29 September 2011

Why I Turned Down an Agenting Offer

So you're querying your little heart out on your novel and finally it comes.

The Call.

It's what you've been waiting for. You want to jump up and down, scream and shout, and for all intents and purposes wed the person who offers you representation, right?

Except when you don't.

When I was first starting to query for my novel GEMMA UP-OVER, I had made three lists of agents: Most Desired, Somewhat Desired, and Desired.

And if you want to know something about me, something deep-down, soul-wrenching true, here it is:

I'm impatient. I want things to happen, like, NOW.

When I had my query out I was checking my e-mail obsessively every 20 seconds. I would even check my phone notification to make sure everything was working. Test e-mails and everything. Yes, I was that crazy. But don't judge me, you know you do it too!

Anyway, when I got the first offer of representation it was a Sunday afternoon, probably two weeks after I had sent this agent my query package.

Now, the thing about picking an agent is you have to find one who is the right fit for you. In this day of internet searches, following agents on Twitter, or stalking their blogs, you think you get to know them. You like what they've got to say, you think you could be BFFs and the like.

But the query process is as much for the agent to see if they like your work as it is for you to see if you think you'd like to work with that agent.

I decided not to accept the first offer and I'm going to break it down in a minute. I just want to clear something up first. I like the agent who offered representation. I think she is doing great things and is going to go very far with her agency. I respect and admire her. She is hard working. She slaves over her clients' manuscripts and does everything a wonderful agent should to get their work published.

When I first had my writing dream, way back in my mother's womb, though, I knew there was one thing I wanted above anything else. I wanted to be published in NYC. Your goals may be different, so take this advice or leave it. It's up to you.

I'm certainly not saying small presses or self-pubbing is not the way to go. For what you want, either of those may be perfectly logical steps. However, my dream is NYC and I'm going to push hard to make that dream a reality. (Not to mention, my father works for a printing company and I have always wanted to be able to walk onto the printing floor with him and see my book coming off a press. I think we'd both break down and weep. There will be photos if this ever happens, I promise.)

So I turned down the offer from the first agent and here are the reasons why:

1. While this agent is openly acquiring YA manuscripts, she did not have many (or any) yet on her list. Being a debut author, I thought I might be more comfortable with someone more firmly entrenched in the YA world.

2. This agent already had a large number of clients and a bit of a back-log in her reading schedule. While the back-log would have given me time to edit and revise some more, I'm an impatient person (see above). I really just want things to happen NOW.

3. The agent offered after reading three sample chapters and a synopsis. I'm new to the querying/offering process and so I asked my awesomely awesome critique partner about this. I just wasn't sure I felt comfortable offering my book if we hadn't talked about what direction it might take. However, this was not the tipping point for me. The tipping point was number four.

4. Like I said, one of my goals is to be published in NYC. One of the first things I found out after speaking to this agent is that she has not sold to NYC. That's not to say she won't sell to NYC, because I fully belief she's got the heart and determination. She just hasn't done it yet. This is where I got greedy. I really just wanted to see what would happen if I held out a little bit.

It was scary. Terrifying, really. What if that offer in March was the only one I was ever going to get? What if my book wasn't good enough for NYC. What if...what if...what if...

I could go on for hours/days/weeks/months about all the doubts and fears I had, but in the end, I just didn't want to settle. If the agenting relationship is like a marriage, you don't want to marry your runner-up, do you? That's not to say the agent who offered isn't a good agent and might not be the perfect agent-spouse for you, but for me, I just needed to test the currents a bit and see if I could swim.

Scary? Yes.

Worth it? Totally. Without a doubt. No question about it.

25 comments:

Mandie Baxter said...

I almost cried when you talked about you and your dad! Haha. That is just so awesome. I hope that happens. Great tips!!!

Liana Brooks said...

I've been debating this for awhile myself. I have a novella out right now, and I've decided I need to figure out which presses are a yes! and which are let-me-see.

imogen howson said...

I'm loving these posts. :-)

I've never turned down representation (apart from one agent who wanted me to pay her up front--ha!), but I can imagine it's an agonizing thing to have to do.

I'm totally with you on the NYC thing, though. And if you want an agent to help you reach a certain goal, you need to be sure they're able to do so.

Immi
x

Kwana said...

What a great post. Being impatient myself I can totally relate.

Kimberley Troutte said...

Joy,
I've been there.

I met an agent at a conference who liked my pitch and asked for the full. A month later, her assistant sent me a letter saying that the agent wanted to represent me and would be giving me a call. I can't tell you, well of course you already know, how wonderful that feeling was. Finally, somebody wanted my stories!

But then she didn't call. Weeks went by. A month. I got in contact with the assistant who set up a specific time for THE CALL. I took off work. I waited by the phone. No call. It started to feel an awful lot like high school--waiting by the phone in the hopes that some cute guy who smiled at me in the hallway might call. Except that this agency was supposed to be WORKING for me! Shouldn't she be trying to woe me, just a little?

I was a total newbie and yet I knew this was not the way things were supposed to work. If it was that hard getting her to talk to me, how in the world would this relationship work?

It was the hardest thing I've ever done in this business--passing on an agent who'd said "yes."

I agree with you that you know when it is right. Good for you for sticking with your guns and holding out for your dream.

I wish you the best!

Jan Romes said...

Great post,Joy! I applaud your conviction to see your dreams & career the way you want them. Would I turn down an agent? Probably not. I'm too impulsive - perhaps not a good thing. But I admire you for taking charge of your situation. Best wishes on getting a call from an agent that works with the NYC publishing houses. And I hope you get that moment with your dad when your book is hot off the presses!!

Yours in writing, Jan Romes

Tiffany N. York said...

A lot of it comes down to how much you believe in your book. And having the patience to hold out for what you really want. Good luck!

CNHolmberg said...

I don't know if I'd ever be able to turn down an agent! How long was it between that time and getting the agent you have now?

Ron Smith said...

This is very eye-opening. Thanks for sharing this with all of us.

ellaslayne said...

So brave! :-)

Joy N. Hensley said...

Sorry to make you almost cry, Mandie! :) I'm totally taking a picture if it ever happens!

Joy N. Hensley said...

Liana, it's so good to figure that out before an offer comes in. That way you know where you stand in regards to it all and it's easier (not easy!) to make a decision.

Joy N. Hensley said...

Immi, it is definitely agonizing but I didn't want to settle. I think I always would have been wondering "what if" if I had.

Joy N. Hensley said...

Kwana, I'm so glad to know I'm not the only one who is impatient!

Joy N. Hensley said...

Kim, thanks so much! I cannot imagine what you had to go through! That must have been heart-breaking!

Joy N. Hensley said...

Jan, It was definitely hard to do, but I did get the Call from an agent I'm thrilled with! So happy I waited!

Joy N. Hensley said...

Tiffany, Ron, Ellaslayne, thanks so much for the thoughts! It was definitely not an easy choice, but glad I made it all the same!

Joy N. Hensley said...

CN, I turned down the agent offer in April, I think, and I signed with Mandy at the end of October. Not too long, but long enough to wonder if I had made the wrong decision. Glad to know I did the right thing!

Dr. Katharine said...

So nice about you & your dad! I agree with you, it has to be the right fit between you & the agent you choose. Definitely frightening, but necessary for your career...AND the agent's!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I turned down an offer for representation earlier this year. There were a number of reason for my decision, but it was definitely a smart one. I've put the novel aside for now, because I could see ways to improve it based on other agents' rejections. I didn't feel comfortable with it going out on submission until I'd done that. Besides, I have a new novel that I'm going to start querying soon. A much stronger one.

Susan Hatler said...

Thx for sharing. Best of luck on your agent search! :)

Chris Bailey said...

Joy,
This is a great story with good advice. And, as is the way with writers, it reminds me of the time my mother-in-law said, "I always thought Wayne was the cutest of the brothers, but Ben came home from Korea first." : )

Jess Stork said...

That's a good point. Even though we think that technology will give us a one up on knowing what the agent is about, it's important to remember there's more to a person than just their twitter feed. It sounds like you thought things out thoroughly. I'm sure it will work out for you.

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