What to reveal

Hello Miss Snark,

An agent at a top-notch agency just requested a full (didn’t I say before that you’ve had a profound effect on my writing?). Included in her list of “stuff to send” is a submissions history. Obviously I’ll let her know that one other agent is currently reading a requested partial; I also understand that it’s not necessary to mention the other agent’s name.

However, I also submitted sample chapters to an editor back in December, who, after reading my work, referred me to an editor at a different publishing house. A referral – wonders never cease! My question is, in outlining my submission history to the agent who has requested the full, should I mention the specific names of the editors and houses, or simply state that my manuscript was referred from one editor to another, who now has sample chapters? My gut tells me to spill all, since I understand that this is important information for a prospective agent. But my businessman husband is telling me, “Don’t give more information than is absolutely necessary.”

So. Which one of us is right?

The agent wants to know if this work has been seen by so many people that it's narrowed the pool of possible submissions past what she would take on.

In this instance I would mention the editor's name and house. Here's why: some major publishers allow submissions to more than one division of the company. Some don't. If you've sent this off to one that does NOT, the prospective agent needs to know the potential market has been narrowed.

Another reason that is that agents have varying levels of rapport with editors. If you've sent it to someone I do a lot of biz with, it's a much easier follow up than someone I've never called before in my life.

Another reason to be specific is that there's no downside to it, whereas being coy, or too general makes you look clueless. Telling me your book is at "Penguin Putnam" is utterly useless, much like telling me it's at "Random House". Telling me your book is being considered by Liz Scheir at Roc after a referral from Mark Tavani at Ballantine tells me a WHOLE lot more.

Being specific is the best choice here.


Quietly Writing said...

Thank you, Miss Snark. The materials have been mailed.

I love telling hubby, "See? I was right!" :)

Kit Whitfield said...

Sounds as if your hubby (who I'm sure is a dear man) had the wrong idea about the kind of negotiation this was. If you're in an adversarial negotiation, a bit of discretion on the details may work in your favour, but your agent is more like your lawyer: they speak for you and your interests, and so full disclosure is going to be required once you've signed up. That being the case, being honest with your agent from the get-go is starting as you mean to go on, which is sensible.

Agents negotiating with publishers, on the other hand, may well decide that an element of need-to-know may help push the price up. But that's for later in the game. At this stage, you're looking to find an ally, not close a deal.

So I think your excellent husband had a sound principle there, but he was using it in the wrong place.

David Isaak said...

Liz Scheier rocks!

Okay, it's just my opinion (and perhaps beside the point)...

quietly writing said...


Why yes, he IS a dear man, and wise in the ways of the corporate world. But you're right, his experience in the business world does not match up with what goes on in the agent/client world. I knew this all along, of course, but hubby knows how I esteem Miss Snark's opinion, so when I told him I would ask for her advice, he was all ears (he loves her chutzpah, at any rate!).

I had a Very Bad Agent experience a couple of years ago, so I think the bitter memory of all that probably played into my husband's ultra-caution. At any rate, all has been handled properly, and now the waiting game begins!

Kit Whitfield said...

Well, good luck! And regards to your fine husband, who is clearly on your side, a splendid thing in a partner.