Wednesday, May 06, 2020

When to stop getting "help"

Four years ago, an agent from a well-known agency ended up hearing about my work from a friend. They hunted me down through Facebook of all things and asked to see my YA manuscript. Ecstatic, I sent it off. They asked for revisions, and then after those revisions, eventually decided to pass, but gave me incredibly helpful feedback and invited me to please reach out to them when I had another project in the works. Skip ahead three years; I have now rinsed and repeated this process with this wonderful, gracious person with two more altogether different projects. Both times, they’ve gotten excited, given some revisions, and then passed, as they have a very selective list. Both times have continued to help shape me as a story-teller and show me where my beginnings in particular struggle, and I owe so much of my evolution as a writer to this person. Being represented by their agency would be a dream.

But. *squeak squeak*

Each time I package up a new book and send it off to them, it’s exclusively in their hands for 3-4 months before I get notes on revisions, and then off it goes for another 3-4 months. I decided in each of these cases after the fact to shop it with the other agents on my list. I was asked for pages, shown some interest, and passed. Shake out the shoulders, take a deep swig, try again. And now I have a new finished project that I feel and have been told by beta readers is my strongest yet. I have this agent acquaintance who’s been nothing but enthusiastic and kind about my work, but I know if I continue our years-long e-mail chain, it will mean that this book goes into hold-your-breath mode for another seven months without any other agents’ eyes on it. I don’t want to burn any bridges, and it seems like any kind of in with an agent should be followed through on. But at the same time...should I keep putting all my eggs in one basket? Is it worth it to be painfully patient, or should I be knocking on as many doors as I can? My wee legs are getting tired.

Oh the dreaded exclusive.
If this new work is your best yet, don't send it exclusively to anyone.
Query widely.

I've had a particular writer's work here for three revisions, the most recent of which is January 2020. I'm hoping I'm not lollygagging about too much and lose her to a more nimble agent, but that's MY risk, not hers.

I would NEVER ask for an exclusive, let alone an exclusive of many months because it's NOT in a writer's best interest to do that.

You should never give one unless it's SHORT (a week, ten days at MOST).

You've gotten a lot of help from this agent, and she deserves your thanks, but she does NOT get to hold you hostage, even with golden threads of grateful.


Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I would absolutely query helpful agent, but I would also politely and confidently tell her that this is not exclusive; you're querying other agents.

This is your writing life, OP. Believe, and make it happen.

Kitty said...

WOW, OP, you must have real talent for your writing to get that kind of attention. Congratulations! And don't give up, although I don't think you will. Let us know when it all pays.

nightsmusic said...

This agent who keeps asking for revisions, at least to me, should be more enthusiastic with each one or, after the first, should have seen where things were going and passed the first time, not continued to ask you to revise several times and then pass.

I would, as Melanie suggested, query widely but make sure when you query this agent again, and you should, to let her know clearly, that you have queried several other agents as well. If she wants your story, she'll tell you.

Good luck!

RKeelan said...

I think there's a typo at the end of the post:

You've gotten a lot of help from this agent, and she deserves your thanks, but she does NOT get to hold you hostage, even with golden threads of grateful.

I think it should be "gratitude."

Brenda said...

There really is nothing like professional eyes on your work. Almost anytime an agent has given me critique it’s made me grow as a writer. Beta readers, conferences, courses...all great learning tools but nothing jumps you forward faster than when someone who is all business points to stumbling blocks in your writing.

If that’s not the strongest argument against self-publishing I don’t know what is.

My old manuscript feels very much like a once-loved pair of socks that are floppy with wear, but I gratefully take those lessons forward into the new work.

OP, congratulations on your tenacity. Personally (and particularly this year) I find my writing flagging on this long journey. Your consistency will stand you in good stead. Plus your writing must be very good to have garnered so much attention. Best of luck with your project.

Heather Wardell said...

There are many ways to get the benefits of 'someone who is all business points to stumbling blocks in your writing' as a self-published author. I've hired an editor several times, and I've just finished an 8-month college program focusing on a single novel with a multi-published multi-award-winning author. Hoping an agent will provide critique is definitely not the only option, and it's not an argument against self-publishing either.

Miles O'Neal said...

"We are not doing 'get help.'"

John Davis Frain said...

Query widely. This agent should understand that you're querying widely, so there's no need to explain that in your query where real estate is so expensive. When someone is interested in signing you, then you can inform that agent along with others.

You're on the road, OP. Keep pedaling!

Fearless Reider said...

Pardon me if I missed something in my perusal, but has Helpful Agent actually insisted on a long-ass exclusive all three times, or has OP bent over backwards and offered that in their gratitude? If it's the agent's insistence, "helpful" is not the word that comes to mind. "Greedy," perhaps. I wouldn't burn any bridges, but I would certainly query widely. Three exclusive bites (nay, mastications) of your work seems like more than generous payback for the agent's kind attention.

And nobody asked me, but to my ear "golden threads of grateful" is exactly right. Context is everything.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

What a wonderfully mixed gift! This kind of a...friendship? Can be really valuable to your writing, and apparently less valuable to your career, because yikes those wait times.

Does this agent ask you for an exclusive, though, or are you treating their comments and revisions as part of your drafting process? Because if you know that they always have suggestions that you value, that help you improve and elevate your writing, it seems (to me) that you're in a way relying on that to get to the ever-elusive final draft. Which isn't incorrect, it just kind of makes the exclusive period talk a moot point. You're not done yet, when this agent has your book, and maybe after having gone through this process more than once, you don't expect to be.

It's interesting, the differences in submitting short stories and querying agents. Short story submissions are exclusive, more often than not, though also we HOPE that they move faster than the querying process. And they do, as far as I can tell, move faster than the querying agents + novel submission process.

Brenda said...

My apologies Heather. I speak for myself alone. If I had self-published I would now have three cringeworthy books on Amazon. Glad I’ve been uncharacteristically patient on this.

AJ Blythe said...

OP, your writing must have that "X-factor" for that agent to continue to give their valuable time. As others have said, I would query said agent, but also others. Good luck!

BJ Muntain said...

Honestly, I don't know. I mean, she's helped you improve your previous books, right? Is it that you don't think this book needs that kind of improvement?

3-4 months doesn't seem that long to wait for a developmental edit. I'd almost want to wait until I received the revision suggestions, and then made those revisions. I'd want my book to be the absolute best it can be before sending it out to other agents, anyway.

But that may just be me.