Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Well, that's one way to look at it; here's the other

I recently received an offer of representation -- doing a happy dance! -- but it struck me as a little peculiar.  This is what happened. I queried a Very Established Agent -- accomplished and well-connected and part of a highly regarded agency -- and VEA's assistant wrote back asking for the full manuscript. Soon thereafter, the assistant said "they" loved the book so far and "they" asked for a two week exclusive, which I couldn't grant because other agents were reading (and because you've addressed the pitfalls on this blog!). Then, VEA emailed directly and said he loved the manuscript and wanted to talk to me. Gulp. So we set up The Call, and he repeated that he loved the book but since his assistant, who recently got promoted to a junior agent, had plucked my manuscript from the slush and loved the book enough to risk it as HER debut, he wants her to be my agent. I would be her first client, but since he also believes in my book (and elaborated on why), he will be there every step of the way to back her up.

On it's face, this could be great. Sort of like getting two agents for the price of one. And the offering assistant seems very capable and eager. But on the other hand, I felt a little odd about how I was passed off. Please don't get me wrong here!  These are very nice people -- I've spoken to both of them and they are super kind and enthusiastic about my book. And they have been doing all sorts of things to win me over, including having me talk to VEA's clients about the offering assistant. But is this how most new agents get clients? It felt a little like a bait and switch. And if I take the offer, should I have anything put in writing about VEA's involvement, or is that just a matter of trust on my part?  Finally, if I get a second offer of representation from another very awesome agent reading my manuscript (hard to imagine, but then again, two others are reading now), should I pass on this offer because of any part of how it went down, or should I still seriously consider it because VEA has promised to be heavily involved?

Yes, this is EXACTLY how busy established agents keep the revenue flowing to an agency. Bring in hotshot young folks and let them loose in the incoming queries.

Just this past month one of our most successful agents found three things that were terrific and redirected them to other agents.

And your extra special idea of asking to have VEA's involvement put in writing...well, let's just say if you asked me to do that, you'd no longer have an offer of representation.

I'm going to suggest that you recognize a hard truth here: you don't have confidence that you'll have effective representation from this young agent. You think of yourself as being "passed off" and talk about "bait and switch" and having to "trust" the agent will do what he says he will.

Don't accept this offer no matter the status of the other requests.

The worst thing you can do is start off with an agent having doubts. You'll doubt her at every missed phone call, every lagging answer on an email, and probably most of her advice on strategy. You'll want to check with VEA before doing anything and that's one fast way to undermine a new agent's confidence.  (In fact, my minions checked with me on stuff they didn't know BEFORE the client was looped in.)

And you'll always wonder if you could have done "better."
That kind of thinking is toxic in any relationship and you don't need me to tell you that.

Don't inflict this on a young agent looking to build her list.

Let her start with people who actively want her, recognize she was the one who found their work, advocated for making them a client, AND persuaded VEA to invest his time in the project as well.

This is a time for brutal self-honesty. Look at what you wrote to me. It reflects what you're thinking.

If you elect not to follow my advice here, I strongly encourage you to recognize that you do have doubts and to be very careful you don't convey them to the agent or to VEA (as in jebus, do NOT ask for his involvement in writing.)


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

You love the family, and adore big brother, but it’s little brother who loves you. Would you marry littler brother just to be a member of the family? Would you sleep with little brother just to be near the big guy?
I sure hope not.
Like they say, there’s lots of fish in the sea, but just because your hook is empty, doesn’t mean you should settle for what you consider barely palatable when delicious is what you want.

MA Hudson said...

Well done OP! Excellent news.
I have to admit, before reading Janet's reply, I felt the same as Opie. But everything Janet said makes so much sense that if I ever end up in this 'bait and switch' situation, then I'll have a much more positive take on it. Honestly, you learn something new every blog post!

Theresa said...

Very interesting situation. Hopefully one of the other agents will make an acceptable offer. Good luck, OP.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Honestly, I feel like that's an amazing situation. Not everybody gets to be an agent's very first client!

Unknown said...

This seems like the best of both worlds. You get an eager young agent pretty much totally dedicated to you, plus the wisdom of the more experienced agent. I definitely would not accept given how you view the situation. But, could you change your perspective?

Colin Smith said...

Congrats, Opie, on the offer of rep!! Since I'm not an agent, I can only speak of what I've read, but what I've read indicates that junior agents aren't just picked off the street. They've perhaps interned, or been an assistant to an agent for a while, long enough to have learned the ropes. I think we can all relate to how you feel: you queried VEA, but ended up with Noob. But Noob isn't necessarily as green as we may think. What Janet said is so true: if you don't trust Noob as you would VEA, then you need to re-think whether you want to accept this offer. However, if you can get over your hesitation and trust Noob to do a great job, then go for it. But as Janet says, you have to get to that place where you're trusting Noob, not Noob+VEA. Yes, VEA will be there, but you can't be second-guessing your agent with, "Can you run that by VEA?" or "What does VEA think?" You have to trust that if Noob needs VEA's help, she'll ask without you having to say anything.

An excellent post, Janet. One for the Treasure Chest.

Steve Forti said...

Echoing MA Hudson (still trips me up every time, being from Hudson, MA). Very informative post. Should the stars align and I'm ever in this situation, much more positive vibes to be had. Thanks for sharing.

Unknown said...

Sharks. Pointing out what should be obvious.Why spend money on therapists when a shark will point your foibles out for free.

Timothy Lowe said...

Congrats, OP!

This sounds like a win-win. Having the full attention of a young, energetic superstar agent who will treat your project like a firstborn child - while also having a wiser hand guiding the wheel. I can't really see any downside.

Best of luck!

MA Hudson said...

Steve - haha. It's Mary Ann, if that helps.
I looked up your city, wondering if it was named after Henry Hudson, which is my father and my brother's name, but it was a Charles Hudson who donated money to build a library there. Very cool!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I'd take this offer without coming up for breath (provided I had taken care of all the niceties with the other agents reading my book). To have the support of a reputable agency combined with the hunger of a new young agent who for a time would be all mine? OP, that's amazing.

If someone like Janet, for instance, passed me off to one of her guppies, I would be so flatttered. It would feel like a vote of great confidence in me, my work, and little guppy agency. I hope something of the same happens for me one day. How cool would it be to establish a new agent in the business with a great debut?

Also, congratulations on your request, Julie - I am so excited for you and hoping I will be reading your books soon.

Amy Schaefer said...

The agent-writer relationship has to be based on trust. This person will be telling you difficult truths about your work and your career - things you sometimes won't want to hear, true or not. Unless you believe in the person on the other end of the line, it isn't going to function. You'll have doubts, and you will second guess everything you hear.

Find someone you are prepared to work with. It will just mean heartache and headaches for both of you, otherwise.

Sherry Howard said...

It is all about about POV isn't it? It's great to hear Janet's and understand that side of it because I have a friend in a similar position, and her angst is just as JR described. I remember from other posts here: consider the agency. A strong agency isn't going to thrust a newbie agent into the world without adequate experience and strong support. I bet OP will have a change of heart after considering this perspective.

PSimpson said...

Oh, OP, I'm so sorry. This really sucks. You don't get representation from the BEA that you wanted, who has admitted to liking your book, just because an unknown that you did not query swooped in and stole it first? It IS a bait-and-switch, and if it happened to me, I'd be livid. And I'd feel cheated.

And I also have to say, I'm very disappointed and surprised by Janet's answer. This new assistant has no background, no sales, no successes whatsoever to go on and has already started the relationship off on the wrong foot by cutting OP off from the agent she actually wanted (and asking for an exclusive, which Janet has said never benefits the author, but we won't go there.) Yet somehow asking for a commitment from the agent with experience is so offensive that they'd pull the offer? That's horrible. This is where the power dynamics really come into play, and it isn't fair.

And why is Janet surprised and insulted by the request? It's a perfectly fair and reasonable request, especially in this situation. I don't understand how asking for even the most basic reassurance can possibly be asking for too much. Agents expect authors to come with platforms and email lists and followers ready to go--it's completely fair for an author to expect their agent to come with something, too. Sauce for the goose, and all.

Janet, is there anything OP could say or do to get back on BEA's list for consideration, or is her chance completely shot now that the assistant has swooped in? And OP, I really hope things work out better with one of the other agents reading your book (and congrats on getting that far!)

Colin Smith said...

P: No agent starts with a list and experience. That's something an agent builds over time. Someone has to be that agent's first client. And the fact this agent has been with the agency as a junior or an intern, and is working with experienced agents, should be enough of a "safety net" for Opie to have confidence. The idea of a "Dream Agent" has often been critiqued here, largely because the truth is your "Dream Agent" is the agent who loves your work and will fight for it every step of the way. That sounds like the agent offering representation to Opie.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Interesting... our individual perspectives. I'm with EM. If I queried an agent (obviously someone I respect) who resides at an agency with an intact industry reputation, and they were "super kind and enthusiastic about my book" and they offered me the person who pulled my ms out of the slush pile? Because she loved it? Yowza! I would be so full of gratitude and appreciation. And I'd be giddy with excitement over what this brilliant young person holding my ms in her hot little hands was going to do next.

But that's just me... I sorta frolic through life believing in the benevolence of the universe.

Congrats on the interest you're receiving, OP. I sure wish you the best.

BJ Muntain said...

To tell you the truth, it sounds like a dream come true to me. Not only do you get a new hot shot agent ready to throw all their considerable youthful energy into their new career, but you get the experience of a VEA behind them. If nothing else, the phone call from the VEA would have made it clear that this was an offer from Heaven.

But not all authors want a junior agent, and that's a valid choice. Not everyone wants an apprentice working on their car or their home electricity, either. But I've never had a problem with that. I even let a trainee groomer give my dog a haircut last time, and we're both happy (we, meaning me and the dog). My doctor's office is affiliated with the local college of medicine, and I often meet a lot of young doctors getting their start. I had one young resident who was very helpful when I was having a hard time getting appropriate accommodation from my employer. People have to start somewhere in every career.

And if there's any rocky bits in this junior agent's work, you know the VEA is there to smooth it over.

As for the exclusive: It was a two week exclusive. OP did the right thing in declining, since other agents already had it, but two weeks is NOTHING in publishing time. Even if you gave the exclusive and another agent asked for a full, you could say, "I've got another agent reading it on an exclusive for two weeks. May I send it after?" and the second agent will still remember it two weeks later.

Amy Johnson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amy Johnson said...

Congratulations to Opie, and thanks to Janet for another informative post.

I can see how it might have been dispiriting for Opie to get what seemed to be The Call from such a highly regarded agent, and to hear him say he loved the project, and then to hear he wasn't actually offering representation. And that, I think, is a big part of this: He didn't offer representation. Even though he loved the project, even if the newer agent played no role in this, he might have had his reasons to not offer representation. But now Opie has Janet's words on this, and if Opie changes his/her perspective and goes with newer agent, Opie still gets to benefit from established agent's expertise, etc. in some form.
Julie! I didn't get to read your post about the agent's interest until late yesterday. I'm so happy for you! Earlier this week, I was telling someone about Rain Crow--how interesting it sounds and that you're doing so much research. Congrats on the great news!

I must now get to my writing. I'm still trying to make my antagonist someone readers can relate to and sympathize with. In her mind, she's the kind one doing the right and just thing. (Ooohh, a question I can ponder: Are we all (at least sometimes) antagonists thinking we're in the right? Hmm...)

RosannaM said...

I must be a total weirdo here, because nothing of the circumstance described by OP gave me cause for any concern. At all. Both the new agent, and the established agent acted with speed and enthusiasm. I would have been overjoyed.

We once listed our house for sale with a family friend who was a brand new realtor and he did a great job.

Also, I used to allow new coworkers practice starting IV's on me. So yes, on second thought, I am a total weirdo!

Craig F said...

An Epiphany. Now I see why so many agencies don't let you query a specific agent. That way you don't feel let down my a minor league posting. Even if that posting will end up doing you better, it is a wake up call to that truckload of confidence you must drive around in when you query.

OP: I think you have gained some experience. It is regretful that it was a shaky experience. If it was me, I would walk away and hope I don't step in it again. It will be a tough thing to get this growing agent to forget the slight I think you made.

If that youngster did not feel slighted I doubt VEA would have emailed you. A big chunk of me thinks that being the author who makes the career of a young agent is a spectacular thing. I think the base for such a thing is already eroded. An agent looking for an author to define them would also be nervous and self-conscious.

Unknown said...

I'm trying like heck to have some sympathy for the op... It's not happening. This is the opportunity of a lifetime to have an agent who will work her ass off for you like no other, and if you treat her right, will love you forever. The above references to marriage are appropriate, in the sense that it is completely normal to have doubts and possibly misgivings at the start of any important relationship, but if both parties give it their all it is likely to turn out extremely well. We, the unpublished authors are the beggers here. And at the risk of sounding a bit like Mr. Collins, it is not at all certain that we will ever get another offer. And even if op does, an an initial attitude of anything other than gratefulness and graciousness is likely to lead to trouble.

Elissa M said...

Personally, I would be super excited to have a brand new enthusiastic agent who has a very established agent on board to guide her. This, in fact, would be my dream come true. An agent with nothing on her plate but my novel is going to be as eager as I am to have it published well.

However, in your case, OP, I agree with Janet. My dream is not your dream. Do not sign if you have doubts. There are no guarantees in publishing, but the fact that two agents like your book makes it likely that others will, too. Good luck!

Jen said...


I'm no psychic, but I'd bet a 750ml of Dalmore 18 that VEA has a LOT on his/her plate right now, but wants to see your book as a jewel on this agency's crown. Think of it this way: Had VEA been the only one looking at manuscripts, you might not have even gotten a request for a full. Or VEA *might* have requested the full but never gotten back to you for months and months.

This agency isn't going to simply pass off your MS to this assistant and leave you in a lurch. It would be a waste of their time, their talents... oh, and it's bad for business.

If VEA was too busy to read your MS her/himself and offer rep, VEA is too busy to be your agent. And if you have an agent who's too busy, s(he) won't have time to communicate as quickly (or at all) as this assistant will. I speak from experience here as someone who had a choice between my busy "dream agent" and a younger, hungrier agent who loved my work. Let's just say I chose... poorly. Don't make the same mistake I did, Opie.

Claire Bobrow said...

Excellent post. Thank you, Janet, for giving us your POV on this issue.

It was a bit of a shock when I first realized how much influence interns can have at agencies and publishing houses (from an author's POV). But then it all made sense. Just like any other job in the universe, it takes training, experience, mistakes and successes for someone to become good at their work. Those who've already arrived in that position are often over-burdened and need help, so they pass on the work and the wisdom to the newcomer.

At this point, I would be delighted to have a young agent bursting with enthusiasm.

OP - I understand your conundrum and wish you all the best. You'll find that perfect fit!

Steve and MA: that is really funny :-)

Claire Bobrow said...

At the risk of being sent to Carkoon, is there any length of time for which an exclusive is acceptable?
48 hours? A week? Two weeks as in OP's case? Or is an exclusive inadvisable in every circumstance?

(Sorry for all the question marks!)

Colin Smith said...

Claire: Asking an industry-related question that does not require anything more of Janet than to speak from her wisdom and experience is not an exile-worthy offense. Asking Janet to do something over and above what she already does for us poor, fretful woodland creatures most certainly is. So, don't be afraid to ask that question. :)

Steve Stubbs said...

Very interesting. The bottom line here seems to be that most people
take themselves much too seriously. With millions of people banging
away on laptops, a new author's bargaining position is somewhere
between zero and non-existent. Authors would benefit from looking
up the term "catbird seat" and meditating on how people (meaning
everybody except authors) feel who are sitting in it. It does not
make sense for such a person to be a hard bargainer. I respect your
opinion, and yet my first intuition was that OP would be crazy to
turn this young lady down.

One thing to remember is, her enthusiasm for OP's book may last
only as long as it takes to read another query or get a good
night's sleep. Or have a cup of coffee.

It seems to me someone with good negotiating skills could decline
a request for exclusive consideration without rufling any feathers
at all. The way to do it would be to say, "Gosh, I am very tempted,
but several other people are reading this at this moment, so I
don't see how I can. I have to be considerate of them the same way
I have to be considerate of you. If I were to stiff them you would
be wondering how I might treat you. I want you to be confdent I am
going to treat you well. Can you show some flexibility here?"

That is called making it in the other guy's self interest to say
yes. Even if you get a no, it does not cost anything to give the
other person a warm feeling.

It is ludicrous to think VEA is going to handle a newbie, but Good
Negotiator could ask OP's question like this: "I am very interested
in your offer. And flattered, too. Since VEA is going to be in the
loop, how do you feel about him co-signing the agent contract as

If that is presented politely, how could anyone take offense? It is
hard to see how putting anything in writing is going to do OP any
good. The book either sells or it does not.

You probably discern I do not consider a tough guy like Donald
Trump a model of a Good Negotiator.

As for missed phone calls and ignored e-mails, I would not be
calling them. I would certainly return calls FROM them. But I would
not cling to their shoulders like a night hag. Once the MS is
delivered and the contract signed, I would expect them to consider
me an irrelevant casual contact from days of auld lang syne.

The bottom line is, all that is at stake here is a book. It may
make a couple of thousand dollars. Even if someone pirates it, no
big deal. If it tanks, OP will be sero minus ten at that agency.
There is no sense starting out at that level. Make nice.

2Ns, I don't think your marriage analogy is quite apropos for this
situation. I doubt Young Lady Agent is interested in marrying her
clients. That being the case, this is strictly a BUSINESS
association. The only thing that should matter in business is
can/wioll she sell your krud and is she OK with paying royalties or
willa problem suddenly develop? If she said she wanted to sleep
with me, I might be interested, but I would want to be sure the
business was dead and ask to meet for coffee first.

As for fish in the sea, around here the fish are candidates for the
insane asylum (I was married to a crazy woman for 9 1/2 years and
have no interest in running another psychiatric ward.) Or else they
are catfish, whales, and barracudas. I decided I want to be a

Unknown said...

Steve, I don't think an agent author relationship is or should be strictly business. An agent should be your passionate advocate. An agent is advising her author on one of the things the author is most passionate about, and often quite sensitive about. For better or worse, the author’s and the agent’s success are intricately linked.
When you listen to agents who have been around for a while you often hear about long and deep friendships they have developed over the years with their authors. I can’t see how that does anything but help a successful business relationship.

John Davis Frain said...


Maybe you've already taken a long walk. Done the T square and listed the pros and cons.

When I look at the negatives of this, it's a pretty short list of possibilities.

When I look at the positive outcomes, the list explodes with possibility. I hate to see someone squander such an opportunity, and I totally get Janet's response. But I think there's still time for you to sit down with a writer friend, spell it all out and let them explain their view from an outsider's POV.

Maybe you're just nervous and need someone to say Holy shit, you have the opportunity of a lifetime in front of you.

Julie Weathers said...

I think OP should be very excited. While reading through some agent twitter feeds yesterday I happened on one who had just acquired a new intern. She was singing the praises of this intern from the highest rooftops. Most people think of interns as fresh-faced kids straight out of school, I think. This happened to be a middle-aged woman with quite a bit of experience, but was taking a new avenue in life.

Anyway, the intern had turned in some manuscripts with some very thoughtful notes about the writing and authors. One she recommended the agent snap up the author immediately. She read through everything and totally agreed. Whoo hoo!

These interns aren't considered for junior agent status until they have been there a while and proven themselves.

Far Rider went through three R&Rs with a well-known agent's interns who are now very successful agents. Had they been ready to take flight at the time, I would have been happy for them to say yes. They had some very good recommendations.

This is not a bait and switch, it's an opportunity and a rare one. You're getting the enthusiasm of a young agent building their list who has a lot of time to devote to your success and the mentorship of the older agent who is anxious for their protegee and you to succeed.

P "did not query swooped in and stole it first?"

That's not how agencies work. No one is going into Janet's private email and stealing her queries. She may have interns reading some queries, but it's queries she has passed to them. If New Leaf has junior agents reading queries, it's queries that are passed to them by senior agents not stolen.

"And why is Janet surprised and insulted by the request?"

Because the senior agent has said that he would be involved every step of the way and the author is saying, "I don't believe you so I want that in writing." Great way to start a relationship.

Amy and Elise Thank you for the congratulations about the agents asking me to send Rain Crow, but remember, he rejected me once before even though he loved my writing. Beta readers so far are saying this is a different level, but there are so many levels of hell when it comes to writing. How many does it take to climb out to the sunshine?

I always have hope, but she's chained up, bruised, and battered at times.

And speaking of chained up, I have a banker chained up in the basement. I should go let him turn him loose. Or kill him. Decisions. Coffee first maybe. And lavender cakes.

BJ Muntain said...

Claire: My view on exclusives is (as I said above) two weeks is fine. Janet has said in the past that while exclusives are not necessarily a good thing, if you do offer an exclusive, make sure there is a justified limit to it. Me, I've been querying for a long time, and in that time, I've never been asked for an exclusive. But two weeks seems to be very reasonable, especially since many agents don't even get to their queries for a month or longer. Chances are pretty good you won't get another agent requesting a full within those two weeks, anyway.

And it's not unreasonable, really, for an agency to ask for an exclusive. After all, they're going to put their time into reading it. You don't have to give them that exclusive, though, and if you don't feel comfortable doing that, just say 'no'. You may not get that agent, but that is their prerogative.

Me, I tend to go weeks or even months between batches of queries - due to my own problems - so a two week exclusive is no big deal. I doubt I'd go more than a month or so, though, unless I knew I wouldn't be sending out more queries in that time, anyway (say, it was a busy time coming up, or I already had too much on my plate just then). But two weeks should be enough time for them to read it and get back to you.

DLM said...

I try not to be asskissy in the extreme when I comment on Janet's posts, but this one is one of the best. VERY insightful, and that's important.

For me, like John, I'd take a look at this situation, were I in it, and see an incredible opportunity. I'd try to be all smart where the manuscript was in others' hands, but it'd be hard for me not to leap all over this like a leaping thing that leaps (maybe Gossamer the Editor Cat; I don't call him Nimbletoes for nothing).

BUT. Janet's point is very well taken here. If I were reacting with the mixed feelings OP is having, the story might best be told differently - and that is okay. What excites me isn't for everybody, and not everyone is cut out to handle the uncertainties that come with being an agent's VERY FIRST CLIENT. And there are uncertainties. What if this person ends up not being cut out for the long haul? What if their success is less than that of their mentors?

Life's kind of made of what ifs, some good, some terrifying. We choose the ones that matter most. It's not wrong to choose what feels like prudence, no matter what anybody else might think.

Joseph S. said...

My reaction on reading OP’s first paragraph was Sign. Up. Now.

My reaction on reading the second paragraph was go with your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.

The third option (the Goldilocks option), of course, is to ask for the two weeks to think about it more calmly, inform the other agents reading it you have an offer, and see how the events unfold.

P.S. It was great to see the variety of responses to this post.

BJ Muntain said...

By the way, an 'exclusive' simply means that the agent is the only one reading it. If the manuscript is already being read by other agents, then it's impossible to give someone the exclusive until it's been rejected by all those other agents. It's just easier to tell the agent asking for the exclusive that you can't give them that exclusive because there are a number of other agents already reading it. And any agent will understand that. It just means they were too slow and an exclusive isn't possible.

Joseph S. said...

Just a thought, OP

If you turn down this young agent, give her my name and email address. Let her know I’m revising my debut novel and would be thrilled for us to start out together.

RosannaM said...

Julie, I love your snippets of the terrible stuff you do to your characters, said in such a mild manner, as you also do something so civilized as to have coffee and lavender cake. Color me charmed!

Panda in Chief said...

Wowee! Interesting question and discussion today!

Congrats OP on getting an offer of representation! That's awesome.
Lots of good advice here, already, but here's my 37cents: I agree you need to do some serious soul searching here. If you haven't already expressed your doubts to NewAgent or VEA, you still have a chance here to make a really great relationship work. If you've already poisoned the well, is probably best to move on and take this as a learning experience.

I'm seeing this as a natural inclination to discount anything good that happens to you. As in, "If they offered to represent me, they must not be competent." I know that nasty little voice well! If this young agent is working in the agency of VEA, she most likely has earned her place here. Were I in this position, I would be thrilled that I was going to get LOTS of attention from NA! I hope you can work things out with this agency, and I would totally cop to my feelings of insecurity to the NA. Might be a bonding experience.

Best of luck!

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

It's fascinating to note that more than one of us commenters is talking like authors are the beggars at the banquet of publishing. I do believe Janet has had an opinion on this in the past ...

Without us, there is no product. And no product: no publishing industry.

We are not peasants, bowing and scraping before the lord for an ort, y'all.

Politeness, yes. Professionalism, yes. But self-effacing groveling? Let's not do that.

Unknown said...

Like Joseph Snoe, me too! Me too! :)

Julie Weathers said...

I'm enjoying my morning oatmeal. Enjoying isn't really the correct word, but I'm sucking it down anyway. While doing so, I was thinking about writer's quotes for the Butt in the Chair post. I decided Shelby Foote probably had something to say about writing, and he did.

We worry about whether agents will like our writing, then publishers, then the public. Hemingway said to start our writing one true sentence. Once you'd done that, the rest would follow. He also lambasted Fitzgerald for whoring his work. He detested it when writers changed their work to make it more marketable.

Anyway, when you sit down to write today, and I hope you do, perhaps you can keep Shelby's words in mind.

“A man must write for himself, and then he must accept the penalties–including the possibility of damnation. You’ve got to put it all on the line; anything less than all is hedging and your work is weakened at the wellspring, hopelessly flawed, shot through with rot. Not to mention the sapping of vitality; that’s what hurts.”
--Shelby Foote

Kara Reynolds said...

I just signed with a brand new agent. She handles the editorial side of getting a manuscript ready to sub, and the senior agent at the agency is the one who will take on selling it. Like OP, I didn't query the brand new agent, I queried the senior agent.
As the senior agent told me when we spoke on the phone, the editorial side of agenting isn't the part she loves. It's the selling and contract negotiating part. For her to take on a new client, that MS has to be pretty close to perfect.
My editorial agent, however, loves my premise, loves my voice, and wants to spend significant amounts of time helping me make this MS shine. I accepted the offer on a Friday. By Monday she had re-read my MS and had a complete set of notes for me. We went back and forth every single day the next week fine-tuning the revision plan. Now, less than 2 weeks after signing, we have a complete revision plan that we both agree on.
I know from my friends who have signed with other agents that my situation isn't the norm. I feel really lucky that my editorial agent has so much time to give me and is so invested in my work. When a junior agent is backed up by a senior agent at a respectable agency, you truly get the best of both worlds.

Lennon Faris said...

When I first started my job, I looked like a 12 yr old. Everyone looking at me knew I had a medical degree, but still a few people verbally questioned my knowledge and expertise solely based on my face. I don't get offended easily, and I smiled and treated them just like any other client ...but I still remember those individuals. So, yes - if you decide to go with this agency I'd be super careful how you proceed with your 'yes.'

But to be fair, OP's doubts make sense. We've been instructed to ask any potential agent lots of questions, ones that couldn't be answered by someone who's never had a client. Would they ask the VEA? (things regarding 'what if' scenarios, or 'can I chat with your clients').

Anyway, congrats, OP. No matter what you decide, be happy someone liked your book so much! Good luck.

Colin Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beth Carpenter said...

Funny how one's one perspective colors the words. When I read OP's note, I assumed her first impulse was to grab the offer with both hands, but because we've all heard so many horror stories, she's trying to do the business-like thing and approach with caution. Because that's exactly how I would react.

Once I'd gotten reassurance that handing off to an assistant was legit, I'd be all in. After all, VEA had a first client at one point, and I'm sure has a special fondness for that client. (Notice I'm imagining OP as a her, once again projecting myself into the situation.)

Janet reads the same words, and sees doubts and lack of confidence in the budding agent.

Either way, congratulations to OP on creating an exciting manuscript. I hope you find your perfect agent, whether it's this one or another.

Amy, an experienced editor told me all the best villians think they're the hero.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Sometimes, after all the hard work, folks just don't realize how lucky they are to have fallen through the mailslot of someone who loves your work.

We are NOT beggars at the banquet of publishing but we're not royalty either. You're new, the agent is new. Humility is not a bad thing.

Colin Smith said...

Lennon: I know Janet's opinion is worth more than mine, but my answer is to grill the agent with whom you will be working primarily. If that's the junior agent, then it's simply respectful to treat her no differently than if she was the referring agent. I think this would serve to demonstrate your confidence in her. Clearly, you would adapt the questions to the situation (as you would anyway), so asking to speak to other clients may not be applicable.

roadkills-r-us said...

I can see both sides to this. When I started reading OP's thoughts, my first reaction was, "What is the problem here?" but OP explained quite well their concerns.
But putting myself in the same situation (what else do writers do?), my thought process went more like this:
- I really, really like VEA!
- VEA is part or a Respectable Agency.
- I would be thrilled to have VEA@RA representing me.
- VEA trusts and is personally grooming Junior Agent.
- VEA promises to be very involved with my book if I sign with JA@RA.
- I would totally trust VEA to represent me.
- Therefore, I would trust VEA to make sure JA represents me well.
So for me, it would be a win-win. OTOH, if I had been burned in situations where things were not spelled out in contracts, I can understand a hesitancy. It all comes down to risk, trust, and relationships. (It usually does.) But if I trust VEA, I trust VEA. If I don't, I probably don't want VEA or VEA+JA representing me.

Amy Johnson said...

Kara: Well howsabout you, sitting perdy in a right nice situation. Way to go!

Beth: Thanks for that. Good stuff. I'll keep it in mind when writing. :)

John Davis Frain said...



Hope I get the starring role in your story one day.

lamandarin said...

Hi OP,

First, congratulations!! Second, Janet makes great points as always, and she's right - if you can't feel comfortable than you shouldn't accept as it is such a stressful process even when you love everything about your agent. If you are still considering whether to accept new agent, can you schedule some time to talk to him/her? Just knowing that the agent is part of a reputable agency means there's a great support system and network in place, so then it comes down to 1. Trust/comfort 2. The details (agency agreement, etc.) Maybe talking through what junior agent saw and hearing his/her thoughts on how she wants to approach the sub process will help set you at ease?

Jolly said...

Congrats, Opie, on reaching this milestone! Your work has not one but two people excited about it, and that is a terrific accomplishment. Woo hoo!

I was in your shoes not too long ago. I had queried a senior person at an established agency, and she had really complimentary things to say about my manuscript, but she ultimately passed me on to her assistant, a new agent who was just starting her list. New agent was also very enthusiastic and read my book overnight. We had a lovely chat, and she seemed like a fun person, knowledgeable and passionate, and I'm sure she's going to be a super agent. Just not for me.

I was very fortunate to end up with multiple offers, so I had the chance to talk with various agents. I was ideally looking for someone who:

1. Was knowledgeable about my genre
2. Had a track record of sales in my genre
3. Was enthusiastic about my work
4. Seemed to be on the same page as me regarding what my work is and how to market it, and yet was not afraid to offer criticism about how said work could be improved

In the end, only one of the agents I talked to met all of these criteria, and she's the one I signed with. So far, so good! I think New Agent could have also been a great option, but as I am a clueless newbie on my own, I am leaning on my agent to be the Voice of Experience in navigating the publishing waters. New Agent was also very reluctant in our conversation to share any ideas about how my work might be improved. She was in hard sell mode, trying to land her first client. I appreciated all the many compliments (boy are they fun!) but in the end wanted someone who would push me beyond where I already was.

That was my decision making process. As you can see, it's a highly personal accounting. I wish you all the best with yours, Opie!

Stacy said...

Personally, I think I would love this set-up. Junior agents at respected agencies have some training under their belts already. You get the enthusiasm of being someone's first client AND the benefit of wisdom and guidance from an established agent. Seems like a pretty good deal.

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

The best villains think they're the hero.
oh that's great!
And bad people believe they are good.

abnormalalien said...

I once saw a video of a guy being interviewed (I think by a street preacher) and he was quite literally one of those hard core white supremacist guys. Almost every other word out of his mouth was foul, violent, don't-meet-dude-in-alley vitriol. Then the interviewer asked him if he thinks of himself as a good guy. He said yes!

Hit me like a ton of bricks.

Julie Weathers said...


(Ooohh, a question I can ponder: Are we all (at least sometimes) antagonists thinking we're in the right? Hmm...)

A villain is always the hero of their own story.

Sherman proposed to Lincoln to kill every man, woman, child, and dog in the south in order to make the war so horrible for them the rebel soldiers would not have the heart to fight. By making war so terrible, he felt he was doing a heroic act.

In Far Rider, my antagonist is inspired by Elizabet Bathory the blood countess. The agent who just asked me to submit the historical when it's done loves the villain. She's a horrible woman, but she thinks she's doing things for the right reason. She's trying to turn around a patriarchal society. Wiping out several kingdoms in the process and the genocide of an entire race might not be the the best way.

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

Yes, I love the thought that really bad people think they are good. It explains them more than anything else I can think of.
I have a really inspiring family member or two!

I'd be happy to have a newbie agent at a good agency. As her First Client, she'd be out there working like crazy to sell my book and she'd probably be happy to have lunch with me in the Big City. I'd get all her attention and besides, as a new author I don't figure I really deserve Big Agent.
So newbie and I would have a good time working to hit the big time together.
Maybe she'd even go with me to the Mysterious Bookshop!

BJ Muntain said...

All characters are living their own stories, and they are the hero of their own story. Every character. Including the antagonist.

Keep that in mind when you're writing a scene. Ask yourself, "How does this scene fit into this character's story?" This is often translated to, "What is the character's goal in this scene?", since every character should have their own goal in a scene, and this is what creates the conflict in the scene.

Lennon Faris said...

Thanks, Colin! Seems like a reasonably sound answer to me!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Yowza Kara. Congrats. I love good news.

Anonymous said...

Geez. Some of you are really coming down hard on this OP. I didn't see this so much as having doubts about the new agent as it was questioning whether this was a weird situation. Even with a reputable agency, no one wants to later find out they've been taken in by the publishing equivalent of a puppy mill. I've heard plenty of stories about "reputable" agents doing... less than admirable things. And if it's something you've never heard of happening before, it seems prudent to ask, "Is this weird?"

OP, I hope you're relieved to hear that this is not only "not weird" but is normal and exactly how things work with establishing new agents in an agency. I'm glad you asked, because I didn't know either. I'd never really thought about how shiny new agents get their first clients. I hope you're back to doing that happy dance you referenced. I would caution, however, not to get sucked into the notion that having a "Big Name Agent" is some sort of badge of honour you need to impress people. If that's part of your reasoning, step back. The only opinion that matters is what your readers think of your stories. They won't know or care about your agent. Good luck finding one that suits you.

As for antagonists seeing themselves as good guys: I read a very interesting article/interview with someone who had done years of deep undercover work for the military (I think? maybe CIA?) and she said that the biggest thing we get wrong when thinking about (and interrogating) people we call "terrorists" is how they see themselves. Every single one of them believe they're the scrappy rebels, the underdogs struggling on the side of right, fighting the big bad death star/battleship/oppressor. Wish I'd saved the link so I could share; it was fascinating reading.

Megan V said...

Just popping in. Tried to read most of the comments, but its been a busy in-and-out kind of day so I'm sorry if I'm repeating anyone.

Congrats OP on the offer!

I think QOTKU is in the right on this one. This isn't a bait and switch operation. It's important for writers to have a clear idea of what they want in an agent when going into the query process. And maybe you do. Perhaps you refused to query newer agents because you want someone who's an old hand at agenting. If that's the case, and you won't feel comfortable with a new agent, then the offer made to you isn't the offer for you. Politely decline. I get it. It can be tempting to jump at any offer (and boy oh boy is this offer a tempting one! I mean, it doesn't get much better than VEA AND enthusiastic young agent. It's amazing!) BUT trust must be implicit in this type of professional relationship. Don't jump at an offer when you're not sure if you'll put your trust the person making it. Unless you can take that leap of faith, and know you won't go above young agent's head to VEA (who would not be YOUR agent) query elsewhere.

Julie: Congrats on the request for Rain Crow!!

Gingermollymarilyn said...

Congrats, OP, on your offer of representation. I totally get what you're saying. Your book is your baby and you want to make sure you entrust it to a reliable babysitter. This literary world is new to a lot of us, we don't know how it all works. Very interesting to see Janet's perspective. You probably weren't expecting that. Thanks, Janet, for letting us into your world. I definitely understand your point of view too, but I wholeheartedly believe OP was coming from a place of innocence and worry. I think seeing it from Janet's POV, an agent with no skin in this game, really provides such insight. I didn't know this was a regular practice, just never thought about it; haven't got to that step yet! If I were to be so lucky as OP, I'd sign ASAP! But that's just me.

Congrats, Kara!

Good luck, Julie! Fingers and toes crossed.

Ardenwolfe said...


JD Horn said...

Now I'm wondering if "established" will be the fifth word in the contest.

Claire Bobrow said...

"Established" might be too long, JD, but if you break it up into bits you get "shed." That has possibilities!