Saturday, January 26, 2013

How long should I wait for my agent?

"Mr. Lukeman-- I am a first-time author and I've been working with an agent for a year and half (we signed a contract). In that time, I've done three revisions for her. This last revision, she assured me would be "the one." However, after I sent it to her, she said that while it was "Amazing and I will have no problem selling it" she still doesn't think it is the right version to send out. She also said she did not have time to offer me notes because of other commitments. I suggested (kindly) that perhaps we should part ways, but she assured me that she didn't want to do that and she would get me notes when she could. Should I stay or go? I'm not sure what signals she is is sending. Thanks for your help"

On the one hand, most agents don't have time to offer multiple rounds of revisions, and one could argue that this is something rare and valuable, and that you should appreciate this and stick with this agent.

On the other hand, there is something wrong with this situation. To begin with, it is rare that an agent will take on a work and sign an author knowing that that work will need such extensive revision – so extensive that a year and a half later, and after three revisions, she still was not satisfied. That doesn't make sense. If an agent feels a work needs extensive revision, she will likely just reject the book, or, she might offer you to resubmit it after you've done the revision. But it is most unusual for an agent to sign you, then put you through years of revision to reach the point where she is satisfied. And if that is the case, then that agent certainly should have warned you in advance that she expected to spend many years revising it until she would be satisfied, and have given you the opportunity to make that decision for yourself.

This sounds to me like the case of an agent who is a perfectionist, and who cannot be satisfied. She also sounds like an agent that moves exceedingly slowly, and takes way too much time. The vast majority of agents will not behave this way, so I would not call this normal behavior. I would no longer continue to deal with an agent like this. The way it is going, it sounds like the process could go on for months or years more, and you'll never even know if you will finally satisfy her. Not to mention, her vision of the book might end up being different than the vision of an acquiring editor at a publisher. That is one of the reasons why, as an agent, I'm always wary of asking an author to revise a work to suit my vision: writing is subjective, and it is inevitable that editors at the publishing houses will have their own vision, that may very well differ from mine. I can't tell you how many times I've sent out a novel, and then received dozens of rejection letters, with half of the editors complaining that the novel was too fast paced, while the other half complaining that the pace was too slow. If you revise to please one person, you will inevitably not be pleasing others.

In general, no agent should tie you up that long in the process, especially before even submitting your work. I don't foresee any good reason why it should take an agent more than three months, or six at the most, to get your book out the door – unless the delays are coming from you. Most agents will go out with a book within weeks, if not days, of signing the author.

So I would part ways and find someone else.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Mr Lukeman,

    I have been offered (email) representation by a very prestigious agency. I really wanted to go with them, so I responded with an immediate acceptance. The agent emailed back that she was thrilled, and would be sending out an agency contract, and was looking forward immensely to speaking with me on the phone. Since then, (two weeks ago)nothing. I have sent two tiny, non-'prodding' messages, and received a brief response to each, to the effect that the agent is very busy, but will contact me soon. I asked briefly about the contract. No response. Is it likely she has changed her mind? Does that happen after an extremely enthusiastic and firm offer of representation. I am so bewildered. Please help.


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