I gotcher break out riiiight here Mr. Shawshank

Dear Miss Snark --

I recieved a phonecall from an agent today that left me puzzled; I hope you can help me make sense of it. He had read my manuscript and while he thought it was good, and even sellable, it wasn't a "breakout" book. Therefore, he was passing. That's all well and good, but then he told me that in today's market it was a bad idea to have one of your books published that wasn't a breakout best-seller, as it would doom you to small books forever. So, his advice was to shelve this book, and every one I write after it until I had something that could clear a big advance, get the requisite press and marketing push and be a best seller.

What's your take on this?

EVERY agent and editor I know has more stories than fingers and toes about books they thought would sell like hotcakes, and didn't.

Same ratio for books they thought would do just ok and then zoomed into the stratosphere.

A lot of us make a very nice living selling things that never see a best seller list.

Query other people.


Cheryl Mills said...

A PHONE CALL rejection?

Didn't that just chap your ass? I think I would have passed out once they introduced themself, and when the call ended with a "Thanks, but no thanks," it would have been hard for me to hold back the "Fucker!"

kathie said...

To the writer--I had the same experience with my agent. It is frustrating, but I'm plugging away. Someone will love it--hang in there.

Delilah said...

Dog in the Night!

There's nothing to figure out from where I'm sitting. The agent who phoned -- we're talking Fucking PHONED you to tell you this! -- is a flaming asshole. End of story.

Move on and find somebody who isn't a flamer - like Miss Snark.

Sorry about the outburst - I know its out of character. I'll go chant my WTF mantra for a while; it always brings my blood pressure down.

Wassup said...

Same ratio for books they thought would do just ok and then zoomed into the stratosphere.

I wouldn't mind this option. Wouldn't mind it a'tall.

Pamela Milkweed said...

Actually, I wouldn't mind an agent calling me and giving me some specific reasons as to why he rejected my manuscript. It would have been easy for him to send an impersonal form rejection letter, but he chose to break the bad news in person. I think that took some class.

TWM said...

Ever heard of John Grisham? He was first published by a small press with A Time to Kill. I'd be more than happy to start out with a small publisher if I could follow the same path.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm the person who wrote this letter (thanks for the answer, Miss Snark).

And to those of you who think the agent was an asshole: I left out the part of the conversation. He told me that he had passed the manuscript on to an agent in his firm who was more familiar with the genre, but, since that person wasn't with the agency anymore, that wasn't important.

Why would you tell me that?

Anonymous said...

Shelve everything until you write a breakout???

Oh, puh-leeese. If that were true then I'd have over twenty books unsold and under the bed, consquently missing out buying my first house, a nifty spa-tub on its back porch, and several encounters with a good-hearted ex-stripper that left me with some warm memories for my rapidly approaching old age.

Write well. Get published. Don't let nitwits waste your time.

whitemouse said...

Hmm. Makes you want to shake the agent and remind him that it can take some time to build a following. Plenty of writers make money with their writing for a long while before having a breakout hit.

This agent sounds both greedy and nitwittish.

Anonymous said...

The phone call rejection I received was the best rejection I ever got. The agent called to say he loved my voice and thought my book was funny, but that he only represents YA. He told me to try and write some YA or middle grade and send him a few chapters when i had some. It was the only time a rejection has made me truly happy.

MTV said...

Hmmm.... seems to me that is one opinion and one approach for an author in this business.

Personally, being the contrarian that I am, I would now make it my business to make this your "breakout" book by finding an agent who loves the book and will go to bat for it.

The first agent is like an investment advisor telling you - hey no problem - I'll make you a million dollars investing, just bring me a million dollars to invest for you!

In the words of the great "Snark One" WTF?

Bernita said...

The agent want to represent only best-sellers and he can always recognize these immediately?
Wouldn't every agent?
Sounds confused somehow.

Anonymous said...

Donald Maass reading his own book perhaps?

Anonymous said...

anonymous said: The agent called to say he loved my voice and thought my book was funny, but that he only represents YA.

Er...how was this information a surprise to you? This is typically the kind of thing one researches about an agent before sending material.

Your writing must have been very good indeed for the agent to overlook a blunder of that magnitude and respond personally.


Catja (green_knight) said...

I'm getting different vibes from this rejection than everybody else, it seems. To me it says 'this is fine, but I can't find anything special about it, and it won't sell in large enough numbers to be of interest to most publishers. The sort of book that would have gotten published twenty years ago, but the genre has moved on since then, and the bar is set higher.

Trying to give feedback to someone who is good and workmanlike, but lacking the final sparkle is *hard* sometimes, because there's nothing obvious bad, and pinpointing what that person could do better is much more challenging than when they can't spell and dump aliens on page 136.

And... weird as it sounds (and there's no guaranteed best seller, of course; and not only potential bestsellers are worthy of publishing) but not spending one's writing life on the 'workmanlike' and 'not different enough' novels *doesn't* seem like bad advice to me, because if your book is as good as the next writers' why should anyone (editor or reader) buy _it_?

I'm a little bit partial, because advice of this kind has led me to knuckle down and work much harder at my writing.

Anonymous said...

I'm a multi-published author who has been agent searching for a while now, focusing on top tier agencies, and I can't count the number of agents who have recited almost that exact reasoning to me.

From my personal experience, the reasoning cited by the agent in question is widely shared in the industry.

So of course I'm set to do my damndest to prove them wrong with this project :)