Monday, January 12, 2009

Well Played

I’ve often complained to you about the authors who, only after I request more material or call to offer representation, let me know that they have already accepted representation. Well, today I have a story of an author who is clearly smart, professional, and, as far as I’m concerned, going places.

In October I received a snail-mailed requested proposal for a novel. The proposal arrived at the end of October, so I was still running well within my time schedule when I received an e-mail from the author on the day before Thanksgiving letting me know he had received an offer of representation. Wise author this, he assumed that of course I would want to read the full manuscript and simply attached it for me. Smart, very smart. This author knows he has written a great book (knew that before the offer, in fact) and marketed it to me as a must-see rather than asking if maybe I wanted to read the rest. Get the difference? Strong and assertive makes us want something. The author also gave two weeks' time. I assume this had something to do with the holiday, but also allowed all interested agents plenty of time to get to reading. He probably could have given through the weekend, but why rush everyone if you don’t need to? Again, this was his opportunity to find the perfect agent and he was making sure he had every chance to do so.

It did take me longer than normal to read the material since I was traveling and because I had to think about it long and hard. It was a very, very difficult decision for me. I really, really liked the book and I know that it has huge potential, but I just didn’t think I was the strongest agent for it. I spent a day just processing the book and my role as the agent. Was I selling myself short by not thinking I could do as well with the book as other agents? I don't think so, in fact I don't think I was selling myself short at all. I was being realistic about my abilities. I knew I could get as good a deal as anyone else, but I also knew the book needed some editing before going to publishers and frankly, I wasn't sure I would be able to give the best feedback.

In the end, I needed to keep the author's best interests in mind and I decided to pass. There were five other agents who had offered representation, why throw my hat into the ring just to see what would happen? 

I wish the author the very best of luck and can’t wait to see the inevitable deal in Publishers Marketplace.



Anonymous said...

Good for him and for you for stepping aside! Did you explain this to the author? When writers get a rejection, esp. a form, we have no idea how close we came...It'd be nice if agents expressed their regrets and offered praise as well.
Helps to know agents don't reject solely on the basis of the book.

Anonymous said...

I'm just curious, if telling an agent that someone else is interested in your mss makes them read it, what keeps authors from lying just to push you into it? It seems like a step a dishonest person wouldn't have any problem doing, and an easy way to get past a so-so query.

Anonymous said...

I should have added not only dishonest, but a desperate person also might give it a shot.

Anonymous said...

anon, I'm sure that happens from time to time, but when you do have several agents interested, you need to be honest with the agents. It gives them time to decide if they want to fight for the right to represent you, or bow out gracefully like Jessica did. And I don't think it's all that uncommon....when a great ms is shopped and the stars are aligned, this move quickly!

Anonymous said...

It takes a well-rounded agent, who is confident in herself to NOT make a play for a book just because others have. Kudos to you for that. Others do not have this self-restraint.

I do have a minor disagreement with one part of the post, though.

While this "strong and assertive" writer who portrays his/her book as a "must-read" might have piqued your interest, those same qualities, to other agents, might be taken as a writer who is a pompus ass who thinks he's written a best seller.

I'd say humble but professional might be the better way to go.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

What a great story to share! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I'm not saying that the author shouldn't tell an agent up front that someone else is interested. I was just saying it would be a clever way for someone to get an agent to read their stuff. I've written the next best-seller in my brain also, and figure instead of fighting the system to get someone to read it, why not just lie and tell them other agents are reading it. Not something I could do, but I love playing the devil's advocate.

Anonymous said...

Anon, you're right and I'm sure it's been done before. If you do have the balls to do something like this, you'd better have the talent to back it up. Truthfully, there's nothing stopping anyone from sending ms' out to agents, editors or houses and saying it's been requested material. But they have ways of finding out, and once it's been've a mark against really is an authors dream to have agents fighting over your material....means there's something special there.

Anonymous said...


If they don't have the talent they still have nothing to lose. And NO I certainly don't have the balls! I'll go the traditional route and let them fight for me the old fashion way. LOL. And, I'm with you I'm sure it has been done. All it takes is one of those agents you lied to, to like what you've written. Then who cares about the black mark, not you if your dishonest anyway.

About Me said...

What a luck author to you have several agents interested in his book. You don't see that everyday.

Thanks for sharing Jessica.

Kimber Li said...

Great story. I can't get past his confidence though. How can an author be that confident right out of the gate? Did he have exceptional mentors?

Sure, I love my own stories and they're my favorite stories in the world, but I accept not everyone will feel the same way. Of course, my stories never fit trends or the confines of any known genre either, which I accept makes them not as marketable as those which do.

Michael Edelson said...

"I really, really liked the book and I know that it has huge potential, but I just didn’t think I was the strongest agent for it."

Okay, I don't want to seem to speak for most authors (though I think I do), but this drives us up the wall.

In this specific situation, when the author in question had five offers or representation, your decision was reasonable and probably good for the author (or you sold yourself short—your reputation precedes you). However, I can't count the number of times I've read these same words on agent's blogs when the author was not as fortunate.

For an unpublished author, landing an agent is akin to wining the lotto, so with that in mind, allow me translate the above words to fit the analogy: “well this ticket holder has won the mega millions, but I just don’t think I’m the right two hundred and fifty million dollars for him so I’ll give myself to someone else.”

Madness! Considering the odds of finding an agent whose tastes match your book, when you cut such an author loose in the tempestuous sea of publishing, his odds of sailing his ragged dinghy into the right agent’s port (again?) go right back to slim to none.

Please allow me to make this a bit more personal. I know I wrote a great book (two, actually), I know this because I circulate my work to a large network of test readers, usually friends of friends so that there is no personal connection to color results. The feedback I’ve received was along the lines of “this is awesome, I couldn’t put it down, it gave me goose bumps, it made me cry”. Great for me, but now what? Now I have to find an agent, and not only does that mean twisting my head into knots for months to write a decent pitch, it also means coming face to face with the above mentioned beast. “I really thought it was a great manuscript, but I’m not the strongest agent for it, thanks, goodbye and happy sailing. Oh and make sure to patch those leaks in your ridiculous little boat, muhahahahaha!”

I think I speak for most unpublished authors when I say we don’t care if you’re the strongest agent, or the right agent, or that you live in a floating conch shack in the middle of the Atlantic (as long as you have an internet connection). Maybe once I’ve sold some novels and people take me seriously I can afford to shop around, but right now I think that, like most other unpublished authors who are still holding onto the dream, I just want AN agent. A real agent, a successful agent, one who has sold books, to be sure, but really, any agent fitting that description will do. At the end of the day, an agent is ten orders of magnitude better than no agent at all, even if he or she mostly sells romance and you wrote a science fiction thriller.

Kristan said...

Very cool anecdote. I like seeing this, and knowing that his confidence didn't turn you off. I think it's hard to know where to draw that line (between confidence and arrogance).

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:16. I feel your pain. But, frankly, you angst too much. If your book/books are as good as your beta readers say, then you will find that agent. It's a painful, frightening and frustrating but necessary process to query and find an agent. Unless you know someone who knows someone, you have no choice but to wade right in with the rest of us. You've got the talent, apparently. You've got the books that would appear to be marketable. The rest will come. Get querying. And damn the torpedoes...full speed ahead. And remember all these feelings of trepidation you are feeling when you do land an agent and get published. Don't forget those you left behind. Pay it forward. And good luck.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE this post. I can't think of a better way for you to have illustrated why "this doesn't fit our needs", e.g., is not the kiss of death most of us thinks it is. In this case, you loved the book and its potential, but felt that YOU didn't fit well enough with the author's needs. And to be able to not only do that but to tell us about it is pretty cool.

Anonymous said...

I agree totally Michael.If you like my mss and I haven't found anyone else, then you are the best representation for my book by default. I have often griped about this before. My job is to write, and I can't write if I am spending half a year looking for an agent. It takes way too much of my time on the business end of it. If you as an agent like what I have but don't think your the best representative, then by gosh take my money for this book and let the agents fight for me later.

And it makes me even angrier, when I think of tricks people could use to get an agent. What if I had a similiar book to this guy who managed to get Jessica to rush read his book. Did she bother to find out if he really had several agents making offers. I doubt it. I won't stoop to that level, and it makes me angry to think Jessica could have been reading my mss during her travel time. Well yeah, it's better for an author to let you know someone else is looking at your mss, whether it is true or not! I'm not faulting you personally, Jessica, but you do see where you could have been duped?

I cofident too, but he was arrogant and it worked.

Frustrated and Too busy for nonsense

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

I want to drop in for just a minute to address a couple of things.

Anon 9:54. Yes, there is nothing stopping authors from simply lying and saying they have an offer and I will tell you that there has been more then one time when we here at the office wondered if that was happening. It might have gotten a faster read for them, but in the end it probably really didn't help out. Also keep in mind, it's not necessarily an easy way to get past a query. If you send the query and tell me you have an offer, I still might reject reading more based on the query, especially if I think you're already in good hands.

Okay, the second point I want to address is this author's confidence. Since it seemed to touch a "nerve" for lack of a better word. Never, would anyone think this author came across as arrogant. Sending the full manuscript with an offer in hand (I already had requested the proposal) really just came across as helpful. I still could have easily passed and if I wanted to read more I now had it in hand. Keep in mind, this confidence didn't come "right out of the gate." The author had at least one offer already and probably a full request or two from other agents. At this point he just wanted to make sure the agents he was most interested in had his manuscript.


Anonymous said...

I have done the same thing Michael has, test audiences. Emotions brought out by a book are a pretty good idea on whether you have a good one or not. Michael too bad I'm not an agent, I'd love to read your book.

Now here is my beef, confidence and arrogance. I know I have a good book, just like Michael does. Can we put that we tested audiences, or does that come off cocky? and will it put you off? I have read about the over confidence thing over and over, but it worked for that guy. I am so confused.

Jessica Nelson said...

wow, what an interesting post. That author does sound smart. I hope he got the best agent for his book. :-)
Thanks for sharing.

Dal Jeanis said...

To the Anons who suggest that pretending other agents are interested has no down side, consider this--

First, if other agents are not interested, there is probably a reason in the manuscript, which will be obvious to any agent that does read the work. So you will be found out.

Second, once you start lying and are found out, you have lost something you can never redeem: your credibility.

Third, if you have any talent, your next work will be better, and the one after that, better still. Do you really want to spend your credibility NOW, so cheaply, on a work that isn't the best you will produce?

* * *

Michael - Consider it as dating. The query letter is like asking her for coffee.

What you're saying is, you don't care what she's like, you just want to get to third base with someone.

Time out. She's telling you that you're a nice guy but it ain't quite going to work with her. So, the natural question to follow up with (after a decent interval) is, "Well, I'm disappointed of course, but who do you know that might like to go out me?"

For agents, that would be, "I'm so glad you liked it. What other agents do you know that would be a better fit for this manuscript?"

(An agent is going to invest a lot of time and energy in any novel they choose to represent. They will, of course, pick the ones they believe are most likely to actually produce a published book. So get referrals to those people who might be able to do so.)

And, with regard to your writing, get back and get to work on novel number three, which might be the one that works as-is for someone. It sounds from your feedback like you have a career ahead of you.

No writing is wasted at that point.

Unknown said...

If you're unrepresented, it may seem like the wrong agent is better than no agent, but that's really not true. If an agent cannot be a passionate advocate for your work, you'll be in the same unpublished boat, except you'll also be precluded from looking for someone who CAN be a passionate advocate for your work. And you're likely to spend a year or more making no forward progress.

Jessica, thanks for sharing the story. It's really good form for an author who has one offer to step back for a moment, take a breath, and inform other agents of that, rather than jumping on the first offer right away. Professionalism is always the right choice!

Anonymous said...


I love your comments, but don't you know women like the bad boys! :)

Seriously, I do love your comments. You always have a level head and look at everything from everyone's point of view.

One point though, wonder if this guy really does have a good mss? There are lots of us out there that do. It's not going to come back and bite him. You are assuming he's been rejected, maybe he's just like me looking for a short cut. (And I repeat I would NOT do this! I'm the person who gives blood regulary, terrified of needles and just about pass out everytime, because I feel guilty. I have the good stuff (O- in case you were wondering).

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, Jael, I still have a hard time believing that. Not every book is going to have that agent that is passionate about the work. There has to be books out there that break into a new realm of readers. There also has to be mss that agents are tired of seeing, but just like the YA vampire books, there is still a market out there and agents are tired of seeing them.

Anonymous said...

Jael is right. And the anon that said any agent is better than no agent does not get it.

The wrong agent can ruin years of your writing career.

You're not getting the point of Jessica's post if you're moaning that your manuscripts are great but you're not getting an agent. Getting an agent is easy. Writing a terrific manuscript that attracts several agents is the tough part.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for mentioning me in your blog, and thanks for your friendliness and professionalism during the query process.
If I am ever in the market for an agent again, I will be knocking on your door!



Anonymous said...

Couple of things:

There's a huge drawback to lying about having an offer that I haven't seen mentioned yet. If an author tells me they have an offer and I like the book, but feel it needs quite a bit of work, I'll oftentimes just pass, figuring that there isn't time to see revisions. If the author weren't waiting with an offer on the table, then I may be inclined to offer very specific feedback and hope to see it resubmitted.

Michael - I know this can be a frustrating business, but trust me, you don't want just any agent. The wrong agent can be much more detrimental than no agent. It can stall your writing career further and point you in all the wrong directions. If an agent is unknown in the genre of your choosing, then you're no better off with their name on your submission than you are with your own. And while the book sits languishing on what may be the wrong editor's desk, you could've been out finding the right agent who put it under the right nose and negotiated you a six-figure deal.

And speaking from the agent's perspective, we don't want to sacrifice our own credibility by pretending we have expertise in an area we so clearly don't.

Anonymous said...

This post addresses the issue of dishonest authors lying about getting another offer. As someone who did get more than one offer of representation, let me offer my opinion that getting caught lying is a real threat. As Kim L said, you could be shooting yourself in the foot regarding potential revisions. And if the agent offers representation, there are certain questions/procedures you as an author will go through with each agent. Unless you're familiar with the process, you may not realize what all is involved. None of the agents who offered to represent me could have doubted my sincerity because I talked to their authors. Authors talk. Agents know one another. My advice: Don't even consider lying about it. Your chances of getting caught are higher than you might think.

Anonymous said...

Jael & Anon 3:51

I'm just curious what genre you write, that it seems so cut and dry.

And Kim,

Obviously this wasn't out of Jessica's genre or she wouldn't have read it at all. And we all know she is well respected. It seemed to me she didn't feel she was the best, but from PB's post it looked like he really wanted her. Apparently there was some quality in her that he prefered.

Wonder if PB prefered Jessica for his own reasoning. A perfect agent for every book published seems very far-fetched, and I think Michael is right, it is a lotto. We do our homework, we know the unrespected agents, and I feel
the author should have some say so on whether or not Jessica represented his book, if Jessica has any interest. If what Jessica wrote was true then she sould have said PB: Here are the X number of reasons why I may not be the best agent for you, and then he should have been the on deciding.

Michael, I feel your frustration.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:37

I believe everyone was complaining about it, not saying they were going to do it. At least in my post that is what I was saying.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 4:57 -- My comments were directed less at Jessica's original post than to Michael's comment: "At the end of the day, an agent is ten orders of magnitude better than no agent at all, even if he or she mostly sells romance and you wrote a science fiction thriller."

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:02, this is anon 4:37. I was aware that the posters here weren't considering doing such an unethical thing. But since the subject came up, I imagined there were potential, unethical readers who didn't post and might think they could get away with it. I've heard awful stories of authors stooping to stealing synopses from contests - and even stealing plot points from friends' published books. Most of us are too proud of our work to even think of engaging in such dishonest behavior. But not everyone is honest, so I wanted to post a warning. Who among us wants to see a rat get a shot at a great agent when the honest writers work so hard?

Kelly Meding/Kelly Meade said...

I'm chiming in to agree with those who've said "no agent is better than the wrong agent." And I think Dal Jeanis touched on it well with his dating analogy.

For the folks who just want someone to sell their work, then think once they have a few sales under their belt, they've got the freedom to shop around for a really good agent? *laughs*

Agents are hardworking people, and from what I've gleaned over the years, most of the agents worth their salt want to build a long-term relationship with their authors. They want to build their clients up, keep selling their books, and they do a damned good job at this. Just because an agent thinks they can sell your book, that doesn't mean they owe you representation. And conversely, you shouldn't settle for the first agent who offers if you have reservations.

But dumping an agent who gets you your first contracts because you think you have the cred to find someone better? Not cool, and very unprofessional.

Anonymous said...

This happened to me: I received an offer when I had partials and fulls still out. I e-mailed everyone who had already requested material. About half of the agents asked me who had made the offer. If I had been lying about the offer I had on the table, I would have been caught-red handed.


Anonymous said...

I'm just curious, Jessica and Kim, if someone brought you a mss that wasn't your normal genre, and they had been through sending query letters to several agents unsuccessfully and somehow you decided to read it, and you adored the mss and I know you both are very professional and probably wouldn't do this, but can you tell me that if you recommened the mss to a publisher, they wouldn't even consider it? (I know that was a horribly long run on question)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 8:01 --

If it were a genre (like science fiction or children's) handled by a set of editors completely outside the group I work with, then my name on the manuscript would mean nothing to them. They'd still consider it, but would be unlikely to prioritize it or put any stock in my stamp of approval.

If it's an editor that's familiar with me and knows the types of books I usually handle, they'd still give little credence to my endorsement of a completely different genre, because they know it's something I don't have prior experience with. The book would still eventually be considered, but wouldn't be given the same kind of priority or interest as if it had been sent by a more suitable agent.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the blog. I think writers need to be reminded that it’s okay to have confidence. After a few rejections, okay a lot of rejections, and bending over backward to make sure everything is just to the agent’s specifications (I’ve actually read several submission requirements that say, ‘if you do not do A, B and C, I will not read your query at all.) A writer tends to feel like a very small fish in a very large ocean and the focus switches from: ‘Do I have a manuscript for you, to: Let’s not irritate the agent.
I’m not complaining, not really. I mean, let’s face it; there are way more of us then there are of you.
A spine of steel? I had one somewhere, I think I’ll pull it out again. Thanks.