Please, put down the torches and pitchforks.
I know how that title sounds. I never, ever imagined I’d turn down an offer of rep from an agent. But I did. I had to. It was a difficult thing to do, but maybe not for the reasons you might think.
It all started with the most recent #PitMad event. The day job was busy sucking the life out of me, so, the night before, I scheduled a few Tweets to jump in and scrap with the thousands of others vying for attention in the stream. By the end of the day, I had two requests: one from a small pub & one from an agent. Right away I knew I wouldn’t submit to the publisher. Because, you see, I’ve made the personal decision that I want an agent fighting by my side, adding value, experience, and wisdom to this passionate dream of mine.
So that left me with an agent who wanted to see more than the (exactly) 140 characters: Tera joins the crazy-twisted Phreak Show where she must embrace the truth: being a freak isn’t about looks, it’s a frame of mind #PitMad YAF
I’d previously researched the agency *a little*. My mind couldn’t instantly dredge up any black-listed reasons not to submit. Plus: AN AGENT WANTS TO SEE MORE OF MY STORY! Once I got home, I hunted the sub guidelines and shipped off the query, synopsis & first 25 pages. I grabbed some dinner and nonchalantly strolled into my weekend.
5 days later, this arrived in my inbox:
I’m absolutely obsessed with this. Your concept looks really tight and the message is just awesome. I think there is something so real about this, but you are entertaining instead of didactic. I could go on and on, but suffice to say I’m fangirling : ) I would be delighted to give your full manuscript a read.
Of course I did a celebratory jig (a cross between Riverdance & walking on hot coals) & sent it right over. An agent. Fangirling over my words! And only then did I do the in-depth research I should have.
As this process progressed, a half dozen of my fellow writers, CPs, and an Assistant Agent friend all suited up & went into research-war with me. There were a lot of questions marks, which twisted into perplexities, which then flared into big, flaming red flags.
– Predators & Editors only noted: slow response time to queries. [Well, hell. That’s 75% of all queries I’ve ever sent…]
– No agents with the agency are members off AAR. [Okay, well I know of some top-notch agents who aren’t…]
– No clients listed on the agency website. [Okay. Wait. What? You’ve been in business for years…Your website is a basic (and easy) venue to champion your authors’ work. If you’re not showcasing your clients & their books on your own website, then what kind of marketing value are you really adding?]
– Twitter digging, following the rabbit down its hole, unearthed a few “clients”. [Hmmm…few and far between. The quality of the book covers look little better than something created in MS Paint. Are these self-pubbers? I smell fish.]
– Even though the agency (and its parent Talent agency) has been around for years: no sales listed. None. Anywhere. [Slow the eff down. Even if the agent (for whatever reason) chose not to post sales, then the Editor, or the even the author most likely would. Right? HOW CAN YOU BE IN BUSINESS FOR YEARS AND NOT HAVE ANY PUBLIC RECORD OF SALES?]
And as a few more red flags were firmly planted: that dead fish smell clung to me, my manuscript, my misconception that landing a full request is always a good thing.
THE NEXT DAY: My phone rings during my commute home. I don’t recognize the number. It’s the agent. I pull over. I whip out my notebook, access the mental database of all those questions & red flags in my head.
I absolutely LOVE this. Love.it. The aesthetic you created is perfect for this concept, perfect for YA. The quirkiness is really good; weird in a good way. Your characters are a BIG strength; they feel so real. The whole story felt really emotional without sacrificing plot. It’s so hard to balance characterization, worldbuilding and plot, and you did it beautifully. That’s evidence of a great writer.”
Lucas’ brain: She’s genuine. She reallymeans every word. Damn, those words feel good. Why, oh why, does this have to smell like a Red Lobster’s dumpster?
I’d like to offer you and your phenomenal book representation.
Lucas’s brain: Oh fuck does this suck. Hard.
I dig into my questions: carefully. I ask about the things giving me major pause (or, actually, damn-near a full-on stop). She answers. She’s super nice. Her personality is vibrant, cheery, and wonderful. We’d get along great outside of the whole agent-author relationship thingy. Oh yeah. That’s the whole point. A knowledgeable agent guiding me through the process, selling-the-hell-out-of-my-book, connecting with contacts I don’t have, championing my story, fighting alongside me to make this passionate dream of mine a reality.
I have other fulls out, so I need to nudge those agents and give them the opportunity to offer. A week ought to do. I ask for a copy of the agency’s contract to look over. I can text or email or call anytime with questions or concerns.
I’m torn. There’s no way I can accept this offer. But, at the same time, in an ooey gooey part of me, this is the call I’ve been working SO HARD to receive for years now. THIS EFFIN SUCKS.
If the red flags smelled fish-like, the contract is the bloody meat of every fish who ever died, piled on a shit-covered beach, rotting in the boiling hot sun while zombie skunks spray musk on the stinkbugs chewing on the eyeless corpses. You think I’m exaggerating. I’ve seen a few agency contracts, so I have comparison points. I work with contracts & legal docs in both my day job and in my own business. This contract isn’t for just this project, but basically for your creative soul. The Author’s Work is defined as:
“…all ideas, story materials, characters, situations, formats, and works of authorship which Author has created or creates during the term of this Agreement…”
That feels pretty all-encompassing. “Ideas” are included? And what’s with the “has created” phrase? The word “irrevocably” is used too many times throughout the contract. The clauses involving how the contract can be terminated revolve around a very specific period in time; not just with 30 days written notice, which seems to be the standard. With each new work, the contract auto-renews & resets the clock & the termination clause. The continuation of residual commissions is scary when combined with the agreement’s definition of the Author’s Work. If things weren’t fishy before, this contract alone would have been enough to lead me to a no.
My deadline for getting back to this agent arrives. My gut wrenches as I dial the number. And I’ve heard agents say this before: rejections suck no matter which side of the conversation you are on. This isn’t true with queries or partials, I’m sure. Probably not even with a lot of fulls. But here, with an offer of rep before me, knowing and believing that (despite all the salmon) this agent truly & genuinely loves my work, I feel so awful saying no. And not for my sake. Not because I feel like I’m losing something, but because this agent feels so strongly for my manuscript. My heart hurts because she has expectation and hope. And I’m the one dashing it against the stones.
It bites when agents give you a generic rejection, which leaves you wondering But, really, WHY? It’s harder this way (on me), but I’m super-honest and straightforward with her on the reasons why I am declining her offer. She is gracious, but sadness tinges her voice.
I received an offer of rep. And yet, I had to reject it.
But the story doesn’t end there. Since I rejected that offer, I expanded the deadline: for reasons. Baited hooks still dangle in the sparkling water, with the possibility of reeling in an agent with the passion, experience, and wisdom worthy of a yes. It may or may not happen this round. I’ll keep you posted. Thankfully, there are fish in that wide, open sea who don’t smell fishy at all.
Good on you for valuing yourself, and your work, enough to NOT take a less than fair offer. ❤
Wisdom should always trumps emotion.
Also, I’ve worked too damn hard on my craft, and towards my goals, to settle.
Wow. Who can fault you for it. I’m bookmarking this for the wealth of information in it. You are lucky to be so smart and so methodical. If your novels are written with as much good sense and conscientiousness you show here, you’ll find the right agent soon enough. My very good friend whose agent just sold his third novel always tells me that the name of the game when netting an agent is patience. That’s a much better name for the game than desperation, the name most unagented writers tragically swear by.
Excellent points throughout, Michael.
Patience is a VERY tough game to play.
But desperation rarely leads us to a win.
Thx for the encouragement.
Wow, thanks for this very personal, harrowing and truthful story. It must’ve really hurt to say no, but thank God for the Interwebs. You really can discover all you need to know about the bizarro-world of publishing. I hope you find the agent you truly love and deserve.
It’s true: online research is invaluable in sussing out the truth. It’s not a fail-safe, but it definitely helps.
And, like receiving rejections, the sting of having to give them wears off, too. 😉
Oh man, Lucas, I just had to read that part about the fish on the beach with the eye-gouging, etc. to my hubby. You are funny and a wordsmith even with such serious topics.
I’ll be waiting for the post we all want to see for you when you DO find the right agent. Cheering you on all the way. 🙂
Bwah! I hope he enjoyed that description.
For the public record: I will definitely be expecting a shipment of Dark Chocolate Sponge Candy when the right fit clicks. Just sayin’.
Deal. Although I have a feeling you might have to fight for it. 🙂
Let me at ’em.
Eeek! That sounds SO hard (To have an agent talk about one’s work like that! Writer’s dream!), but honestly I’m just happy for you that you did the research and didn’t get tangled in a bad situation. I bet there are people out there who were not as smart. 😦
Also, this is making me wonder–is it normal for agents to be *that* unequivocally thrilled about something when they offer rep? I mean, I know they have to L.O.V.E. it, but from what I’ve heard it sounds like they usually have at least some small ideas for revision that they want to talk with you about…
We did discuss the topic of suggested changes. The agent had some light “polishing” in mind, but no major revisions.
I asked all the questions I’ve studied & crammed for. 😉 If nothing else, this call solidified my hope that I won’t be a complete mumbling arse when the next call comes.
Wow. I can’t imagine how hard that would have been. My heart breaks just thinking about it. To hear the raving and love in an agent who you can’t accept. 😦 SO many others would have taken that offer, some EVEN if they knew the flags.
I don’t know if you have already, but I suggest contacting Writer Beware and Preditors and Editors. They’re pretty fantastic about this kind of thing and helping authors to learn the kind of agent they really need and the kinds to stay away from. Especially with a contract that’s iffy, I would definitely let them know.
Good luck! I hope things work out for you, your book, and the agent (I doubt she means to hurt authors. There’s just a better way to do business). Thanks for sharing. *hugs*
Yeah, a cocktail of emotions for sure.
Thanks muchly for the hugs.
I want to hug the crap out of you for this. Seriously, I’ve helped more than one author out of a terrible relationship with an agent, and it sucks every time, because it’s always nerveracking and it always means that agent has probably completely burned at least one book for a client on a bad deal or no deal at all. There is so much truth to the fact that a bad agent is better than no agent, and huge huge props to you for knowing the difference and not allowing yourself or your work to suffer for the sake of adding a couple of words to your bio. I really, really hope this encourages others in similar situations to follow in your footsteps.
Thanks so much for that, Dahlia.
The whole purpose in sharing was to yank my experience out of the shadows and thrust it into the light. If my experience can nudge writers to pause, breathe, and do their due diligence before they sign with a *less-than* agency, then sharing was def worth it.
I’ve gotten a little static for my candor, but it’s been an OVERWHELMINGLY positive response. [Including an email from an agent, giving me kudos & encouragement.]
So, with all that’s in me, onward & upward & all that sort of thang. Candor & all.
Ohhhhhhh, wow, I really feel for you on this. It sounds like you definitely made the right decision, and on the positive side, SHE LOVED YOUR BOOK! Others will too!!! I can’t wait until you find your perfect agently match. He or she is definitely out there.
Phreak Show is still very much alive & I hope [believe?] the phreaks will find an agent soon, too.
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You read the contract, an act of basic intelligence and sanity, by which you saved yourself horrifying grief and misery. Every writer should do that, but too many get caught in the rush of excitement around get a rep. The traditional publishing path is strewn with these kinds of land-mines. Hang in there and good luck.
The simplest advice ever: Slow down & breathe.
Oh that sucks that the enthusiasm came in such a fishy package. At least you know when you do find your match, it will be real. Onward and upward, indeed.
I love shrimp, crablegs & sushi. But, that’s just not a scent I want to live with everyday.
Give me fresh! Give me hot & savory!
I want–no, I need–an agent who makes my mouth water with possibilities.
I’m currently querying myself, so I felt your pain. But I also learned a lot from your scrutiny. Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m going to get my list of questions ready for “the call” when it comes. Because the “right” call will come for both of us, as long as we don’t give up … or in.
Say, have you queried Barry Goldblatt yet (www.bgliterary.com/)? He represents Holly Black, who’s recent novels are in a similar vein to Phreak Show. I think he’d like Phreak Show. 🙂
I totally agree with you: the right call will rattle our phones one day. There might be no calls or offers before that, or there might be a few. We’ve just always gotta keep in mind that A call may not be THE call.
G’luck on the search!
You are so right. Having the *wrong* agent is infinitely worse than not having an agent … yet. Back atach! You’re writing is brilliant. I KNOW the *right* agent will find you.
Stumbled upon this blog via Twitter and am so glad I did. I really appreciate your insight and sense of humour. What could be better than zombie skunks? I want one!
You wisely dodged a really BIG bullet. I had a similar experience where the agent talked big, promising me bidding wars on my first novel and so forth. I signed with her, and for several years she kept me in rewrites of book #2 while she did next to nothing to sell book #1. Better to say no now than to say “you’re fired” later on. That’s even worse.
Kudos for your honesty!
Sorry you had that experience. [Not that I had anything to do with it, but, you know, that’s what folks say…]
And if we can’t be honest, there’s only one option left.
Now, where’d I leave my zombie-skunk-huntin’ rifle…?
Wow. I’ve just read this and I’m shocked. While I completely understand why you made the choice you made, it still shocks me that you made such a decision.
Oh, and I realize I’ve been a HORRIBLE beta reader for your novel. I truly apologize for that. So many things have gotten in the way…I’ve read a little over half and I think you’re story is fabulous and special. There isn’t even much I can suggest changing from the draft you sent me and I’m guessing your newer drafts are even more awesome. It’s a story that needs to get out onto bookshelves around the world. I believe one day it will. But I hope that that day will come soon.
It shouldn’t be shocking; it was the right choice under the circumstances.
And obviously no pressure on the read. 😉
Good instincts. I wish more newbie writers would dig as deeply (or know what they’re looking for) before signing on the dotted line. I can think of a half-dozen examples of writers I know who didn’t make the choice you did, and they paid for it.
Yes. Too many of my writerly friends jumped on an offer because: “Finally! And what if another offer never comes?” And that decision ended up more harmful than anything.
Thank you for reading and deciding to follow my blog. I shall be back to read more of your ;posts.
Wow, good luck in the future! This was a really great thing to post—I’m glad I read it. It’s taught me to keep my eyes open and keep my spider sense tingling for things that don’t quite feel right.
Thanks for posting this!
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Thanks, Hayden. There is a happy ending! I also have a post titled OFFER OF REP (and why, this time, I said yes). And “spidey sense” sounds soooo much cooler than “due diligence”. Good luck to you, too.
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