Pub Rants

Agent Has Lost That Loving Feeling

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STATUS: I have a lot of reading to tackle and unfortunately haven’t been able to devote any time to it during the day. Nothing huge going on but a lot of time-consuming and boring “this is what agents do behind the scenes” details to help clients. In fun news, Sara launched our brand spanking new MySpace page if you want to check it out and friend us. It’s just one more way we are trying to get the word out about our YA (and crossover) writers. It’s probably a trend that is like, so over, you know? We’ll see what happens.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? A LITTLE RESPECT by Erasure

The mark of a good agent is an agent who doesn’t give up after the initial submission glow has faded.

Yep, it happens. Agents take on projects because we love them and think they can sell. Invariably, a manuscript will go out on submission and completely flummox us by not selling. By the way, this happens to all agents (except maybe if your name is Binky but let’s not go there).

Does the glow fade some after the initial submission excitement has subsided? Well, you know I’m honest, of course it does. It’s the worst feeling in the world to think, “Gee, did I miss on this one? Why isn’t my taste matching up with everyone else? Have I lost my mojo?”

In reality, sometimes the market timing just isn’t right (and let me tell you timing is everything) and a good project doesn’t sell right away or just doesn’t sell period.

A good agent rolls up her sleeves (or his cuffs) and gets grubby looking for the non obvious choices, the out of the box possibilities, and tries to get that project sold. Despite our best efforts, sometimes it doesn’t happen.

So here’s the reality of the situation from the Agent Kristin perspective (and remember, I don’t speak for all agents):

1. First round submission comes back all NOs. Yes, the glow is definitely off the submission but I don’t just drop the project. I know I’ll move to my second round choice of editors and push forward. This usually happens in pretty quick time—unless an obvious revision per the editors’ comments is needed. (For me, I give editors about 5 weeks to read any submission and get back to me. When the project is hot, it never takes that long before I hear back from an editor. If not hot, most editors will get back to me within that time frame. After the 5-week deadline has passed, then I start my gentle nudging). So, first two submits within a 3-month or so window

2. Second round fails. Oh boy, the glow is really off the project. And yes, it does get regulated to back burner. And I have to be honest; it’s not a first priority for me. Current published clients as well as new submissions take precedence. Perhaps the author needs to revise (first time or some more) and we can go back to some editors that showed some interest. Time to dig deep for the out-of-the-box editor ideas. I don’t give up though.

3. Third round. Most likely a mix of new editors and editors seeing a revised version. Depending on the project (and the genre), we might have exhausted all possibilities as this third round goes out. If it doesn’t sell in this round, it probably won’t. Not to mention, I need to make a living. I really have to start concentrating on what will sell to keep the agency profitable.

4. If it doesn’t sell and I’ve dug deep, I’ll put the nix on the project and urge the author to get started on the next project. I never really give up though. If an opportunity arises out of nowhere or if the market changes, I’ll take it back out. It hasn’t happened to me yet (but then again my agency is only 4 years old so not enough time has elapsed for some trend cycles) but it has happened for Agent friends of mine to sell a project 2 or 3 years after the original submission. It happens. Not often but it can happen.

In the history of my agency, I’ve had the pleasure of selling two great projects that took me over a year to sell.

I feel the greatest triumph for those two. Would I prefer they had sold in 2 seconds? Heck yes but I was pretty darn proud when they sold.

Tomorrow I’ll talk more about how writers can know and understand if their agent has lost that loving feeling or if the agent really has exhausted all possibilities. And also, tips for how writers can handle the “lost submission glow” scenario.

24 Responses

  1. Robin L said:

    As a new writer this scares the heck out of me. I know that if I got a killer agent (like yours truly) I’d assume the book would sell and if it didn’t – that would be really hard to take! Thank you for lifting the curtain and letting us see how the process works!

  2. Anonymous said:

    I’m a newly agented writer in the situation you’re writing about. I have a wonderful agent, but it scares hell out of me to hear about other new others who got a contract within 3-5 months of subbing. My agent has been subbing my ms for about 8 mos. now and still no bites. The vision that makes me break into a cold sweat is one where my agent calls me and says, “Sorry. You might do better with someone else.”
    EEECK! Thanks, Kristin for the great topic.

  3. Anonymous said:

    Wow, talk about perfect timing…I’m a first-time author with a non-fiction proposal that generated interest from no less than 13 stellar editors at stellar houses…then crashed and burned and fizzled and now I’ve been revising for months and just need to feel that there’s some light at the end of the tunnel (not to mention get cracking on work if the damn thing never sells). So – thanks. 🙂

  4. Simon Haynes said:

    Good to see you on Myspace, and that Erasure song plays just about every time I drive anywhere. (I have an MP3 player in the car with a short list of faves on.)

    Re: unable to sell a project. That’s why authors are supposed to be writing their next book while the agent has the first. Of course, I’m typing this instead of writing my next book so you should do as I say, not as I do. Don’t go to myspace either – it’s a time sink. And sell your MP3 player. And switch regulate for relegate 😉

  5. katiesandwich said:

    How often do you have to resort to going a second round on submissions? I know you’re busy, but if you get a chance to answer, this would be very helpful. I don’t have an agent yet, but I want to know as much about what to expect beforehand, which is why I ask. Thanks!

  6. Anonymous said:

    “How often do you have to resort to going a second round on submissions?”

    I’d love to know how many submissions constitute a round? Five? Three? Can you submit to the same publisher more than one time?

  7. Anonymous said:

    I’m scared, too. It was all wine and chocolate when I first got my (hilarious, confident, fiery) agent, but now my book is out of my control. It’s been giving me nightmares for the past two weeks. I’m trying to work on another project to take my mind off it, but have been understandably distracted. I can’t imagine 5 months of this! :-/

  8. Anonymous said:

    Oh! Haha! You said five weeks, not months. They all kinda feel the same right now, though, right? 🙂

  9. Anonymous said:

    Oh! Haha! You said five weeks, not months. They all kinda feel the same right now, though, right? 🙂

  10. Glenda Larke said:

    The work that got me an agent didn’t sell until 12 YEARS later. Is that a record perhaps? And in the intervening years she only sold one work of mine. Yet neither of us gave up. Some agents are stubborn, thank goodness…

    Now (a further 4 years on) I have 7 novels sold in 5 countries on 3 continents in 3 languages, and I have been shortlisted for national awards. We’re finally getting there!

  11. Kelly Parra said:

    Glenda, that’s such a wonderful and inspiring story! I just came from a writer’s conference where one author took 14 years to sell her memoir. She had hundreds of rejections, three agents couldn’t sell it until she finally sold it herself to a small press, and it was such a touching story. It ended up being reviewed in Publisher’s Weekly and the Library Journal and still being sold today. =)

  12. Kanani said:

    The work that got me an agent didn’t sell until 12 YEARS later. Is that a record perhaps?

    I’m so glad you wrote that! Tenacity, persistence. I think there are a lot of people who work, and work, and work. However, far more people quit than just keep working ahead. You’ve got lots of stories, so not everything hinged on the one novel.

  13. joanr16 said:

    I can answer a couple of the questions asked above, in terms of my personal experience.

    I imagine the number of submissions and “go-rounds” would vary greatly, depending on the type of book Kristin is submitting.

    Kristin submitted my novel (women’s fiction/borderline literary) to two rounds of editors, I think 18 in the first round, and 5 in the second. We got one or two very-near yeses, but in the end (as Buffy Summers once said), “A world of No.” There may be some “outside-the-box” submissions in the novel’s future, but otherwise, for now I think we’re done.

    Meanwhile, I keep all the editors’ positive comments (I was surprised at how many, and how positive) posted above my computer, to kick me in the tailfeathers while I work on something new (and, with luck, marketable).

  14. Liane said:

    Joan, thanks for sharing your novel’s story. First, consider youself hugged. Second, I would think your refreshing positive attitude would make you a prize for any agent or editor to work with. My (ohhhh so humble) prediction is that you’ll do quite well over the long haul. Good luck and good muse!

  15. Annie Dean said:

    I’m trying to work on another project to take my mind off it, but have been understandably distracted.

    I’m in this boat too. It’s been about a month since my agent did first round subs, including all my A-list and dream editors. It’s hard not to obsess about what they’re thinking, if they’ve read it, etc. And it’s also hard not to succumb to author paranoia, ie, that the first project won’t sell, which means your second one is doomed also. So far I’ve kept all that anxiety locked up in the safe and I’m cruising along on the second book, nearly to the halfway mark, but it’s hard not to fret sometimes. I’m also proud of myself for not harrassing my fabulous agent, who said “I’ll let you know when I have some good news.” I tell myself like ten times a day, Don’t pester the poor woman, she will contact you when it sells!

  16. Lynn said:

    If the book’s been everywhere but still has a niche market, what do you think about iUniverse. At least, it would get the novel out there.

    I’ve got a new novel that a new agent is submitting. We’re both very excited and the glow is definitely there. But I remember the total dejection when my first novel didn’t sell (with another agent).
    Is self-publishing a realistic answer? I understand that I’m going to have to market myself like crazy.

  17. Anonymous said:

    To Anne Dean and Anon –
    I know just what you mean. It took my agent only 3 months to sell my book, but OMG, it felt like YEARS! Every day I had to slap my hands to keep from phoning/emailing her to ask, “Did you hear anything yet?” I even called her agency and hung up on the receptionist -twice!- in moments of uncontrollable weakness when I just HAD to hear someone’s voice there (not Kristen, by the way). So hang in there and resist the urge to pester. Good news will come.

  18. Termagant 2 said:

    iUniverse, contrary to what they say, will NOT ‘get your novel out there.’ They will print it, but that’s all they will do. Getting it noticed is all yours to do, and it ain’t easy.

    What about small (non-vanity) presses for that great book that doesn’t fit any of the bigger house’s needs?


  19. richard white said:

    1) Query letters are out? Work on your next project.
    2) Synopsis and three chapters are out? Work on your next project.
    3) Full manuscript being reviewed? Work on the next project.
    4) Agent shopping your book around? Work on the next project.

    See a trend here?

    Once you write “The End”, it’s out of your hands. Either the agent (editor, publisher, public) will hate it or love it. Either way, you have no control over it. Why waste time fretting over things you can’t control when you could be getting ready to hand your agent that next wonderful story instead of them having to beat you about the head and shoulders to meet your deadline.

    Be proactive about your career!

  20. Anonymous said:

    In my first round of submission, the agent informed me that an editor showed interest and then total silence. The editor never responded to any future inquiries. I was told by my agent, no news is good news. In our second round of submissions, another editor informed my agent that they were interested in taking the project on. Guess what, total silence from then on. What do you think is going on?