3.12.2007

Bet hedging...not just for Wall Street anymore

Dear Miss Snark,
I signed with my agent almost a year ago, but she hasn't had any luck selling my manuscript. I feel that she is submitting, doing her job, but I don't feel she is as much of a go-getter as I would like. Now, I have a new completed manuscript, very different than the first, and I don't feel she would be right to represent it. What is the protocol? Sever my relationship with her first, then query other agents? Query agents now and let them know I am currently represented by someone else? What is the proper etiquette?

Thank you for your advice and I look forward to hearing your response.

Well, you're not going to like the response but here it is anyway.

You have to end your relationship with your first agent BEFORE you query anyone else. Anyone who says differently is an idiot.

Here's why: publishing is a small world. You have no idea who your agent knows or who she talks to or what gets said. You start shopping your ms around and your agent finds out second hand and you're toast. The liklihood that she will find out is in direct propoprtion to how much you DON'T want her to know, too.

And on the other side of things, if you query me before you part ways with your agent and I find out it's an automatic rejection. Even if you write really really well.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

yet it's ok for you agents to take a frigging year to reply.

Thom said...

Anon,
the situation Miss Snark is describing is after a writer has leaped tall buildings, etc., to arrive at a state of representation. You know what that takes, since you are obviously laboring in the fields of attempted representation.
It's a lot of frigging work to get there!!
Once you've achieved/earned that lofty status where your work has been recognized by at least one person and vetted, the air is rarified and very, very familiar. Agents and editors actually speak with one another, which is why you'd like to be attached to such a group. On the other hand, they actually speak with one another about clients.
Would you actually want to screw it up by being an idiot and burning bridges by pulling a dumbass move like this? There are certain protocols and basic courtesies that apply, one major one of which is to formally sever your relationship with your previous agent prior to looking for new representation. If you do not, and if you get caught, well, let's just say you'll get the representation you so justly deserve.

Maprilynne said...

*I was 3/4 of the way through this post when my laptop wigged out on me. So my apologies if this is a double posting.*

This has to do with editors rather than agents, but I had a reminder the other day of just how small the publishing world really is. My wonderful fabulous agent has submitted my book to six equally wonderful and fabulous editors so, like any newbie author, I Googled the hell out of their names gleaning tidbits of information. Lo and behold I found a website with a photo album that featured three of these six agents all partying together.

It does, however, make me wonder if the next time they all decide to gather and get sloshed they will discuss how they all got this total piece of sh*& manuscript the other day.

Of course, maybe they'll make the winner of the auction buy the losers a drink.:)

But really, everyone knows everyone in the publishing world.

Maprilynne

Anonymous said...

"yet it's ok for you agents to take a frigging year to reply."

No one says you have to stop submitting, or wait on a single agent.

Anonymous said...

A year to reply, leading you on about send me the next manuscript and I will work with you and then four months go by and no response, no email, complete and utter silence. Look at your contract and end the damn deal and move on.
Writers have to stop living out lives according to the silences of people we never even met!!!

Twill said...

Yo, anon -

It's a business relationship, and an exclusive one. Once you are *represented*, you're in for the whole dance until you end that relationship. And yes, the exclusivity is only one-way. That's because you don't write enough for *you* to live on, let alone an agent to live on 15% of.

The agent is taking you on as a client because she believes you have long-term potential to build a career that you *can* live on. (Potential, not to say it usually happens.)

If you're querying around when you're supposed to be exclusive, then that marks you as someone who doesn't care about their word given to their partners. Why would a new agent take that on?

Kit Whitfield said...

(I too have had computer problems today, so sorry if this is a repeat comment.)

Imagine the following: you're a woman being flirted with by an attractive man - when suddenly a friend of yours comes up and says, 'Why are you flirting with my boyfriend?' And it turns out that this man has been dating your friend for some time ... but he wasn't quite happy with her. Not wanting to risk being single, he decided to proposition other women behind her back until he found someone else willing to go ou with him.

Would you go out with this man?

No agent will want to take on a writer they can't trust to go behind their backs. If you terminate your relationship with your agent, you'll be taking the risk of finding yourself agentless, but that's the gamble: you might find a better agent, you might not. You don't have to take the gamble if you're not comfortable with it. But you have to be honest. It's not fair to two-time your agent like that, especially as you say she's 'doing her job'.

If you really feel that she and your next book are a bad match, polish up your tact and discuss it with her. You might be able to work something out. But whatever you do, tell the truth: your sins can find you out in publishing very quickly, and you'll have to live down any mistakes you make for a long time.

Anonymous said...

I second Miss Snark on severing with the first before signing with the second--it's a Business Thing. You're only as good as your word, so it is not the done thing to get a bad rep for non-professional behavior.

I was in the process of severing my first agent when I met with the person who would become my present agent. From the start I was upfront about untangling from the other person and gave a timetable on when I expected things to be resolved. Only THEN would we shake hands for our own partnership. She understood perfectly, waited, things wroked out, and the last ten years have been profitable for us both.

Dan said...

Anon, I'm one of those sticklers who believes you shouldn't even be talking to another agent about your situation until you've severed ties with the first.

While you're lining your ducks in a row, your first agent is still scrambling (like any decent agent does, since they have to make a living) to try and sell your manuscript.

If she'd managed at the last moment to sell something, would you have stayed, or left? (that sale would have stayed with the agent who made the sale)

I'm getting the feeling after speaking to a number of agents that they are able to "sniff out" potential, and try to work it, help the writer grow into it. Meanwhile, developing writer is in a rush to be the latest Page Six entry.

I heard basically the same story from a couple of agents, they were the dumped. After that experience, they were less inclined to be as charitable, to take on writers who were "almost there" and to offer constructive criticism.

One agent called them the "user class" of writer.

Gives the rest of us a bad name and limits our chances. I therefore target newer agents who are probably less experienced, but at the same time less apt to be burned by assholes looking for a back to climb up.