Super Sad True Agent Story

Submission protocol, query etiquette, and strategies that work

Super Sad True Agent Story

Postby dgaughran » 30 Mar 2011, 14:18

I finished (or thought I had finished) my novel in August 2009 and stuck it away in a drawer for a month or so before giving it one final edit and then began sending it out to about 15 agents, garnering only one partial request before realising it was far from ready. I went back to the drawing board, pulling it apart and putting it together again, all the while learning more and more about writing, editing, agents, the query process, and publishing in general.

For the next round of queries, in early 2010, I cast the net a little wider, this time getting several partial requests, a handful of which turned into fulls. I had a couple of back-and-forth conversations with agents by email too, but ultimately they all passed, mostly with very helpful comments on the way forward with the manuscript, often complimenting my writing and encouraging me to keep going. Quite a few agents told me that I had something special on my hands but that they didn't have the requisite contacts to sell my book, but that I was sure to find an agent soon.

Over the summer I took all that feedback and took the novel apart one more time, piece-by-piece, pretty clear in what needed to change and how I was going to get there. It was long, difficult, painful process but by September 2010, I felt I had done it, that I really had taken onboard all the advice from beta readers, agents, and editors who had seen my work informally, and resolved any issues with the manuscript.

After wrestling with my query for some time, I was finally ready to start sending out again. The reaction was far, far better this time. I was getting partial requests, but also a lot of full requests, straight off the query. I think I had eight or nine fulls out at the same time, and was starting to feel confident.

While I was waiting, I had a couple of short stories published, one of them also selected for an anthology, and I really started to think it was beginning to happen for me.

Then the rejections started coming in, one after the other, mostly form rejections this time, even though I knew the manuscript was far stronger, and as Christmas approached, I began to think it was never going to happen with this novel. I was kicking around some ideas for a second, and getting ready to start on that, so I just put the first novel out of my mind.

Just after Christmas I got the email that I thought was going to change my life. It was from an established, well-regarded NY agent with a solid record, who loved my book, asking if I had an agent yet, and if not that we should talk. I had just come in from the pub, and I had to read the email several times to make sure it wasn't a prank, then woke my girlfriend so that she could confirm what I was reading.

I tried not to get too excited, after all, there was no mention of an offer of representation, just an invitation to talk, but I also knew the agent didn't want to talk to tell me they didn't like my book. I sent a response with my contact details and so on, then began preparing for the call, drawing up a list of questions, writing queries for future projects so I could 'pitch' them effectively if the conversation progressed to that point.

A couple of weeks passed with no response from the agent, so I emailed again. Another week passed and I decided to call the office. The agent's assistant was lovely, and as soon as I mentioned my name she told me she had read my book and loved it. She informed me that the agent was on vacation and that I should phone back the following week. When I did, the agent told me that I had written "an amazing novel, big, sweeping, really great" and that everyone in the office had read it, and loved it. The agent said that they had sent it out for external readers' reports, and cautioned that before they could offer representation, the readers' reactions would have to be equally positive. He apologised for asking me to wait a little further, and asked me to give him a week.

Just over a week later I phoned the agent, and something seemed to have shifted. The agent seem annoyed that I had called, saying that they hadn't gotten back to me because they had nothing to report. Then the agent pulled back a little, saying they appreciated that the wait must be excruciating, and that they would try and hurry up the readers' reports. I told the agent not to worry, saying that I understood how slow the business moved and that this would not be the first time in the publishing process where I would be required to show patience. The agent signed off by asking me to give them another week.

A few weeks later, I got an email from a UK agent who apologised for the delay in reading my full and that she was going on vacation and would read it then. As the UK agent had rejected a previous draft of my novel (and invited me to resubmit with helpful editorial suggestions), I wanted to appraise her of the situation. I explained that I may have an offer forthcoming, but that I wasn't sure. She phoned me and asked me not to accept any offer without talking to her first and that she would read my novel ASAP. The next day she called again, saying that she was part way through the manuscript and loving it, and would read the rest on vacation. However, she also intimated that if she made an offer, she would expect for it to be accepted on the spot.

This put me in a little of a quandary, so I emailed the NY agent (who I hadn't heard from going on a month now), saying that there was other interest in the novel from a UK agent, and that an offer may be forthcoming. I also said that I would give him the opportunity to make a counter-offer, if he so wishes. I know this was getting a little ahead of myself, but I felt I was just being fair to the NY agent who had already invested a lot of time and resources into my novel.

When the UK agent returned from vacation, she told me she felt the manuscript was very close, but not quite there yet, and asked me to do a chapter-by-chapter synopsis for her. She then replied with a short email suggesting I cut the cast of characters in half and focus on the love story that was only a minor part of the novel. It was not a direction I really wanted to take the novel in, but I thanked her for all the time she had put in helping me.

I never heard back from the NY agent, despite emailing him again one month after my last email, advising that the UK agent was out of the race. It's now three months since the NY agent first emailed me saying they loved my book, asking if I had an agent, two months since we spoke on the phone when they told me I had written "an amazing novel, big, sweeping, really great", and asked for "one more week". In those two months I have only attempted to contact the NY agent twice, both times by email. Both attempts have been met with silence.

At this stage, I am ready to give up.
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Re: Super Sad True Agent Story

Postby taylormillgirl » 30 Mar 2011, 16:50

I'm sorry; that's awful. It sounds like the NY agent just isn't into you any longer but doesn't have the stones to say it. Quite simply, you need to send more queries. You know the manuscript is strong, right? You know the letter is effective, right? Then send out a dozen emails and keep trying, otherwise you'll hate yourself one day for giving up.
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Re: Super Sad True Agent Story

Postby Guardian » 30 Mar 2011, 17:06

At this stage, I am ready to give up.

Go self-publishing, but never give up. Many usually doesn't dare to say, but I do; nowadays snobbish professionals doesn't have a taste and they always want to change something to fulfill that never existed taste and never existed artistic vein. The best example is this...

cut the cast of characters in half and focus on the love story that was only a minor part of the novel.

Ahem... so, actually write something else with a different cast. Write a trendy mainstream cliche, because that's good... no, it's not.

While I was waiting, I had a couple of short stories published, one of them also selected for an anthology, and I really started to think it was beginning to happen for me.

Go self-publishing, because as I see you've already achieved few things without any of their help. If you was capable to achieve this alone, you'll be able to handle a novel too without help.

Both attempts have been met with silence.

And when they'll read about your success, these people will be the first whose are going to stand in your door, will bombard you with emails and promise you anything, just to work with them (And if you accept a friendly advice; that will be the moment when you're going to show them where the exit is.). Actually your present example shows what's the problem with the present system; agents are handling writers as some tertiary elements.

You have a novel ready to go, so publish it by yourself and show them they were wrong. But never give up.

Good luck!
Last edited by Guardian on 31 Mar 2011, 00:38, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Super Sad True Agent Story

Postby Don Zolidis » 30 Mar 2011, 22:15

I wouldn't give up on the other agent just yet. Who knows what's going on over there.

It sounds like you're really, really close. Try sending another round of queries (terrible, I know, but some on querytracker report sending as many as 175 queries before finding an agent) and then get started on book number two.

Sometimes the process is quick, sometimes it's horrifically long. I'm a playwright by day, and one of my plays won a major award in 2004, and it's (finally!) going to see the light of day in 2012. Eight frickin' years.

I'm still not sold on self-publishing. Depending on your genre, it might work. It seems to me that if you're writing romance, mystery, or commercial fiction you might have a better shot at a self-pub. If it's literary fiction, or YA, or Middle Grade, I doubt it's a good idea. And if you don't have a legion of facebook fans and are tirelessly using social media, I wouldn't count on selling a whole lot. But who knows?
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Re: Super Sad True Agent Story

Postby Clare Wheeler-Brandt » 02 Apr 2011, 17:28

Get thee to another agent! After all your hard work and good response from agents, you're obviously doing something right. Maybe it isn't ready yet, or maybe you've got an agent who doesn't have the right contacts--or stones--or whatever, to tell you what's really up. You deserve answers and acknowledgment. There's no excuse for bad manners or unprofessional conduct. I still have trouble feeling comfortable with self-publishing, but I'm slowly coming around to thinking it may have become a necessity. Some really good books are not getting published. So what if some really bad ones are being self-published? A lot of bad ones are being commercially published at the same time. I'd love to read your book, no matter who publishes it. You're a serious writer, and the rest of would be authors recognize and respect you for it. Anxiously waiting to hear the rest of your true story.
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Re: Super Sad True Agent Story

Postby wilderness » 02 Apr 2011, 17:34

Don't give up! It sounds like you're really close. I think another round of querying is the way to go. It would be a shame to put the novel to bed when you've gotten some amazing responses. Even if those two agents didn't bite, that doesn't mean someone else won't.

Definitely work on a new project in the meantime. Maybe it will be a case of the watched pot never boiling...but when you put your attention elsewhere - who knows. Good luck!
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Re: Super Sad True Agent Story

Postby dgaughran » 03 Apr 2011, 03:50

Thanks for all the comments guys, it really is appreciated.

I have been sick in bed all week reading about Barry Eisler and Amanda Hocking, reading Joe Konrath's blog and Dean Wesley Smith's blog, and it's fascinating reading.

I think I will park this novel for now and focus on new writing. I have a great idea for a second novel, and two short stories which are demanding to be written. In a month or so I will look at this again. Maybe I'll start querying again, maybe not. Maybe I'll keep it in a dusty trunk for when my agent bags me a two book deal. Maybe I'll self-publish it.

Maybe I'll even call that agent and see what's up.

I don't know, but at least now I realise I have options.

Thanks again,

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Re: Super Sad True Agent Story

Postby mnaylor3 » 04 Apr 2011, 11:35

Right on.

I get the impression that you got the fire in you to write, so write.

The time spent by the mail box is better invested on writing. Same with phone calling. Submit and forget.



Get well,

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Re: Super Sad True Agent Story

Postby Tirolo » 04 Apr 2011, 15:04

If you have other prospects for agents, keep sending the manuscript out. If you've exhausted the possibilities for now, then I think you're doing exactly the right thing, working on the second novel and some stories.

The first novel written is not always the first one published. An entirely plausible scenario is: you write another good novel, succeed at getting representation, and go on to publish it. Then the other novel will be looked at again by agents and editors. So don't envision it gathering dust in a drawer. I can think of lots of instances in which a previously rejected novel got a second look and got published. Also, I remember that Lois McMaster Bujold said something like "The smartest thing I did was work on a second book while the first one was making the rounds."

There are also instances where an author who was turned down by an agent meets her at a conference, pitches the book again, and gets an agent (Jim Butcher and Jennifer Jackson). When he tweaked her about it being the same book, she said, "I changed my mind!"

In other words, your story is common. Frustrating, grief-provoking, maddening, but ... it's just the way it is.

Eh, keep working. It's not time to self publish.

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Re: Super Sad True Agent Story

Postby Guardian » 05 Apr 2011, 04:28

Frustrating, grief-provoking, maddening, but ... it's just the way it is.

But it's the wrong way. And because of it writers are leaving agents and publisher (And I have to agree with their actions.). Why should we frustrate ourselves, why should we accept the provokative actions? We're offering a job for agents and not the other way around, yet they're handling us as some tertiary citizens. Agents are speaking with writers from a very high horse, but this mentality always have great consequences and may cause their downfall (But that's not our problem anymore. Unlike agents, we always have a second job.).

Eh, keep working. It's not time to self publish.

Actually it is the perfect time.
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Re: Super Sad True Agent Story

Postby Tirolo » 05 Apr 2011, 06:51

Sure, he can self publish and have his book NOW! Self publishing advocates seem to think it so awful for a book to take a year or two to be published. You know what? While that year before publication goes by, the publisher is actually selling the book into book stores (getting pre-orders), sending out galleys for reviews to trade publications (libraries and bookstores use the trade reviews for purchasing), and other very important activities (editing, designing, etc). Bookstores and libraries do not place orders from self publishers (except, in rare cases, after a book has already become a success). Myths to the contrary, most books are purchased by readers either in book stores or online as ebook versions of books in bookstores.

Writing and getting an agent and getting published--all these are exercises in tenacity. Sure, you can throw in the towel at traditional publishing if you want. You're only hurting your own chances.

This writer's chances of getting an agent are very high. There is every sign that his writing is good, and he can produce. To give up after the first novel is too soon.

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Re: Super Sad True Agent Story

Postby Don Zolidis » 05 Apr 2011, 07:45

I agree.

Agents get a hundred or more queries a day. They can only represent a few clients well. It's all very well and good for us to say that they should be faster, or they should be more respectful, but their job isn't responding to queries. Their job is representing their clients. If an agent spends all her time responding to us and very little time working with her clients, then she isn't a very good agent. We need to have patience and try to see things from everyone's point of view. (That's what a good writer does, right?) I cannot be the highest priority in an agent's life that doesn't represent me.

And I think self-publishing is a tricky stew. You might hit it big, but you more than likely you won't. Just like anything else.
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Re: Super Sad True Agent Story

Postby dgaughran » 05 Apr 2011, 08:29

Thanks for all the messages.

I'm actually going to take a break from both writing my new novel and querying.

I have two short story ideas which have been bugging me since I started the second novel. I'm nearly half-way through the first (it's turning out longer than expected). When I am done with those, I will return to the novel and, maybe, to the querying. Maybe not.

Querying takes time, and energy, and at this stage, it gets me down. I even have two requested partials that I haven't sent out. They both wanted hard-copy, which is their call, but it's gonna cost me $20 (postal rates from Sweden are high), and right now I am thinking: what's the point?

Re: self-publishing - the jury is still out for me vis a vis unpublished novelists. If I was a neglected mid-lister with plenty of titles with reverted rights, it would be a no-brainer. It's a lot more risk for someone with one novel and a couple of short stories, without another novel ready for a good while. What I might do is publish a few short stories digitally, I can still always sell the reprint rights to anthologies and whatnot, and, at the very least, I would learn a little about digital publishing. And if on the off-chance I was very, very lucky and sold a bunch or generated a bit of buzz that way, then, and only then, would I consider self-publishing the novel.

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Re: Super Sad True Agent Story

Postby Guardian » 05 Apr 2011, 08:30

Tirolo wrote:Writing and getting an agent and getting published--all these are exercises in tenacity

The only problem is; publishers and agents are not really reliable (Very few exceptions are existing.).

Sure, you can throw in the towel at traditional publishing if you want. You're only hurting your own chances.

Now, that's not true at all. Actually from my very own example I can tell, I'm just raising my chances with self publishing. Many credited pros gave the following advice in the recent weeks; "Go self publishing, forget agents as they're dead in the water. They lost their way in the last years." So instead of getting the advice to get an agent, I also get the advice to avoid them (And I'm also a credited writer with a tiny award, not a newbie).

This writer's chances of getting an agent are very high.

Sure, if you believe in miracles and false promises. Oh, and a little add on to your sentence; very high IF you beg, very high IF you write a mainstream crap, very high IF you write a copy cat and... did I mention; IF you beg? Now, a writer won't beg. I also won't beg to any lazy guy to read something and I also won't beg to them to act as a professional and be in the mood to respond to a simple business letter. Personally I don't have time for this unprofessional behavior.

You may tell us many nice things, but nice words won't change the reality.

Agents get a hundred or more queries a day.

Every era ends one day. The reality is; writers have enough about agents and they try to avoid them, because they won't wait and won't beg.
Last edited by Guardian on 05 Apr 2011, 22:49, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Super Sad True Agent Story

Postby cheekychook » 05 Apr 2011, 18:27

Wow. You certainly titled this thread appropriately---that is most certainly a super sad true agent story. I wish I could say it's an uncommon one, but unfortunately it's not. I think you're wise to take a breather and focus on something else, because I know how hard it can be to keep perspective when this sort of craziness and disappointment ensues.

One thing I didn't see anyone else ask you (though I may have missed it): Do you really WANT to be represented by an agent who is as unreliable as the one you've described?

This is something I've thought long and hard about in my own quest for an agent. The longer I search for one and the more hoops I jump through in my attempts to find one the more often the questions comes up---you can get so hyper-focused on obtaining an agent that you forget to ask the most important question: do I WANT this person representing me? There are plenty of agents who are great (although the agent I most respected has left the business), but there are others who I have to say represent themselves publicly in a manner that would make me not want them representing me or my novel.

My guess is that some here will say that's absurd, or perhaps sour grapes on my part, but I can assure you, it's not. One agent recently posted something on twitter that I found so offensive I decided that I wouldn't want to be represented by that person (a person, I might add, who has had my partial for three months without a word).

The game (and let's not kid ourselves, a large part of this is in fact a game, a game of chance, a game of playing one's cards right, a game of luck and timing) of finding an agent can get so consuming and maddening that the players lose sight of the goal. If your goal is to get your novel published so that people can read and enjoy it, then you have options. Lots of options. Agents, sure, but also small presses, e-publishers, and yes, self-publishing. The one thing that you should come away from this knowing for sure is that someone with a lot of experience in this field has called your novel "amazing...sweeping...really great". That's all you need to remember.

Best of luck to you, whatever route you decide to take. I look forward to reading your sweeping, amazing book whenever it becomes available.
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