The Second Agent

Dear Miss Snark:

An agent was very excited about one of my psychological thrillers and agreed to represent me. I suspect she expected to make a quick sale. She sent out nine copies of the manuscript to major publishing houses, got back a few interesting replies, some personal, others appear to be standard rejections. She felt she was right on the edge of acceptance, then illness forced her to shut down her agency before a second round.

Now, I'm in a quandary. Please shed some light on how you -- or another agent -- would feel if approached under these circumstances. I feel it would be less than honest to approach an agent without the full story.

I keep telling myself about the famous authors who were rejected repeatedly by publishing houses before success. (Agents are not publishing houses, let's be clear about that.)

First, you query a new novel.
You don't want to go out on something that's been shopped. You say "I was represented by X until illness forced her agency to close. She did not sell Novel Y, a previous novel, and didn't handle Z, the novel I'm writing to you about now" (or something less clunky but you get the idea).

We see this all the time. I ALWAYS read the stuff that comes in like this cause truth is, if one of my colleagues thought she could sell your work, I'm likely to think it's saleable.


Anonymous said...

Further question about the 'second agent' scenario.

Do you still think it's saleable if say, the agent and author part ways and no death/illness is involved?

Let's say Agent X shops my manuscript to only 5 houses in a year, and half of that is guesswork (on the agent's part). Let's say I'm not happy with how things are going on every level. Let's say I've written a new book, and part ways with the old agent.

I shop the new book. Do I mention I was previously repped by Agent X? Does that make me a better catch or does that make me used goods?

Anonymous said...

So the novel that you've been sweating your ass off over for the last two years gets scrapped, no big deal, just reach into that pile of manuscripts sitting on your desk and query a new one?

I don't know how many writers have unqueried manuscipts that are ready for publication just laying around, but I know I don't. I'd be slightly pissed. "Sorry, no good, been shopped." Even if it's only been sent to a select few editors? That blows.

Niamh Sage said...

I'm with anon 2, actually. That's a hell of a lot of work just to scrap like that.

Would a second agent ever be prepared to look at that first novel if it was clear that there was no chance the first agent was going to be able to pick it up again (as in the example given, where illness is the cause of the break)?

And what if the second novel is a follow-on from the first?

Ray said...

I can actually see the logic in this. Okay, the writing was up to par for shopping to editors. However, why should an agent take the chance of shopping to those editors who already rejected? Start with a fresh novel, probably written better than the previous one, get a multi-book deal, and hey, got one all set to go already.

Or writing the subsequent books might be a better strategy. Keep the first novel around in case there's a sure use for it.

I'm even seeing another angle. You've got these characters, see? And they each have favorite adult beverages, which says so much about them. One drives a bad, expensive import rather than the Corvette that beats the pants off the import (according to Leno), but the point is you've got developed characters. Hopefully, they're still alive. Or you could ressurect the dead ones and kill them all over again. Who's to know?

In effect the major grunt work for the second novel is already done.

Anonymous said...

Presumably, the author would be leaving her agent on good terms, so what would be the problem in finding out where it was shopped?

Anonymous said...

What's the magic number of houses a novel can be rejecting by before there's no hope of ever attracting a new agent to it? Nine? Five? One?

Nancy Beck said...

If the writer knows from her prior agent where the ms. was shopped, couldn't her next (prospective) agent take it from there - that is, just not send it to those particular editors?


Anonymous said...

But surely there are more than nine publishing houses for any particular work...I agree with comments of despair over abandoning something so quickly.

Sure, if you've got additional novels, you could start there, but if you've only got one (so far), it seems like you should (at least) know exactly who has already been queried. Any other publisher/editor would be new blood, wouldn't they?

chisem said...

Thank you Miss Snark for a very enlightening comment. It made my day. Now, I can turn what I viewed as a negative into a positive, and march forward. Thanks to everyone for his/her comments.
I do have another novel already whipped into shape for submission. By using Miss Snark's approach I can assure the query receives attention. It, too, is a psychological thriller.

I do appreciate all the kind thoughts and suggestions.

May we all be published, and soon.

chisem said...

And a quick add. The publishing houses were major houses, and seemed to be right for this project. That's why I added the bit about famous author rejections. I know there are others out there, but I felt it would tie an agent's hands to have to start at the "second tier" level and bypass what might be considered the top publishing houses for this type novel.
That's why I was excited by Miss Snark's suggestion. It gives the first novel new life. I just have to be patient about it.

Again, thanks to all for their suggestions.

GutterBall said...

And they each have favorite adult beverages, which says so much about them...but the point is you've got developed characters.

Oh, Ray...you gotta let it go, honey!

Anonymous said...

I'm an agent: I left a comment on this entry, and it never appeared. As it was no more obscene or offensive than any of my other utterances, I wasn't sure why it didn't get through. I am sending this comment as a test to see if my comments have a chance of making the cut.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 2 and others: the advice I've always gotten and have followed is that the moment one manuscript goes "thunk" in the mailbox, on its way to an agent or publisher, you get straight to work on the next piece. Not only does that keep you from fretting about manuscript #1, it also allows you to have manuscript #2 ready or in production if something like this happens to manuscript #1. But Miss Snark isn't saying that you should totally scrapt manuscript #1. If Agent 2 likes your second work and successfully places it, Agent 2 may want to take a look at the first work, too.

Anonymous said...

The bar keeps getting higher and higher.
Now not only do you have to be able to write a publishable novel (a feat in itself) that attracts the interest of an agent--you have to write two (at least)!
In which case, how come so many lousy novels keep getting published (and why can't mine be one of them)?

Anonymous said...

Then there are agents like my ex. She sent my ms to one editor; he ultimately rejected it, and she said, sorry, don't know who else to send it to, write another book - paranormals are big this year. Talk about a one-trick pony!