Pub Rants

Do Agents Feel Regret?

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STATUS: Man, I totally rocked on my TO DO list today. I have one more task that I must finish before leaving the office so I’m off to do that right now.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MY HEART WILL GO ON by Celine Dion

Today I passed on material from an author who already had several offers of representation on the table from other agents.

Is this hard for an agent to do? Yes and no and here’s the process I went through.

1. I knew that the author already had several offers of representation so I read quickly and paid extra attention to what I was reading.

2. The topic was hot and I did think that the project would sell (and probably quickly) so with that in mind, I reread the material.

3. My thoughts didn’t change. I liked the premise and the concept but I wasn’t in love with the story.

4. Did I think that I could work with the author on it? Yes. But the question isn’t whether I could work with the author on it, the question is should I? If other agents love it enough to take it on right now, then maybe that’s the clear signal that I’m not the right agent for this project.

5. When this project sells (and potentially for big money because hey, the topic was hot enough and I could see this happening), would I regret passing on it?

Ah, now that’s the question I don’t think I have an answer to.

Won’t know how I feel until it happens, right?

But I can make this remark. Last year I passed on a project that landed on the NYT list for a short duration. Did I then regret having passed? Well, I picked up the book and gave the first 50 pages of the published version a read—after all, a lot can happen in editing etc.

After rereading, it still wasn’t my cup of tea but I certainly wished the author well. Obviously this person found the right champion for the book.

Now if anything I passed on attained JK Rowling status, well then, what I can I say? I’d probably kick myself. Who wouldn’t?

I pray every day that doesn’t happen (and my apologies to the authors I passed on because obviously you’d love to attain that kind of hallowed performance!)

21 Responses

  1. Kiki said:

    The classic scenario we never regret what we do, we regret what we don’t do.

    You’re only one women.. you can’t rep them all!

    And I think authors want to feel their agent is 100% in love with their stuff which I’m sure your clients do! Oh and they want to be J.K. Rowling.

  2. Anonymous said:

    I read you passed on the query for Twilight (or your assistant did), which was originally called Forks. True?

  3. Natalie Hatch said:

    Well at least you know that you’ve stuck by your guns, and who knows someone might land on your doorstep who’s really the next big thing and you’ll fall head over heels in love with the story… by the way what do you love in a story? What is it that really captures you? (for future reference).

  4. jk said:

    It’s always interesting to hear the inside scoop on publishing.

    It’s funny, but I was just thinking about this topic, but in terms of editors rather than agents. I’ve wondered if, when I finally sell my book, the editors who rejected it are going to say, “someone actually bought that sh*t?”.

    Well, that’s not exactly the same thing as what you’re talking about, but it is something I’ve wondered about.

  5. Deb said:

    Good for you, for passing on something you didn’t totally love. Ideally, I’d like my agent to be my best cheerleader after my husband, and be committed to the success of any/everything I write.

    That may not happen, but an agent who loves your voice is a better fit that someone who almost loves it.

  6. karen wester newton said:

    Actually, I am amazed that it’s still possible to get an agent if you’re unpublished. Think about it. Yeah, that book might be big, but it might also NEVER sell. An agent doesn’t make money until he/she sells the book, and an unknown is a potential blackhole of time with no reward in sight.

    Just imagine if you went to work and your boss said, “You’re doing great work on that project, but you know what, we’re not going to pay you anything until it’s finished and it’s a success.”

    Seems to me it’s bound to be difficult to know what projects to take on and which ones to pass. Unless you’ve got a crystal ball somewhere there in the mountains?

  7. Anonymous said:

    I have also wondered if Stephenie Meyer’s “Forks” came your way, and if it was filtered out somewhere.
    It’s like you’ve warned: queries are very subjective.
    As writers, we just don’t know what will rock the boat of the agent of our choice. We can only hope that at the time they lay eyes on our query, they will be well fed, well-rested, and recently treated with much kindness by their better half. Heck, if their dog pooped on their favorite slippers right before she turned on the computer, may my humble query be not the next in line!!

  8. Kristin Laughtin said:

    I guess if I were the author in that situation, I would be glad you passed too–but only because, as many people have pointed out before, agents want to rep manuscripts that resonate with them, and authors want their agents to love their manuscripts as much as possible. I don’t blame you for finding it trickier when you can tell that a manuscript will probably be very successful and profitable, of course. But you’ve got to keep future projects in mind too–if you don’t click with this author’s writing, you might be able to sell this one book, but will you want to sell others down the line?

  9. Anonymous said:

    Kristin, you will not pass on a talent of JK Rowling status. Reading your stuff, you have a good sixth sense of knowing what the audience wants. Have faith.

    When you see it, then you’ll know it.

    I think the payoff is much greater if you work with quality and do it well, then to spread yourself thin and not be true to yourself.

    I feel for the authors who you’ve passed on. I hope they find representation with an agent who they will be happy with.

  10. Julie Weathers said:


    I’m glad to hear you say this. Perhaps I am being simplistic, but I view agents much as I do good horse trainers. A good trainer will identify the natural talent in an animal and the best way to bring it out. Then they will keep working with them until their star blooms.

    The very best trainers are the ones who identify with the horse on some level and truly believe in them.

    As much as I would like to have an agent, I would much prefer to have them be honest with me. If they don’t love my work, let me find someone who does.

  11. Anna said:

    In such a situation, do you think that you would make an offer if the author hadn’t yet gotten any others?

    Perhaps this question is glossing over the bigger picture, but then I am insufferably curious.

  12. Anonymous said:

    Kristin, it was so nice to see your thought process here. Some agents may feel that just making the sale is all that matters. I appreciate you looking out for the author’s best interests as well.


  13. DOT said:

    I’ve just discovered your blog courtesy of Jane at How Publishing Really Works.

    Having read through some of your early posts, then looked at my M/S, I discover I am guilty of so many newbie mistakes. Sigh.

    Still better to learn now than later. So big thanks to you.

    Mind if I post a link of PubRants on my blog?

  14. Anonymous said:

    I know an agent who passed on John Grisham. But he did very well with other best sellers afterward and I don’t think he has huge regrets. There are all kinds of stories like this. You just keep moving forward.

  15. Anonymous said:

    Writer’s also feel no regret. I had an editor consider my ms and was excited until I read some of the books he/she’d edited (badly). After that I was hoping he/she’d pass. And I got my wish.

    The wrong agent, just like the wrong editor, isn’t going to do your book any favors.

    Though I do wish an agent and editors looked at the AUTHOR’s potential body of work, not just one book, when considering signing/publishing them. Perhaps the writer you passed on would have come up with really interesting stuff for a second, third book.

  16. Anonymous said:

    This might be an irrelevant question you may not want to answer on your blog. Sorry if it wastes your time, but I’ve nothing to lose by asking.
    If I have more than one agent offering representation, how long should I take to make up my mind? What should I consider in making my final decision for a long term, and friendly, relationship? What if the agent I ‘really, really want’ has not yet responded, and there’s another one, who was good enough to submit to but ‘second-best’, already offering to take me on? What would be the appropriate thing to do?

    It’s like guessing which cute guy will make the best spouse. And you can only pick once because you can only get married for the first time once.

  17. Anonymous said:

    This is a very encouraging post to me. It seems hard to find professionals in any industry today who have the ethics and moral fortitude to make a potential sacrifice like this. Business is business, after all. As an amateur, I don’t have a lot of experience with agents and editors, so I can’t say how many would jump at the easy sale, but I’m guessing they’re out there.

    My opinion probably doesn’t mean much, as a relatively anonymous stranger out there in cyberworld, but I have to say that when I do get an agent, I hope it’s someone with your backbone! And I’m sure the clients you already have will benefit from this choice as well.

  18. Deb said:

    I’m totally with you, Anon 12:56. I’ve written quite a few books, and just once I’d like to send an editor a smorgasbord of ready novels and have him/her choose which one might come closest to fitting their needs — it seems so much more efficient that way.

    Probably only for me & my agent, though, so therein lies the rub. If it isn’t easier/better/more efficient for the publisher, it’s not going to happen.

  19. Elizabeth said:

    very interesting. i do think that “just b/c i could doesn’t mean i should” is soooo true. i often go through that dialog in my own head with a lot of different areas of life. good post!

  20. Anonymous said:

    I like the honesty in this. I just received an offer–and had 5 outstanding manuscripts at the time. I did all the right things– with notification etc… and was surprised when most of the other agents stepped aside, kindly. Most said, “that’s great–go for it!” Once again, it proved the point of how subjective all of this is.