A Twenty-Five-Question Interview Published as a Five Part Series. Read Part One HERE
| Hosted by MM Finck |
| Anonymously Answered By Agented Authors* with Varying Publishing Career Durations and Successes from Debut to Bestselling and Represented by Multiple Literary Agencies of Varying Sizes |
Did your first agented manuscript sell? If not, did you and your agent mutually agree to stop submitting?
Abha: It did sell to the publisher who was initially interested in it.
Billie: Yes. [sold]
Carly: Yes – my first agented manuscript sold.
Emma: No – she wanted to continue, but I decided to stop because the big publishers passed.
Evelyn: I had an agent for an earlier ms who almost sold my book but the editor wasn’t happy with the R&R. After that she kind of dropped off the radar and stopped responding. She’d taken a leave of absence to give birth. I felt abandoned and gave up on my efforts. Ten years later, I took another stab with another book.
Gemma: Yes. But it almost didn’t. We did one round of about 20 editors, and we both knew going in that if it didn’t get an offer, we were going to focus on the next book. My agent was really transparent about her thinking and why we wanted to do that, as opposed to trying to go for a second round of editors. We both share the philosophy that you only get one debut.
Jasmine: No, and I guess so. I said something like “I guess it’s dead,” and she said, “Oh that? Yeah.” There was no formal notice or conversation. If a manuscript doesn’t create a sensation with editors pretty early on in submission, many agent interprets this as the “market speaking” and move their focus to your next book. Some agents ascribe to this and move on faster more than others. One friend’s agent stopped submitting after one rejection. I also hear stories of agents who continue to push their clients’ manuscripts for a year plus. Mine is in the few-month range but definitely is most interested in that first month.
It was not so much a mutual agreement to stop submitting as my agent telling me there had been a shift in the market, and she was afraid if she kept pushing my book in the current market it would only gather more rejections. If it were my call, I would have wanted to continue submitting, but there really wasn’t anything I could do except defer to my agent’s judgment and expertise.
Katalina: It sold! Hooray!
Keisha: It did not sell. We agreed to move forward with the next manuscript and then we parted ways. My second agent did not really submit my manuscript (though she pitched it). We were waiting for my current WIP for be ready for submission and parted ways before it could be tested.
Nelly: Yes. [sold]
Padme: Yes. [sold]
Rala: Yes. [sold]
Seraphina: What a heartbreaker! My first book went to acquisitions at three different publishing houses, and then ended up not selling. We stopped after Round 2, when we both agreed it was better to go out with something fresh.
Zaylene: Yes it sold.
Zoe: Yes—but not till the second round of submissions, on a completely revised ms a year or two after the first round. My agent had no obligation nor reason to resubmit, but she believed in the project from jump, and actually asked for a second crack at it when I said I planned to self-pub.
To what degree is your agent an editorial agent? Does that work for you and why?
Abha: My agent hasn’t yet edited anything I’ve given her. I think part of it is that I turn in pretty clean manuscripts—I’ve had many sets of eyes on it before I turn it in, and I’m sort of an obsessed copy editor! (But that doesn’t mean the story is perfect.) Also, I think my agent would say she’s there to offer guidance and years of wisdom and knowledge of the industry, but the nitty-gritty editing is for editors. And I’m okay with that.
Anna: I only wanted an editorial agent. I like that first line of defense.
Billie: My agent is very much an editorial consultant. I have sometimes fought against it, but between her and her best agent friend, they always improve my work, so I’ve learned to bite the bullet and listen. If I feel strongly, they will still represent the work, but that happens rarely.
Carly: My agent does minimal editing. Her thoughts are mostly thematic with a few detailed responses. Definitely not line edits. But her suggestions have been spot-on and propelled us to the next steps.
Cowriters N: Our agent gives great feedback—more big-picture edits, which help shape the book before we send on to the publisher.
Emma: Current agent isn’t editorial at all.
Evelyn: She’s very hands-on. She sent ten pages of notes before we shopped my ms. It worked well for me for that book. On the following book, she wanted me to take the story and characters in much different directions than I wanted. I decided to send the ms directly to my editor, who loved it. I was glad I trusted my gut.
Gemma: She is VERY editorial! I love that, and it’s what I wanted in an agent. Of the offers I considered, that was something that became a deal-breaker.
Jasmine: Pretty editorial. It works for me because she’s good, and my work is better for her suggestions. It doesn’t work as well for me when I have to wait several weeks, even months, for her feedback. But I deal with it because, one, she’s good, and, two, I tell myself that implementing her feedback (in my own way; she’s great about that) is required for her to harness the passion required to sell it. Yes, I think an agent should be able to sell a book passionately whether she feels it or not, but it’s also her reputation on the line. It’s a tricky business.
Jennifer: My agent is very editorial. It was something I was looking for in an agent—someone to offer me professional feedback and input to help make my work the best it can be. That said, it’s not always easy working with an editorial agent, particularly if your visions for a project do not align or your communication styles/expectations differ.
Joan: Not at all, and she made that clear up front. She’s a deal maker, but I know I can bounce ideas off her any time, and she reads and gives feedback on proposals.
Katalina: My agent is extremely editorial, which I really appreciate. I don’t have a critique partner or group (I know, I know, I really should), so my agent is really it for me. She’s fantastic about helping me think through plot snags, and I always value her comments. She usually sticks to big-picture feedback, but she occasionally also provides comments on word choice or sentence structure. She’s really invaluable to my writing process.
Keisha: My first agent was – we worked together to completely overhaul what would be my 2nd manuscript. I was pleased with the work we did, but then it did not sell.
My second agent: I’m not sure she even reads my words.
Nelly: Yes, to a degree. More editing is always a good thing.
Padme: Highly editorial. I loved her feedback on my first two completed projects, but I did not respond as well to her need to help me develop proposals for option books—I want to do the writing!—so I went back to writing a full ms before showing her.
Rala: Moderate. Makes suggestions, catches inconsistencies, helps with things that don’t quite work. It’s good to have that second eye from someone who is a professional.
Seraphina: Both of my past and current agents are editorial, and that skill is something I definitely looked for on my agent hunt. My current agent will give me a short editorial letter prior to the submission process. She’s smart and savvy, and I trust her instincts. She always makes the book stronger. After a while, there’s stuff I just can’t see in the manuscript. I’m too close to it.
Zaylene: He’s not at all. He read my first manuscript but I”m not sure he’s read my others (3 and counting!). They go directly to my editor. Yes it works for me, too many cooks in the kitchen, something about spoiled soup. He sells my books: both to my current publisher and foreign publishers. He’s dogged and focused on selling. This is good for me.
Zoe: I get great big-picture feedback from my agent—which I value immensely. For me she’s an integral part of the revision process—I have great crit partners, but she always offers a different perspective, with really insightful comments and also a slant on what’s marketable. As long as the agent has a good editorial sensibility, I would welcome and in fact ask for their input.
If your agent is editorial, how long does it take for her or him to give you feedback on a first draft? Do you feel your agent’s input has led you to write a better story?
Anna: Timing has depended, but it’s always scheduled. She has definitely helped me improve my stories.
Billie: She’s very fast, but again, we’ve been together a long time. I usually hear back within a week, or at the most, two. She has definitely helped me write better stories. Every writer is weak in some areas, and she is aware and kindly points out where I’ve dropped the ball.
Carly: I like to say that my agent’s superpower is speed reading. She gets back to me within days, if even that long. Her insights have definitely made a difference
Cowriters N: Depends on her schedule, but she usually gets back to us within 2-3 weeks. We’ve found her input invaluable.
Evelyn: Even if ONE THING resonates, it has a positive influence on the story. I do think she holds me to a high and that helps me to work harder.
Gemma: She usually can turn around my revisions in a couple weeks tops. We went through three rounds of revisions before submission, and each time it took her about a week to read and get back to me with comments. Her edits absolutely made my book better.
Jasmine: It takes my agent several weeks (into months for a full mss) to reply with feedback on anything I send her – from a short synopsis to a full manuscript. I believe she is on the slow side which she does not recognize and I do not appreciate, but her feedback does get me to a better, more marketable story.
Jennifer: It takes my agents several weeks to respond with feedback on the new pages I send to her. Generally speaking, I do feel like her feedback pushes me to write a better story.
Katalina: My agent turns things around pretty quickly. If she’s reviewing something short, like a proposal or synopsis, I can usually expect comments within a few hours. For a full draft, I might have to wait a week or so.
Nelly: She doesn’t read the first draft. No one reads the first draft. I send her the best manuscript I can and we go from there. She doesn’t give detailed feedback but she knows my editor’s taste, which is immensely helpful.
Padme: I agreed with her advice wholeheartedly on my first two projects and in each case it resulted in a better story. I was an early client, so her feedback was often after just a few weeks. Things have slowed considerably! No new results to share as still waiting…
Rala: I never send in a first draft. I send in the third or maybe second if a deadline is looming and I’m ambivalent about certain choices I’ve made. Absolutely.
Seraphina: No longer than a few weeks. Agents tend to prioritize current clients. And, my agent’s notes have always strengthened my work. No doubt.
Zaylene: If I ask him for feedback, he’d read and provide it. I don’t ask. I mostly work with my editor.
Zoe: Within weeks. And hells to the yes.
If you’ve parted with an agent in the past, why?
Anna: I needed an agent who knew women’s fiction really well, and at that time he also decided to go in another direction with his career. It was uncharacteristically amicable and he worked with me until I found someone else.
Billie: Twice. My first agent left the business, and although her agency was very good and highly respected, it was headed up by a man, and I wanted to work with women. Second time, I felt my agent viewed me as a commodity and we disagreed on many aspects of my work. When I left her, I landed with my current agent, with whom I’ve been working for more than 15 years.
Carly: I did part with one agent, and it was such a blip in this journey that I often forget it even happened. I got a contract with an agent the very first time I sent out a query and I was so elated with how easy it had been that I signed without doing any research on her. It turns out that she was doing this part time, had never sold anything, and all of her social media pictures were of her partying. So – yeah, when my six months with her, I didn’t renew and I started over again.
Emma: I ended up seeking new representation because the agent was unresponsive, often didn’t reply to emails for two weeks or more, and I was never clear on what she wanted to do with my manuscript.
Evelyn: I had an agent for an earlier ms who almost sold my book but the editor wasn’t happy with the R&R. After that she kind of dropped off the radar and stopped responding. She’d taken a leave of absence to give birth. I felt abandoned and gave up on my efforts. Ten years later, I took another stab with another book. [Evelyn’s answer is in response to two questions. It appears in both places.]
Keisha: First agent: she was an agent for 2 years, and then received an offer to become acquiring editor for a brand new publisher, her dream job. So she stopped agenting.
Second agent: a new diagnosis with one of her kids caused her to switch life very quickly, begin homeschooling him, and as a result decided to drop her fiction clients since fiction took so much of her time and the books she was able to really move were mostly non-fiction. So neither parting was initiated by me, but rather by life circumstances for both agents. And now I’m on the hunt again. Sigh.
Rala: Changes in my focus. I left my agent and spent a year and a half writing something that became women’s fiction before signing with my second agent. We’re still friends.
Do you have a relationship with your agent’s or agency’s other clients? If so, what is the nature of those relationships?
Abha: Not really. I know of a few authors whose agents are also with my agency, but we’re not close.
Anna: Some, just by chance.
Billie: Not because of the agency, only by circumstance–friends are also at the agency.
Carly: Any relationship I have with other authors at the agency is coincidental. I have heard of other agencies that intentionally foster relationships and that is something I wish they did. I think it would be great to build those friendships and cross-promote. I have thought about instigating that myself, but any time I spend on that will be time away from writing, and I can’t afford that distraction right now.
Cowriters N: Yes! It’s like a sorority—there’s a camaraderie.
Emma: No – except I follow them on Twitter/FB etc.
Gemma: Not really. My agency is kind of big, with a lot of big name authors who don’t necessarily need to build author community in the same way I do as a debut author. My agent connected me with two of her authors when I was considering signing with her, and they were both lovely. But we don’t keep in touch. We don’t chat. Maybe that will change? I’m okay if it doesn’t.
Jasmine: A few. I wish I had relationships with more, but I now understand that it’s not always to the agent’s advantage. There is fear that the clients would be sharing unflattering stories or resentment might build for real or perceived different treatments. On the other hand, it could extend the reach of each client’s book news and create greater loyalty to a team.
Jennifer: I am connected with some of my agent’s other clients online and through WFWA. The relationships I have formed with her other clients have been so valuable to me, both personally and professionally. There’s nothing better than the support of fellow writers who can relate to your experiences!
Joan: YES! I love my agent-sistas. I’m close to at least three of them.
Nelly: A little back and forth on Twitter. We are in different genres.
Padme: I count some very good friends among my agency sisters and brothers. I’ve connected with as many as I know about on social media. Any chance I see to surround myself with another supportive community, I take it.
Rala: [Yes.] Friendly, supportive colleagues.
Seraphina: So far, I’ve always had an “agent sisters” relationship with my agents’ other clients. Competition is at a minimum; unconditional support is generally given. We tweet and FB about each other’s work, and the general attitude is “ a rising tide lifts all boats.” It’s nice.
Zaylene: He sends prospective clients my way to talk about how great he is. We usually end up staying in touch.
Zoe: No, but not for lack of my agent creating a great, collective atmosphere. I am sort of crappy at that kind of thing, though I don’t mean to be—might be an offshoot of being self-employed for twenty-plus years in a very solo business. That watercooler thing doesn’t come naturally to me. But it’s a fun, supportive group.
The next issue will feature five more questions.
Not only that!
There will be an accompanying series to follow this one with self-, hybrid-, and indie-pubbed authors.
*“Author names” were assigned with absolutely no logic (aka, my children made them up; some names may not even be real names) to allow for anonymous candor.
Interviewed by –
MM Finck is a writer, essayist, and offers query letter coaching and opening pages editing as The Query Quill. She is the Vice President, Communications for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She also oversees WWWB’s Interviews and Agents’ Corner segments. Her women’s fiction is represented by Katie Shea Boutillier of the Donald Maass Literary Agency.
She is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and past contest chair for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association 2016 Rising Star writing contest for unpublished authors. Her work has appeared in national and regional publications, including skirt! magazine. http://www.mmfinck.co
Her work has appeared in national and regional publications, including skirt! magazine. When she isn’t working on her work-in-progress PIN UP, you can find her biting her nails over her novel #LOVEIN140 which is currently on submission, belting out Broadway tunes (off key and with the wrong words), screaming herself hoarse over a soccer match (USWNT!), learning to play piano (truly pitifully), building or fixing household things, or otherwise trying to squeeze more than twenty-four hours out of every day. She is active on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Litsy (@MMF). Say hi! http://www.mmfinck.com/queryquill