Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Wait, that's all?

Friend of mine queried last summer, got multiple offers by October/November. Signed with agent awesome (great sales record - powerhouse in the category/genre) in December. After signing, communication was virtually non existent (3-4 emails total in six months). Author didn't mind. Figured it was just how this agent functions. After two rounds of edits with pretty limited editorial notes, agent says it might be best to step aside without much explanation at all.

Now that recently signed debut* author is again agentless with a book that never went on sub,

1) would protocol dictate that it's okay to reach back out to agents b or c who offered but weren't selected explaining the situation?

2) can author re-query or reach out to those who had partials/fulls who were interrupted by competing agents offer for rep and passed. Or

3) is author pretty much stuck writing a new debut and starting from square one (write new book, query, etc)?

(1) Yes
(2) Yes
(3) Nope

Your friend (who is NOT a *debut author because the book hasn't been sold, let alone published) missed one key element of the signing process: ask the agent offering representation how much work s/he thinks the novel needs before it can go on submission. It sounds like your pal thought s/he would sign with agent, and the ms would go on submision fairly soon thereafter.

This is almost never the case. I can think of only one author I sent out without revisions (Patrick Lee). Everyone else had at least some typos to fix and probably more than half had some major revisions.

My guess here is that your friend did not nail the revisions the agent was looking for. This happens more than any of us would like. It's actually one of the reasons I often ask for revisions BEFORE I sign someone. If they can't revise, it's a huge red flag. Editors will ask for revisions too. I can think of only a couple books that didn't have multiple-page editorial letters before the book was sent into production.

But back to your question: if the book has not been sent to editors, it's fine to query again. Your friend needs the "my former agent I parted ways amicably, before this was sent on submission" probably near the top of the letter for those agents being requeried.

Your friend should be prepared to talk about why s/he parted ways with the agent. When I see that in a query, I do not assume the agent is a dunderhead.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I got nothin', oh wait yes I do.

Revisions BEFORE you sign?

If Awesome-Author has other offers do you step aside, sign then revise or convince AA that you are so awesome, and scary, s/he should swim in your sea without a cage.

Unknown said...

Wow. Some days I wonder how books ever get published. It's like scaling a mountain knowing that any plateau can toss you back down the slope. Not for day hikers with bad boots and limited water. Climb on!

Colin Smith said...

I double-taked...? Double-took...? Did a double-take on that too, 2Ns. I suppose Janet's operating under the assumption that you queried her because you want to work with her, and this is no worse that the ole Revise and Resend for which most agents ask before signing people (or rejecting them).

And writing that "Why I Lost My Agent" paragraph will, I think, be a good test of your writing skill, Opie. If I was an agent, I would be looking at that almost as much as your query and pages. All the best to you! I hope you get a bite from one of the agent fish you left behind last time. :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Ouch. So close and so far away. Well, the OP can write. That is clear. Hence the interest so it's a perserverence test. Those are no fun but necessary in this Game of Publishing.

Best of luck, OP. Keep writing. Keep querying.

Colin Smith said...

E.M.: Those are no fun but necessary in this Game of Publishing

You mean, this GAME OF TOMES...


DLM said...


And Colin just killed me before I've even gotten properly started with the day. (Everyone, thank Colin.)

Amy Johnson said...

What a letdown that must have been for your friend, Opie.

Thanks, Janet. I don't think I'd considered this scenario.

Something that caught my attention was "After two rounds of edits with pretty limited editorial notes (italics mine)." I understand there are agents who submit on a very limited basis, then decide not to pursue any longer, while others will keep going and going. I'm thinking now that even among editorial agents, different agents will be more/less involved with edits. Pays to (politely, of course) ask questions before signing, as Janet teaches us.

Susan said...

Nothing to add, but I wanted to say that Colin's "Game of Tomes" gave me my chuckle of the day. Well played, sir.

Have a great day everyone! It's supposed to be 90 degrees here for the next two days, which means I'll likely keep diving back into the reef to keep cool.

MA Hudson said...

'...did not nail the revisions the agent was looking for.'
Does that mean they fail to even do the revisions, or that they end up putting in more typos than they take out? Or does it mean something else?

Amy Schaefer said...

Colin, I'm flagging you for unnecessary roughness at an early hour of the morning. Boo.

I don't see any issue with asking for revisions ahead of signing. I can see an agent wanting a clear picture of how a writer responds to criticism, as well as seeing whether they can up their game with constructive feedback.

Susan, we've got good weather today, too. I'll be writing in the backyard if anyone needs me.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Bless you, Colin - Game of Tomes indeed :)

Coffee burns a bit when you chuckle it out of your nose.

Kregger said...

Shouldn't there also be a release from the contract between the writer and the agent?

With the laissez-faire attitude of the agent as depicted by the OP, I wouldn't assume the contract is null and void.

Has it ever happened that at the time of publication that two competing agents are due contractual compensation?

Amy Johnson said...

"GAME OF TOMES." Very clever, Colin. :)

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Colin: Game of Tomes! lol

And I forgot to say yesterday, thank you Janet for this blog. I like to assume (I know, I know, makes an ass of u and me) the chomping and merriment you give and receive from us varied commenters make it well worth your time.

OP: great questions.

And Janet's suggested question too, to ask an agent offering representation- How much work does my novel need? And how many rounds/weeks/months of editing/revising before the agent is ready to call it quits.

All this talk about revise and resubmit before offers, revisions after offer of representation, makes me nervous. Like Kathy Joyce said, mountain climbing up and rolling back down.

Unknown said...

Jumping in here (blast from the past, I know) to ask the great reef shark a follow up question - how does an author really know if they are good with revisions? To me it seems like a marriage of interests, where there's some same-wavelength relationship building (and growing pains) that come with figuring out what agent notes say and what they mean. Not because the notes are inherently cryptic, but just because language is inherently unclear at times.

Anywho! Hi everyone! Colin, Game of Tomes? You've definitely still got it. ;)

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

Ooh, ooh, what Brian asked!

I once had an agent show interest and ask for revisions. She wanted this and that fixed. I fixed that and this. She went eh! and said she wouldn't be offering rep at this time.

Ever since, I've been wondering what I missed.

Theresa said...

I worked on revisions to my nonfiction book proposal with my agent before signing with her. That worked out well.

However, revising to someone else's standards or expectations is fraught with difficulties for any writer. (I once spent a frustrating year trying to address a reader's comments on a manuscript for an academic press. Every time I revised according to one set of comments, she sent along more. I finally withdrew the manuscript.)Even with detailed comments and suggestions, it might not be possible to turn the manuscript into exactly what the agent is looking for. Luckily for your friend, OP, there are other interested agents to re-query.

Game of Tomes, indeed.

Sherry Howard said...

I feel sorry for OP's friend. This would be a heartbreaking delay. Years tick away while we write and revise, and then more time while we query and wait on full requests to be read.

This was another post I saved for the future, when I'm sweating the fact that I'm revising a novel I thought was finished. I expected revisions once a ms got with an editor, but thought they'd be " guided" revisions. I don't know that I'd ask how much work an agent thinks my ms needs--well, I will now. If they hadn't mentioned it, I'd have assumed they felt it was close to good to go. I have three fulls out now, and I've tried to forget they're out there waiting to be read.

Are we sure it's not The Game of Tombs, because this writing gig can kill you?

Timothy Lowe said...

I, like the other Reiders, am very interested in the whole "nailing revisions" thing. Having not yet been blessed with an editorial letter, I'm wondering what those kinds of things look like.

Ok, back to watching the news with baited breath.

hanna said...

Hello! It's me, the commenter formerly known as SundaysChild (she of the which-agent-should-I-choose dilemma), now outing myself with my real name.

I just wanted to commiserate with the OP's friend -- it sucks to be so close only to have the dream quashed summarily...and vaguely.

My agent gave me a one-page edit letter that basically told me to add some scenes, draw out the tension HERE and HERE, and up the urgency. They weren't extensive, but her instructions were clear, and she explained exactly why she felt those edits were needed (and where she didn't, I asked to make sure we were on the same page). It sounds like the OP's friend's agent didn't provide that same clarity, which is maybe why the revisions didn't work for him/her?

I guess we'll never know...which is the worst part. Best of luck, OP's friend!

(BTW...back when I was SundaysChild, people asked about which agent I picked and what my query looked like. I didn't want to say it then, because I hadn't signed the contract, but I did end up blogging about it. Is it bad form to post a link in the comments? I don't want to break any rules!)

Casey Karp said...

One thing I'd be inclined to do when sending in my revisions would be to document the changes I made. Not in great detail, but enough to make it clear I've addressed the agent's suggestions--or at least thought about them.

"Soandso is a whiny, obnoxious brat who should be taken out behind the barn and left there."

Soandso is supposed to be a whiny, obnoxious brat. As such, I've left their personality largely unchanged. However, I have eliminated one scene of especially noxious misbehavior, and toned down a few other scenes.

Or something like that.


Colin Smith said...

Hello, hannah! Congratulations!! If your Blogger profile was up-to-date, including your blog address, I would post it for you... but... *sigh*... ;)

Unknown said...

I want Hanna said's agent. And it would be way better (at least for the writers) for the agent to follow Janet's practice of asking for the revision first. Although that must entail some risk to the agent of loosing out to agents like that of the OP's. Oh the dangers that lurk out there in the forest.

Colin: Game of Tomes? Amazing.

hanna said...

Actually, though they never asked me to submit the revisions beforehand, every agent I spoke to that offered rep did go through fairly thoroughly what kind of edits they thought the manuscript needed. They weren't as fleshed out as they would be in an edit letter, but they did give me an idea of how they saw my book and what to expect in terms of the work that followed. Just goes to show how important those pre-signing conversations can be!

(For anyone who is interested, I ended up signing with Victoria Marini, and my query letter is posted here:

I hope this doesn't get me banned.

And I wholeheartedly salute Colin's Game of Tomes.)

Colin Smith said...

Here's hannah's link:

LynnRodz said...

I feel for OP's friend, so close and then not to know for sure why the agent parted ways. I hope a new agent works out better. S/he found one, I'm sure s/he'll find another.

Hanna, I for one would love to see your query.

Colin Smith said...

Oops! Sorry, hanna--I gave you another h. :)

Julie Weathers said...

This has to be heartbreaking for the OP's friend. You think you've finally arrived and then you're back out on the street with nary a thing to wear.

The children's agent I worked with suggested revisions that I was working on when I threw in the towel. Two agents I didn't sign with suggested R&Rs. One still resulted in a rejection. The other I haven't revised yet.

I can think of few people who are fortunate enough to not need revising. Now, whether you can revise to suit the agent in question is another matter. I had a friend who went back and forth with an agent for five years on a large historical work. The last time she submitted it, he said he was no longer handling them, but good luck elsewhere. Another reason not to have a dream agent.

An author really needs to have these revision discussions up front before they sign to make sure they're on the right track. If you tend to write in layers with rich detail and the agent likes fast-paced punchy stuff, their idea of what will make it better might not mesh with your vision.


I didn't get to bed until around 6 this morning, so Game of Tomes, while amusing, was really groan worthy.

And that's well over 100 words. I should focus on writing or something.

literary_lottie said...

Like other commenters, I'd be interested to know why it's assumed the author was bad at revisions, when it sounds like (to my woodland creature ears) s/he was received very little editorial feedback from the agent. Is that normal? Do agents expect authors to be able to revise manuscripts to their liking with limited direction, hoping the author will intuit where exactly things went wrong in the story, without needing it spelled out? I understand not wanting to tell authors how, in explicit detail, to fix their manuscripts, because authors should be able to come up with their own creative solutions. But where does an agent draw the line between "I should probably have given more specific notes" and "this author can't revise for beans"?

I suppose this situation is still somewhat the fault of the OP's friend, because if s/he didn't find the editorial notes helpful, s/he could have always asked for clarification. But it still sounds like the agent never really gave her author a fair shot.

BJ Muntain said...

MA (and others): I'm thinking that 'not nailing revisions' is more that the author didn't improve the work in the way the agent felt it needed to be improved to make it saleable.

literary lottie: I don't think it's assumed the author was bad at revisions. I think it's just that the author's revisions weren't what the agent had hoped for. Not all agents offer extensive editorial feedback, or even ANY editorial feedback. But if agent and author aren't on the same wavelength for the direction of the novel, then it's probably best they part ways. We also don't know how 'limited' the editorial direction was.

Kregger: That would depend on the agency contract, although normally such a contract would stipulate the manuscript would have been sent to editors. Since this agent hadn't sent the manuscript out, the agent *probably* has no claim on future sales. If the agent *had* sent to editors, and one of those editors accepted the novel after agent and author split, then most contracts would have the author paying both agents commissions.

Lennon Faris said...

Blah! So sorry for your friend, OP. Wish the agent had given more info. Not being in the situation, that seems a bit cold to me.

Colin - game of tomes. Ha.

Brian - welcome back!

hanna - congrats again! I think a lot of us will be interested to see that. Thanks!

Lennon Faris said...

OT -
OK, wow. hanna's query letter does the best job of 'show don't tell' that I've ever seen in a query letter (and I've read a lot of Query Shark!). Well done, hanna!

Craig F said...

I think this happens more than we know. Part of what I would want in an agent is him/her being connected.

If they were queried with an original take on an iffy genre (that includes thrillers now too), they would call those connections. Here the agent calls Bob On The Ceiling.

"Hey, Bob, I have this absolutely marvelous werewolf story..."

"Sorry, we don't do that." Click

If you go through your whole list and no one will read the damn thing you end up here.

Hanna: congrats.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...



As a South East Asian myself, I am thrilled for you and happy to see diverse stories from our beloved region get positive responses from agents. We live in interesting times.

And I just might take you up on your open offer :) That is, when I'm ready to play the Game of Tomes.

John Davis Frain said...

I love when posts jolt me, and this one did. After reading the initial question about OP's friend (or is this a so-called "friend" we're talking about!?), I put myself in their shoes and complete disappointment draped over me.

But the answer made so much sense to me. In fact, I have to say that the single biggest thing I've learned in the past 2+ years is this: I used to think a manuscript was 10% conceptualizing, 80% writing and 10% revising. Now? Virtually the opposite. Maybe 5% conceptualizing, 15% writing and 80% revising.

I believe (false hope?!) the numbers will change after a debut, but man, that first one is tough.

Steve Stubbs said...

Very interesting post and very insightful. I did not catch from OP's comment that the agent was unhappy with the revision. That is important to know. I will be giving this post a lot of serious study.

It should be added that authors who really want to cooperate sometimes have a hard time doing revisions because they cannot figure out HOW to do the revisions. I remember something Arthur Machen said when he was asked by editors to revise his MS. This is from memory but it was something along the lines of, "I did it as best as I could the first time." I believe (from memory, again) this was about his translation of Casanova's MEMOIRS, which was a masterpiece IMO. I don't own a copy of Machen's THINGS NEAR AND FAR so cannot check my memory on this.

Of course Machen had an advantage on the Casanova project. The original was a masterpiece, too. One of the great works of French literature.

Unknown said...

OP's friend's situation is definitely heartbreaking -- I've been there exactly, and it isn't fun. The good news is that some agents are happy to re-read as Janet says. They don't ban you for life.

What I can also add is that it would have been much better for me emotionally had my offering agent asked for revisions rather than offering representation. I was fully aware that she wanted me to make changes, but when her very long editorial letter came back, I was really shocked. I was also devastated that after 6 months of revising and going through the manuscript so painstakingly with her changes in mind, she seemed to think I hadn't implemented them nearly enough. I would have much preferred the R&R approach.

And many congrats, again, Hanna! So happy for your happy ending! :-)

Joseph S. said...

First, Hanna, Thank you and congratulations again. I doubt I can write a query letter as eloquent as yours, but at least I see the standard I need to meet.

OP, “Pretty limited editorial notes” haunts me. Your friend (and I) I’m sure conscientiously produced what he or she thought was his or her best story. I know I’d want to know where I went astray, what I overlooked, what never occurred to me to worry about, and what I should be aiming for. I can edit and revise. But I need to know what the editor or agent sees as the problem or opportunity.

Carolynnwith2Ns, Very good and interesting question to start the comments.

Megan V said...

Colin's game of tomes is just what I needed to start the day.

The thought of getting the boot for not living up to a perceived revision potential certainly has me queasy. As a consequence, I can't help but emphasize Julie's point today, that revision(and what happens if revisions aren't what agent hoped for) is a discussion that an author really should have up front with a potential agent.

Morgan Hazelwood said...

That's got to be so rough!

It's good to know you can re-query people you may have rejected earlier.

Colin I'm still chuckling at 'Game of Tomes'