Friday, October 22, 2010

Two Dates to the Prom (follow-up)

Thanks to everyone who commented yesterday, especially the agents who popped in. Obviously this was an upsetting situation for everyone to read about.

A lot of commenters suggested that publishing is a small world and that the mistake this author made could really be career damaging. I'm not so sure of that. there seems to be a frequently held view that there's this publishing black list and we agents can't wait to drop you there. We're human too and while we can certainly become annoyed and angry in the most humanly way possible, we can also understand mistakes and misunderstandings.

Anyway, I did hear from the author who first asked the question and wanted to post an update. She was really surprised by my answer and the feedback by others on the blog. What she said was, "though I see clearly now how big a mistake I made, at the time, I expected a response more like 'We agents can't represent every genre, and sometimes a writer will take on two agents.' I assure you while I did know  I needed to tell them about one another, I was just afraid of missing an opportunity because they are so rare, and that was cowardly of me, but I was shocked at the overall response I received from you."

Since yesterday morning she was able to get in touch with one of the agents and explain the situation. The agent was incredibly gracious and while she has no experience in both genres is going to continue working with the author on the one book (genre) they've signed for. I did not hear how the other call went, but I do have a sense that all is probably well. If not, I'm a strong believer that if the book is meant to be published she'll find another agent for it.

The author confessed to me that she's sick to learn of her own deceit and hoping to remedy things as quickly as possible. She also hopes that I don't see this as a black mark on her. Trust me, I think we've all been in situations in life we're we've had that sickening pit in our stomach for something we've done whether intentionally or unintentionally and it's not a feeling I want to wish on anyone.

I think Colleen Lindsay said it perfectly yesterday in her comment when she said "oy." I would probably say "uff da" there isn't much else to say. It's an annoying situation and if it happened to me I would be annoyed, but since I only offer representation to projects I'm truly passionate about I also know I wouldn't want to give up a book or a client whose voice I loved for one indiscretion.

I think the author has learned a lesson. In fact I know she has. In her email she said, "I will certainly slow down and think, be less reactionary, and more careful with my career."

And I think that's a lesson we can all take with us.

--Jessica

30 comments:

Lynn M said...

I didn't comment yesterday but my initial reaction was that this writer made an honest mistake with absolutely no ill intention behind it. In the pressure to find and agent and to ultimately publish, I can see why a writer would want to pursue any opportunity she/he might get and to also avoid closing any doors. Clearly her situation should be avoided, but she has my compassion - that's a horrible position to be in. Sounds like she's put her big girl panties on and is handling it with honesty.

Anna said...

I agree - she has my sympathy as well. This is a teaching moment, not only for her, but also for all of us who read your blog. Thank you for posting the follow-up and for your candid response.

Anonymous said...

"I was just afraid of missing an opportunity because they are so rare,"

This is why I don't fault this author. Sure, it was a HUGE mistake, but an understandable one. Opportunities for representation and/or publication are extremely rare and difficult to obtain. It's extremely tempting to grab the first one (perhaps the first one after many years of trying) and run like heck.

I'm not sure agents comprehend the emotions involved, but I do appreciate the ones who really try.

another anon said...

I was put off by all the negativity in the comment trail yesterday, and was glad for this new post today.

People, it's life. You do stupid things sometimes without even realizing it. Agents do stupid things too. So do editors. While I've never done this, I've done other things that were cringe-worthy. When you know better, you do better.

Good luck to this author, I hope you sell both projects.

Joseph L. Selby said...

I wondered at the author's motivation and whether it had to do with the disparate genres. I had asked a similar question on a few blogs that was never answered. So when my first manuscript was different than most of my work, I queried an incredibly small list of agents that represented that work and stuff I hoped to write in the future. Certainly made for a quick querying process.

Robena Grant said...

Well, Im glad the author made the call. That couldn't have been an easy thing to do, and I'm glad the outcome was positive.
We all do stupid things at times. The only possible damage control is to own the error and 'fess up. That's always good PR. Trying to justify an action, or outright denial, just make the hole we've dug even deeper.

Anonymous said...

Gotta agree with Lynn M. I started to write yesterday along this line as well but then thought, hmmm, best stay out of the fray. But I'd be willing to cut her some slack. She made a goof and the fact she was conflicted by it is strong proof of an honest character inadvertantly making a bad move and then in a moral quandary as to how to mend it.

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit confused then. What if you didn't love the other book? What if you had absolutely no interest in repping that genre? I mean, I understand that she should have told both agents that she was working with the other in another genre, but some of the response to this conversation seems to imply that the author should assume that the agent will want to rep both books. What if they don't? Christian fiction is pretty specialized. Agents make it abundantly clear that they don't rep certain genres and in fact get pretty aggravated when people send it in anyway. They're very, very clear about it.

So what is the answer here? I don't think this author has anything to feel sick about. If agents are going to specialize, I think the authors have a right to find the right agent for the right job. You can't expect the author to stop writing in the genres they like. If an agent is only going to rep books they feel passionate about, should the author have the right to find those agents with that passion?

I don't understand it why anyone should be annoyed.

Kate Douglas said...

Important lesson and I'm repeating it here: "I will certainly slow down and think, be less reactionary, and more careful with my career."

(big sigh) Unfortunately, email makes it way too easy to be reactionary. I've learned to write some of those messages and place them in the draft file to ponder over before sending. Almost 100% of them are eventually deleted.

Anonymous said...

Querying is like sending a cover letter to a job at two different companies. One company may give you the offer, the other may not.

In a world where agents reject almost 99% of everything, why can't a writer query two different projects to multiple agents and let the best agent win?

BookEnds, LLC said...

Anon 12:04:

The issue was the lack of communication. If she got one agent for her Christian fiction let's say and that Agent said she was only interested in Christian fiction then typically agent and author would agree that she should seek representation for her other work elsewhere.

The problem is not necessarily that she had two agents, it's that she had not informed either agent of the situation and assumed that neither agent would want to represent both works.

--jhf

BookEnds, LLC said...

Anon 12:24:

Authors should always query widely. Authors should also use any offer of representation as leverage to find the best agent for them. That being said, signing agreements with two different agents without communicating that to the agents is very, very different from querying.

--jhf

Nicole said...

I'm with Lynn up there.

I recently landed myself an agent who only represents one of the genres I write in. I had another manuscript ready to query but before I did, I asked her if it would be cool and even said I'd be willing to take on a pen name to make things work out. She replied that a pen name wasn't necessary and I was free to submit to whomever I wanted with my other work.

Lesson of the day: When in doubt, just ask.

Anonymous said...

That's great - she's realized the profound stupidity of her duplicity.

But it really makes me wonder, why does she get a bye on this?

Consider the flip side: she self-identifies as a "Christian" (granted, a big tent) but one generally defined by telling others to adhere to narrowly constructed notions of morality, the right to hold forth on others lives, the belief that they are, in essence, "better" (or, holier than thou.)

***Honestly*** it's both telling and nauseating to read about an author who claims to adheres to these tenets IN HER WORK, given many decades of aggressive and demoralizing actions by the same Christian demographic towards non-Christians. i.e., the lengths to which Christians have gone to demonize gay marriage, and roll back abortion rights for women.

Basically, the message this Christian person puts forth (and that is, apparently supported here) is, "It's okay FOR ME to lie and dissemble - while trying to publish Christian stories - because I have been ... " (whatever Christian people do ... dunk themselves in water?)

I realize this comment is going to read as troll'ish. However, if we're going to have a discussion that references hot-button topics like Christianity in relationship to business accountability, IMO a blithe "Oh, I'm sorry" doesn't cut it.

Where's the connection between her Christian/ gospel based writing, and the obvious distain she has for basic notions of honesty? Not to mention common sense. Oi/oy indeed.

Draven Ames said...

Thank you for following up on that last post. It is nice to see the author get some forgiveness. If people didn't mess up, there would be no editors. The editor of life is reflection. If you glance back for a moment, you'll have an easier time going forward.

She learned from her actions. Contacting you indicates that she wants to move forward, unafraid of admitting wrongs. I wish her all the best and give kudos for coming clean.

Draven Ames

Draven Ames said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mira said...

Well, I wasn't going to wade in, but I realized I have something important I want to add.

Wow. What a writer this person must be. Truly.

First, I'm really glad that the situation is resolved, and everything got all cleared up. That's good.

But what struck me the most is: this writer got two agents on two separate books in two separate genres. Wow. Her writing must be terrific. Whoever represents her is darn lucky. Yes, there was an honest mistake and all that, but it's pretty easily cleared up. The sad part is the agent who won't get to represent her.

To the writer, if you're reading this: What I hope you take out of this the most is a feeling of intense pride. Two agents wanted to work with you! That's just terrific.

I very much look forward to hearing about your career, because I suspect you will be extremely successful.

Cheering you on from the sidelines - Good luck!

anon said...

Anon @12:35 says this:

"...IMO a blithe "Oh, I'm sorry" doesn't cut it..."

Oh, please, I gather you are a Christian because there is nothing like a Christian to point out the faults of other Christians. If she was acting holier than thou she WOULDN'T care or even realize her blunder. She realized she made a mistake. And then she FIXED it. End of story.

And if your biggest problem in life is a random person's (a person who you don't personally know) supposed "blithe apology," then I pity you.

Guess what, if you want mercy in life you have to be willing to offer some, as well.

wry wryter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
M Clement Hall said...

Does the agent represent the person or the work?
If the "Christian only" agent had said, "you must never in your career write anything that wasn't religious," would that have been fair?
If she had said to that agent, "since you only represent a narrow range of work, I will submit different styles of work elsewhere," perhaps that would have been more open, but this is a business, not a friendship pact. The agent does not bind herself to represent no other writer, why would the writer bind herself to seek no other agent when the one she has is so limited in her interests?
If she had said, "I only represent non-fiction," would it be wrong for your correspondent to seek another agent who would represent her fiction?
Apart from all of that, she obviously has some talent if both agents wish to represent her.
usw.

mdal said...

I just keep thinking that this whole issue could have been *easily* avoided with some internet research and an email to a helpful agent blog...before signing the contracts.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous who said, "That's great - she's realized the profound stupidity of her duplicity."

Wow. The many Christians I've met aren't half as judgmental as you were in your post. It's not kind to pick on the author's religious views. You may not share them, but you don't need to bash others.

I am a devout Christian and have dear friends who are homosexual. Jesus is about love. He's the one who hung out with prostitutes and "sinners," loving them where they were at--loving us when we are not perfect, not after we become perfect.

That's the God I believe in. Cut the human being some slack.

Saranna DeWylde said...

I was glad to see the follow up post and see the culmination. She asked for guidance, got it, and *listened* to the advice.

Sheila Deeth said...

I missed yesterday's column but caught up on it now. Thanks for teaching the rest of us. Now, if only I could get one date to the prom:)

Neftwink said...

This whole - trying to find an agent, and trying to impress one with the most appropriate query letter is maddening.

Do agents ever read new writer's work when the writer has chosen to share pieces of their story on a blog? I just started one simply to find out the general public's interest in my story, and writing style.

http://neftwink.wordpress.com/

I'm very unsure how much time to spend looking for an agent when self publishing seems to be such a simpler option.

I'd love for you to take a peek at my blog and offer a suggestion or four.

Best,

Jennifer Place

Lucy said...

Jessica, thanks for a lovely follow-up post. I'd never want to imply that agents can't be forgiving; but the suggestion to tell one agent and not the other concerned me.

Now, however, it sounds like the author is on a great track--not only to avoid these sorts of mistakes in future, but to getting some good work out there.

To the writer in question: it takes a lot of intestinal fortitude to face an "oops" like that. From what Jessica says, you did it with class. I applaud, and wholeheartedly wish you the best with your books.

:-)

Lucy
L.C. Blackwell

jjdebenedictis said...

Neftwink/Jennifer Place: For the sake of your dreams, I beg you--just THINK for a moment how your words come across.

Your comment reads as, "I suspect you're useless to me, but I'll condescend to let you serve my needs. However, you have to do all the work of forging a connection with me, because I can't be bothered."

Kathy Bryson said...

I just wanted to say how much I appreciate your discussion of these situations. I'm learning so much and yes seeing where I've made some mistakes! It's amazing the level of details that matter from someone who's inside the business!

Anne R. Allen said...

I had to smile at the comments from agents who said, "why didn't she just sign with Rachelle Gardner?" Um, probably because superstar Ms. Gardner had rejected her? That "let them eat cake" attitude is just silly.

You think she signed with an agent who had never sold anything because that was her first choice? It's rough out here in the trenches. I think it was a very natural mistake and everybody is wayyyy too judgmental about it. I wish her lots of success and I really want to read that Arsenic and Old Lace book.

BookEnds, LLC said...

Anne R. Allen:

I don't think anyone said "why didn't she just sign with" I think there were a lot of comments and the author herself suggested that the reason she signed with two agents was because it's hard to find an agent who represents both Christian and mainstream. Using Rachelle's name was simply to show an agent who does both. Certainly I know of many others.

Trust me, as agents who read queries from published and unpublished authors. Authors with offers and those without we do know how hard it is. Remember, we're the ones doing the rejecting.

--jhf