Monday, November 7, 2011

Giving Up

I did an #askagent recently, and someone asked: at what point do we (agents) "give up" on a project that’s been on submission and just isn’t selling?

My immediate response was: never. I will never give up. I may pull a project based on poor market timing or to go with a new book, but always with the thought that the original book could work down the road.

Ahem. I want to take a moment to retract and amend that statement – because I was wrong.

It’s tempting for me to want to be fierce and loyal and beat my chest and say NEVEEER!!! But really, the actual answer is that sometimes, you just have to. But giving up on one book does not mean we're giving up on the author.

Yes, sometimes, there is enough solid feedback from editors that we can re-work the manuscript or the pitch and go for another round. Sometimes the response is: we LOVE it…but we’re just not looking for this right now. Sometimes there are tons of nibbles, but no bites…sometimes we get SO CLOSE…

And sometimes…it’s just time to put a project to bed.

To quote agent extraordinaire Jennifer Laughran:

“There are only so many editors. I am not going to sell work to a shady or bad editor, or to a house that I think is not reputable, just so I can say "we sold it." My goal is to sell the project WELL, not just sell it.

Not every single thing that every writer writes is going to find an awesome home - it just isn't, especially if they are prolific. So, sometimes projects end up going on the back burner for a while. If you do go forward with a new project and it sells, you might very well realize that the first one was flawed. People TEND to get better with each book -- I've found that I'm generally better off looking forward, not backward.”

To expand on this, I’ll quote the fantastic Mandy Hubbard – who brings to the table an agent AND author perspective:

“I saw the difference in rejections between my first agented project (The Jetsetter's Social Club) and my second (Prada & Prejudice). I wrote them just months apart. My agent thought the first would be the easier sell. It was obvious immediately that P&P was stronger. We went from vague/quick rejections to revision requests. Now, I would never want to see the first project on submission. It's not as good. I'm the same writer, and wrote them the same year. But sometimes you have to give up on a project-- just not the writer.”

So yes – sometimes, I will have to give up on a project – most often, because the only responses I’m getting are vague, or I’ve exhausted the list of editors to send to (if one editor at an imprint passes, that’s typically a pass for all at that imprint. And even two different imprints may have the same publisher, or boss – which means, the same boss says yes or no for both, and so it would be silly to get a no from one imprint and send to the other next when the same boss would see it again at the next), or I think a newer work will be much stronger and I want to focus on that one.

Sending something out endlessly, even to lots of smaller presses, might indeed land a sale - but if I think my client can do better…I’d rather wait and send out a new project for a chance at a better deal (and by better deal, no, I’m not just talking money; distribution, editing, marketing, cover art, communication, contract terms, etc. Some small presses are fabulous, but not all are created equal, and no way would I want my client's NEXT work tied up in an option with a non-reputable press!).

But I don’t sign clients because I think that ONE book is it – I sign them because I think I can sell their work, period.

So authors: don’t give up on yourselves – don’t let rejection bother you. Just keep writing and developing – because that’s what we’re counting on you to do. We can only help you succeed if you continue to write!


  1. You know what? That is exactly what I needed to hear right now!

    Thanks, Natalie.

  2. Always great to hear encouragement...especially from an agent. I only wish when I get an agent they are as passionate about me and my writing.

  3. I love this post. My early manuscripts are dear to my heart, but they weren't ready for publication. I'm okay with that!

  4. LOVE this. For obvious reasons. I'm so glad you never gave up on me. <3 you. :D

  5. Thanks for this post Natalie! I think it's easy for a writer to mix 'self' with their 'work'. It's important to remember our work is a product of our self - and the more products we create, the stronger and better we become!

  6. Thank you for this. I'm feeling right now as if my agent *has* given up on me, and I'm not entirely sure what to do about it.

  7. Dear Natalie, thank you for sharing some insight on how this business works; it enlightens us aspiring authors during bleak ubiquitous moments.
    Thanks again,
    Y.M. Schwartz

    PS: All the best in your career and, in your wonderful new marriage.

  8. Anonymous- I would strongly suggest having a chat with your agent, over phone. Many times this can be mis communication! -Natalie

  9. Thank you for this post. It's real and inspirational.

  10. This is just wonderfully inspiring. Thank you!

  11. It's something that you can see in published writers too. The subsequent books are always better than the first.

  12. This is great to know. New info on rejections and how important timing might be. Really appreciate this!

  13. It's a thought-provoking post. Thanks. I think leaving a manuscript to 'mature' while working on other projects is an under-rated technique.

    When we come back, we're more objective and more proficient (hopefully). Sometimes with that fresh perspective we realize that manuscript should be cannibalized for spare parts and then sealed forever at the bottom of the drawer. But sometimes we can quickly see how it could be bettered.

    It’s a shame that writers don’t get an extra bonus century of lifespan to do all this maturing :-)

  14. Very insightful, thanks for the post!

  15. So timely for me too. Thanks for posting this!

  16. This post makes me so thankful for my wonderful agent and her faith in me as a writer. Thanks for helping us keep things in perspective!

  17. Thank you! Needed to read this today. :)

  18. This is good to know. ;)

    Oh my goodness, word verification "so mean."