Friday, August 9, 2013

A note on submission etiquette and multiple agents

So you've sent out your submission to a few agents and more than one has asked to see a full manuscript or they have otherwise indicated that they're interested in your work. This is, obviously, a Very Nice Position to be in.

Then one of the agents who has progressed to this next stage offers representation. Obviously, that's great because representation is what you wanted. But that doesn't mean you should accept the offer without telling the other agent/s who is/are considering your work. The polite thing to do - and, as I've mentioned before, publishing is a polite industry - is to let the other agent/s know that you've been offered representation and ask them to let you know within a certain time frame if they're interested in doing the same. Keep the time frame short, like a week. 
There are a few other reasons why it's wise to do this:

1. It is the professional thing to do. If you were interested in buying a house and you'd looked at it a few times and had inspections done and talked to the real estate agent and mulled over the price you wanted to offer and talked to people about it, wouldn't you be somewhat annoyed if the agent then called you and said the house had been sold to someone else without giving you the chance to even make an offer? Wouldn't you think the sellers were a bit silly because maybe your offer would have been better than they one they accepted? Wouldn't you be upset about the time you'd wasted when you could have been looking at other houses?

2. Karma. If you behave unprofessionally right from this very first stage it can really screw up your karma for the book (I'm serious about this - I've seen it happen). 

3. How do you know you went with the right agent? By not giving another interested agent a chance to talk to you about your work and to offer to represent it, how do you know you're with the right agent for you? The agent–author relationship can last for years and, as with any such business relationship, there are several elements to making it work. It needs to be the right fit. So if you have the chance of auditioning a few suitors before making a selection, why wouldn't you?

4. If you do this, and other authors do this, agents may become more wary about submissions. It's hard enough now for agents to keep up with submissions. If enough authors do the ol' 'I've gone with someone else, sucker' routine, we may just abandon them altogether and get our weekends back. So, as a civic service to your fellow writers, please remember that your behaviour reflects on all of them. Because until we get to you know, you're one amorphous pack - just as agents clearly are to you, which is why you went with the first one to materialise as a real person.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Asking for a second date

So, it's been a while. I have been running this blog since 2007 and I've never really had time for it but try to make time because I realise that there are questions that writers have about all sorts of things to do with the publishing process. I do appreciate those of you who have been reading this blog, some of you regularly, but confess that the odd vicious commenter does make me wonder why I bother. On the interwebs everyone can hear you scream, or something like that. And while Agent Sydney is a persona, there is an actual person writing these posts. Thus, I took a break. I still don't really have time to write the blog, but there has been the odd question to answer. Finally, here's an answer to one of them.

I have a query regarding resubmitting the same book to a literary agent. Once a book has been submitted it doesn't necessarily mean it stops changing, often it is revised and revised as we make improvements. Maybe the query letter wasn't up to scratch. Or the synopsis didn't reflect the scope and variety of your novel. Or the first few chapters were the first you wrote and required major revision that you couldn't see yourself at the time until someone pointed it out.

Is it wrong to resubmit your novel again to the same agent? If not how long should you wait? And should you mention it has been submitted before?

The term 'wrong' is a bit loaded ... 'Unwise' is probably better. You can certainly submit the novel again to the same agent, but it's likely that the agent will remember or be able to check and that they'll automatically reject you again. You won't ever necessarily know why they rejected you the first time - it's not always because of the query letter, or the story. Sometimes the agent is really not the right agent for the novel. 

There are some manuscripts that I'll never take on no matter how well written they are and how good the query letter is - anything about a serial killer who attacks children, for example, or a book about snakes, because I'm never going to love snakes. I would simply not be the right agent for such a book, but there may well be an agent out there who is. Unfortunately we don't usually have time to personalise our rejection letters so we don't have the opportunity to be explicit about the reasons why we said 'no', which does mean that writers may think that they can submit the same project a second time and receive a different answer. When an author has asked to resubmit, though, I've never changed my mind. And if they don't tell me it's a resubmission I usually remember the author or the story anyway and remember why I said 'no' the first time. It's the same with publishers: I can't resubmit something to them if they've already said 'no', even if the author has made changes. Because the reasons why the publisher said 'no' to my client would be as hard to define as the reasons why I said 'yes'. 

All of this points to the necessity of making sure your novel/manuscript and your query letter are as good as they can possibly before you start submitting anywhere. You need to believe and act as though you only have one chance. Because, most of the time, you do. You may, of course, be the exception and get another opportunity, and if you're set on attempting that I'd suggest that you mention the earlier submission in your letter and state very clearly why you believe your novel should be considered anew. The more time that has passed since the first submission, the more likely it is that the agent will believe that you've made actual changes.