Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Your opinion, please?

Below is a correspondence with a writer that just amazed me. He's finally got a good agent, who helped rewrite the book, but he wrote another book while waiting for an agent. He sent the new novel to the agent, who said it was not for him. So while his agent is sending out his first novel, he wants to know if I want to see his new novel.

"Hello Ms. Perkins,

About a year ago, you sent me this email and I wisely held on to it. You had read a ms. of mine called "MY FIRST HORROR NOVEL." That manuscript is now with the Semi-Famous Agency, and, after a long revision process, is about to be sent to publishers. In the meantime, I have written a very dark literary book. Mr. Famous has looked at it, but it's not the type of material his agency usually handles. I thought it might be a better fit for you if you were still interested in reading some of my work."

This was the letter I wrote to him a year ago that prompted this response:

'Believe it or not, I've finally got around to sitting
down with this. I get 30,000 requests for submission
a year and have 70 existing clients.

But the bottom line is that this title is best suited
for a small press, which I hope you'll tell me you've
already sold it to.

However, if you have new work, please email me about

I told him to let Mr. Famous see what he could do with the first novel and give him the courtesy of representing him as an author on his next novel, should he make a sale.

Before I had even written this blog post, I got the following:

"Thank you for the reply. I did ask Mr. Famous if he wanted the new book and he declined it. I wouldn't shop it around if he hadn't already looked at it. This manuscript is not really SF, but more dark and literary and I don't think his agency handles that type of work."

And here's my response, which would have been a lot less explanatory and patient, if it weren't for you explaining to me just how out of the loop writers can be.

"But the editor he sells you too may do dark "literary" fiction, or some editor who has read your first novel might ask for your next book, which is why you need to let Mr. Famous have dibbs on it until you know what your first novel can do.

And you might write yet another novel or partial in the time it takes to sell the first novel, and Mr. Famous might like that one, and find it more sellable.

Also, there are only seven publishers for this kind of dark/horror fiction, so in all likelihood Mr. Famous and your other agent would be sending your two novels to the same editors, which just is not done."

But the reason why I posted about this is that I'm just astounded that this writer couldn't understand how lucky he was to have an agent with a good reputation work on his book (which I told him was a small book) and thought nothing of having two agents, or one to get you started and one to grow on, at the same time. It's just wrong.

I know he's anxious to get validation on his new novel, but what part of publishing is a slow business amongst people who all know each other have we failed to make clear?


The author just wrote to me again, and he got it, so I guess you've taught me to be just a little more gentle and patient.

"I see now. Thank you for explaining. I'm afraid that I know very little about the business. I'll hang on to the new ms. and see what happens. You've been very kind.

Thanks again. I'm sorry if I've taken up much of your time."


Anonymous said...

I have completed several novels in the past five years. I have had one agent who shopped one novel for me but without success. I learned very early that you can have one agent at a time and usually only one book out at a time. Mostly, when agents tell you that it will take 4 weeks or so to respond to a page query, some say 6 months for a partial or manuscript, then the writer should either take yoga classes or start drinking heavily. Otherwise, he/she will be left with NO AGENT. That's the way it is and the writer will not change it; at least not in my lifetime. I take yoga, drink and have a dog who loves me. I'm not under thirty so I need to enjoy this whole process.

Robin L. said...

Thank you for being patient with him. There is a wide gulf between a new author and the publishing business and a big difference between sitting down to write a novel for several months, and then being a part of the world of agents and editors. No one I know would *want* to make a big mistake like this, and everyone I know would really appreciate the time you took to explain the situation to him. What's obvious to agents isn't at all obvious to writers (necessarily).

Nicole Kelly said...

Your response was gentle, but informative. I'm sure he appreciated your patience. And I agree with robin l., what's so clear to someone in the industry is not so obvious to a newcomer. :)

Michael Carr - Veritas Literary said...

That was, indeed, very gentle of you. I wouldn't make this particular mistake, but there is no question that those of us on this side of the fence are generally clueless as to the goings on over on your side.

Anonymous said...

There is a disconnect in the understanding of the process now, how it works, how long it takes what is acceptable and more, what is not acceptable.

At a recent romance conference, I was appalled to hear authors talking about agents as if they were disposable. "Holding agents" vs "growth agents" vs "dream agents." In other words, you grabbed who you could to get your foot in the door and moved up from there.

Advice on how to manipulate "nibbles" from agents --if one agent bites, you put their representation offer on hold and go to dream agent, to try to get them to take a look (or another look since most likely they've already declined), while keeping the first agent in the hole.

If that doesn't work, you use the first agent for a couple of books, until you're a name, and then you trade up to the agent you deserve.

At the same time, service agents "owe" writers in terms of submissions, communication, etc., is enormous. And these writers haven't sold anything yet.

I must be getting old for the concept of paying dues to be so outmoded. Immediate gratification and entitlement reign.

It's enough to make a writer feel sorry for agents.

Linda C. McCabe said...


That incident sounds eerily like a message sent to Miss Snark recently.

She also found the concept reprehensible.

Now, I suppose if you had an agent who only handled fiction and you wrote a nonfiction book, you could go hunting for an agent who only handled nonfiction. I don't think that would bother the agents involved, but trying to have two fiction agents simultaneously would seem to get people's noses out of joint.

Which one is the wife and which one is the mistress? Who gets the dibs on future manuscripts to help you cultivate a writing career?

It sounds like a plan for that author to quickly have no one to represent them.

:shakes head:

Thanks for the insight into what you face as an agent.


Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm confused.

Say I finally snag a good agent for my dark SF novel - and work with her to get it ready for submission.

In the meantime (cause we writers don't have anything else to do but wait), I write a cute cozy mystery.

Since I already have an agent, I send it to her. She says no, because she doesn't handle that genre, has no idea how to market it. (this is what happened here, right?)

According to this post, I'm to put the cozy away and wait? Even though my agent says she doesn't can't market it?

Am I misconstruing this whole post?

Anonymous said...

Okay, color me naive, but don't some agents only handle romance, and some don't ever touch children's books, and some prefer to handle non fiction or mystery?
What does an author do who is: prolific, writes in several different genres, is already published with different publishers?
Does this writer get told to sit down and only write in the genres his agent handles? Can't he possibly have two or more agents if he writes children's books, mysterys, and non-fiction?

Adrienne said...

To be honest, I didn't understand your reasoning until you spelled it out for the author either, and I consider myself a pretty clever girl. Sometimes our minds are so fixed on one way of thinking that we don't even suppose there is another possiblity (this is why riddles are so fun, we just can't figure out the answer and then it suddenly comes to us, clear as day). In the end the author understood because you took the time to explain to him about the industry, which of course new authors such as ourselves really don't always understand. Thank you for being patient with him.

Faith Bicknell said...

I truly feel that writers should do _thorough_ research about _every_ part of writing, submitting material, and querying agents and editors before even thinking of querying an agent or publisher. Sadly, most don't, but it would save them a lot of embarrassment and the editors and agents a lot of wasted time and annoyance.

I groan every time I get a submission for something I don't handle or when writers come to me asking for advice, etc. that's easily found online or at libraries and bookstores. I don't mind helping someone, but when I'm asked "do you accept fantasy or horror?" I usually point them to the submission guidelines page.

Anonymous said...

Wow...I'm posting this anon because it's so kiss-a*sy, but wow.

Maybe it's because I'm just seriously starting the query process, and so my heart is hovering somewhere outside my body, ready to be poked with sharp rejection objects...but I'm so touched an agent with your experience and reputation would take the time to be so kind to a newbie. Seriously.

Tyhitia Green said...

Some writers are clue-free. If a writer has read anything on writing, it is known that you don't try to get another agent to look at a second work, while your current agent is shopping your first book. That's just messy.

Anonymous said...

To demon hunter and others,
(In defense of the clueless!) I am a relatively new writer who has been reading about writing & publishing (blogs, agent websites, writing forums) for over a year. I read industry info on the Net almost every day. Until recently, I haven't read much saying it's taboo to have 2 agents. I've read that it's generally not done, but I've also read that some people do it and all parties are fine with the arrangement. I have DEFINITELY not read (until now) that if one agent is representing you and declines to take a second manuscript because it is not in his/her genre, that I STILL should not seek out another agent because it is in bad form.

To sum up, I want to say how much I do appreciate all the agents and writers who are blogging these days. But I also want to remind people who ARE in the know that all the info out there can be contradictory and confusing for new writers. Thanks for your patience with us!