What to Expect When You Finally Get an Agent: The Second Manuscript

PART TWO (of a multi-part blog post)

What happens if after I’ve signed a client, I’m not so excited about their follow up manuscript? How do I handle this? OhNO

Well, it’s funny you should ask. This just happened for the first time. My client’s debut novel is out on submission, (and it’s fantastic, by the way) and she sent me her next manuscript to read. I read a chunk of it and it just wasn’t doing it for me. Oh Em Gee. What do I do?! Well, the first thing I did was check in with some other people. Trusted readers. Good critiquers. People who aren’t going to blow smoke up my skirt. I gave them both the first 20 pages. The reports I got back were kind of in line with my own thinking though. Ok. Now what?

I called my client and we discussed some of the things that I’d been thinking and that the readers had pointed out. She wanted to go back and revise to see if that would make a difference. I’m ok with that. She’s a great writer. A professional. Perhaps she can work her writerly magic onto this manuscript and my opinion will change!

She revised it and then sent it back to me and when I finally had the chance to read it (with my fingers crossed and high hopes) I went at it with an open mind. I asked myself: Is this marketable? Who would I sell this to? What’s the motivating idea here, and how would I talk about this story to an editor? Who would want to read this? Is this well written? If this came into my slush pile would I want to represent it?

Sadly, I really didn’t feel this story would do well out in the world, for a variety of reasons. I had another conversation with my client (who I adore, by the way) and I told her I don’t think the story’s marketable and that I feel she should put it aside and work on something else. My heart broke a little bit, because who wants to tell someone that? But on the other hand, I know that if I think that, editors probably will, too. You see, I know the good work this writer can do. That’s why I picked her as a client. And this manuscript wasn’t that.

So, that’s how I handle this situation. I also got some support and advice from my boss about how to diplomatically do what I knew was the right thing (thank goodness I have a great boss, by the way).  I don’t know how other agents handle this. I hope they’re honest with their clients. And although it’s an uncomfortable conversation to have with a client, I know that it’s  also just good business.

So now you’re probably asking yourself if I realize that I’ve done a weird thing with all of those asides. Well I do know about my asides (I’m not stupid, by the way).



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9 responses to “What to Expect When You Finally Get an Agent: The Second Manuscript

  1. This is something I’ve been wondering about, so thank you for posting this question and response. I too would rather hear the truth (but remind me I said that after you’ve read MY second ms).

  2. This was an interesting topic.
    Tying it in with your next post, I wonder if having had a conversation about the new manuscript while it was still just being developed would have prompted you to tell the writer right away that you weren’t feeling confident about the story.

  3. Thanks, Linda, for giving us an insight to your process. It sounds like a fair system and it’s good to know that your authors have got an entire team behind them!

  4. In my humble opinion, this is one of the best reasons to have an agent. We are always too close to our work to know if it’s something that can be sold or not, and we’re not privy to what editors are looking for, etc.. I would much rather hear the honest truth from my agent than have sunshine blown up my skirt!

  5. I have mixed feelings about this. I agree that it’s important to be honest, and I appreciate that you ask other readers if you are feeling unsure. But it’s so challenging, as an author, to think about the various “gatekeepers” to our fiction. For instance, I know you have said you are not a fan of “problem novels.” That’s not a big deal for me, since I am not, either. But what if one of your authors were to write something that simply didn’t appeal to you? Do you feel certain that you would be able to differentiate between something that wasn’t “good” and something that simply didn’t appeal to you? It’s a tough one, but I’d love to know your thoughts about that!

    • I believe that an agent/author partnership is based on trust. My clients need to trust my judgement. If I thought something was sell-able but not to my taste, I would be able to get myself behind it. Your agent has to be 200% behind your work, Bill, or they just won’t be able to sell it for you. (I don’t think I said “problem novels,” did I?. I don’t really care for “issue” novels, but if one of my clients wrote a fabulous one, I’d be ok with that. I just don’t seek that out.) Unfortunately, whether you like it or not, there are gatekeepers in publishing. That’s just the way it goes. Your agent is the first one, and if you’ve got a good relationship, they know when to open and when to gently close the gate.

  6. This kind of honesty is why I like having you represent me 🙂

    My next manuscript that will be ready to be looked at will be the sequel to the first. Sometimes I feel a little eggs-in-one-basket about it, but on the other hand the marketability seems pretty clear if the first one sells.

  7. I think you do your client a huge favor by being honest, Linda. And who needs air up her skirt besides MM, and she’s not even around to make us jealous anymore. I appreciate when my Agent tells me the truth and gently suggests I work on something else and revisit in a few weeks. I almost always get a new idea/take on the earlier project once I’ve had some distance. And it’s nicer to hear the truth from someone who you know really cares about you before you hear the critiques from someone who still can’t pronounce your name. 🙂 -raj