He’s Just Not That Into You (Publishing Edition)

On one of my writer’s loops, a writer is bemoaning the fact that she’s been waiting to hear back from an agent about her submission since last summer. When last she wrote in for a status update, the agent responded that she’d been swamped with travel.

“Why do agents travel so much?” the writer asked. Why are they out there attending conferences and presumably garnering new submissions if they have a pile of submissions on their desk already waiting to be read?

The answer is easy, but it’s not easy to hear: They do want submissions. Just not that one.

(Now, there is a class of agents who are, in my opinion, playacting, similar to those “writers” we all know who have been working on their Great American Novel for ten years. They don’t make any sales, or maybe they have one or two sales but only to houses that don’t require agents to get in the door (Harlequin, etc.) — but boy do they show up at every conference and judge every contest!

There are also some agents that do a lot of travel. Any agent located outside of NY must travel to NY several times a year to conduct business. As other mentioned, a lot of agents do travel to conferences so they can sit in a room with their clients and the editors at the same time, and then of course, there are the overseas rights fairs.)

But none of those things is the issue. It’s not “why do agents travel so much?” Even agents with a packed travel schedule will make room to read a hot submission if it crosses their desk. The real question — the question the writer isn’t asking but should be is, “Why is this agent uninterested in getting back to me in a reasonable amount of time?” And we can sit here and analyze it like girlfriends trying to figure out why some guy isn’t returning our call, but it’s simple: He’s Just Not That Into You. In which case, you are better off without him.

An agent who doesn’t read your submission in eight months (EIGHT MONTHS — longer than my baby has been alive), is not an agent who is all fired up to represent you. It’s entirely possible that this agent has already read your submission, or glanced at the first few pages, and isn’t interested. But… writing rejections? Not fun. Maybe the agent thinks they need to come back to it when they are in a better mood. Maybe they’ll like it this time. Maybe they can’t think of a good reason to reject it and they aren’t the kind of agent who likes to send form letters. Maybe they honestly haven’t read it.

But it all adds up to the same thing — they’re just not that into you.

I have said this before, but it is the truth — your writing career is not one book. If the book you’ve written is failing to get very far, then write another book. When you have the right book, getting an agent is a relatively straightforward process. Wouldn’t you rather get the agent of your dreams with a book that everyone thinks has a strong chance of selling rather than wait around for months or years begging agent after agent to please put down their rollaboard suitcase for five minutes and look at this book that they aren’t really all that interested in?

Please note that I’m not saying “good” book for a reason. I’m saying “right” book. There are plenty of “good” books that aren’t going to get agents excited right now. Maybe the market is bad. Maybe the market is small. Maybe the market isn’t ripe for a debut in that particular subject. Or… maybe the book isn’t good enough.

And you might as well get used to it now. This doesn’t stop when you get published. You will write books that will fail to find an audience. You will write books that won’t sell to publishers, or that your agent tells you isn’t a good idea to shop. Yes, everyone loves to tell the stories of the plucky writer who thumbed her nose at the establishment and switched agents/sold it elsewhere/published it herself and made a mint. So it’s very tempting to believe that your book is also one of those exceptions. And maybe it is — this advice is not universal.

But for every one of those stories, there are more stories of writers who retired manuscripts or listened to their agents or sent something else to their publisher and sold it and made a mint. Every writer I know has a book collecting dust in the recesses of their closets/hard drives, and most of them are relieved that it’s back there. This could also be the situation you are in.

And, if it is, and you do write a new book — a book that does get some attention, maybe in eight weeks instead of eight months — and sell it, who is to say that interest might not circle ’round to your other, older-but-beloved book?

Story Time: Before I sold Secret Society Girl, I was shopping a paranormal romance novel. At least, that’s what I was calling it. It had done very well on the contest circuit, but it wasn’t really catching the agenting world on fire. I’d sent it out 20 times. I had gotten a smattering of full requests, but in the end, I was looking at 18 rejections. Two agents still had it.

Meanwhile, I wrote SSG. I sent that out 4 times and got 4 offers. One of the agents was the one looking at my other book, the romance, and when we spoke about forming a business relationship, she said that after we sold SSG, we could look into marketing the romance novel.

We never did. And I’m glad. That book was not going to be a strong contender in the then-burgeoning paranormal romance market. (As one of the rejecting agents, who now works for my agent’s agency pointed out — what was selling in pararom was paranormal boyfriends — werewolf or vampire or etc. boys falling in love with human girls. This book was about two humans and some ghosts.) It was a good book, but it wasn’t great for the market, it wouldn’t have grown me as an author, and it wouldn’t have been a good use of my time.

What would have happened if I’d thought about the book, instead of my career? I’d spent over 18 months writing that book. What if I had despaired over “wasting” all that time and had sent out that book to 20 more agents? Or 100 more? It would have gotten a bite eventually (actually, it did — an agent who had mistakenly sent me a rejection called a few months after I sold SSG to offer me representation for the para romance). But the agent would have had as hard a time selling the weak-for-the-market book as I’d had trying to get representation. What if it had sold, but poorly. What if it hadn’t sold, but, having gotten farther (i.e., securing agent representation) with that book than I had with any other, I kept harping on it, maybe for years? What if I’d done that rather than writing a new book that was right for the market and sold very quickly for good money?

Instead, I sold nine other books. Books that I love every bit as much. My career is not about one book.

Posted in writing advice, writing industry, writing life

4 Responses to He’s Just Not That Into You (Publishing Edition)

  1. Tiff says:

    Preach it, sister!

    Hope the little one is doing well.

  2. PurpleRanger says:

    You asked, “Wouldn’t you rather get the agent of your dreams . . . ?” Actually, I would rather sell a book without needing an agent.

  3. Darcy Drake says:

    I started reading this article and then jumped into the other articles you linked in your post. All of your blog content is amazing, I just have to say! Keep it up!

    As an unpublished and unagented writer at this time, I can’t go on my own past experience, but what you said jives with what I’ve learned by doing my research. That’s always a nice feeling.

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