Pub Rants

Get Specific Names

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STATUS: I totally forgot to blog last night.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LONG HOT SUMMER by Style Council

It sometimes happens that a writer lands an agent, goes on submit, but then the agent gives up after just a short time or a few submissions.

Personally, I can’t figure out what the agent was thinking. Why bother taking on someone if you don’t think you can commit for the long haul? Besides, every agent I know has a story of getting 30+ rejections and finally selling the book. It only takes one! Such a cliché but often true. I’ve even heard of agents taking up to 2 years and 5 years to sell a project.

But that’s an aside. Let’s say this has happened to you (as awful as that would be). Here’s the info you need to be an animal about getting from that former agent. Bug that person with emails and phone calls (politely of course—I always advocate being professional and polite) but do annoy them until you get the exact names of the editors who saw the work and the imprints/houses. And if you can get the responses, that’s even better!


Because if a new agent is going to take you on, it’s imperative to have that info. (And just about every agent I know has taken on at least one client who has been previously submitted so it happens.)

Here are a couple of reasons why we need the info:

1. If I have the submit list in hand while contemplating offering representation, I can clearly see if I think the former agent sent the work to the right editors or not. If they haven’t, heck, I’ve got a clear field and can probably sell the work by getting the project into the right hands.

2. Having the info allows me to weigh my decision on whether I think there are enough viable other places to take it to.

3. The editor list lets me see if an editor has left publishing or has moved to another house and suddenly, I’ve got a clear shot at that imprint again. It’s musical chairs in publishing.

4. The editor list allows me to pinpoint an editor who has already seen it (maybe a year or more ago) and I can sway him or her to look at it again if we’ve done a big enough revision on it that I can pitch it like new.

5. Some editors are notoriously bad at never responding and if that’s the case and I see that on the list (and the responses you have—or lack thereof), I can target a different editor at that imprint and it’s like submitting fresh.

6. There’s nothing worse than not knowing that a project you took on was previously shopped and you, the agent, now have egg on your face when an editor writes and tells you that they’ve seen it before and it was NO then and it’s still NO now. Ouch. That pisses me off and so if you have the editor list, then you can give it to me before this can happen.

Not to mention, it’s your right to know who has seen your manuscript, who turned it down, and what they said about it so even if you are parting ways, get that info. Most agents (I hope) are good people and happy to give you that info as a matter of course but if the agent isn’t doing it, be wonderfully annoying and politely make it clear that you will continue your inquiry until they do. They may just send it your way to make you go away!

40 Responses

  1. KLo said:

    I think it must be very hard to be an agent.

    Almost as hard as it is to have a finished manuscript you’re desperate to find representation for : )

    Seriously, thanks for a peek at the other side : ) : ) : )

  2. Kristin Laughtin said:

    I appreciate your list of reasons why you, as an agent, would want this type of information. I’ve heard agents mention it’s so they know how much a project has already been shopped, but these specifics illuminated some angles I hadn’t considered before.

    I’ve read multiple times that before signing with an agent, you should ask for a client list and possibly talk to some of those authors. Assuming that is acceptable protocol, it seems like it could be a good indicator of whether an agent is likely to give up on you after only a few attempts. (Of course, if they are, it’d be better to have a list of *former* clients and find out if this is why they parted ways.)

  3. Laurie said:

    I always give verbatim feedback to authors within 24 hours of receiving it, but I don’t give names, just imprints. If we part ways, I give out names only to the author’s new agent. Same thing if I take on an author who has been previously represented: I ask the author if I may call his/her previous agent and get the info. I think it’s better when it’s agent-to-agent. As an agent, I feel more confident that I’m getting the right info, and I feel more comfortable giving the info to a fellow agent.

  4. Anonymous said:

    I’m pre-submission at the moment. Recently, my agent made an off-hand comment that we would be submitting to a strategic number of editors for a one round offer. A ONE ROUND OFFER?!? My little brain translated this to, “You’re very low on my totem pole and since my giant agency just merged with another giant agency, I’ll have little time to devote to you…unless you get sold.”

    Needless to say, I’m torn. On one hand, I feel a bit betrayed. On the other, I feel I owe him some loyalty for the extraordinary effort he’s put into 2 line edits and one global. The book is much better for his involvement. I don’t understand pouring months of effort into a book only to go for one round of submission.

    Thanks for the post. It helps (a little).

    – Sleepless in Alabama

  5. Joseph L. Selby said:

    @ Kristin: Do you provide that information to your own clients up front? Or only when requested?

    @ Laurie: Speaking for myself, I would not feel comfortable with an agent that felt it appropriate to keep any information related directly to my work secret from me.

  6. Anonymous said:

    @Joseph: Totally with you on that. If the agent can’t trust the client not to go bugging editors directly (arguing about rejections or whatever), then the agent doesn’t need to be dealing with that client. A friendly, professional conversation about What Not To Do would work wonders in this situation.

    IMO, it’s vitally important for the client to know which editors have seen the work, not only from a shoppability standpoint (after a break-up) but also in case the client attends the same conference as an editor who read the manuscript. It’d be awkward as all hell if that editor came up and started talking to the client about the book and the client looked like an idiot for the first half of the conversation ’cause she was unaware the editor ever saw the project.

    That would terminally piss me off, and I’d drop an agent for a stunt like that. It’s my career, and I deserve to know what work is being done on my behalf.

  7. Dave Kuzminski said:

    I think in thirteen years of operating P&E I’ve had only one agent name reported for failing to divulge where a manuscript was submitted. Thankfully, it was a scammer who was trying to avoid letting the author know that nothing had actually been done and the scammer was already not recommended by P&E.

  8. Anonymous said:

    Thanks for popping in Dave!! Most of the time, it’s just that authors are too shy or scared to confront agents (and even former agents) about issues. Thanks for pointing that out.

  9. Anonymous said:

    As an agent, I feel more confident that I’m getting the right info, and I feel more comfortable giving the info to a fellow agent.This attitude bugs me on so many levels. It’s like you think your clients (and writers in general) are so beneath you and other agents that they do not deserve to know which editors have seen their projects.

    In case you’ve forgotten it’s their career and their projects. They deserve to know.

  10. Anonymous said:

    Seems like the writer has to do so much of the legwork, why don’t they sell it themselves? If only publishers would open up their slush piles and hire “slush readers” like agents do, then writers can be more in control of and more informed about their own works! Why are we often the last to know (and to be paid)?

  11. Kristin Laughtin said:


    Got to agree with the other commenters here. That wouldn’t really help an author who was trying to *get* a new agent, especially if they only had the one manuscript and the agent’s decision depended on knowing how much it had been shopped before taking the author on as a client.

  12. Ellen said:

    Another post illustrating that getting an agent doesn’t mean it’s all roses from that point on!

    Thanks for the post, Kristin, it’s good to be prepared for all eventualities if the dream ever comes true. . .

  13. Anonymous said:

    OK, I fell in with a “new” agent about 8-9 years ago. She had 0 experience and sent my poorly-written, overlong MS too many editors, relying on the “AGENT” on her letterhead to get it looked at. She quit the business. I’ve spent the intervening time to learn more about the craft, and my much-revised MS is completely different and has a new name. Am I shopped around or not?

  14. Anonymous said:

    Sleepless in Alabama — is that what ONE ROUND OFFER means?

    I took it to mean that the agent is going to try to sell it in one round because she has three or four editors she knows will love it?

    Am I wrong?

  15. Anonymous said:

    If Laurie doesn’t trust her own clients with info on where a book has been (excuse me, it is THEIR book) then why is she an agent?

    Good Lord, what is this industry coming to?

    Check one off my agent list.

  16. Anonymous said:

    How can you check her off her list? We don’t know her last name! (If you do know her last name, please share, as I’d like to check her off my list as well.)

  17. Anonymous said:

    I find it rather heartwarming that Kristin knows agents that have a story of a ms being rejected by 30 editors before it sells.

    My question, where ARE these agents? Do they really exist?

    I’ve been agented. After 10 rejects my agent (established agent/agency) was done. Now my book is shopped — no other agent is going to want a book that’s been to 10 editors. I’m screwed.

    I know Kristin doesn’t answer comments but can someone else tell me how many houses their own agents send to before they give up?

  18. Anonymous said:

    Anon 7:22 — I’m assuming Laurie is her real first name… how many Laurie’s can there be in the business, with that spelling?

  19. Anonymous said:

    @Anonymous 7.25 – but 10 rejects is nothing! Some of them may have rejected because it was great but too similar to other authors on their list. Or not right for now. Or they were just too busy to take it on. Can you do just as Kristin suggested, go back to your ex agent and ask for the names and the reasons? Even if they all hated it it is useful feedback for you.
    My agent shared a lot of feedback with me, and although it was incredibly frustrating – whether it was a ‘I loved it but..’ or ‘it’s not right because’ – it was all useful. And eventually (after more than 10 rejections) it all came right and a publisher offered a two book deal and it’ll be their lead book in January. Don’t give up.

  20. Anonymous said:

    Anon 8:31 — (I’m 7:25) thanks for your reply. I had the feeling that 10 rejects was nothing. I actually do have the names that rejected it, but still don’t feel I can offer it to another agent without writing a fresh book that hasn’t been shopped yet.

    I suppose I’ll add to my list of Things to ask a Potential Agent: “How many places do you send to before giving up?”

    And then run away screaming if they say, “Ten.”

    BIG HUGE CONGRATS on your two book deal! 🙂

  21. Anonymous said:

    My ex-agent was good at sending me the actual reject letters from the editors. But she only shopped it to seven before putting it on the back burner and losing interest. Needless to say, I eventually woke up and moved on. I have a new agent and first question to her was: how many rejections will you get before you give up on a book. Her answer: depends on the book but she said that seven seemed a pretty small number. We shall see. So far I’m pleased with her.

  22. Anonymous said:

    Dear Kristin,
    I love your blog. I have learned so much from you! The agent/author relationship is such a mystery even now that I have an agent and I would love to hear your take on how things go down step by step. Once you take on an author what is your next step and what do you promise as far as the revision process? Thanks again!

  23. HeatherM said:

    Thank you so much, this is exactly what I’m going through right now. It is a huge relief to have someone offer advice in relation to it. You’re the BEST!

  24. Anonymous said:

    Anon 7.25 – from Anon 8.31 – Can you at least try to get the feedback from the old agent? If all 10 said the same thing, then you can learn from that. If not – you’ve been unlucky. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Rejection is horrible, and this unfinished situation might affect your confidence with the next book.
    But I am sure you can succeed – you have come very close. Good luck! And thanks for congrats.

  25. Anonymous said:

    Hey, you know who we should see another book from?

    Paris Hilton. NO ONE hires a ghost writer like Paris Hilton.


  26. Hopeful said:

    Yikes! Just TODAY I got my submit list from my agent who just dumped me. It was a lot longer than ten. So I guess I should feel… okay about that?


  27. Tracey S. Rosenberg said:

    A Google search for ‘literary agent Laurie’ comes up with five possibilities in the first page of results. So striking anyone off a list could be problematic for that reason alone….

    It might be better for one’s overall career path to put this issue on the list of ‘questions I must ask agents when we are discussing representation’.

  28. Jamie Hall said:


    I am concerned about your practice of not giving this information to leaving clients, but only to the new agent. It is possible to imagine a number of unpleasant scenarios.

    For one thing, it might take a couple of years to land a new agent. What if, in the meantime, you lost the records or even perhaps died?

    Another scenario could happen as well: what if you give the records to the new agent, the client ends up eventually leaving that agent too, and that agent never gives the records to the client?

  29. behlerblog said:

    Kristin, once again, I must profess my undying gratitude to you. I’ve seen more than my share of retreads, and I couldn’t figure out why I was seeing them again.

    I always thought it was because the agent didn’t keep good submission records. I never considered that the author had new representation and was working without a safety net.

    I’ll have my secretary, the unreliable beagle, mix you a fresh pitcher of margaritas.

  30. Amber Argyle-Smith said:

    Wow. A lot of negative comments here. I’m guessing that Laurie doesn’t want to mess with a third party and goes straight to the source. Give her the benefit of the doubt.
    Or at least the courage to post with your name and not anonymously.

  31. Anonymous said:

    Amber Argyle–

    “Laurie doesn’t want to mess with a third party?”


    Her client is not a THIRD PARTY. Clients are the only reason agents have books to sell to begin with. Her loyalty should be with her client, not a random editor. Wait until you are in the situation and then I bet you’ll understand.

    I post as an Anon because I don’t have a blogger account, and my name is quite common, not because I’m a coward.

  32. Anonymous said:


    I wonder if you could clarify something. You suggest that if an editor rejects a manuscript submitted by your old agent, then leaves a publishing house, your new agent is free to resubmit to the same publisher without triggering the “agent of record” policy that often appears in agent/author agreements. I was under the impression that the first agent would be the agent of record for that publishing house exclusively.

  33. Anonymous said:

    My question is similar to Anonymous 5:55 AM — my ms was shopped two years ago, and since then, I’ve done a mega revision on it. It has a completely — miles and miles different — main hook, a different title; I’d say 95% of the whole thing I’ve re-written from scratch. Still, some of the main character’s names, settings and a couple subplots have been carried over. (Albeit revised.)

    I’m about to part ways with my agent and query new ones.

    At what point (if any?) do I say that a very, very different incarnation of this book was shopped 2 years ago?

  34. Anonymous said:

    Anon 2:35 AM, I would change the proper names and not say a word about it. If you’ve truly done that major an overhaul, then it’s a different book, IMO, and changing character and place names will break the last ties to the old manuscript.

    I was dealing with an nutso agent some years ago who “pre-shopped” my manuscript without my permission or any kind of agency agreement in place. I guess she was arrogant enough to assume that of COURSE I was going to accept her offer of representation, so she felt it was okay to go ahead and start pitching it. Uhhhh, no.

    I pulled the manuscript from the market completely (including from another agent who would’ve been a great fit for it) and started over with a blank screen and a blinking cursor in the upper left corner. The central questions of the story and core conflict are the same, but everything else is different. Not one sentence remains from that original manuscript. I killed off some of my favorite scenes and descriptions in the process.

    It was worth it, though. I learned a lot. I burned away everything that wasn’t essential to where I was going with the story. And I’m not stuck with a psycho agent. 🙂

  35. ~Jamie said:

    I know this is an old post, but it’s amazingly timely for me. Thank you for blogging here and keeping me from losing it. I’m not sure what we’d do without agents as awesome as you!