Pub Rants

One that Got Away—And I regret it (Part Three)

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STATUS: Pleeeaassse… The beach is a calling. Working? What’s that? Yep, I’m in Daytona. I actually to plan to go to the registration desk and check in for the conference. Then a little breakfast and then right to the beach. Oh yeah!

What song is playing on the iPod right now? Listening to the crash of waves. Oceanfront view!

Definition 3: One that got away can mean a manuscript for which I read the full but then decided to pass.

I remember reading an article (and this was at least a year or two ago) and in it was a story from literary agent Stuart Krichevsky (and since my memory is faulty it might not have been Stuart but I’m pretty sure it was). In it, he divulged a very amusing tidbit about passing on a project called MUTANT MESSAGE FROM DOWN UNDER, which later when on to sell a million copies.


He just laughed at himself in the article. That work just didn’t grab him when he gave it a look. Now he kind of half-heartedly kicks himself. Not really because he’s got Sebastian Junger on his roster (and a bunch of other great names). So what? He missed one great project. After agents are in the business for 25 years or more, we probably have a bunch of big sellers on our list (at least I do in my dreams of when I’ve been in the business for that long—big smile here). I’ve had my own agency now for only 4 years and I’m not unhappy as to where it is. My clients are building and their name recognition growing. In 25 years, they’ll all be big sellers (hear that clients? Get busy!)

Yeah, I imagine that if I had been an agent 10 years ago and was in the UK and passed on a little project called Harry Potter, I’d probably want to kick myself. Good thing it wasn’t even a possibility for me because that would feel pretty yucky.

Luckily, I think that was a phenomenon and unlikely to occur again in my lifetime.

Most “overnight” successes take about 10 years (Dan Brown a prime example).

But there is one project that I read a full manuscript for and do sort of feel some regret for passing on it. The book hasn’t actually published yet so I have no idea if it will be a big seller or not.

That in itself wouldn’t necessarily trigger regret.

No, I regret passing on this book because I really, really liked it but thought it needed some editorial input before submitting. At the time, days in the office were crazy with the negotiation of the Disney deal and a bunch of other projects. I felt overwhelmed and thought, gee, I haven’t got the time to really do this justice right now.

I even called the author and chatted with her. But, I passed. In the months that followed, I kept thinking about that novel and would give myself a little kick. I should have taken it on because the story kept coming back to me.

Then I saw the deal post in deal lunch. Here it is:

Terri Garey’s DEAD GIRLS ARE EASY, about a former Goth girl who wakes up from a near-death experience to find herself an unwilling ‘ghoulfriend’ to the dead – described as Mary Janice Davidson meets The Sixth Sense, to Erika Tsang at Avon, in a pre-empt, in a two-book deal, by Annelise Robey at Jane Rotrosen Agency (world English).

This one got away. For me.

For Terri, she’s probably thrilled that Annelise was one smart cookie and took it on. It should be coming out this fall or early next spring. Look for it!

19 Responses

  1. Queenmelda said:

    I am very grateful for this blog, so please don’t take this the wrong way, but can you possibly be serious that someone regrets NOT taking Mutant Message Down Under?

    Isn’t that the one where the woman who wrote it claimed to have travelled around Australia with the Aborigines, then later turned out to have made it all up? (Something that would have been clear much sooner had anyone thought to ask any Aborigines). I know it sold a lot of copies (sadly, I think, even more after she was discredited) but can that kind of publicity be GOOD for an agent or publisher?

    Am I living in cloud cuckoo land, to think such things matter? Is it just me? Or is any sale a good sale? Food for thought, indeed!

  2. Sara Dennis said:

    My mother sent me that book. Mutant Message Down Under. Hadn’t heard that it had been discredited. Hm. Ah well.

    The fact that you don’t regret passes, really, makes it all the more odd for an author to send a snarky letter saying “neener neener, I’ve got representation now”, I think. As I’ve heard they sometimes do.

    Interesting! Thanks!

  3. Sheila-Rae Z. Mohs said:

    As one of Terri’s critique partners, I have to tell you that you made my day. Dead Girls is a GREAT book. I’ll make you feel just a little worse — book #2 is even better. Thanks for the great compliment — I know she’s smiling over your nice thoughts.

  4. Terri said:


    This is probably the nicest compliment I’ve ever received. Thanks so much! Hope you’re having a great time at the beach,


  5. Jenan said:

    Re Daytona:

    Angell-Phelps on Beach Street, if you have the time. Terrific food, and even better chocolate.

  6. joanr16 said:

    I also remember Mutant Message being discredited after it became a big seller. Lucky thing the author hadn’t attracted Oprah’s attention. Still, it was an enjoyable read and it made loads of money.

  7. Anonymous said:

    queenmelda –

    Any sale is a good sale if morality doesn’t exist.

    It’s not just you! It’s me too!

  8. Anonymous said:

    Been following the “One that got away” series (very informative by the way)and I do have to wonder, as a reader, if the majority of publishers insist on writers being rep’d by an agent and agents esentially take what they like before offering to rep, this would then mean that our bookstores, which serve millions of people, are, for the most part, filled with the books preferred by maybe a couple thousand individuals at best. Moreover, these individuals would mostly be from the US and the UK, from a middle to upper class background etc. I’m just commenting because I had noticed that in my preferred genres things have gotten rather repetitive of late in terms of plot, characters etc. Now, although booksales seem to have recovered from their slump (an overall 11% rise in 2005)the rise has predominantly been in midlist and backlist writers and not in the top 200. You get the feeling the reading public is trying to say something?

  9. Elektra said:

    I’m pretty sure a pre-emp is when one particular editor offers so much cash that the book never goes to auction.

  10. Anonymous said:

    queenmelda is spot on about Mutant Message. Morgan originally claimed it was true, and later revised her story to call it fictional, based on an actual event. Australian Aborigines have found no evidence to support the claims made in the book, and widely consider it yet another insulting appropriation of their culture for personal profit.

    The point about passing on books that later do well is taken, but I think any agent who cares about more than money would feel relieved at having given this one a miss. I’m not implying anything about the agent referred to; I can only assume he wasn’t aware of the controversy and just saw the sales figures.


  11. Kendall said:

    Anon 2 – sure, a handful of people try to figure what they think will sell (publishing’s a business). Having agents in the middle, so to speak, doesn’t really affect the diversity of offerings. Editors don’t take things just because an agent offers them…editors take things they think will sell and that they can get excited about (“like”…?). Just like agents. (Disclaimer: I am not in the publishing/agenting industry. 😉

    As far as repitition in your preferred genres, there’s always plenty of junk and good stuff in any genre. Some genres might tend to have less “break the mold” stuff. Tastes vary a lot. Maybe read more reviews or talk to more people to get suggestions, to try to increase the odds of finding things you like? Or maybe try some other genres for variety?

  12. bonniers said:

    It seems that most publishers, like most television executives, think that “what will sell this year” equates to “what sold last year and the year before.” And they’re always surprised when their customers get tired of the same old same old and go after something new.

    Of course, guessing the “something new” is even more impossible, so I guess they’re stuck 🙂

  13. Janice Lynn said:

    Terri is wonderful and so is her writing. I think it’s great you shared why sometimes great stories/author’s get passed on–things like life being crazily busy, etc. It’s easy for writers to get caught up in the reject & not realize there are so many factors besides just the writing that come into play when the decision is made. Thanks for the great post & for telling the world what a fabulous book by Terri Garey readers have to look forward to!