Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Can an Author Return to the Nest?

Suppose a person gets multiple offers of representation. She makes the choice between the agents, alerts the other offering agents, and starts moving into the submission process herself with her agent. After a year, the agent she chose has not yet sold her work and is not enthusiastic about her second manuscript, so they part ways. Would it be unethical to contact one of the previous offering agents to see if they're interested in the second manuscript? Writers, I assume, even if they're rejected by an agent, they might query said agent again with another project. However, I'm wondering if an agent would consider going for a writer who once turned them down.

There’s nothing unethical about that at all. In fact, I think the smartest thing you could do is contact the agents who have already shown an interest in your work. You know you already have an in and that they like something about your writing so should be your natural first choice. The very worst thing that can happen is that they aren’t enthusiastic about your second book either and reject it. But anytime you’ve had a positive experience with an agent you should use it to your advantage when you need to. That’s called networking.

The truth is that BookEnds does have at least one client who did just this. She chose to go with another agent (we had also offered representation) and as time went on realized that relationship wasn’t working and got in touch with us again. We were and are very happy to have her.

But let me turn this question around to you. I often hear published authors say things like, “I would never contact her again if I needed an agent since she already rejected me.” The implication being, too bad, you lost out because you once rejected my work. If you were on the lookout for an agent again would you consider agents who once rejected you or would you only go to those who had never seen your work?



Nadia said...

I would definitely re-query agents who've rejected me before. I don't think it's a big deal.

But I would NOT re-query agents who never bothered to respond partials / fulls they requested. (This is assuming that I know for a fact that they got the requested materials.) I know that some agents don't respond to queries they're not interested in, which is fine with me as long as they clearly say so on their website. But not responding to requested partials / fulls is just outright rude and unprofessional.

Anonymous said...

How much responsibility does an agent bear for a book not selling? Is a good agent able to sway editors with the power of their pitch or is a good agent - like a good query letter - simply responsible for getting the book read with the responsibility for the sale or no falling at the feet of the writer/quality of the book?
If an agent has few/no fiction sales, but happy clients, satisfied with his/her level of effort/communication, is he/she likely a good agent with bad luck? Or are the clients deluded?

Jess Anastasi said...

Since I'm neither published nor have an agent yet, my opinion is probably a little skewed by that fact. However I would have to say that I would definitely re-query agents who've rejected my work in the past, especially if it's an entirely different project I'm proposing.
Writing is a business, it's my job. An agent hasn't rejected me personally, it just happens they didn't like that particular manuscript I queried. Who is to say they won't be interested in the next one? A good business person cultivates and maintains their network.
IMHO I think for an author (published or not) to say they aren't going to query an agent again just because they were rejected by that agent in the past seems like a good way to burn bridges.

Anonymous said...

Like agents finding the right fit in an author, I would only re-query those agents whom I felt were professional in dealing with me the last time.

I'll refer to that saying: what goes around comes around.

There are so many, say I say, "head strong" agents out there that I wouldn't bother sending anything to them in the first place (they certainly would not make a good fit from my perspective).

Having sent material to an agent and then that "attitude" shines through, in whatever way, then I wouldn't bother with them in the future.

Really, there aren't just a handful of agents out there that authors have to put up with them just to get their material looked at.

If we are professionals, why in the world would we deal with unprofessional people?

Anonymous said...

I would re-query an agent if they rejected my work... especially if their rejection came in the form of a personal note. I've received form rejections and personal rejections. The personal ones (usually containing an explanation or advice) make me think the agent found something in my work they like and that is worth revising. I'd definitely take the offered advice and re-query with either the same work or something new.

I did query one agent who requested a partial then never replied, even after multiple attempts on my part. Clearly, I wouldn't query her again. My limited experience tells me agents like that are the minority.

I do wonder about two things - if one agent sends a rejection, is it okay to query other agents within that agency with the same work? And - if an agent's client list is full at a certain point, is it okay to query her at a later date or is that her way of asking you not to do so?


Unknown said...

I absolutely re-query. I sent around my first ms. to several agents and kept track of those who wrote handwritten notes or something...they were the first I queried with my next ms.

Aimlesswriter said...

I base my querying on what the agents been selling, who they represent and their sale-track record. Those little thank you's the the authors put in the front of their books help too. If they gave me a personal little note they move to the top of my list. :)
If they rejected my last book, they might like my next. If they're a good agent and work hard for their clients that's all that counts. This is business. We have to leave the ego in the backseat.

Anonymous said...

I recently requeried an agent with my new manuscript, even though she rejected my first. I loved her at the pitch appointment and would be more than happy to work with her.

I also had a poor experience at a pitch appointment, with an agent who then rejected my work -- didn't re-query her, but it wasn't because of the rejection.

Julie Weathers said...


I would definitely recontact agents I have queried before unless their rejection letter was something along the lines of, "You stupid twit! Who ever told you to write? Put the keyboard down and back away before someone gets hurt."

I hope that my writing improves all the time. Also, I know my stories are different, so what didn't appeal to a rejecting agent might have changed in a subsequent project.

If I approached an agency once, it was because I thought they would be a good fit for me and my project. I'm not burning any bridges in the name of pride.

I guess I've been very fortunate. Quite a few agents sent me personalized rejections when I was attempting this before. I don't think that will happen again as I understand most have an automatic rejection response now. I don't blame them for that as the workload has to be mind-boggling. However, with a form rejection, there really is no way to know why they passed. The next project may be exactly what they are looking for.

I would go back to my agent who had my children's story again, in a New York minute, if I wrote another children's book.

I would never go back to the agency who had my thriller. I don't like being lied to and I'm quite certain you aren't submitting my manuscript if you can't find it.

"I do wonder about two things - if one agent sends a rejection, is it okay to query other agents within that agency with the same work?"

I won't. I have to assume the first agent knows their fellow agents well enough to pass it on to someone else if they think it will fit them better. I am looking for the right match in an agent, but I also want an agency that works together.

Yes, I want it all!

Mark Terry said...

Try not to burn your bridges, in business or in your personal life.

Beverley Kendall said...

Definitely re-query! No question about it. I'm sure everyone has their list of agents they would love to work with and are out shopping a new project. You immediately head for that list again, I'm sure. Just because they didn't want to represent your prior one, doesn't mean they won't want this one. Things change. Market changes, our writing usually gets better, the story is different. Hopefully all of that will make for a better second time around affair.

Tiffany Clare said...

Why wouldn't you consider someone that rejected you is the past is my question. I've been rejected for one story, some rejected me on query alone, some on partials others on fulls. That just means what I wrote wasn't right for them. The reason I sub'd to those agents that rejected me, to begin with, is because I did my research and think they would best represent my style of work.

In fact, if I made significant change to an ms... I would re-query those who originally rejected me, especially if I only received a form reject--cause the work obviously didn't connect with the agent/editor. Maybe it's wrong of me, maybe not. Hard to say when you don't get specific feedback. :) I just keep puttering along.

Janet said...

Writers who cross an agent off their list for a simple rejection are full of themselves and don't understand how the industry works. They are taking the rejection as a personal insult. They don't seem to realize that there are many possible reasons for the rejection, including the agent's current workload.

But I also would not requery an agent that overpromises and underperforms, or who is uncommunicative. I hate being cut out of the loop and wouldn't want to work with an agent who thinks that's acceptable. I do expect an agent to respect his/her own deadlines or keep me informed if he/she can't. That is simple professional courtesy.

Kimber Li said...

I have a hard time re-querying agents who've rejected with a form letter, having shown zero interest in my work. The reason is not the one you suggested, however. The reason is I assume the agent simply doesn't like my style or is too busy to take on the risk of a never-before-published author. I'd like to avoid the automatic rejection as much as the next aspiring author, yanno.

It's like being average-looking and thinking about asking out a guy who already has a gorgeous girlfriend and a string of other gorgeous girls waiting in the wings.

I admit that may be faulty logic on my part, but we have to do the best we can trying to figure things out in Queryland. This is why I really appreciate this blog and others like it!

Wilfred Bereswill said...

I look at this as a business and it only makes sense to partner with the company or people that are in the best position to to advance your career.

For one thing, authors need a thick skin in order to accept the critisism they will ultimately receive. If an author holds a grudge against an agent that could ultimately take them to the next level is stupidity.

Laura K. Curtis said...

Well, I'd have to say re-querying is fine, since I didn't get my agent with the first manuscript I sent her, I got her the second time around.

And, anonymous 2:10, although my agent has not sold my book, I think she's fabulous. However, she's sold plenty of other fiction--mine just didn't work. If I didn't know her record, I wouldn't have queried her.

As far as I'm concerned, if the agent has done all the right things to get your book into the right hands (and is able to do so--has the connections, etc, which you should be able to tell from previous sales, conversations with her, research, etc), then it's not the agent, it's the book. And that doesn't even necessarily mean the book is bad, just it's not right for the current market.

Anonymous said...

I would definitely requery those who wrote personal rejections after reading a partial or full. I would even query those who form-rejected a query, since I'll always assume it was an assistant (here today, gone tomorrow) who made that call. Like the others here, I wouldn't requery an agent whose agency acted unprofessionally, but if they came to me ...

Jay Montville said...

I would definitely re-query agents who had rejected me in the past, as long as those rejections were professional. I don't mind a form letter - I understand how busy agents are - and I don't even mind no response, if the agent says so up front.

An agent who never replies without a disclaimer that that's her MO would be moved to the bottom of the list for the next project, but not removed. People lose things and make mistakes and get overwhelmed, so I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt if an agent doesn't respond. (I'm talking queries here - like Deborahdale, I believe that an agent should respond to a partial or full. Again, for me a form is fine...just let me know!)

The only agents I remove from my list are those whose behavior seems either unprofessional or indicative of a bad fit for me.

Amie Stuart said...

What Jess said--which is what I was gonna say LOL. It's a business but I think often it's hard for writers to NOT take those rejections personally. Don't get me wrong, we all need to blow off steam after a rejection but then you have to man up.

Janet said...

Kimber, I too am grateful for these agent blogs. That's why I know that a rejection can be based on the agent's current workload, how many queries she has seen with a similar scenario in the last month, how many queries of any kind... In other words, many reasons that have nothing to do with my style or skill. Just the wrong time with the wrong agent for that particular book.

And even if it were my style and skill, hopefully both of those would have improved from one book to the next, so even if I thought that it wouldn't stop me.

Diana Peterfreund said...

My agent rejected work I sent her previously.

If I were ever without an agent in the future, I would reconsider both some agents who rejected me previously (nothing to do with the rejection, just as time passes, things change, both for an agent and for me in terms of market, genre, needs, etc.) and also some of the wonderful, fabulous "too bad I can only pick one" agents who offered me representation previously.

This comment has been removed by the author.
Elyssa Papa said...

I've requeried agents who rejected me the first time around on the manuscript I totally revised and imo made better. So, I have no problems doing that. I queried new agents, too.

If you're unpublished and unagented and you want to change those facts about yourself, why wouldn't you give it another shot?

Anonymous said...

I would re-query an agent that I got some kind of positive feedback from, such as a partial or full request or a personalized rejection that said something positive about my writing. I would probably not go back to those who simply rejected my query or didn't bother to respond at all.

Anonymous said...

Debbie wrote:
I do wonder about two things - if one agent sends a rejection, is it okay to query other agents within that agency with the same work? And - if an agent's client list is full at a certain point, is it okay to query her at a later date or is that her way of asking you not to do so?

At some places, like Writers House and Curtis Brown, you're welcome to query more than one agent--just not at the same time, of course! At other agencies, such as DMA, "a rejection from one agent is a rejection from all." Submission guidelines will tell you.

If an agent says their client list is full, I wouldn't re-query them a few months later with the same project (I assume this is what you mean), hoping their answer will be different. I think you could potentially annoy the agent.

PatriciaW said...

One of my husband's favorite sayings is "People can change." Because it's true.

I would hope that I've grown as a writer in the time since an agent rejected me and I found myself in a position to re-query. So maybe something new in my writing might spark an interest where there was none before.

Without a post like this to make me think about it, ego might have said no. But hey, even the agents who were unprofessional in the past, may have changed. What they represent, their submission guidelines, how many authors they can handle well at a time, which publishers they have relationships with, and maybe even their professionalism.

So yes, I would. People can change.

Anonymous said...

I would not re-query an agent who rejected me with the same work, however I might query them on a new work.

I want an agent who says "yes" the first time they see the project, since that would indicate true enthusiasm and interest.

kris said...

When I was querying agents, I rarely sent new work to an agent who had previously rejected me unless that agent had specifically said "Please send me more." Not because of an excess of ego, but more because of a lack thereof :-) I just thought that if the voice, style, etc didn't work for them the first time, then it probably wouldn't catch them later. I was certain that if I went back to them with something else, my name would be placed on the Giant Revolving Agent Hall of Slow Learners board.

(In my own defense, this was back in the dark ages before agent blogs, when it was more difficult to learn about the ins & outs of the business.)

Travis Erwin said...

I would never eliminate an agent or agency from my list simply because they rejected me.

I'm supposing if I felt the rejection were handled poorly or they made a personal attack on me I would move one but that has never happened.

matter of fact I'm about to start querying on my latest project and I plan to start with a couple of agents that rejected my full simply because they took the time to talk specifics with me on why they rejected the last project. I appreciated the extra time they gave me and therefore I'll give them first crack.

Chris Redding said...

There are several agents who have rejected me some more than once.
I have not ruled them out.
Only bad behavior gets you off my list.

Liana Brooks said...

I haven't queried yet but I don't think a simple rejection would turn me off of an agent. Other things might. Maybe the agent starts representing books that aren't in my genre or the agent goes off the deep-end and refuses any book who's main character isn't named Magenta, stranger things could happen.

How the rejection comes might matter. I'm picky about business, I like to get things done in a timely and orderly fashion and if I have an agent who sits on partials for 18 months or someone who can't respond to resonable questions and inquires about the process I wouldn't want to be in a business relationship with them.

Angie Fox said...

Oh gosh, if I didn't re-query agents who'd rejected me before, I don't think I would have had any agents to query!

Rejection is part of the business. An agent might not like one story idea, but it's not personal. I grew a lot as a writer from the very first time I wrote a book until I learned enough about the craft to write the book that eventually sold.

Just as agents gave me another chance, I drew up my "dream list" and did the same. And, having had those rejections, I knew more about the process and who to query first.

Anonymous said...

Seems like a few people here are not reading the original post correctly. The poster asks about querying the same agent FOR THE SAME MANUSCRIPT after said agent rejected the ms.
I would say screw that. A different ms. sure, but the same one? Pass. On to the next.

jjdebenedictis said...

If I had a bad experience at the hands of an agent, I wouldn't query them again.

However, rejection letters are business as usual. Getting one of those is no reason to knock someone off my list.

jjdebenedictis said...

Anon 4:55PM, I think you've misread the original post. See the following:

Would it be unethical to contact one of the previous offering agents to see if they're interested in the second manuscript? (emphasis mine)

T. M. Hunter said...

Like others, I would base my decision on the first rejection.

There are some rejections where it was blatantly obvious they didn't even bother reading the query. There are some that didn't bother responding to the query. Those I likely won't query again.

I keep track in a next time, I'll have an idea of where to submit.

Anonymous said...

Just keep firin' those puppies out! Send 3 times to each agency as a matter of course. Even if you get an acceptance--send the same query to the same agent to make sure they don't reject it the second time around. Send, send, send!

Elissa M said...

I would re-query any agent if I thought my new project would interest them. It seems very immature to "reject" an agent just because he/she passed on an earlier project. A lot of authors seem to be their own worst enemies when it comes to behaving in a businesslike manner. Now, if an agent actually scrawled "never query me again, you worthless dope" across the rejection letter, well...