The One That Got Away: When An Author Declines Representation

I offered representation to a great author the other day. I’d had her full manuscript a long time (3 months, which is very long for me) and I just hadn’t had a chance to get to it until now. I read almost the whole 400 pages over the weekend and it was fabulous. I e-mailed her when I was about 3/4 of the way done and asked her if she was available for a phone call. We set it up for Monday.

The call went well, I guess. I could feel her excitement thrumming through the phone. It must be fantastic for an author to be getting THE CALL. She was about to say something like, “Yes! Yes! I’d love for you to represent me!” Or at least I think she was. And I slowed her down, reminded her to keep breathing, and gave her some advice.

I’ve said something like this to everyone I’ve offered representation to: “Please don’t accept my offer in this phone call. It’s important for you to make this decision when you’re not all amped up. When you’ve had a chance to formulate any questions and think about all of your options.” Then I recommended that she e-mail the other agents that had requested full manuscripts from her. That’s the part that bit me in the ass. I know that’s the right thing to do. I mean, it really is. It’s just common courtesy. But it also sets off a feeding frenzy.

When an agent (myself included) hears that someone else has offered a writer representation it’s a signal to take a closer, quicker look at the manuscript that’s been sitting in their inbox, to see what the fuss is about. Why is someone else interested in this person? Should I be interested? If so, I’d better make my move! I’d better do it quickly! I’d better do it now!!!!! And that’s how an author can go from zero offers of representation to 3 or 4, within a day.

So I reminded this lovely young writer to do the right thing and let the other agents know. And then she had multiple offers. And then she said “thanks, but…” to me. Dang it. She’s a great writer. I really do wish her the best success. But I’m pretty disappointed. I’m not taking it personally (much) because I know I’m a good agent, but still it kind of stings.

Don’t you hate it when doing the right thing bites you in the ass?!

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26 Comments

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26 responses to “The One That Got Away: When An Author Declines Representation

  1. Good for you, for taking that high road. Yes, it stings…but it won’t sting for long. And, hopefully, it won’t sting the writer, either, if she’s as good as you say. I think any of us would get caught up in that moment, though, so it’s honorable that you reminded her to take a deep breath and really consider her options properly, with a clear, calm head.

    I hope I get such a conscientious response, when I send out my queries! :D

  2. Yes, but doing the Wrong Thing always bites harder, eventually. So good for you.

  3. so I was just thinking about a trip to the drug store and buying a vitamin but although I wanted to do the right thing I still got chips and kisses (dark chocolate with less sugar) You are so much stronger..re: doing the right thing than most people. Be proud of yourself and say “OK it wasn’t meant to be” who knows maybe she is the one who made the wrong decision. If you want a kiss I got them here with flax seed chips as well Luv cuz Molly

  4. So, when I start querying agents and finally get the call, I am going to say “thanks, but can I think about it for a day while I contact the other agents to create a bidding war?” I’m sure that will turn out well.

    • haha! that’s what i plan to do now too

      • You SHOULD say “I need to think about it,” for real. Regarding “creating a bidding war,” it’s not really about bidding, per se, because bidding implies that the agents are in the position to offer you different amounts of something. Agents are all offering you the same thing: representation. A bidding war would be nice when your agent is selling your manuscript to editors though!

  5. Jenny

    What I really hate is when I don’t do the right thing and then I feel bad for eternity.

  6. A limerick*

    There once was a lit agent named Linda
    You’d best take the advice that she gives ya
    ‘Cause she’s wise on plot
    And reads an awful lot
    Want a reference? How ‘bout “Hip Hip Hurrah!”?

    *Writer writes fiction not poetry and has no idea what constitutes an actual limerick. Oh great. And now Writer wants a lime Popsicle.

    • Don’t be blogging about “not having what it takes,” woman. Or I’M going to start writing limericks to you, too! And THAT will be worse than yours! :-D (And BTW I’m sending you encouraging hugs and pats on the back…)

  7. Sarah

    Karma in this lifetime, we reap what we sow. May Good return to you tenfold.

  8. Doing the right thing and getting bitten in the ass for it is probably my favorite activity. Unless you count doing the right thing and getting a root canal for it.

  9. Zen

    Well… nobody said the right thing would always provide you with good results! I think it’s great that you reminded her to do that; I’m sure she’s thankful.

  10. But how were you to know three months ago that she was a great writer that you wanted to represent?
    That being asked/said, your actions speak highly of you. I look forward to this happening to me one day.

    • I kind of thought I could keep up on my reading and not be one of those agents who keeps requested material forever, with writers anxiously biting their nails for months waiting for a reply. So I’m kicking myself for letting THAT aspect of the whole thing get away from me. And also, when I initially read it, I kind of knew she was a great writer, which is why I requested the full in the first place.

  11. Sorry it didn’t work out. I know I appreciated the reminder, but I really liked your approach and opinions on my manuscript.

    • Thanks! I do believe things work out/don’t work out for a “reason” or for “the best,” so ultimately I’ll be fine. I’m just whining and complaining a little…

  12. Karma. Remember karma. It will come back to you. You did the right thing and good things are ahead. Plus, when this author sells millions of books, think of the cocktail party conversations you can have!

  13. Yes, I hate it, but I still (almost always) do it…. I’m sure she appreciates that reminder you gave — I know I do. Thanks for the reminder to wait before responding AND to do the right thing!