When you discover your agent's just not that into you...

Submission protocol, query etiquette, and strategies that work
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Brodi Ashton
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When you discover your agent's just not that into you...

Post by Brodi Ashton » October 5th, 2010, 1:11 pm

In 2008, with my first finished manuscript in hand, I was ready to query. To find that special someone who would take my story to the top. You know, to find THE ONE.

My sister-in-law (also a writer) devised a contest: first person to reach 100 rejections wins. We crafted our queries, did our research, and by the end of four months I won the race. I’d received 100 rejections. But I also won an agent. Everything’s downhill from there, right?

The agent submitted my book and after three months, we had 2 positive rejections (you know, the kind where they’re all, “I like it, but how would I sell it?”) and about 7 no-responses. Not the reaction we had expected.

Meanwhile, I wasn’t going to be one of those writers who put all of her flowers in one bouquet. I decided to write another book, so that when we had exhausted all possible avenues for book #1, I’d have something ready to go. My 13-year old niece read Book #2 in 24 hours; that had to be a good sign, right? (side note: warranted use of semi-colon, check.)

With your first book, you’re guaranteed the agent loves it, because he/she offered representation on it. But with your second, you never know. I gave my agent book #2 in January 2010. Three and a half months later, he was “still reading.”

Just like a clueless girlfriend, I made excuses for him. So what if my niece had taken 24 hours to read it? She’s really fast. So what if this second book was 20,000 words shorter than my first? I probably used bigger words. The story makes the reader want to savor it, not finish it. He probably doesn’t want it to end. (Agreed, that was the stupidest excuse.)

Determined to be proactive, I sent him a list of editors who had mentioned on blogs that they were looking for my type of book.

He responded with a resounding, “Um, let’s talk on the phone.”

That did not sound good. I’m sure you all know how frakkin’ hard it is to get an agent in the first place. My family and friends knew. They’re advice before the dreaded phone call was, “Say what you have to say to keep him.”

But here’s what only a phone call could show: the passion was gone. He liked book #2 okay, but he didn’t love it. It was polished, but it wouldn’t make a splash. It didn’t need that much work as far as revisions went, but he probably couldn’t get to it for a few months. Maybe after the holidays. (That would’ve been 9 months later).

So, he wasn’t going to dump me. I could’ve kept him. But one thing was perfectly clear: there was no way he would be able to muster the passion necessary to make a sale, especially a debut sale, especially in today’s tight market. It wasn’t his fault. This business is subjective.

I knew we couldn’t go on like that. But was I really ready to dive into the query pool again? Could I face a hundred new rejections? Would I really be stupid enough to leave an agent? LEAVE an agent?

But the passion was gone. There was no way around it. He just wasn’t that into me anymore. As our phone conversation started wrapping up, I blurted out that this wasn’t going to work. He didn’t put up a fight, and we parted ways amicably.

I started querying the next day. (Yeah, I had a query written. I’m sort of a cup-half-empty type person.) Within a month, I had nine offers from wonderful agents who were passionate about book #2. And three weeks ago, I sold my debut trilogy to Balzer and Bray, Harper Collins in a pre-empt, after 48 hours on submission. All of this happened five months before my first agent would’ve even submitted it.

I don’t blame agent #1 for not loving my book, just as I don’t blame my high school boyfriend, who fell in love with someone else right before the Christmas Dance. (I totally blame the other girl, though, but I digress).

Point is, even though it hurts, you can’t help who you fall in love with. A book (or boy) can look great on paper, but if the passion isn’t there, or the passion is one-sided, the relationship won’t work. I’m still friends with my first agent, and I admit I learned so much from him. But I would rather be in the query pool, collecting a thousand rejections, than be with an agent whose reaction to my book was, “Meh.”

Unrequited love. Sometimes it hurts so good.

p.s. I'm still getting rejections from agents I queried. I might reach 100 again.

Brodi Ashton
http://www.brodiashton.blogspot.com

steveaxelrod
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Re: When you discover your agent's just not that into you...

Post by steveaxelrod » October 5th, 2010, 9:27 pm

Fascinating post. So much of what you read on line concerns how to get an agent ... very little of it talks about what to do once you actually have one. My question is ... how do you know enthusiasm is waning? What are the warning signs? My agent has the book out to three publishers. He submitted in July -- now it's October. I haven't heard from him and don't want to nag. I just don't know what this radio silence means, if anything. If the book's been rejected and he hasn't told me, that's bad (I think); if he's heard nothing does that mean he isn't proactive enough, or doesn't care enough to pressure people, or isn't powerful enough to compel their attention? Or is he just patient, and realistic about the glacial pace of publishing? Ugh. Any thoughts would be welcome ...

Brodi Ashton
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Re: When you discover your agent's just not that into you...

Post by Brodi Ashton » October 5th, 2010, 10:08 pm

Ah, man. It can be so frustrating sometimes when you feel like you don't know what's going on with your agent. But each situation is so different, so I'll give you the same advice someone gave me when I was going through it all: Open the lines of communication with your agent. Express your concerns. An expert in the field told me most often, writer/agent misunderstandings come down to a lack of communication.

I was in the "wait and see" mode, not wanting to bother my agent, but he was my agent. I shouldn't have been hesitant. It was only when I finally addressed my concerns in a straightforward manner that I started to get a sense of what was really going on.

Once I did, it was fairly obvious (to me) the passion was waning. I'm sure that's not always the case when writers confront their agents! Good luck to you.

sylvallenfisher
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Re: When you discover your agent's just not that into you...

Post by sylvallenfisher » October 5th, 2010, 10:12 pm

I thought this was a pretty sweet post. LOL funny and an honest relating of what couldn't have been an easy decision. But it paid off in the end. I appreciate how it reemphasizes that we shouldn't get so caught up in the acquisition of an agent we forget it's a relationship. One that will need work but is healthy on both sides. Congrats, Brodi!

Brodi Ashton
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Re: When you discover your agent's just not that into you...

Post by Brodi Ashton » October 5th, 2010, 10:34 pm

Thanks Sylvia. It is nice to be looking back on it all, knowing how it turned out, instead of going through it.

zen
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Re: When you discover your agent's just not that into you...

Post by zen » October 7th, 2010, 3:56 am

Brodi, I absolutely love this story. What happened in between the time when you got the new agent (which looks like it was April) and three weeks ago (Sept), when it sold in 48 hours? I guess I'm asking, if I'm reading this right, you rewrote from the new agent's notes, between May and Aug/Sept?

Thanks for sharing your path to publication.

Brodi Ashton
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Re: When you discover your agent's just not that into you...

Post by Brodi Ashton » October 7th, 2010, 10:13 am

Thanks! I officially signed with the new agent in May, and he told me up front he wanted it to be a Fall submission. We had a couple revisions, but mostly it was just waiting for the week after Labor Day to get here. So much of the whole process is all about timing, isn't it?

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Ishta
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Re: When you discover your agent's just not that into you...

Post by Ishta » October 8th, 2010, 10:33 am

Brodi, thank you so much for posting this. As someone who is searching for an agent at the moment, I can understand your hesitation to jump back into the query pool. It's so good to hear that if the passion is gone, it really is best to move on to another "relationship."

And congratulations on your book deal!

Brodi Ashton
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Re: When you discover your agent's just not that into you...

Post by Brodi Ashton » October 8th, 2010, 9:30 pm

Thanks Ishta. It'd be nice if this business came with a road map, wouldn't it? Good luck in finding the right fit!

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Re: When you discover your agent's just not that into you...

Post by musicgirl » December 20th, 2010, 4:43 pm

THANK YOU so much for this post. I'm in your exact position right now. Agent loved Book 1 but was unable to sell it, and I can already tell that he's not so thrilled about Book 2, which I still haven't finished yet but gave him a synopsis over the phone.

I've been really rattled over this myself. I can feel that he's not loving the idea, and it's made me really doubt my new project. Thanks for your post - gives me hope that maybe it's the relationship, not the book.

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