I've practically sold the thing, but I'll be glad to pay you to just deliver it


Based on his reading of a short story of mine a couple of years ago, the Managing Editor of a top publishing house here in NYC offered to read the ms of my novel once it was finished. It's finished. Proofed and re-proofed, though not yet reproved -- which is what I'm most eager to get, as it's currently at 162K words. Problem is, he's prohibited from so much as peeking at an ms unless it comes through the door in the hand of an agent.

Is any of this relevant in a query letter, or would it simply sound like so much name-dropping?

I'm more than happy to give an agent 15% for her time and effort. In this case, all she has to do (it seems to me) is messenger or hand-deliver a document. Not read it, evaluate it, even think about it. And since the understanding I have with this Editor is a prior one, her reputation's not on the line.

Maybe I'm missing something. Please advise.

ya well, you're missing a lot.

First of all, that part about "prohibited from so much as peeking at a manuscript unless it comes through an agent" is bunk. I get at least one call a month from an editor who has a project they got through the back door and now need an agent on board for the process. They've read it, liked it and want to offer on it.

Second, the idea that I don't read everything that goes out of this office with my name on a cover letter is insane. I don't care if you're Stephen King, Gore Vidal AND Laurie King. The ONLY thing I have in this business is my reputatation for offering good projects. I'm not some sort of re-mailing facility.

Third, the publishing turnover rate is about 25% these days. Are you even sure the "managing editor" which is a newspaper title, not a publishing title as far as I know, still there?

And fourth. If you're under the impression that the only thing an agent does is send work to editors, you haven't been paying attention to this blog. That's just the start.

If you sent this information to me in a query letter, as you have it here, I'd probably pass. I prefer to sign clients who understand the value of an agent and don't think they're being kind and generous by paying for that value.

You'd be ahead of the game to simply say "Herbert Hoover at Chicken Pot Pie Press expressed interest in reading my novel after he read a short story of mine in 1962 (or whenever)". Leave out any commentary about how this makes my job easier and I don't have to worry about actually reading the thing. Good writing can overcome nitwittery, it's true, but try not to shoot yourself in the ass.


Anonymous said...

The managing editors at the houses I know have jobs in production. And an offer to read an MS is a long way from easy money for an agent. It's like meeting a "development girl" at a bar on Melrose and telling your friends she's "interested" in your script. Even in LA, you can only eat lunch on that for about 3 minutes.

Anonymous said...

Friend of mine works at one of those houses that "don't look at unagented material." Here's how it works: if they hook up with you in some unorthodox way and like your work, they send you a letter: "Would love to work on this further. Get an agent. Here's a list of people we recommend and have worked with in the past." Then you contact agent, show them the work and the letter and see if they want to play in your sandbox. Some agents will, some won't. If the editor is in a REALLY good mood, they call Miss Snark directly. That's kindness for you.

Lisa Hunter said...

I have to agree. If he read your story two years ago, he probably doesn't remember who you are. The remark about not being able to touch an unagented script may just be a polite brush off.

Deirdre said...

If he's the "Managing Editor," why would he be prohibited from looking at unagented mss, especially mss he requests personally? Just query him. He'll tell you what happens next.

Just Me said...

Just to say that over here (Ireland) 'managing editor' is a standard title in publishing. It's the head of the editorial department - a person with a lot of clout, and certainly someone who'd be free to read an unagented ms if he or she wants to.

Miss Snark said...

all my answers and info are based on US geography, titles, companies, and protocols. If you're writing a question from Ireland or Australia, or Rabbitania, best to let me know so I can say: dunno bout there but HERE, managing editor isn't a title I see very often when I'm dialing for dollars

Anonymous said...

Managing editors exist. They do not acquire. They do not receive submissions. They do not edit.

They make the trains run on time.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all of your helpful comments!

For what it's worth, his title is not "Managing Editor." Let's just say he's the captain of the ship -- and let it go at that. But even captains of ships don't make decisions unilaterally -- no, not even in war time. And trying to get lit fiction (as I'm sure most of you already know) published these days feels like war.

I didn't ask him to read the story in the first place, and I didn't ask him to read my ms once it was finished. He volunteered both -- as the story came to him through a third party (whom I ALSO didn't ask to share it with him).

His professional reputation and credits would suggest that he does a LITTLE BIT more than "make the trains run on time."

Thanks again to all!


River Falls said...

If you plan to write more than one book in your life, you'll want an agent who reads your work, loves your work, and is passionate about developing your career. You don't want someone who would just shrug and deliver your manuscript unread in order to collect an easy 15%. How hard will someone work for you while negotiating all those cryptic contract clauses if he or she isn't interested in developing a long-term working relationship with you?

Elektra said...

It seems to me that an agent would want to take especial care to read and review the ms, since there's already an editor on the line.

Anonymous said...

Even if this important person you speaketh of was your brother, if he doesn't like the ms, or if it doesn't look like it will sell well, then forget it.

The thing that you can take from Miss Snark's suggestion is that if you do land a good agent because of this exchange with a publisher and the ms is rejected (I've been there and done that *twice*), you are still ahead of the game because now you have a strong advocate in your corner who can possibly sell your work somewhere else.

Connections can only get you so far in the business. The work has to carry you all the way home.

Leslea said...

I am a complete and total publishing newbie. I'm writing my first book (not my first attempt, but my first honest-to-God I'm-a-gonna-finish-this book), and I find posts like this to be so fascinating, because even in the deepest realms of my ignorance, I would not dream of approaching an agent like this. There are simply too many explanations and caveats included. Sorry, RBB, but it just smells of desperation, and when you are desperate, things don't work out. It's how life works.

Ms. Snark, you continue to know this, but I need to reiterate it: you SO rule. Thank you.

December Quinn said...

If he's "prohibited from so much as peeking at a ms unless it comes through an agent" (which really is a little hard to believe if he's so important)...

How did he manage to read your short story to begin with?

And why did he then say, "Send me your novel" when he knew he couldn't look at it?

Anonymous said...

River Falls and Elektra,

Good points both! Thanks for reminding me.


Yes and no. I believe there comes a point when even the most conscientious of agents will simply throw up her hands on an ms and be done with it.


Thank you for sharing your very cogent observations and deep insights. Now please run along and make another video of white boys trying to sound like black boys. What a FRESH concept!

And I think if I read one more time "MS, you SO rock/rule," I'm gonna lose lunch. When I hear that from my eleven-year-old, I forgive her. When I hear it from an adult, I wanna reach for FLUSH as I grovel up to the toilet bowl.

december quinn,

For what it's worth, the corporate prohibition on reading unagented manuscripts occurred between his reading of the short story and my finishing the novel.

Thanks again to all for looking in and commenting. I think we've exhausted this topic.