Monday, December 10, 2007

Mistakes Happen

In a recent post, When Agents Agonize, a reader commented, “I don't supposed you ever agonize over rejecting someone and wishing you hadn't? LOL That's what I wish.” And it made me think of a story, one I hope I haven’t already told you.

Earlier this year I was getting slammed with busy, busy authors, submissions from established authors, and all-around good news. In other words, I was exceptionally busy. During the midst of all of this I received an email from a published author who had just received an offer for her second erotic romance contract. While she successfully negotiated her first contract on her own she decided that now was the time to find an agent, so she was getting in touch with me. Of course I moved immediately. I read her proposal and really, really liked it. But I was getting skittish. My concern was how much room I had on my list for another erotic romance author (or another author)? I love erotic romance and I love the authors but, as I tell all of them, the problem with erotic romance is that you have a limited market. Simply because of the subject matter not everyone is going to read it. Therefore I’m reluctant to take on too many authors in this narrow genre. So with a great deal of hesitation I told the author no. In fact, my exact wording was:

“Thanks so much for giving me the weekend. You are really talented and I enjoyed reading this, but in the end I’m going to pass. While I liked your writing a lot I just don’t think I’m as passionate about it as an agent should be about her client’s work. This was a tough decision for me because you are so talented, but I also need to be fair to you.

"Congratulations on your offer. I suspect you’ll have a long career.”

And in a follow-up to her follow-up I said, “It was a tough decision and if you’re ever looking for an agent again please keep me in mind. Things might be different. I do wish you lots of luck.”

Well, this incredibly wise woman read into my hesitation and emailed me back to suggest that if I was really on the fence maybe I should give it a second look. I did. And she was right. I was a fool. I scheduled some time to talk with her about her career goals and what she had in mind, beyond more erotic romance, of course. I humbly offered representation and it’s entirely my honor that she accepted.

Now I don’t recommend that you hound every agent that rejects you. This is obviously a very, very rare instance, but it does showcase that anything is truly possible in this business. I also want to make it clear that changing my mind in no way means I’m any less dedicated or in love with this author’s work than I am with my other clients and their work. It simply means I reacted too rashly.

I think often we hear that authors are really lucky when they have an offer on the table because it makes it easier to find an agent. It also makes it harder for agents to properly evaluate an author’s work the way we would like to. Sometimes sitting on something is better than moving quickly. It gives you time to really process your dedication to it. In this case I was lucky because this probably would have been a decision I would have regretted. I thank the author every time I see her for her persistence, and of course now we both have an interesting story to tell.



Kimber Li said...

Yep, I've got a few of these stories I could tell from the ranks of the authors I know, but I'd best keep them to myselves. One's a real humdinger too.
It happens, but, yanno, agents are human just like the rest of us.
I think the moral of the story is to just keep going. Keep writing, learning, polishing, and submitting. If you stop, you certainly won't ever be published. But, if you keep going, you just might.

Anonymous said...

I have a related, personal story: My first novel (now with BookEnds) was read by another agent a few months before. He called to say he loved it, requested changes, and as I was in the middle of making them he wrote back to say he was leaving for another agency and wouldn't be able to represent me. I was completely bummed, but sent the manuscript out again to other agents, including BookEnds.

When the book was published, this agent read my PW review and wrote to congratulate me, and say he remembered the book and how sorry he'd been to eventually reject it. I think having gotten so close before, and then hearing I was out on the street again, was the most depressing time of my life. But hearing from this agent, knowing he remembered my book and had kept my e-mail address and taken the time to write to me--it just had an amazing, full-circle feel to me. One of those times you wish you could pat your past-self on the back, and tell her everything will be okay...

Anonymous said...

I want that experience with an agent. Someone who really gets my work, and is not just throwing their hat after something "maybe publishable," or who wants me because a couple of other agents already do.

You make your list of possible agents based on what you know about them. You never know whether they really enjoy your writing, or for that matter even read the whole manuscript until after you are working with them.


Anonymous said...

Confession is good for the soul. Thanks for that. :-)

Josephine Damian said...

Kudos to that erotic writer for not having the typical knee-jerk reaction of bitching and moaning over rejection; they kept their cool and read enough between the lines to sense Jessica's hesitation.

Lessons for us all.

Michele Dunaway said...

I think timing is one of the most important things. You simply have to have faith.

When I spoke with Jessica during our talks about representation, I told her about an agent who'd wined and dined me at RWA, only to send me a scathing rejection letter once we got home (and she'd pursued me). This agent's exact comment in her rejection letter was "this will never sell". I'd sent the same proposal to my editor, who called to buy it two weeks later and then offered me a continuity book. Those were my sales 3 & 4, and I was once-bitten, twice-shy for 14 total books before Jessica & I began working together. I told her I didn't want someone who'd take me on just because I could do it on my own. I also wanted someone who'd tell it to me straight.

That's always my advice, to trust your gut and instinct in directing your career. Don't just grab anyone, and always maintain the high road and don't go bashing those who may reject you now.

Anonymous said...

This story surprised and puzzled me for several reasons:

First, I wondered why you didn't tell the writer you were hesitant to take on more erotic romance because of the narrow market--especially since that was your main concern.

Second, "I don't think I'm as passionate about this as an agent should be . . ." sounds like, "I liked it but didn't love it enough." If I'd received a response like this, I wouldn't want to risk annoying an agent by saying, "Since you think I'm talented, why not take another look?" (Or, since this author was already published and had a second contract offer, does that reduce the potential annoyance factor?)

Third, since we keep hearing how important it is for our agent to love our work--I would think twice about working with an agent who wasn't passionate enough to offer representation the first time around. Or does "passionate" also relate to your ability to market a project?

Christie Craig said...


Thanks for posting this. I think we all need to know and be reminded that agents, as well as editors, are people, too. And as always, it goes back to the subjectivity of the business.
I know I attempt to read a lot of books that don't intrigue me, but they intrigued the heck out of a lot of people. One person's opinion, even an experienced opinion, can be wrong, or maybe it's only one person's outlook and not that of the majority. Also there are times when a book won't appeal to me, but later when my situation changes, the book suddenly has my interest.
Thanks for the post.


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