Holding Pen

I surfed over to one of my favorite places on the web today and saw the rejecter say she wasn't sure what I meant by holding pen. This was in reference to an earlier post of mine about timing. I said I'd just signed a client who'd been in the holding pen for a year.

Clearly I let my zest for colorful imagery get in the way of clarity: three lashes with a eyeball for that.

Here is the chronology of what "holding pen" meant.

Sept 2005-Querier gets email from me saying "do send balance of ms".
Querier responds he will send shortly; life has been making itself known in a variety of ways and he's a tad behind on his polishing. MS responds "no worries".

December 2005-ms arrives

Feb 2006-Miss Snark reads it and loves it (preliminary phone call to author to make sure not a loon)

April 2006-Miss Snark reads it again, and cogitates on placement. (follow up phone call to make sure still not a loon)

September 2006-Miss Snark meets client and plies him with liquor.

November 2006-contracts signed, sealed, delivered.

Now, normally it doesn't take this long but this was a spectacularly unusual novel and I wanted to have a very very solid grasp of what I was going to do with this thing before I got this guy's hopes up by taking it on. I also wanted to be as sure as I could that the author wasn't spectacularly hard to deal with. (he's not, he's a great guy)

I'd rather dawdle before signing and be sure than have those wretched ugly miserable horrible conversations about "I can't sell this". The two are not mutually exclusive but more than once this year I've said no to a novel I love cause I didn't have confidence I could sell it.


merper said...

You can read ms's before they arrive?
I'm starting to get really impressed...

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

more than once this year I've said no to a novel I love cause I didn't have confidence I could sell it.

What? Miss Snark lacks confidence?

Is that allowed?

(btw, I'll forgive you for telling me that once I sell the thing)

resurrectedwarrior said...

Erm . . . I think something went wrong with your link to the rejecter's blog. It sends you to "ejecter.blogspot.com". Might want to fix that.

Alley Splat said...

Strikes me you know your agent's got integrity when she takes that much care to make sure she can do her job properly before she signs you up.

And being plied with drink as part of the contracting process? Sounding better and better!

Lauren said...

Uh, Miss SnarK? Didn't the ms arrive in December 2005?

LadyBronco said...

There was a conversation about "dream agents" on Kristin Nelson's blog the other day. I had said that I would much rather have an agent that is as into selling my book as I was into writing it.
The writers to whom you said 'no' because you weren't sure you could sell it will thank you later, Miss Snark.

Miss Snark said...

eerp...yea, December 200five.
although I can indeed read things before they arrive or are even sent: see post below "brevity is the soul of wit"

WV: Karnak

McKoala said...

I like the sound of the crucial step taken in September 2006.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that you are saying NO to a novel, and not to the person's whole past and future output. I was in a signing line at ALA behind an agent who kept telling her friend that when she rejects a ms., she doesn't want to see any others from that person. And was quite anoyed that this writer had sent her a second piece. Didn't he know that no meant NO?

-librarian and writer

Richard said...

You held a manuscript you loved for eleven months while you thought about whether or not you could sell it? During that time, you obviously strung him along, but did you also ask him to leave it with you on an exclusive basis? If so, I think you've got yourself a new entry on your own "Agents to Avoid" list.
P.S. On the "Tao of Agents" thread below, note item #2: "An agent is not a dream" and add the collorary, #2a: "An agent, however, can often be a nightmare."

ORION said...

Once when I was in Fiji I went snorkeling the afternoon before I was to leave. I took my underwater pictures. Packed. Arrived in back home in Honolulu and did one hour developing (those were the days of film)
I got the pictures back before I took them. The date is stamped on the back and it was an hour before I went snorkeling.
So cool.

Miss Snark said...

Well Richard, I see you're new.
Or you perhaps can't read.
Or perhaps you just don't choose to remember what you read.

I don't ask for exclusives. Not now. Not then.

If this guy had wanted to ditch me at any time from Day 1 to Day 365 he could have done so.

There has been no mention of "stringing along"; in fact you have no idea what I said to him, nor he to me. You are assuming a lot not in evidence.

Perhaps my new client appreciated the fact that I don't say no to difficult projects.

Just difficult people.

Richard said...

No, I'm not privvy to every little detail about your life, Miss Snark. (Not for lack of trying on your part, I assure you.) But unless you specifically said to him, "Look, I'm having trouble making a decision on this, so you're free to take it elsewhere," then your delay was unconscionable.

Richard said...

P.S. There's an implication here that you agonized about it for eleven months, when, in fact, you probably thought about it for a few minutes in April, pondered it briefly in June, made a decision in September and got around to calling the poor bastard in November.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Richard, if I were an agent I'd sure steer clear of you. You sound like you'd be very difficult to work with.

Anonymous said...

I have a question about the phrase "I'm not sure I can sell this." Does it secretly mean, "I'm not sure anyone could sell this."

Why wouldn't you assume you could sell any novel good enough to be published, and that if you couldn't sell it, by definition, it isn't good enough?

Finally, what would make you decide in fact that you could sell this book--something else just like it was a big hit? Some new imprint for unsellable books just opened?

Reason I'm asking is I get a lot of this phrase on my MS now floating through the agent-o-sphere. Lots of high praise, but no advice on how to fix what may ail it.

Anonymous said...

The real question is whether or not Miss Snark shoots craps.

Diana Peterfreund said...

I have a question about the phrase "I'm not sure I can sell this." Does it secretly mean, "I'm not sure anyone could sell this."

No and sometimes. Sometimes it means, "I don't think the market is ready for this," and sometimes it means, "I don't specialize in this genre."

thraesja said...

Gee, richard. Let's look at that timeline again.
Miss Snark reads it in Feb 2006, after having it for two months. Not an unreasonable delay for a busy agent. She calls the author during the same month to keep him informed.
Three months later she rereads it. I don't know about you, but I generally don't read the same novel twice within a three month period. Not even my old favourites. She again contacts the author, keeping him informed.
She meets him five months later. Any amount of that time could be due to scheduling difficulties, either hers or his. You know nothing about his life. He might have been getting married, had a relative die, or living in New Zealand during that time. If an agent wanted to meet me I'd be anxious, but I don't know how quickly I'd be able to get myself on a plane to see her. Life does intervene.
Two months after the meeting, the contracts are signed. Perhaps Miss Snark took that long to have them prepared, or perhaps the author had his real estate lawyer go over it with a fine-toothed comb and then sent it to his mom, just to be sure. Again, you don't know.
Considering the only delay that we can be reasonable sure is Miss Snark's "fault" is the one in between the first and second readings of the manuscript, I'd be careful who you cross off your prospective agents list.

The Rejecter said...

We're definitely getting some of the same questions and some back-and-forths. I'm honored, really.

Renee said...

Richard, better stop before Miss Snark crushes you with her stiletto heel...

Anonymous said...

This post actually brings up another question for me. After I complete a novel and begin sending it out, I start writing the next novel. Though I know the rule is to only query one novel at a time, I still don't understand why an agent who might love the novel (writing, voice, execution) but thinks it's a hard sell wouldn't take on a writer, or at least consider it. I hear agents at conferences saying, "When I take on a writer it's for their career not one book." Yet these same agents reject on one possibly hard-to-sell book. I know you want to avoid saying "I can't sell this." But, not all writers are so sensitive as to fall apart or never write again if that happens. The writer may have something else that you can sell, or with some discussion can produce something else that meets the current market. In the case you mentioned in this post, did you ask if he had anything else or look at anything else during this nine month period?

For myself, I don't expect everything I write to sell immediately. I believe they are all worthy of publishing, but sometimes the market and timing is bad or reader's tastes have changed for that two to five year cycle. It seems if you like the writing, the voice, the direction then it may be a good client to pursue. I assume that when I do get an agent there may be times in my career when I produce a book she can't sell. That just means I need to write the next book. Am I being naive about taking on a writer for their career potential as opposed to a single book? Or is it that you see no career until you see a book you are confident you can sell?