10.06.2006

Loose ends

Dear Miss Snark,

I am just parting the ways, amicably, from an agent who turned out not to be the right one for placing my ms. There's a loose end, though, and I want to make sure it doesn't come back to haunt.

The agent sent the ms to an editor at a major house, who never responded to her subsequent queries; after about nine months my now-ex agent formally pulled the ms. So far as she knows, though, the editor still has the ms, presumably gathering dust in a closet somewhere. Although it seems awfully unlikely, what happens if the ms surfaces on the editor's desk - and the editor likes it?

When I land another agent, I'll certainly tell her the prior submission history, such as it is, but I want to make sure there's no awkward consequences from an ms that got lost in the shuffle ...


Well the editor is going to call your old agent cause that's what the contact info says. Tell your new agent about this loose end. If it ends up in a deal (VERY unlikely as you realize) it will get worked out. Agent agreements specify how long agents are entitled to commissions on work they pitch if you part ways. I think mine says six months but it might be twelve. I've never had to look at it very closely. Mostly if a client parts ways with me, I send them a letter saying they are released completely even if there are open projects.

But do tell your new agent. She'll want to know.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

"who turned out to not be the right one for placing my manuscript"

Does this mean she couldn't sell it?

If this is the only editor she sent it to, there shouldn't be a problem. Your new agent can market it like crazy.

However, if this agent really worked this manuscript, it's "shopworn" to begin with and you might be obligated by your contract (or your conscience) to your first agent. And I would think a new agent would want a new manuscript to sell.

I like Miss Snark's clean break, but I wonder sometimes how fairness comes into play in these situations. Or is that simply not considered?

Anonymous said...

These days, editors/ publishers are not returning manuscripts they decide to reject. They don't send a rejection. They simply never communicate at all -- just deep six the paper. Leaving writers and maybe agents too (?) wondering if they a) rejected it, b) lost it, c) never received it at all.

And consider yourself lucky that the agent let you know where your ms. had been sent. Mine never did -- even after several requests to do so.

JR's Thumbprints said...

I agree. A new agent isn't going to want hand-me-downs.

Anonymous said...

Anon #1 said--These days, editors/ publishers are not returning manuscripts they decide to reject.

That may be true of some, but I received a rejection on a requested manuscript that had been languishing (and presumed lost and forgotten) in an editor's office for 18 months.

Jake said...

Anonymous two - sounds like you have my former agent. I believe it is unethical for an agent not to tell the author where they sent the manuscript.

Now my new agent will have to prize it out of her.

Anonymous said...

My ex-agent wouldn't tell me who she sent manuscripts to, as if it was a state secret. It's my belief she didn't have the contacts and didn't want to admit it.

Jake said...

Bingo!

Maya said...

I added a clause to the contract with my agent that said I would be given a written list at least quarterly as to which publishers had been sent my manuscript. Turned out not to be a problem. My agent sent me regular emails of her progress, which--now that I know her better--I suspect she would have done anyway.

Jim Oglethorpe said...

My former agent wouldn't tell me who my non-fiction proposal went to. I liked her, we got along well--but she got very defensive when I asked out of curiousity (and since it was part of her own contract I didn't think it was some deep dark secret) she said: "if we did that, we'd do nothing else all day." This was a bit of a red flag and spent over $1000 on a contract attorney to go over the contract w/the agent. Once the lawyer was in the picture, the retroactive list of houses/editors arrived quite quickly. My new agent operates completely differently. It's just like night and day. That said, my former agent (it was amicable parting and I really do like her just not right for me long-term) DID sell my first book any has a long-list of successful projects. My new agent is has stellar credentials. She wasn't able to sell my second project though. But I know she tried her best because of all the communication along the way. I'm a big has-been!

type, monkey, type said...

Could it be that agents do this to protect their contacts? I know that my former agent had a clause in our contract that said that all of his contacts were propriatary and that there were some restrictions on whether I could sell the same project to them after we had parted, or something like that. Which seems fair enough. But this whole secret contact thing seems really bogus.

Jane said...

But they don't need to reveal their specific contact in order to say which publisher they've approached. "Your book went to my contact at RandomMediaPress, and it's going to a friend of mine over at HumongousPublishingHouse next Tuesday" isn't going to risk that the author will either try to jump on those contacts herself or mess everything up by approaching the contact directly.

Anonymous said...

Based on what I've heard on this blog in the past, an agent might try multiple editors at the same house. So it is important to know which editor already saw a project.
Unless it's a publisher that restricts to a single submission. Harlequin does this. I don't know whether that applies to agents or only to direct submissions from writers.

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of editors at each house. If there's a parting of the ways, and the previous agent wasn't forthcoming about where he/she sent the book, the new agent is at a definite disadvantage.

Also, assuming the previous agent has done some unprofessional things and then refuses to tell the client where, when, and to whom the book was sent - how does the client know the book was sent out at all? If there's that much distrust, why should the client stay with an agent he/she does not trust?

Even great agents can't sell a book that for some reason doesn't have a market. But I also believe that a poor agent can make a good book look like crap - just the way they present it. The editor may not even read it.

Why should an author be penalized just because the agent had that book and shopped it a couple of times? Does the author have to give the book up, after a year of writing it? I don't think so.