Pub Rants

Snooze We Lose

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STATUS: It’s really too late to be blogging but there you have it.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SHE’S LEAVING ME BECAUSE SHE REALLY WANTS TO by Lyle Lovett

Now I have to say that I really don’t consider 10 days as snoozing but the reality is that another agent was faster. It really is as simple as that.

And what most of my blog readers know (or are learning), every situation is different. Perhaps we were not the dream agent for this particular person and another agent was. I know so many wonderful agents; it wouldn’t surprise me if I actually knew who ended up landing this project (Now I don’t because the writer didn’t offer that info and we didn’t ask.)

Do I think a writer is obligated to tell other parties that have partials that an offer of representation has been made?

Nope. Not if we only have a partial. Now I’d love it if they did, but we don’t expect it.

When we request a full, however, we always ask in our request letter that the writer keep us apprised of any other interest. There’s nothing worse than spending a weekend reading a full, getting excited about it, then finding out on Monday that the project is no longer available. Ack. I could have spent those 8 hours on a different manuscript.

But it’s not like we are going to send out the agent police after the writer if they don’t inform us of an offer. It is the writer’s prerogative after all. But boy, I really do think it’s helpful when a writer does give us that heads up.

Despite best efforts to read in a timely fashion, I always feel like I’m 2 or 3 weeks behind on my reading than where I should be.

27 Responses

  1. Catherine said:

    I don’t really know what to say except to repeat (but to you) what I thought when I read the previous entry: “Wow, I’d have thought that was fast.”

    But apparently there’s always someone slightly faster. Must have been some amazing MS, and good luck to the author in any case.

  2. Melissa said:

    If you were any faster you would need a time machine. Which actually, would be awesome, because you could offer representation to a writer before they had even finished their book. Plus you could bet on sport events and make lots of money.

  3. Gilbert J. Avila said:

    What if a writer had a time machine? Who could resist the temptation to go uptime a few years, buy the best-sellers, and then come back and type them up with their own name on them? That could rip a hole in the space-time continuum and leave us all spinning into a temporal vortex. Or maybe not—I don’t know.

  4. Soratian said:

    Hi Kristin, I’m just wondering, what happens if some agents ask for a partial and some agents ask for a full? What happens when the agent who read the full makes you an offer?

    I know most agents say, “All bets are off, let me know straight away”. But does that mean you send them the full without their asking and say, “I have an offer, so here’s my full- read it!”

    And how long do you give them- a week? How long is too long to keep an interested agent waiting?

  5. Helena Halme said:

    This may be different in the UK, but I’ve been asked not to submit to other agents even at the query stage. And reading times are longer here too, 4 months is not unusual for just first three chapters. I’ve learned to be patient. The whole sorry tale is on my blog.

  6. Karen Amanda Hooper said:

    Question for you Kristin: If an agent has a full and another agent requests a partial, do you still advise the agent asking for a partial? Or do you wait until (if and when) they ask for a full. I guess I worry about coming off cocky because the agent is only requesting a partial, but your post makes me wonder if I should have mentioned it. 🙁

  7. Anonymous said:

    ‘I could have spent those 8 hours on a different manuscript.’

    … and there’s your problem.

    I’m a professional writer, I had half a dozen novels out on the shelves and selling before I looked for an agent. I’m happy with my representation now, but it was harder finding an agent than getting that first book published, and that’s manifestly the wrong way round.

    Read back the bit I quoted. You spent *eight hours* reading an entire manuscript by an author. The author will have spent eight *months* on it. This is someone you’ve pre-screened and that you’re excited about? The agent who wants to represent the book demands a full manuscript, then skim reads it and makes a gutfeel decision. That’s the best case scenario for an author?

    And if the author goes with another agent, the agent resents losing those eight hours simply because they could have spent the time on another from the pile.

    Here’s what happened with the agent I went with: she liked my contact email, she emailed to ask if she could phone, she was actually only an hour away so we arranged to meet up for lunch instead, I sent her three chapters, we met up for lunch, she explained what she saw her role as being, all framed in terms of the work she would be doing, she discussed my book in a way that suggested she’d read it, we shook hands. Contact email Thursday, lunch the following Tuesday, contract with publisher the next month.

    … and a month after that I got an email back from another agency I’d submitted to on the same day saying they weren’t taking any submissions at that time.

    I did submit to Nelson before that. After a week I got a form email telling me how to use the website to submit, a week later you asked for a full, and two weeks later sent a three line form email saying the book ‘wasn’t right for our agency’ without any explanation why. It felt like queuing in the post office, rather than the start of a mutually beneficial working relationship.

    You didn’t want the book, that’s fair enough, and it’s possible both of you read it carefully, passionately debated its pros and cons, had very strong opinions about it … but that’s not how it came across. You read sample chapters and requested a full, so you must have had some enthusiasm, but absolutely none was transmitted to me, no sense of what you liked and disliked about it at any stage, why you liked the opening but not the rest, or even that you’d really read it.

    The joke of it is that you are *way* up on the list of ‘pleasant experiences trying to find an agent’. I feel a little guilty picking you out. You were quick, your site made it clear what you’re interested in, you didn’t leave me hanging for months before rejecting.

    But that quote from you sums it up, I think – you’re not seeing it from the authors’ point of view, the months they’ve already spent on the book, you’re seeing it in terms of you wasting an hour or two. Please, instead of getting defensive about your current practice, try thinking of a way to improve it. Or at least acknowledge that authors probably spent eight hours of their lives working on their *cover letter*, so don’t lament that you spent eight hours reading their full manuscript.

  8. Anonymous said:

    As an unpubbed writer, I really can’t agree with you.
    A writer devotes 8 months of the year to one book, 8 months next year to their next book i.e. a writer only needs to devote themself to approx 1 book a year.
    An agent cannot make a living on 15% of 1 book a year. Agents need to devote themselves to an enormous number of manuscripts in order to add just 1 client to their list.
    I’d say that 8 months of writer devotion is probably equivalent to 8 hours of agent devotion to the same piece of work

  9. Anonymous said:

    How bad is it, really? You spent eight hours reading a book you really liked. I could think of many worse ways to spend your time.

  10. Anonymous said:

    ‘I’d say that 8 months of writer devotion is probably equivalent to 8 hours of agent devotion to the same piece of work’

    Right … as a ‘pubbed’ writer, can I just say what a load of tosh. For a start, there are very few writers who can make a living just writing one novel a year.

    For another thing: you just said that an agent’s time is worth 750 times an author’s. You missed the point of my original post – if I’d have had a whiff of the sense that Nelson had even read my manuscript (and I’ll say it again, they requested a full, after chapters, after a cover letter – I was someone they *liked*), I’d have been much happier. Even if it had been a three line rejection letter with the *title* of my book in it, that would have helped.

    I’ll say it again – this isn’t personal against Nelson, they were one of the better ones. But there’s a better way of doing business.

  11. Jael said:

    Anon 6:13, if agents spent as long reading books as authors did writing them, response times would be even longer than they are now, don’t you think?

    If an agent makes the decision about whether or not they want to represent the author after reading the MS through once, I don’t see a problem with that. The author can still have a conversation, ask the agent questions about how they see the relationship going, making sure their goals are aligned, etc — after the agent has decided that representation is on the table. If an agent had a half-hour discussion about the agent-author relationship with evey author who submitted a query, or even a partial, they’d have no time for current clients.

    And as much as everyone wants helpful feedback from the query process, current clients have to be the top priority. They just do.

  12. MeganRebekah said:

    @Anon –
    I would be incredibly grateful to have a stellar agent like Kristin spend *eight* hours of her weekend on my manuscript. She knows there’s no guarantee the MS is still available, or that the client will choose her in the end, but she still devotes the equivalent of a full business day to a single MS? To me that’s dedication, and nothing to be bitter over.

    Kristin, from what I’ve read (both her and on other sites) I think you are one of the most dedicated agents out there. Keep it up!

  13. Anonymous said:

    I just wanted to share my experience getting an agent. After more than a dozen rejections–it’s hard to remember, I guess really more like 2 or 3 dozen!–an agent finally called, on a Monday, and wanted the book. Obviously, she had a full.

    When I got her offer, I emailed everyone I’d queried–people with fulls, with partials, and even agents who still hadn’t responded to my query. I had one more agent (who already had a full) get back to me on Wednesday, and she wanted it too. I liked both agents, the second better than the first. It was a nice problem to have.

    Then a third, one of those I had queried who hadn’t yet responded, had my followup email about my offers forwarded to him by his assistant. He asked for 50 pages on Thursday, then the whole thing over the weekend, and on Monday called and was ecstatic and said he’d give his eyeteeth for it! Guess who I went with?

    So the moral of the story is if you get an offer, let EVERYONE know. Who knows whom else you’ll flush out! And wait, if possible, till someone is jumping up and down about it.

    And the second lesson is that things can go very slowly (months of rejections) and then heat up very quickly! BTW all this happened in August, when everyone, including me, was on vacation. As a matter of fact a fourth agent, who was also on vacation, wanted it too (alerted by my followup email–she also hadn’t repsonded to my initial query). She had her assistant read first, and by the time she got the ms. I was committed to Mr. Enthusiastic, who is a dream come true.

    Oh–and by the way: anyone who can write a novel in 8 months is a freak of nature, as far as I’m concerned! And any agent who spends 8 hours on a submission is doing her job very, very well.

  14. Anonymous said:

    Anons–very good points! But this all comes down to the inherent problem: if most people think any AGENT’s time is more valuable than a writer’s time, then we’ll continue to have this imbalance of power. After all, we create the product–even if they don’t fly off the shelves, books are the basis for TV and movies as well. Without us, agents have/do nothing.

    I’d say a writer’s time is MORE valuable than an agent’s time since we can only focus on one book or project at a time…
    Equal rights for writers, please!

  15. HeatherM said:

    You and Sara are so wonderful to take this in stride! And you’re right, the match just must not have been quite there.

  16. Anonymous said:

    Can I just ask, I’ve seen several comments on here about people with several agents vying for their project; what about if one has asked for exclusivity? I’ve had multiple agents interested, but the first asked for exclusivity, so I haven’t given the others the fulls. Is this not a smart move on my part? (Sorry to digress slightly).

  17. TKA said:

    Why the competition about whose time is more valuable, author’s or agent’s? Each person’s time is equally valuable. We simply do different things – equally valuable things – with our time.

  18. Anonymous said:

    ‘if agents spent as long reading books as authors did writing them’

    I’m not asking for that, I’m only asking that agents don’t act like they’re down on the deal when they’re sent a free, complete book to read but they don’t like it.

    I had books published before I went looking for agents, I wrote a book that I thought was strong and commercial – and the agent I ended up with signed it up for a little more money than I hoped for, in a couple of weeks, deal done.

    I understand that not all books are for agents, I just didn’t appreciate the attitude that if I spent a year writing a book understanding the market, that’s required a tiny amount of editing, that two publishers instantly liked … that the agent is doing me a favor when I contact them, jump through their hoops and so on, so they can spend (so they say) a couple of hours skimming it.

    As I say … my name or the book’s name on the form email would have been something. And, as I say, it’s very possible these agents did all sorts of amazing stuff with the manuscript, but it certainly *looked* like they didn’t.

  19. Jael said:

    Anon 10:28, if you’ve already granted the exclusivity you need to honor it, but there always needs to be a defined time limit. If there isn’t one, you can set it, and say “If I haven’t heard from you by X date (if they’ve already had it more than a month, I’d set a date one or two weeks away) I’ll plan to distribute the material to other agents who have requested it.” You can wordsmith it if you like, but an exclusive without a time limit is very unfair to you.

  20. Lauren Baratz-Logsted said:

    I wish there was an official manual that came along with the desire to be a published writer.

    One item would read: “Do not grant exclusives unless the agent is so far and away your No. 1 choice that you would regard any other agent as sloppy seconds. If asked for an exclusive, simply say, ‘I’m afraid I can’t do that, but I can guarantee that if someone else offers representation, I won’t say yes until I’ve spoken with you first.'” Which naturally leads to:

    The second item: “If you receive an offer of representation while your ms is still being considered by other agents, by all means do internal somersaults, but calmly tell the offering agent that you’re thrilled but it’s such an important decision you need to process it first. Then advise other agents of the offering agent’s offer and give interested parties a reasonable time period in which to finish up their own deliberations.”

  21. Renee said:

    Anon 6:13 —

    I understand your frustration and feel your pain, but you’re missing the point. To an agent, your book is no more than a business transaction. It’s a JOB for them. It’s not their responsibility to tell you what they liked or didn’t like. They aren’t writing coaches, or friends, or crit partners.

    I see your point about the balance of power, but there’s another way to look at that as well. In the beginning, the agent has all the power. That changes later on, though. Once the relationship is formed, the writer has more power. The writer gets paid more than the agent. The agent works for the writer.

    Try not to be so frustrated. You’re an artist. The agent is a businessman. And that’s really how it should be.

  22. Anonymous said:

    ‘It’s not their responsibility to tell you what they liked or didn’t like.’

    It is their *job* to like or dislike, though. There’s no ‘pain’ or ‘frustration’ – I found another agent. I didn’t need a ‘writing coach’ – the book they read is three slight edits away from the book that’s being published.

    A swift rejection with no explanation is better than one that takes months and says something vague about ‘it just didn’t hook me’.

    The tone of the original post, the idea that the only sacrifice involved and time lost was the agent’s eight hours but it’s OK because there’s another one just like it on the pile … all I’m saying is that rubs at least this author up the wrong way.

    I got pretty far through the Nelson process – full manuscript. It didn’t feel personal or enthusiastic, however far I progressed, it felt like … well, a process.

  23. sean. said:

    Lots of pros and cons here. I agree with Nelson as much as I agree with the anonymous writer.

    Plenty of this comes with how an agent is trying to get their image across. Are they trying to look all hand-holdy and comforting friend, or are they trying to come across in a strictly-business sort of way? Does the agent pick through those thousands of queries in an attempt to find someone they can cuddle with (figuratively, of course), treating all the rest with business appropriate efficiency?

    Having met Ms. Nelson, I can tell you she comes across as very professional, with a very no-nonsense and business-like approach. You aren’t going to get reassuring hugs as an unpublished writer, though I imagine that changes if she’s in love with your book and thinks she can do something with it… as it should.

    That said, I assume there are agents out there that specialize in the cuddling aspect of the biz– keep the writer writing by making them feel calm and important. I also imagine that these are the agents with lucrative clients, a small roster of writers and a considerably smaller slush pile to get through… the ever elusive ‘word-of-mouth-agent’. You don’t meet this person unless it’s through some arcane channel of intros; there is no billboard saying “QUERY ME!”

    The anonymous writer above points out that the inequity in time spent on the parts of agent and author seems rather sinister… but it isn’t. It doesn’t take someone eight months to read a book, not a good one. Perhaps a weekend, for someone with the time and inclination, will be spent lost in the pages. Books take a helluva lot longer to write than to read, just like movies, and if we go by money/time spent in that model, we’d be spending two days in the theater and paying eighty grand to get a ticket! It’s a volume business, not a ‘time-spent-crafting’ one. Period. The writer spends the time writing for the love and hopefully, for some financial gain.

    If we look at this endeavor in terms of people appreciating the work we put into the product, rather than just the end product itself, perhaps we’d all be better off working for construction companies.

  24. sean. said:

    Incidentally, I’m not a client or even an ardent supporter of Kristin Nelson… she rejected me (as she should have) and hammered in the whole concept of “Find an agency that’s a good fit for you and your work” rather than “Find any agency that will take you.” An older, wiser me looks at what she represents and says, “Boy, was she right… we don’t mesh well, literarily speaking.”

  25. Anonymous said:

    I didn’t want hand holding or writing coaching or to feel important or a pat on the head telling me I must have worked really hard. I don’t want them to spend as long reading my manuscript as I spent writing it.

    As I say, I was a previously-published author and since then I got representation and a deal. I’m not bitter or frustrated, although I know it must come across like I am.

    I’ll try to sum up my objection: I don’t think Nelson simply set up their email to email me back automated responses a set time after I emailed them and never bothered reading what I sent … but I can’t be sure of that. I sent them 100,000 words, I have no proof that they even read the title.

    And that’s wrong, surely, when I’ve got as far as sending a full manuscript and agents are in the business of building a relationship with an individual author and championing their material?

    Sorry … I honestly didn’t want to go on about this forever, I just want to make it clear that all I’m trying to be is constructive. Whatever Nelson’s intentions or motivations, the end impression, for me, wasn’t one that would have me rushing to sign up with them.

  26. Anonymous said:

    To Anon., 2.25 PM
    Despite your better intentions you do come across as bitter and frustrated and like a child complaining that Kristin didn’t read my book but she read some other book. The comparison between time spent writing and reading a novel is spurious at best. It is not the time spent to but the weight given to the hours/minutes that will actually allow a comparison. For example, a writer is expected to take 8 months or whatever to write. An agent simply cannot out in an equivalent amount of time. Their 8 hours of reading actually is equivalent to your writing time within the context of their business. It is entirely up to the agency to read, like, reject, or not read your submission (yes even after they request the full or partial). This is a business, whether you like it or not. The agent is a business person. Selling a book is a business transaction. Take it or leave it – that is the reality. Some agents send a form rejection others send a personalized one. Some banks have a live person, some use a phone system to respond to customers. Some stores have great salespeople, others are the pits. You make an informed choice to use the business based on your personal preferences. Please do the same in the business of writing. The Nelson Agency is a business like any other – better than many in fact. And no, I am not one of their authors.

  27. Anonymous said:

    Anon published author, I get what you’re saying. Thank you for giving us another picture. This blog is a great resource and I appreciate that Kristin allows honest discussion.