A Splash of Cold Water

Some of you may have read the post from agent Kristin Nelson last week about agents fighting over writers. She wrote that every single time she offers a writer representation lately, she ends up competing with several other agents who want the same client. You can go read her post now: Hot Commodity

In response to her post there was quite a bit of talk on Twitter, with writers saying, “I better get my query out there soon because agents are fighting over writers!” But I think the excitement may be based on a misunderstanding of what Kristin wrote. Time for a reality check.


Kristin’s post is absolutely spot-on about agent competition, and I’ve seen the same dynamic lately. I’m typically competing with several other agents for the clients I really want. Sometimes I win, sometimes I don’t.

But the reason this happens is because the majority of queries don’t motivate us to immediate action. When the awesome ones come across our desks, we recognize them and we tend to act fast. Agents are only fighting over a few writers.

It’s important to realize that when a project looks like it’s going to be hot, many agents notice (assuming you’ve sent it to multiple agents.) So if you’re not getting positive responses from agents, try not to blame the agents or make excuses for yourself. If your project looks saleable in today’s market, agents will notice.

Of course, there are all kinds of reasons projects get rejected. It’s a combination of your book, your platform, the agent’s workload and need for a new client, the agent’s preferences, and how the market looks at that very moment. It’s not all about the worthiness of your project. So don’t take those rejections as a reflection of your worth as an author.

But at the same time, don’t be thinking all the agents must be making a BIG MISTAKE by not offering representation. Most agents recognize a saleable project when they see it. And they’ll pursue it, IF it fits what they want to represent.

We get hundreds of queries a week, but we’re only “fighting over” a few of them.

Sorry about that cold water.

Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

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  • Stephanie McGee

    >I think every endeavor needs a splash of cold water once in a while. While it can be encouraging to hear that agents are fighting over projects, it's also a clarion call to get to work making your writing the best it can be. Because if it's not a-one writing, you're not likely to be one of the authors agents duke it out over. (That's not to say an agent won't take you on if your writing isn't the best. You might get an agent who likes to revise and work with an author to polish the prose of an idea that grabs them.)

    Before this comment goes on too long I think I'll stop. Thanks for this, Rachelle.

  • Aimee LS

    >I'm glad to read 'reality checks'. They are necessary and helpful!

  • Lynda Young

    >I can only liken this to when I had to through wads of resumes in search of the right employee for the job. When you go through enough resumes you really do gain the skill of being able sort the good from the bad without having to go through the interview process first.

  • Anonymous

    >Rachelle, thanks for this post. I'm not on twitter and I'm surprised to hear writers react this way. Sure, it's encouraging that agents are fighting over authors (even if it's a few), but more so, it's incentive to craft the best novel you can, being that the competition is tight and the best queries/samples/novels are getting all the attention. When I read Kristin's post, I thought: I'm going to work my butt off to push my writing and story to the next level, to step out of the sea of mediocre.

  • Jessica Nelson

    >Brrrrr….*shiver*

    :-) Hahaa. I saw Kristin's post. Thanks for that splash. *grin*

  • Katie Ganshert

    >That picture is 100% hilarious.

  • Krista Phillips

    >I hadn't read that post yet, and considering the horrible hot flashes I've had lately in this muggy heat, the cold water felt good, ha!

    I agree with the person about resume's, it's so frustrating going through a pile of awful or mediocre resumes and finding that gem… only to find out that they are considering an offer of employment elsewhere. But that surely doesn't mean the job market is improving because 2 companies hiring liked the same well-qualified person!!

  • Timothy Fish

    >If we were talking about the job market rather than agents, it would make sense. Multiple employers will only fight over a new employee if they all have openings for a new employee. After the dust settles, one of them will have hired him and the others will still be looking for someone to fill the vacancy. That is certainly good news for other job seekers.

    With agents fighting over a client, it is likely to mean something else. Since the agent is actually the “employee” in this situation, it probably means there aren’t that many viable clients out there. This is a result of publishers being more selective. If publishers were less selective then agents would be less selective and the probability that they would select the same author would be reduced.

  • Zoe C. Courtman

    >Dude. Sprinkler to the face = LOLZ. Great pic and post :)Thanks!

  • Sarah Forgrave

    >Thanks for the reality check and for the reminder that I can't just whip out my novel in a week and expect agents to fight over me. lol

  • Carole

    >Cold water is better than a vat of ice cubes. Thanks for the kinder, gentler reality check.

  • Richard Mabry

    >Rachelle, I'm grateful (and constantly amazed) that you chose me, even if there was no bidding war.

    Thanks for the reality check.

  • Livia

    >I wonder Kristin's observation also has to do with the fact (I think) that the market is getting more competitive, so writers are querying more agents simultaneously, casting a wider net than they used to. So the good projects end up getting responses from a lot of agents.

  • Sharon A. Lavy

    >=)

  • Rachel

    >HAAAAAAA!

    Perfect place to insert that photo.

  • Anonymous

    >I dare to disagree with your assertion. Many, many agents don't bother reading your full until you inform them of an offer– THAT is how fights emerge. They suddenly say, "This might be interesting" because someone else is interested. I've been through this a couple times now, so I've seen it first hand. It's like when a guy dates a girl and his buddies suddenly realize she's hot, whereas before they didn't notice her at all. I don't think it's inherent merit to a project, necessarily.

  • Anonymous

    >While I appreciate the "helpful caveat", it's frustrating to see so many agents online suck up to editors in one breath and try to bring writers down to earth the next. I wonder how many are trying to pass off their own frustrations, just in case any of us got the idea for a second that this process was easy.

  • Amy Jo Lavin

    >That makes sense. Thanks for the clarification!

  • T. Anne

    >I hadn't seen Jessica's post, so thanx. I doubt I'll be in the midst of bidding war, but I find the whole idea quite enchanting. ;)

  • Terri Tiffany

    >Oh to be fought over:)I'll settle for a close finish any time.

  • Amy Sorrells

    >Dittos to what Katie Ganshert and Dr. Mabry said :) My mouth is still agape with grateful amazement, so please don't turn the hose on me, or I'll catch a drowning mouthful.

  • Michael K. Reynolds

    >Come on Rachelle. If water in the face was enough to drench our delusions of grandeur we wouldn't be in the writing business. Strike up the band. Bring out the dancing bears. Let the bidding commence!

  • themotherlode

    >Ha! Another great post, Rachelle. The photo is perfect. Thanks for continuing to pour out your knowledge and experience.

  • Beth

    >Question for you:

    After a publishing house considered but eventually turned down one of my manuscripts, I decided to start pursuing agents rather than going the direct route because of the amount of time it was taking for me to research publishing houses on my own. (I usually spend the end of December and all of January, and part of February going through them and trying to find which will be the best choices to approach for the following year.) What I find is that although the agents respond quicker, they often ask for exclusive submissions. How would an author end up with competing agents if they can't submit to more than one at a time? Are these just well-known authors that agents are approaching? Also, do agents represent by the project or the author? Is an author able to send one manuscript to one agent and a different one to a second agent?

  • Kathi Lipp

    >I disagree with the assertion that the reason that agents are interested is because other agents are interested. I submitted several manuscripts only to have one go to committee at several houses and get rejected (before I had an agent.) On the next round, I had my proposal go to several agents and get three offers of representation independent of one another. This is a great indicator that one ms. was close, and the next was on the money. It wasn't a case of a kid wanting a toy only because another kid wanted it. This is an industry filled with professionals who know what will sell. (But it does give me a secret sense of glee to know that a group who turned down one of my books because it didn't would never be more than a long article, now has asked me to work with them on another project. Insert evil giggle here…)

  • Beth

    >Thanks for the clarification…and for the laugh. That picture is awesome :)

  • JEM

    >This is a great perspective on the agent anger issue a lot of writers develop. Business is all about a personal assessment of saleability of a product (no matter what that product may be), and if an agent isn't interested in your work that's not their fault.

    I also LOVE the picture in this post. Excellent.

  • Timothy Fish

    >I think it’s a pretty safe bet that agents are sometimes interested only after they learn that someone else is. I don’t know that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s a natural thing for people to do. For example, a person might turn his nose up at a certain kind of food, basing his opinion on the name or how it looks, but after hearing that someone else liked it, he might decide he wants to try it. We wouldn’t think anything about someone doing that, so why should it be an issue it an agent passed over a manuscript on an off day and decides to look at it again when she hears that her agent friends like it?

    Michael K. Reynolds said, “if water in the face was enough to drench our delusions of grandeur we wouldn’t be in the writing business.” I think there’s something to that. And yet I think most of us are well aware of what we face. (Well, actually we don’t, but no one is willing to tell us.) The real question is why we keep going. We’ve set a goal and to get there we have to do something. Normally, when face with a situation like this we would reevaluate the situation and find a better way. That’s what our characters do, but in this situation any change in the system is rejected outright and many people have set goals that force them to go right through the cold water. When change isn’t acceptable, cold water is useless.

  • Anonymous

    >I agree w/ Anon 8:57 too cuz it happenend to me: Agents love to compete and win. Who doesn't? It's like the pack mentaility. Case in point: American Idol.
    Casey James sounds great time after time, but they put him down–yet when Crystal sings the same old tune, they all go nuts.

    When I told agents I had my full out with a few others, which was true, you can bet that sped up their reading from two months to two weeks. I almost accepted an offer, but it wasn't the right one so I revised and am now resubmitting. But it's taking twice as long to get responses so I'm back to square one. Frustrating!

  • Kelly

    >This is exactly what I was thinking when I was reading some of the comments over there.

  • Botanist

    >Hi Rachelle. Firstly, great post and valuable clarification. Thanks.

    Secondly, I see you often answer questions from confused writers but I'm not sure how people usually go about posing questions. I didn't want to post a random comment on the blog "off topic", but this is kinda related to "saleability" so here goes…

    I live in Canada and I am sending queries to U.S. agents, but my education and upbringing is British. My ms therefore uses British spelling throughout. Are agents likely to see this as a major issue, or a minor technicality to sort out later? Is this likely to be an obstacle to getting an offer of representation, or would I be advised to edit the manuscript to U.S. spelling before going any further?

  • KC Frantzen

    >Thanks for your mah-velous sense of humor. It keeps us going!

  • Beth

    >Question for you, Rachelle:

    Does an agent represent one book by an author, or the author herself? The reason I would like to know is because I have a few manuscripts now that I’m looking for representation or homes for. It is ethical to send one to one agent but another to a different agent?

    Thanks!

  • Beth

    >Question for you, Rachelle:

    Does an agent represent one book by an author, or the author herself? The reason I would like to know is because I have a few manuscripts now that I’m looking for representation or homes for. It is ethical to send one to one agent but another to a different agent?

    Thanks!

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