Clocking in at the Widget Factory

Dear Miss Snark,

I have an acquaintence who completed a novel two or three years ago. She sent out a number of queries and started collecting rejection letters when, at the point of giving up, she received an offer of representation. Since then she has, at the behest of her agent, rewritten the novel several times. For two years. Without the agent sending it out to any editors. I don't know this woman well enough to ask if she has paid this agent money. I did ask her if she was concerned that the book had not been shopped at all in two years. She says trusts her agent, whom she recently met on a trip to NYC. The agent apparently loves her book, but isn't sure it or the market is quite ready yet.

From what I can gather, the agent is the foreign rights representative for some agency (the author won't divulge the name) and worked for a time as an editor at Random House. Does this happen -- this long term babysitting of a work in progress? It doesn't seem to fit the patterns you describe here on the site.

It's really hard to comment on a situation without knowing what the agent is actually saying. I've heard people talk about letters from "their agent" only to realize they were referring to ongoing rejection letters.

Without commenting specifically on this example, I can tell you that yes, this does happen. I've got a couple things right now that are being redrafted. Usually I only take on things that I think are ready to be shopped right away but sometimes I don't. And sometimes I'll send things back for redrafting after we've gotten some feedback from the rejection letters.

Your more general question of "can stuff happen that isn't like what is described here on the blog and not be a red flag" the answer is a big fat 'you betcha'. There are a lot of agents, a lot of projects and authors aren't widgets. Not that some of them wouldn't benefit from a ball peen hammer to the diemold some days...but you get the drift.


Termagant 2 said...

At minimum, I'd be tempted to ask the agent at what point she might be ready to start shopping it around. Not to have some sort of plan at this point seems like they're wasting each other's time.

And after 2+ years of revising, I'd be ready to bet the author is heartily sick of this MS and ready to move on to something new...


Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Sounds like what I went through...

Cut your losses and find someone new.

Southern Writer said...

Yeah, but two years? KY! Where's your snark? Go get her. Where is she? Is she hiding somewhere? Did someone kidnap her? Has she eloped with George Clooney??? I'm sure if the real Miss Snark were here, she'd tell the writer's friend to dump that agent like a bad boyfriend. And she'd tell the agent to get off her lazy ass and either shop that manuscript, or provide a damn good reason why she hasn't.

If a manuscript hasn't been polished enough in two years to shop it, why did the agent take it on in the first place?

Bugwit Homilies said...

I am so relieved. Five years ago, I received a letter from a publishing house that said “The world is not yet ready for your ‘style’ of writing. But recent trends in education tell us that by 2010, your novel will be just about ready. Call us then.”

Only four more years and I’m rich!

Anonymous said...

I recently sold my first novel after having a similar experience as said friend. 3 years ago, after my agent agreed to represent it, she asked me to revise. This took 8 months. Then we sent it out to five places. At the time she was a small-ish agent (similar to your friend) but she sent it to pretty big publishers. It took aproximately 6 months to get rejected by all 5 editors. And during those months I was very bummed and stressed, and my friends thought I was a fool for hanging onto my agent. I had my doubts, but I had met her and in person, she was sincere and smart. But the fact is, it takes a long time to read a ms. And there are a million of us. Anyway once it got rejected, I re-grouped. Most of the rejections said the same thing: "unsympathetic narrator, and too many characters". One editor said that he'd look at it again if I revised. I revised and cut off 2 main characters and 150 pages. This took another 8 months. Then she sent it out again. The editor who said he'd look at it again had left his job by this point, so we started over with new submissions. 6 months later the books was accepted. It'll be out this coming January, which is almost 4 years from when I initially queried my agent. two years seems like a long time, but the world is littered with people who spend thier whole lives not publishing thier books. why do you care whether your friend has a good agent or not? something about your concern seems vindictive? we should be happy that's she's still writing. even if her agent turns out to be bogus, she'll have written a better book.