I had a post several months ago where I finally felt free and comfortable enough to talk about the novel (HABITS AND HIJABS) that I’ve been working on for nearly a decade. The novel, once represented by an enthusiastic agent, has fallen completely and utterly through and I am now just as well off as if I had never had an agent to begin with. I am left trying to find a new agent, all while feeling colossally screwed by the last. Let me count the ways:
5: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD JUST ANSWER THE QUESTION
I’ve been thinking about this since receiving THE CALL from my new agent. During the conversation, I was going through a list of questions I meant to ask, and the one that sticks out to this day, three years later, was this: I constantly write short stories between novel projects, is that something you will also be representing or are you sticking just with the novel?
A simple No, just the novel would have suited me fine. But I didn’t get that. I got a rambling diversion that told me through implication that she wouldn’t be touching my short fiction. For three years I wondered why she wouldn’t just tell me no, why we had to hang up with that still lingering. Agents are supposed to be blunt, no-nonsense people, right? And it’s not like I got the chance to follow up with her. I never spoke to her again. I spoke to her assistant several times, but that brings me to…
4: Who, exactly, is my agent, and what is she doing?
My now-nullified contract clearly states that my agent is the head-honcho in charge of the whole agency. However, my agent never once directly emailed me, it was always relayed through her assistant, and like I said, the only time we spoke one-on-one was that first phone call.
Piddling stuff, yes? Well, sure, except that all my revisions and updates were sent to the assistant, and all the feedback came from the assistant. I recall one particular phone conversation that went along the lines of “I’m afraid I can’t send this along to Victoria, it’s just not where she needs it. I think we need to consult an editor or book doctor.”
Was my agent not reading my work? Were the comments coming from the agent through the assistant, or simply from the assistant? Was I back in the realm of submission and rejection? Seriously, I turned in numerous drafts of the novel, each time crossing my fingers like I’d done so many times with short stories, hoping I’d finally gotten it right…
3. Okay, I need an editor. Wait, they cost HOW MUCH!?
$6500. That’s how much. Now, before you go running around screaming about how this was a scam and I should have checked Predators and Editors and done my homework and all….I did my homework! You can Google the agent’s name and the editor’s name and find zero report of anything remotely scammy. I even had a correspondence with Victoria Strauss from Writer Beware, and she was cautious, but not surprised or overly concerned. No complaints.
So okay, there were two editors. My agent pressed me to pursue one, Benee Knauer (who is actually very awesome), but I avoided her at first because she was close to the agency. I went with an editor via referral from another editor, and I was happy with the work that I put into that rewrite. But. When I resubmitted the novel I was told it still fell flat. After some reconsideration, I decided ultimately to go with Benee Knauer. To do this, my wife and I discussed it and we agreed we could spend our tax return on this edit. It made me sick to do it at first, but again, Benee is awesome and I will never regret working with her. But my agent’s response to this rewrite was…
2. A form letter and vague invitation for future work
I know I’m compressing three years of writing and rewriting and agent correspondence here, but keep in mind that I had a signed contract that said this woman would represent my book. That she would work to sell the book. That she would read the fucking book.
Listen, I’ve been doing this for a long time, since the time when agents and journals preferred paper submissions and SASEs. I’ve received mass-produced rejections in numerous forms: 1-inch strips, half-sheets torn just off-center, and full-page form letters. I know what a form letter is, literally and metaphorically.
When you get a form letter, it means your work wasn’t read. It means you’re being passed over for better, more promising things. My agent sent me a form letter that was quite long but totally lacking in any specifics about my novel. This is crucial to understanding how completely and utterly screwed over I feel. I was supposed to be a represented writer with a work-in-progress, and yet I wound up being rejected just the same as all the other instances in the last 12+ years. When you think about it…
1. Having an agent has been like paying out of my ass to have no agent at all
I can find plenty of people who don’t give a shit about my writing. It isn’t for them, I get it. But your agent isn’t supposed to be one of them. They’re supposed to be the ones who, once you’ve entered into a contractual relationship, go to work for you. I’m not naive, I don’t expect an agent to take a novel that hasn’t been fully realized to an acquisitions editor. But I do expect honest and specific feedback (#2), some sort of common sense approach to editing rather than just telling me repeatedly to pay for an editor (#3), and an open and direct line of communication (#4 and #5).
The truth is that before this agent, the novel was well-liked by the friendly and encouraging readers at the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (when it still existed), and probably could have been self-published at any point and generated some modest income that would have netted a profit by default, because I wouldn’t have spent the money or lost time to devoting my attention to this singular pursuit for this specific agent over the course of our shitty relationship.
The absolute worst part is that I am still where I was three years ago, back to querying agents who will hopefully want to read part or all of my novel. So far I have several rejections and one partial request. That’s super. Odds are very high that I will throw up my hands at some point and do what I should have done years ago: saunter up to the old CreateSpace portal and upload the novel to the Amazon marketplace. At this point I have nothing else to lose.
God, this absolutely blows. Writing it out didn’t even help.