Monday, February 16, 2009

The big ignore

I have an agent. He is a big shot and has a list of bestsellers. I am a first-time author. I can write well (that's one of the reasons he took me on), but I don't have a complete manuscript yet, merely 20 000 words or so of proposal. It's good, but not complete. He shopped me around about a year and a half ago, got no takers, and asked me to go back to the drawing board. Now I have, and have e-mailed him several times for guidance. He doesn't write back. The last time I wrote him was about a month ago.

I know he's still active because a widely read service for publishing news reported a big deal he landed about a week ago.

What do I do?
A. Figure my time will come with him, and wait. No one likes a desperate person.
B. Call him on the phone.
C. Find another agent.

You say your agent has repped some bestselling books in the past, so he clearly knows what he's doing. Thus, he took you on because he thought he had a good shot at making you a bestseller too. This hasn't happened, for whatever reason - sometimes we misread the mood; more often than not it's just the timing that's out. Whenever I take on an author I always believe I can get them published, but the publishing landscape can change in between the time I take them on and the time I send out the submission, and suddenly the prospects aren't so good. Still, we try.

This agent has tried. He may have decided that he can't try again - and it is always difficult to resubmit a novel (particularly a novel) that has been rejected on first submission. Or he may just be doing what a lot of us do, which is prioritise our projects. An agency is a business; we have to bring in money. Our bestselling authors will always get faster attention than the uncertain prospect of a first-time novelist. So he may have a lot of demands on his time at the moment - doing a big deal can take more energy and attention than you would think - and he'll get back to you.

However, you should call. You're not a 'desperate person' - you're a client. And if no longer has time to rep you - which can happen, because he may have taken on some other clients in the meantime - then you need to be released to find representation elsewhere. So, yeah, you should call - he's your agent, not your school principal. And if he won't take your call and you still haven't received an email in a month's time, send him a respectful, unemotional email saying that you believe that he and you are no longer a good match and you're leaving to find representation elsewhere.

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