December 1, 2010

My agent dumped me…now what?

Filed under: Backstory — jenny @ 9:33 pm

So there I was, sitting at my desk at work, my next patient about to come in, on my face a slack-jawed expression of complete and total shock.

My agent didn’t like my new novel.

“So…what do you think I should do?” I asked smally. “Query other agents?”

“I think you should,” she told me. Her tone was far more encouraging than her next words: “I mean, it’s a story. It has a beginning, a middle, an end.”

Even though it hadn’t seemed so at the time, I had gotten my [first] agent quite easily. Eight months, querying in the beginning with a completely unwieldy, unpublishable novel–agents who rejected it did help me whittle and whip it into shape–and I wound up with two offers. Got to choose whom to sign with.

It would not be so easy this next time around.

But I sent my first query–to Jenny Bent, then at Trident Media–without knowing that, and in fact, being sure that the first person to read this piece of brilliance, which my agent, unfathomably, *didn’t get* would make me an offer.

Queries were still snail mailed at this time. My SASE from Jenny came back with a hand-scrawled, Sorry, this is not for me. It was written–oh, the sting–on my own query letter! She couldn’t even spare a piece of paper.

I think I was more shocked by this than when my agent said she didn’t like it.

Now, you might be thinking, Well, she (Jenny–the writer–me) was clearly off her rocker. The novel sucked. That’s why her agent dumped her.

But around this time I did something that would come to be–and still is–a hallmark of my approach to circling around this business.

I Wrote to a Famous Person whose work I loved.

The famous person in question was author Jacquelyn Mitchard, who had just written an article on the subject my novel was about. Along with the letter, I dared to enclose a good chunk of the book.

Then one night, a few weeks later, the telephone rang.

Thank goodness for a relatively new invention–screens on which the caller’s name and number appeared.

I knew who would reply when I said, “Hello?”

It was Jackie. Mitchard.

Jackie was calling to tell me how wonderful my book was. How every word grabbed her. How well-written it was.

Then she said, “It won’t get published, though.”

On the heels of this bomb ensued a rather lovely conversation with a Famous Person.

Jackie explained her reasoning to me, which included her own experience trying to convince her editor to let her write a book on the same, rather controversial subject.

“Drawer it,” she said (or words to that effect). “The time is not now.”

Which might have explained the EIGHTY rejections from agents I was slowly piling up.

But dammit, I wanted this thing published. And I *didn’t* want to write another book. Not now at least.

What was a writer to do?

The one thing I hadn’t yet tried.


  1. Okay, now I *NEED* to know. What was the topic??

    Often, people have different opinions on what “can” be published. My “late crusades” novel was rejected after 9-11 because agents wouldn’t touch “a Muslim-Christian conflict with a 10-foot pole” (actual quote) and in the meantime, 9-11 controversies were flying off the shelves. So SOMEone thought it was a good gamble. Not the people I talked to, though. Now, luckily, I have good representation…. Maybe times have changed.

    As for the rejections: Oh, lordy, I have tears in my eyes. My “no dice” rejection was written on my own cover letter. I can’t stand it when they can’t even spare a sheet of paper to reject you!

    Comment by Savvy — December 2, 2010 @ 9:50 am

  2. I’ve received several agent rejections on my actual query letter. . .it does suck but at least now it’sdone mostly by email.

    I think sometimes the publishing industry is just so afraid of risk that they miss the good stuff.

    Comment by Judy — December 2, 2010 @ 11:35 am

  3. I got a capitalized underlined “NO!!!” on one of my query letters. No business is free of sadists.

    Judy, I agree. Browsing a bookstore, it seems to me selections are perceived as less risky rather than well written.

    Comment by Sara — December 2, 2010 @ 11:39 am

  4. I’m even more offended by the DIFFERENT agencies who used the EXACT same form letter (to the letter), so the only effort involved is grabbing something and shoving it in… nobody at the agency even WROTE it.

    Jenny, this is heartbreaking to think you’ve written a great book with bad timing. I want to hear what’s next too!

    Comment by Hart — December 2, 2010 @ 1:49 pm

  5. We have all been down, ladies, and now I have a feeling–and I KNOW for some of you–that there is no way to go but up! Hang in there–my back story gets worse before it gets better. But for some reason I’m feeling, not optimistic, but empowered today. Good content doesn’t have to get missed.

    Comment by jenny — December 2, 2010 @ 3:19 pm

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