Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Agents Getting Preferential Reads

A good number of the science-fiction/fantasy imprints accept unsolicited manuscripts or unsolicited queries. While searching for an agent, I ran across one that stated authors should look for an agent who has sold to a publisher that doesn't accept unsolicited manuscripts. If they only submit your manuscript to publishers that do accept unsolicited manuscripts, then your manuscript isn't going to be treated with any more priority than if you submitted it yourself.

I kind of doubt this claim since at least an agented manuscript has successfully passed one professional's crap-o-meter, so it's bound to be looked at more quickly and closely. However, it did make me wonder about another statement that I've heard from several agents. They don't want authors to shop manuscripts around by themselves because, once a manuscript is rejected, they can't try a publisher again. They might have submitted the manuscript to a different editor at that publisher who would have liked the book, but that chance is lost now.

But isn't there one editor--the acquisitions editor--that the manuscript will have to get past whether the author submits it or the agent does?

I would love to hear more about the things authors are being told on other agent Web sites. That’s crazy. What that says to me is that this agent doesn’t know enough people in the business. Of course my submissions are going to get read faster than those that are unsolicited. I already have a relationship with that editor, and that editor, or any editor, knows my name and my reputation, and, more important, the editor knows that sitting on my submission for too long is likely to mean either I won’t submit to her again and/or I’ll sell it out from under her. In other words, from most agents a submission is going to get preferential treatment, but if you are with an agent who doesn’t have contacts, then no, it’s just as good as submitting it yourself.

As for your other question, that’s very true, and let me explain why. If you send your manuscript to Joe Dell at Bantam and he rejects it, I have no real idea what process the book went through. Did Joe simply read it himself and reject it? Did he pass it on to an assistant who rejected it or did he pass it on to a freelance reader who rejected it for him? Or, did Joe like the book enough to bring it up at an editorial board meeting, get second reads, and ultimately reject it based on the decisions/opinions of his peers? Even if I think the book would be better for Jill Bantam at Bantam, I can’t go over Joe’s head (even if Jill is Joe’s superior and even if Joe had a reader reject it for him). Now, there is the rare instance when an agent might be able to resubmit to the same house, but as we know, this business is tough enough. Why depend on a rare instance?

Of course there are exceptions to every rule. Always exceptions. If an editor asks you directly to submit, then submit. Don’t wait around and don’t miss a golden opportunity.



Jessica said...

I remember reading that article on a blog. The agent's point was that if an agent has only ever sold to publishing houses that accept unsolicited manuscripts, that agent is much less likely to be a legitimate agent than an agent with a track record of getting manuscripts read at houses that do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. If I remember correctly, this was one item on a list of red flags to consult when choosing an agent. I tried to track down the original article but was unsuccessful. I'll continue to look for it.

Anonymous said...

I was the one who asked this question. The statement I referred to was on an agent's website, not in a blog post about red flags to look for when selecting an agent. If I'd read such a statement in the context commenter Jessica read it, I wouldn't have bothered Jessica Faust with a request to explain the statement.

Anonymous said...

So this basically holds true for writing contest too.

If a manuscript has won several contests, and then read by a variety of editors, only to be passed on. Then I assume this particular book would be less attractive to a would-be agent since it has been, in theory, shopped around. Yes?

Anonymous said...

BTW......will the Women's Fiction winner be announced soon?

Chad and Jane said...

Yes, what is going on with the Women's Fiction Contest? Do I detect some arguing behind the scenes and a possible hung jury?

Anonymous said...

I don't think it works the same way for contests. A contest entry that is not a "win" hasn't been rejected either, nor has it seen any other editor at that house. I think an agent would still be free to approach other editors at a house even though one editor in the house placed it second and not first, and might not have requested it.

I could be wrong on this, but my understanding was that editors view contest entries differently than queried or represented projects.

Anonymous said...

I have a hard time with the bit about re-submitting through an agent. I've spent the last year querying a manuscript. I've had two "interested" editors (not interested enough) and a whole stack of rejections, 90% of which state that they don't view queries unless submitted by an agent, despite the fact that the Writer's Market -to which they always refer me- says that they do.

Having queried and then been rejected by some 25 publishing houses then disqualifies me from having an agent query on the same manuscript? That doesn't make much sense. The bulk of my queries were never even read, this much is obvious from the straight-from-the printer perfection of the paper, not to mention the rejection which usually confirms my suspicion.

The bulk of my sample chapters were never even read. Those that were, were probably quickly rejected by an assistant editor (and phone clerk)who was looking for a typo, incorrect salutation, or some other generic reason to reject my work. I realize now that nobody is going to give my manuscript a serious look unless they get it through an agent... but how can I accept the idea that I've ruined the chance of selling it because I sent out queries? It seems an odd way to run a business.

Julie Weathers said...

I love Baen publishing and they accept unagented manuscripts. Even so, I am waiting to get an agent.

I was a Realtor for a long time and there really is more to a business than sticking a for sale sign in the front yard. Just as there is more to publishing than submitting manuscripts.

I'm going to assume my agent has their finger on an editor's pulse and knows how to best approach them. I also hope my agent will have that final critical eye that helps me correct mistakes before the editor sees it.

Children's books are the only thing I might consider submitting myself and I doubt I would even do that.

If I got trapped on a desert island with an editor and we regaled each other with stories to pass the time, said editor might request my story later. Other than that, I don't really envision an instance where an editor would find out about my manuscript.

Anonymous said...

I recently parted ways (amicably)with my agent (she's relatively new to agenting). She had sent a manuscript to six houses (three major, three very minor) who passed; though Random House thought it was a 'powerful crime novel' but'overwhelmingly grim for the genre to reach a wide audience.' Dorchester made an offer which we elected to pass thinking we could get a better offer. After that, the agent seemed to lose interest, even though she supported the decision to decline Dorchester's offer. I subsequently decided to move on. Would this book be considered 'damaged goods' now or might another agent be interested? Or should I simply put it aside and move on with another book and look for another agent for the new book? And should I even mention anywhere in the query process the first book and the Dorchester offer, etc. Or is all that better left out?

Anonymous said...

I think I've seen similar things on various blogs (both authors' and agents') -- but something that many writers don't seem to get is that if you simply query editors, then your book isn't shopped around. And by querying, if you get a request from an editor, then even though it will still go into a slush pile, it's the requested slush pile ;) And if they don't like it at that point, then certainly you've closed a door...but if you're querying the best book you can write, then it doesn't matter if you discover it's not for that editor before acquiring an agent, right?