A little bit of a scandal has rocked the YA writer community of late, and I actually have something to say about it.
A literary agent - who shall remain unnamed, but shouldn't be too hard to figure out if you do some research on the Absolute Write forums - recently disappeared quite abruptly. She simply left agenting without notifying her agency or her clients, some of whom had submissions out to editors. She posted a message on Facebook and that was that.
Since then, a handful of former clients have come forward with different variations on the same story. Turns out this agent hadn't even submitted manuscripts as she had promised. She hadn't responded to important messages from editors.
I read through these blog posts and through the AW forums and I thought two things:
- Why on earth would an agent behave this way? What is there to gain? How can she possibly continue to work in publishing after such an epic flameout?
- Thank god I didn't accept her offer of representation.
That's right. At the end of last year, after 60+ queries, 10 partial and full requests and months of querying for THE MERMAID'S DAUGHTER I ended up with a few close calls but only one offer of representation. An offer from this very agent.
I had a few concerns about her at first. I did my research (not only because I love research, but because any aspiring author should do so) and I had some reservations. Her agency had been involved in some weird behavior in the past and had received warnings and non-recommendations on a handful of the agent resource sites I looked at.
On the other hand, she had recently sold a debut YA author's series for big six-figure money and had a decent track record in non-fiction. What the hell, I thought. "Query widely" is the first rule of querying. You never know what agent will respond to your story. It doesn't hurt to send her a letter and see what happens. Famous last words.
What happened was that as time went on, I began, and got excited about, a newer, stronger story. And I got promising rejections from legitimately impressive agents I would put on my "dream agent" list. I wanted the chance to go back to those agents with my new manuscript.
I started to hope she'd never get back to me. I started to wish, that out of all the agents I queried, she would be the one to forget about my full submission and just leave me alone. I wanted this because I didn't want to face the decision of having to choose between an agent I really wasn't excited about or remaining unagented.
In hindsight, it seems like a simple choice. But there really is a fear that this might be your only chance. This offer of representation might not be perfect, but at least it's something. And isn't something better than nothing? She scheduled the call. I came prepared with my list of questions. And the knot in my stomach only grew larger.
She seemed kind of irritated at a lot of my questions. I brought up my hesitancy about her agency, based on this prior activity they'd been involved in, and her explanation was completely lacking. I asked about her sales record. Yeah she had that one big YA sale over a year ago, but what else? What was on submission? What had sold in the past year since then? The answer: nothing. Big Red Flag. She was very complimentary, threw around all the names of the big publishers. Someone at Little Brown was a personal mentor of hers and she just knew she'd love THE MERMAID'S DAUGHTER. That all sounded good, but what was the point of saying you had these connections if you didn't have any actual sales to back it up.
I kept coming back to that point. She kept getting more irritable. Up until that point, she was giggly and causal in a way that made me question her professionalism. Did I really want this person to represent me? I had a full ms still floating around with another agent, so I told her I'd need a week to let the other agent know I had an offer of rep and think about things. In the meantime, She'd send over her suggestions for the first three chapter revisions so I'd have an idea of the type of re-write she had in mind.
I hung up feeling conflicted. I emailed the Interrobangs. Returned to Absolute Write. Scanned the Publisher's Marketplace listings. And I kept thinking, Little Brown, Harper Teen, Dutton, all great YA publishers she said we would submit THE MERMAID'S DAUGHTER to. I was so close. So why did I feel so uneasy?
In the end, she never ended up sending those revisions. It only confirmed what I had suspected all along. This agent was not for me. I sent the email saying as much and received two of the most passive aggressive responses ever sent in the history of Gmail. It didn't matter though. My decision had been made. I still remained unagented. But at least I didn't have a bad agent.
When I query RUN, ZELLA, whenever that may be, I will absolutely not "query widely." Why should I? I know what agents I'd be excited to represent me. I know what types of sales history or agency activity will send up red flags. I'm going to query selectively. Querying widely is exactly what got me into this situation in the first place. I overlooked my hesitations in order to just get my work in front of an agent who would accept it. Any agent. But any agent isn't good enough.