The Agent Search

When I started to submit to agents way back in the Fall of 2003 (I guess it wasn’t so long ago, but it does feel like it) I gave myself six months to find an agent. I got lucky and signed with my first agent two months shy of my self-imposed deadline.

Agent X was enthusiastic about my manuscript and soon it was sent out and roundly rejected, but a few editors were interested in seeing a revised version. I quickly got started on it and in the meantime Agent X pitched me a YA idea and since I had already had one young adult book done, I whipped out the beginnings of a series. Before I was done, this too was sent out and rejected. Rightly so and I would never try to sell blind on a partial and synopsis again without anything to back it up. But I went along with X’s advice since X was my agent and I choose to believe X knew better then I did.

Much of 2004 was taken up with these highs and lows, but Agent X remained positive, answered my emails in a fairly timely manner and then things got a little quiet. Not hearing from an agent isn’t uncommon, especially toward the holiday season at the end of the year. Agents are busy people who have other clients to think about, as well as having their own lives.

But I was already starting to think about finding a new agent, only to remind myself how hard it’d been to find the first one. I genuinely liked X and wanted it to work, but from the beginning the feelings was, on my part, that agent X wasn’t 100% in my corner. Some of the suggestions X made for the revise were pat and would have taken my manuscript exactly where I didn’t want to go with it. Holding my nose, I made some of the changes and waited for X to get back on me with a verdict after the holidays.

Then in mid-January of 2005 X dropped the “I’m leaving the agency to become an editor” bomb. I couldn't begrudge X’s opportunity to move on to bigger and better things, especially after X promised to help me settle in with another agent. I took the opportunity to scrub some of the more disingenuous changes I had made to my manuscript on X’s advice and I waited and waited and got nothing until a delivery of all my rejection letters arrived at my front door. It was all it took for me to figure out Agent X had moved on to bigger and better things without me.

Equally pissed off and determined, I started my search again, this time with more care and success. People don’t like to take a gamble, it’s just too expensive (time and energy wise) in this business, but I made sure to mention my previous agent and where X had gone and the editors who were interested in seeing my work. I got many requests for partials, fulls and even an exclusive or two. At one point I promised an exclusive even though I had just sent out a full to an interested agent. At the time I was moving from San Francisco back to L.A. mid-June 2005 and my one goal, besides packing, was to be signed with an agent before I left. But not only any agent, one I could rely on and would feel was working with and for me.

When Agent B contacted me, I was thrilled. It was a small but respected agency who I had heard about a few years before. Another writer I knew was with them and she was very happy with their work on her behalf. With a few weeks until moving day I signed with Agent B (I’ll let you figure out what the B stands for) and felt really comfortable with my decision. Agent B was all over my manuscript and I was honest about it’s past, no one likes sloppy seconds. I told B it had been revised since then and was much stronger. B read it made some suggestions and during the time B was going to take some time off I would do another revise and incorporate some of B’s valid suggestions. Then things got funny.

When my now agent J contacted me on my cell phone around this time and I had to tell her I’d signed with Agent B six weeks or so prior. She seemed genuinely disappointed and so was I. I was getting the feeling B was not going to work out even though we’d only had limited contact since B’s break. But writer’s are naturally nervous creatures and I tried to ignore my anxiety and concentrate on the revise, which I was very happy with how it was developing.

B came back and wanted more changes, as in a totally different book. A book I had told B straight off the bat I was never going to write. B was not happy with me and subtly, OK, not so subtly hinted that if I wasn’t going to make the changes B was going to take their ball and go home. This was not a happy time for either of us. I agonized, lost sleep and posted on various boards asking for advice even though I knew what I had to do.

I emailed B and laid it all out. This was my manuscript, warts and all, and I was standing by it and my original vision. And I waited. When B didn’t get back to me, I called and left a message asking about the status of my manuscript. B emailed that there was a backlog and would “try to get back to me in a couple of weeks.”

I paced around my makeshift office to calm down, composed a civil and reasonable email and told B that we had different ideas about my work and it was best if we parted ways before anymore time and energy was invested. While I was waiting for B to reply I ran for my cell phone, found J’s number and had my sister call to make sure it was her. I left her a messages and she called back, asking me what had happened between me and B. I told her the truth, it hadn’t worked out. J was eager to see the manuscript and I emailed it to her on the spot. I had asked B to release me from my contract and was still waiting to hear from her so technically I was engaging in a very tricky game that could have had legal and monetary ramifications.

Lucky for me, B was just as eager to be rid of me as I was of B and we mutually email dumped each other. This was on Thursday, August 18, 2005. By the next day I would have a new agent and talked to the editor who would buy my book a few weeks later. The same manuscript X had wanted me to tart up and B wanted me to revamp.

Moral of the story? None. Or maybe publishing is a lot like dating. It can really suck and then work out if you’re lucky.

(originally posted 01-21-06 on margocandela.com)

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