one more thing you shouldn't even THINK of doing

Dear Miss Snark,

Over the last two and half years I have been working on a novel whose diction is high and whose ambitions are literary. For the last year, an agent I'd love to sign with has been reviewing drafts and giving detailed suggestions, but she seems to be waiting to offer representation until she sees a draft she can sell. I don't mind, because she's got a stellar record as an agent, and because I agree with her that it's not ready to go, and am delighted by the attention, despite the lack of commitment - especially since her criticism is free of charge, and brilliant.

Before writing this novel, I wrote a totally goofy one. When I finished it I set it aside, uncertain I wanted to make my publishing debut (if I happened to be so lucky) in such an idiotic voice.

Now, however, as I wait for the latest set of comments from my prospective agent (which will doubtless be a month or two in coming), I've been looking at the old book and thinking I might like to query people about it. It's been so long since I looked at it that the jokes work on me, and I think they might work on others. Perhaps my prospective agent will be interested, but I by no means want to bother her with it until she's done going over the current pages - which she may, of course, turn down anyway, or at least ask for more revisions.

Would I be stupid to query a second set of agents on a second (actually first) novel, while the jury is still out on the other manuscript? Are you allowed to have one agent for your screwball authorial self, and one for the dignified you? That is, will agents be willing to work manuscript by manuscript, or do they, by default lay claim, to all of your projects?


Oh I love this idea. An agent works with you carefully on your novel, gets you to the point of a presentable mss and THEN you tell her "oh by the way I signed with Miss Snark, but she's only going to do this other lesser novel...not that she knows that now of course".

This is one fast way to have not two agents but zero.

Do not do this.

I had someone do this to me. I worked with him on a novel I LOVED but had typos like you would not believe. I read that thing three times at least and copy edited it each time. Just as he was "revising" for the third time, he mentioned casually he'd signed with someone else. I wasn't sure whether to kill him or myself; I settled for the flask of gin.

I had my revenge though, and it was cold and sweet. The other agent was an idiot (which I could have told him), didn't sell the book, and he came back asking me to take him on. No dice.
I'd learned my lesson. He'd behaved like a clue free ungrateful bonehead once, and that's not something that is a one-time-only mistake.

Do not do this.

I have clients who write things I don't know how to sell. I still represent them but I co-agent or get good advice on who to pitch. I don't dump the clients.


Anonymous said...

Miss Snark, what if one of your authors writes a great SF/F book that is not your area of interest and for which you don't have editorial contacts? This may be in the snarkives--I'll go look.

JPD said...

Are you accepting manuscripts with "typos like you wouldn't believe?"

I've got a couple of those, if you're so inclined...


Anonymous said...

Sorry, couldn't get past I have been working on a novel whose diction is high and whose ambitions are literary.

Maria said...

This topic came up on another agent blog recently and that agent pretty much said that if a client had something outside the represented genre, she and the client would part with best wishes. From reading other blogs it kind of sounds like some agents will do their best to place things while others would rather part ways.

So Miss Snark--is it just something that needs to be discussed with the agent? How to proceed? No agents want to have a client that has two agents, but I think a lot of writers want to branch out...

I know some agents will also push the client to "get back on track" and write only in a certain genre or produce the next in a series...etc.

More thoughts on this topic?

Katie Alender said...

I think killing the flask of gin was a mistake.

It's the gift that keeps on giving.

Should have killed the nitwit.

Anonymous said...

Actually, being patient and submitting the second book through the same agent might just get you a better deal.

What MS is right though. You can't have two agents just because you're impatient.

As to what the other anon said: 'whose' refers to people, not things like novels.

Unknown said...

Why not ano ano? I think it's very admirable that this writer is striving for quality

I should so strive, but you know sometimes striving just isn't a word in my vocabulary. Especially on very cold days when I'm faced with two upcoming blizzards, and eight protags that need multi-demonsional characterization. I know then, that I can count on spending a few hours in my personal spa, otherwise known as a hyperbaric chamber.

Much easier for me just to rationalize, "What_ever! He just did it. Who the hell cares why? We have ten people dead here. Let's pay attention to the rising body count!" I don't know, but I have this really bad premonition someone's going to care: reader, agent, editor, etc...

Also, kudos to the writer for asking before leaping. The virtue of loyalty seems highly underrated in today's society. And it shouldn't be imho.

Anonymous said...

I'm with anonymous #2. "Whose diction is high?" Keyboard alert.

Hope the writing in the novel has more to recommend it than "high diction."

Damn, there I go again. I guess this would be an example of "screwball and idiotic authorial voice?"

Anonymous said...

I have the same question as anonymous #1, although I guess the answer may be as simple as just telling the agent you're already dealing with about the other WIP.

Anonymous said...

Hey Anonymous #2! You're totally right! And Francis Scott Key was a friggin' numbskull! He thought the American Flag was a PERSON. Check out this patent idiocy:

O say, can you see,
by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed
at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars,
through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched,
were so gallantly streaming?

I'm ashamed to be an American!

Anonymous said...

I've done some pretty moronic things, but even I would know not to do that!!! Do you have any idea how many newbie authors would kill to be in your position? And how much you'd have to pay for the editorial feedback you're getting? At least give her a chance to reject the thing. What the heck's the matter with you?

Anonymous said...

While waiting for responses on one book, START ANOTHER ONE. And then go on to the next.

I agree with the other responses that say you should not query other agents in the meantime.

ORION said...

Diction is high.
On weed? When you read it out loud?
You mean it's an audio book?
You mean I'm not literary enough to understand this?

Anonymous said...

I would also like to hear thoughts on Maria's comments.

Anonymous said...

"diction is high... ambition is literary" hmmmmm!

reminds me of my graphic artist days when I sold watercolors at weekend "Street Festivals." Oh, I had "high diction" watercolors. (never sold)... And I had "bare butts!" (goofy ones)

Bare butts was a print/painting of two little naked elfs sitting on a mushroom wearing floppy hats as viewed from their backs cuddling each other... Of course their pudgy little backsides were irrestible. At $17 dollar a pop, I couln't keep 'em in stock!...

Stick with "goofy"

Haste yee back ;-)

Anonymous said...

A humble idea - and keep in mind I'm not a published novelist yet.

Your second book just might be better than your first. Goofy or not.

Trying to be a "serious writer" with "literary ambitions" can produce a work that while technically proficient and well written, might not click with readers. The best stuff is sometimes stuff we write for fun, stuff that we don't have our ego wrapped around. Never underestimate the value of humor. It's a deadly serious world out there.

Or maybe both books are great. I can't tell. Just that it was like pulling teeth to get my first "serious" novel read by anyone. My second, which I wrote for fun, has already gotten several requests for partials. So work on polishing up your second. Who knows where it will take you.

Chris Eldin said...

JPD, LOL! Typos are okay, as long as you have high literary (what was that again?) and some kind of diction in your story.

I wish the emailer listed the agent's name. I'd send flowers.

Anonymous said...

I hate to think what your repair bill for damaged walls must be Miss Snark. Or for that matter, how your head survives the continual impact.

Luc2 said...

MS wrote: "I read that thing three times at least and copy edited it each time."
And then you lost the client, MS. Revenge is great, but it doesn't pay the bill.
Despite your rant in the next post, isn't this situation an excellent example of when an exclusive would have made sense?

Southern Writer said...

Just tell me how the hell to get an agent to review my drafts and give me detailed suggestions for a year. I'll send her a bottle of gin every week. You must be one amazing writer, and that agent must be a frigging saint. Count your blessings and don't be a nitwit.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. *FREE* professional advice from a respected agent? Who is helping you without recompense at this point? Putting in hours of her/his time on your manuscript?

And you want to risk that relationship for a possible sale on a previous and probably lesser quality manuscript?


First of all, the other book is most likely not as good. So suppose you got an agent and sold the book. A not as good book.

Which would you rather be known for? A not really good book, or something that sparkles, because it's been worked?

Not to mention losing the relationshp. And the buzz about you. Right. Not the buzz about your book. But the buzz amongst agents and editors about what an ungrateful moron you are. Yeah, I'd want that reputation starting out the gate.

Anonymous said...

I know that writer!! Or at least one like him.

A member of my writers' group submitted to an agent, a well-known but relatively new agent (at the time, five years ago), who apparently fell in love with something in the writer's manuscript.

She went through a couple of drafts over a year (and this writer had a crit partner as well.)

When the manuscript was polished, she sent it off to another agent, who immediately snapped it up and sold it, in less than a month.

The writer sent the original agent a thank you letter, telling her how much her help had meant, and that she was able to get an agent and sell!!!

We were appalled. I don't know which is worse. Thinking this writer is clueless, or thinking she's a user. Or both.

Anonymous said...

And writers wonder why agents don't want to give feedback on manuscripts they reject!!!

Sounds like this happens to all agents, at least once. Then they whip out that form letter if they don't want something immediately.

Tyhitia Green said...

Miss Snark,
I'm in a similar situation. I had an agent review the first 3 chapters of my novel and edit them, as well as my synopsis. She told me what she wanted me to add, which I'm doing, then she wants the full. I am keeping my fingers crossed that she will offer representation. I have not queried anyone else yet because I want to know her answer first. She is really GREAT! Has a host of best-sellers on her list. We'll see...

Anonymous said...

So now we know how Miss Snark got the Snark on!

Stephanie said...

So if you have two manuscripts to query, should you query both together? If so, do you query them equally or query focusing on one and say something like "by the way, I have a second complete manuscript" in your letter?

Anonymous said...

Wow, thanks for warning me. I was just about to send that book you spent the past five years honing for me to William Morris.

benjamin royan saari said...

To quote Grey's Anatomy...

Anonymous said...

The operative word is "karma."

Jim Oglethorpe said...

Just be patient. This is probably more about you wanting to make things happen (I like to have five things going at once when I am either bored, frustrated or feeling impatient--it's not a bad trait for a writer). Let her sign you...and tell her about the other book. It will work you, you'll see. P.S. Remember, the timing of releasing two books must be carefully coordinated so even if you had another agent, it would be a mess

Writing on Board said...


How many times must I apologize for dropping you for that other agent? I said that I was sorry. Please, take me back. No moree typsos, I swere.

Anonymous said...

Focus grasshopper, focus.
Keep working on the mss in progress, and forget about the first book until your finished with this one. You need to fix this book, get it published then ask the same agent is she/he would like to read the first book you wrote.
You should be thanking the person for helping you, and not being ungrateful because you are lacking in focus. Your agent believes in your work, don't insult her/him by jumping ship at this point in the game unless you have a real problem with the agent.