be fine - but I don't really need any right now. :)

John Davis Frain said...

Some days it takes a little longer for the logic of Janet's answer to sink in for me. Call me slow, call me thoughtful, (just call me for dinner), but this is one of those days.

I was in agreement with Opie's friends who said mentioning the agent breakup will demonstrate you have the chops. Not up front. I get it that the story has to carry the load. But my sales hat said Old Agent was to be the hot fudge (even before the cherry) that will confirm for New Agent what they might already be thinking.

I know enough now to know I'm wrong and Janet is right. Just have to mull overwhy...

Donnaeve said...

Susan I imagine they likely feel a lot like we do, a bit bewildered, disappointed, then move on along.

Sherry Missed your query stuff - good luck! Keep us posted!

Julie I've sent the troops out to do just that too. Son, daughter, hubby did it the other day at B&N. Front facing, I mean, why hide such a beautiful cover!

RosannaM said...

Querying comes with such a set of landmines--sometimes expected, sometimes hidden and taking us by tragic surprise.

This information does not affect me directly, and yet it does in the sense that the query itself is so important and you have such a tiny canvas on which to work, that to murk it up with extraneous details is to torpedo it straight into the stack of PASS submissions.

That must be drilled into me: tease, entice, seduce never bore, confuse, frustrate the agent.

OT am reading Dana Kaye's book and find it valuable and am seeing some areas I can begin working on now.

Donna-love your use of bookmarks.
Sherry-here's to many yeses, and few NORMANS!
OP-best of luck on finding the right agent.

roadkills-r-us said...

Go, Sherry! Woohoo!

I'm picturing Donnaeve being told, "You've ruined these books. You're going to have to buy them."
"Excuse me! Do you realize that some people charge to autograph their books? That some stores get more money, or at least more sales, for these books? Now I'm wondering if I even want my books in your store!" (glares, then busts iout laughing.) "Just kidding about the last bit."

Colin, I think the real question is who DOESN'T play the guessinging game with these posts.

BJ Muntain said...

I think some people are seeing the 'Old Agent' as something it's not: a benefit. Just because you've had an agent before doesn't mean you're a good author, or an author that someone wants to work with. It doesn't mean you have any 'chops' to speak of. It only means that someone liked your work enough to try to sell it.

So why are they no longer your agent? Was your work unsaleable? Were you difficult to work with? 'Parting amicably' only means that both were willing to part ways. Why was your agent willing to part ways with you?

These are the thoughts that will be running through New Agent's mind at being told you once had an agent. Not, "This author knows what they're doing. They had an agent!" And you can't address all those questions in a query letter, or you won't have room to talk about the book.

And remember: the query letter is about THIS book. Not about the books that didn't sell to publishers. Not about the agent who couldn't sell those books. It's about THIS book. In 250 words.

Save the longer discussions for when the agent is already hooked. And you hook the agent with the story, just like you hooked the first agent with that other story.

Sherry: Congrats and good luck!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Colin not only do I love you, I really love your wife. She is my kind of female.

And Amy...dump your purse on the couch, I LOVE that. Made my day babe.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Donna, I love the bookmark strategy. You go girl.

Craig F said...

Long ago and a short piece down the road I thought I had found my dream. In the harsh and merciless light of the Florida sun I found it was really a nightmare. I can see many reasons to split from an agent, as with most other things.

Being a hot new thing one day doesn't mean you are the next. Happens to me all of the time. A design of mine is gangbusters until someone else does me one better.

I can see a fairly hard to place book being relegated to to afterthought. A new query comes in and you get replaced, all your agent's efforts go elsewhere.

O.P. I am sorry you had to make such a break. There is probably someone better suited for you but there are things that should wait until the relationship settles in a bit. Of course there is always the fact the 250 words of a query are precious things.

Ardenwolfe said...

Excellent question and insight answers.

Audrey Shaffer said...

Probably too late in the day to be seen, but anyway...

Donnaeve: Take your book to the counter. Tell the clerk that you are the author, and ask if they would like you to sign a few copies.

Some book stores feature author-signed books. They put them out front and push them…because they can’t return them. But some readers will choose one book over another if the first one is signed by the author.

Give it a shot. You never know until you try! :)

RachelErin said...

I'm confused by those of you who rearrange the books to be outward facing - I thought book positioning (incl. spine out vs. front out) was negotiated in the publishing contract, and the bookstore employees would have to reset everything periodically?

Donna - I've read many accounts of authors stopping in bookstores offering to sign their books. Sometimes they go in teams and make a party of it, see how many they can hit in one day. (At the very least, it makes for fun blog reading).