9.05.2005

oooops.....


My former agent told me my nonfiction proposal was "great!" Then he immediately sent it out to six large trade houses and three university presses. The only sign of interest came from a university press that had already published an earlier work of mine. It was listed in my author's bio. It didn't occur to me to say to the agent, "Oh, by the way, please don't send my proposal there. If I'd wanted them to publish my work, I wouldn't have bothered getting an agent in the first place" (which was also true of the two other university presses). It was embarrassing to get a call from the director of the press, whom I know well, and have to say, "Well, I'm really looking to place this book at a trade house." Should agents let their clients know beforehand where they are sending the client's proposal, or should clients spell out a problem like this? Or should an agent say, "I'm not sure that your book is commercial material, so I'd like to include a couple of university presses, too"? That would be a lot more helpful than "It's great!"


We've all done stuff like that. I once sent a hot diggety dog proposal to an editor cause I KNEW it was perfect for her. She'd just moved houses, was building her list, and we were going like gangbusters. Turns out one of the books the proposal cited as competition with some less than flattering words was...of course...published by this editor's new house. Ooops.

There's a lot I don't keep in my head. I try to keep pretty detailed notes. But if you don't want your book proposal to go to university presses in general or a press in particular, regardless of "should" , I'd advise saying something and putting it in an email too. I'd much rather feel stupid with a client if I have to feel stupid somewhere, than with an editor, and her boss, in a meeting.

I don't usually tell clients where I'm sending things ahead of time. I let them know post submission, and if there is any feedback.

9 comments:

kitty said...

What, is Miss Snark trying on the whole blogger template collection?

Miss Snark said...

well...yes...but it's the middle of the night. Didn't you see the sign "pardon my font while I adjust my paint job"?

Anonymous said...

What's your reasoning for not telling authors ahead of time where you are submitting their work? That doesn't make sense to me.

Miss Snark said...

Mostly cause it's more work for no payoff as far as I can see. Keeping track of where manuscripts are, who's reading them, what's been sent, and responses is a very detail-oriented part of the job. If I had to factor in emailing a client every time I update a submission data base...yuck.

I keep my clients generally informed of where their stuff is but I don't ask for, or wait for their approval before I send work to a publisher.

If they have preferences, as you did, for no university presses, or no XYZ, that should be discussed BEFORE you sign for representation.

If this is a deal breaker thing for you, make sure you know how an agent works before you sign. Some agents may not mind; I would. You'd be better off with someone else.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't the one with the original query, MS. I'm an editor who doesn't seen why it would be so difficult to email a client with a note that says, "I'm about to send your manuscript to the following imprints... I'll keep you posted on responses." If one of your authors ASKS where her manuscript is being submitted, will you tell her? If I were the author, I'd want to know where my agent was sending my work. I don't see anything to be gained by keeping an author in the dark, particularly since the author has to have final approval over the deal anyway. Then again, I get the feeling you prefer to keep your authors at arm's-length anyway, so maybe I shouldn't be surprised.

Frances said...

Don't you give your clients a general guide to where you are submitting, saying I am thinking of Riverhead, Knopf, places like that? Or I've sent it to xx editors in this round?

Catja (green_knight) said...

I would have thought that large-scale decisions (prefer/hate large/small/academic publishers; will/will not accept YA imprint) are things agents and clients discuss. Particularly if the client feels strongly about it.

Anonymous said...

To avoid confusion, Miss Snark, I'm the person who originally sent the question. And I certainly understand the difficulties of keeping track of where you are sending out proposals for several clients at one time.

As one of the bloggers above (an editor) suggested, maybe the secret lies in a good conversation between prospective agent and client at the start. In my case, if I knew that my agent was going to send out my proposal to both commercial presses and university presses, I'd have had the opportunity to say, "Well, if that's so, maybe we need to talk about what you think my chances are for trade publication are."

It wasn't the agent's fault. He was a high-powered guy who liked to blitzkrieg all sorts of possibilities. I should have insisted on talking to him up front.

Anonymous said...

My apologies for the poor proofreading: "...what you think my chances are...are." That ain't the way I proofread queries, BTW.

But it gives me an opportunity to add a thought. We unpublished authors--and I'm speaking mostly of myself--really need to gather up some self-confidence in the early stages of dealing with agents. Look, I was practically desperate when this guy--a big New York agent--said my work was "great!" So I didn't question him.

Well, it wasn't anywhere near great. It was, at best, "intriguing." That's not "great" with an exclamation mark. In fact, the proposal was chancy.

I still want to place my book with a major commercial house, but, well, it may just not get there. Tell you this, though, it will never go to that university press I mentioned--cause I don't want the agent who sent the proposal there to be the agent of record for my book. Ever.