Pub Rants

What Surprises An Editor

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STATUS: I love going to conferences abut I have 246 emails in my inbox. And I was checking and responding to emails when I was away!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HOME by Face

When I was at RWA in D.C. last week, I was having drinks with an editor from The Penguin Group (I think that was the house—it’s all a blur really). We were talking about passing on sample pages and I had mentioned that I had just passed on an author who already had an offer on the table.

She was really surprised and said, “I didn’t know that agents did that. I thought you’d always take the sale.”

And then I looked at her surprised (there was a lot of surprise going on in this conversation) because I just had assumed that editors knew that agents pass on projects—even with offers in hand. Even if the agent can see that the project might excite other agents and probably sell. Guess I shouldn’t assume what an editor would know or not know about the agent side of the biz.

Maybe I’m unusual. Maybe other agents wouldn’t have passed but right now, when I think about taking on authors and really pushing them in what is a tough fiction market, I’ve gotta feel the love. It could be a tough slog—even with a prior publishing record!

This offer was from a previously published author with a debut track record (so neither good or bad in that aspect). It’s not like I didn’t like the project or didn’t see the merit it. I did. It just didn’t speak to me so I could champion the author’s career.

And in this case, I don’t think the author had prior representation but had worked directly with the publisher. I don’t remember. She may have left the previous agent (which is a requirement for me as it makes me uncomfortable if an author is shopping new agents without leaving the old. I know it’s done and I know we’ve debated the pros and cons on this blog about that. I’m just saying what I’m comfortable or not comfortable with.)

Of course, I’m always wondering why my favorite authors aren’t ever dissatisfied with their current agents. Grin.


17 Responses

  1. MeganRebekah said:

    So I presume that this editor doesn’t read your blog religiously like the rest of us?
    I thought that you had the whole industry as followers, or at least consistent lurkers 🙂

  2. Anonymous said:

    Well, the big question is: how big an offer was it?

    And thanks. This is a wonderful and informative blog.

    Oh, and another question: do you have a rule of thumb that says that good news comes quickly? That is, the longer you go after sending a project out without hearing a yes–even if you haven’t gotten a no–the less chance you have of selling it?

    (Yeah, my latest has been out to editors for eight weeks now, and I’m getting nervous …) Oh! Also: what percentage of the stuff you send out -never- sells?

  3. Sarah Laurenson said:

    A friend of mine became an agent, said she loved my writing and would I consider her. I did. She passed. But I really understood why.

    My style had changed and the new one was not something she could stomach let alone represent. I want an agent who is in love with my work, not one who’s fighting off nausea. I truly believe that’s the best way to be succesful in this biz.

    Still looking for that agent…

  4. Anonymous said:

    If I were an author with an offer in hand, I would definitely want an agent who was excited about my book and my career potential–not an agent who was mainly interested in a sure thing.

  5. Maggie Stiefvater said:

    When I went agent-hunting, I had an offer on the table, and out of the roughly ten agents that I queried, I had four offers and six non-offers — folks who passed with really lovely rejections saying that they were sure someone else would feel differently, but they weren’t the best champions for my work. And ended up signing with a wildly enthusiastic agent who absolutely loved my entire body of work.

    I can’t say how many times since then I have been grateful that those less than absolutely passionate agents passed on my novels. Would I have still gotten that sale, and the next? Quite probably. Would I have still had a relentless champion for my work for all the in between stuff, the slogging stuff, the going to the bat for judgment calls during editing, cover design, etc.

    The sale is the easy part — it’s like being in lust with someone when you first decide to get naked. You better hope the passion’s still there when you’re putting the literary child you’re raising together through school and fielding calls about parent-teacher conferences.

  6. arbyn said:

    I think it’s really brave to pass on a “sure thing,” and wait for what’s right for you. It really displays your character and should make the authors you represent very proud to have you on their side.

    Thank you for sharing. I’m really touched by this story.

  7. Mechelle Fogelsong said:

    I’m with arbyn. Ms. Nelson’s motive, “so I could champion the author’s career”, is admirable.

    Even if I never sign with Kristin Nelson’s agency, I hope to high heaven that I end up with an agent who has a similar philosophy!

  8. Ali said:

    This is my first time here, so I didn’t think I would comment. Especially since I wasn’t entirely sure I understood what you were saying, lol. (there you all get to see my ignorance ;p)

    But when I read through the comments, particularly Maggie’s, I finally got it.

    So I wanted to say hurray for you because inevitably your decision to pass on the author, even though they had an offer, was precisely the right thing to do for both of you. You need to have an author you feel passionate about. Someone you’ll go to bat for.

    And every author absolutely deserves to have an agent who feels THAT strongly, that passionately, about their work.

    Offer or not, if you don’t love an author’s work, you shouldn’t be representing it. So, hear hear.

  9. Anonymous said:

    I recently asked an editor what her views were on trying to find an agent after you have a deal in hand (because even if you do pass… it does make it easier to get your story in front of the agent). She got all flustered and said, “well, we hate when you do that. And we may decide to take the deal off the table if the agent changes things too much. But that is a no-fail way to get an agent.”

  10. TheWriterStuff said:

    What the editor had to say is interesting. I wonder, Kristin, do you find that this is often the case when you take on an author with a deal in hand? Have you ever had an editor take a deal off the table because you entered the picture?

  11. Anonymous said:

    I have to laugh at this…

    QUOTE: “Of course, I’m always wondering why my favorite authors aren’t ever dissatisfied with their current agents…”

    Hmm, and here I am left wondering why my favorite agents never want my work.

    Grass is always greener, yeah? That agent might turn out to be a disorganized hot mess, and the author might be a nightmare. Thank God for unanswered prayers, I say.

  12. Anonymous said:

    Maggie S — “And ended up signing with a wildly enthusiastic agent who absolutely loved my entire body of work.”

    Anyone who says the “sale” is the easy part more than likely had an easy sale, so I don’t know if that would be true for most authors.

    Lots of agents are “wildly enthusiastic” when you sell — wait until your next book doesn’t sell and see if that enthusiasm level stays the same.

    The same agent that is your biggest cheerleader when you sell can easily toss you aside when you don’t. No, you say. My agent would never do that. Happens all the time. It’s only by NOT selling that you find out if that agent is truly in it for your entire career. Just sayin’.

  13. Maggie Stiefvater said:

    Anon 7:09, I’m not saying that the sale is easy — just that the sale is the easiest part of the career of an author. Actually, you’re saying the same thing too — because the second sale, or lack there of, tests the relationship. So do cover battles, project decisions, marketing and publicity petitioning, protracted contract issues, and a host of other crucial but not sexy things having to do with being an author.

    Personally, I wouldn’t blame my agent for parting ways with me if I sent her multiple projects that she couldn’t sell. It’s a business relationship, not a best friendship. If neither of us are making sales, something’s wrong. An agent that dumps me for one unsold ms, however? Now that one would annoy me.

    But still, it comes down to the same thing — you have an offer in hand, you have to try to find an agent that loves all your projects you have cooking, so that way they’ll be more likely to love your next project and more likely to a) sell it because they are enthusiastic or b) be patient while you write the next brilliant thing if the second project doesn’t sell.

    I really think you have to play it the same way. And keep writing.

  14. jimnduncan said:

    This isn’t the first time I’ve read about a disconnect between agents/editors on each other’s business practices. Is there no professional level conference for publishing pros to keep up and update each other on current industry practice?

  15. carla said:

    Dear Ali,
    You are going to love Kristen’s blog. She teaches us lots and lots about the writing business. Even if she is not our agent, she explains the whys and how comes–and we learn how to accept the fact that rejection is NOT personal.
    I have learned that I will probably need someone else to represent my work. Until that date, I will learn as much as I can about the business. Kristen is a great teacher. I need writer lessons more than an agent at this time.

  16. Allison Brennan said:

    Anon 10:29: I don’t know what editor you talked to, but I’ve spoken with several editors at major houses and ALL of them said that if they wanted to buy a new author, they would ask them to find representation. I remember my first meeting with my editor and we were chatting about this and that and she said the exact same thing–that if she did buy something from slush (which she had done once), she would offer a list of agents she felt would like the work.

    Publishers (I’m talking NY pubs) generally don’t like working with authors about business. We take things personally. We find it harder to separate business from creativity. Agents know what is truly negotiable and what isn’t, and many have boilerplate contracts with the major houses so most of the details are worked out ahead of time–even before you’re represented. Your contract is worked from the boilerplate agreement with the agency. The publisher boilerplate ALWAYS favors the publisher. So many things are negotiable, but things you might think are negotiable are breaking points for the pub. Then there’s the calls for information–editors do not want to hear from their authors every day about the status of A, B, C. They would prefer to work with an agent who isn’t going to ask them ridiculous questions. Agents (good agents) fill in their clients about the basics of publishing so the publisher doesn’t have to. I could go on–

    So I’m surprised that an editor said that.

  17. Anonymous said:

    Wow! I was working with a publisher for a year before I found an agent, and wold still be without one if we weren’t in a common writer’s group. Even though I had a really good offer. The book will start off with only a limited national interest, but I am certain the story strikes universal interests. Only time will tell. But I suppoe it all boils down to an educated guess.