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The Baggage of Your Previous Agent

Anyone who has ever had a previous relationship (agent, dating, marriage) has had baggage. Not all bad baggage, but baggage nonetheless.

Previous representation leaves an author with experience and knowledge that others might not have. Bad experiences leave them cautious. As an agent, knowing something about your past, and your baggage, helps me be the kind of agent you most need and want.

Baggage is okay. It’s good to share it. It’s good for the new person in your life to know what might trigger bad feelings. And it’s good for you and your new relationship to build up a trust that can overcome that baggage. Pack it away for good.

What I want authors to be aware of is baggage comes from the feelings you bring from these previous experiences. While it might have been a negative experience for you, having had the experience is not necesssarily seen as a negative to other agents. The behavior of others might cause you baggage, but it does not now become your baggage.

Which leads me, finally, to this question from a reader.

A while ago you were extremely kind and answered a comment I left here after having been previously agented and it ending in flames. Thank you so much for taking that time. Amongst other things, you said write another book, which I’ve done – although I haven’t finished editing … my question is, how to deal with the baggage in the query letter. I pulled out before the book went out on sub’ – and walked away. Never approached anyone else with that MS. Genuinely awful experience. Never bitched on social media, never named the agent. 

Am using a pseudonym for brand new book, don’t want to lie to a prospective new agent but if I mention anything would they ask who etc. If I use a generously broad perspective, and just say, it didn’t work out – and that we’re on good terms, are they likely to check? If I say nothing … It all feels complicated. 

And yes, you do *feel* like a friend, thank you for being accessible.


I’m extremely sorry to hear about this experience. It’s always disappointing when a relationship doesn’t work and I get the feeling that this one might have been with what I call a bad agent.

I imagine you are facing the query process with more caution than you did before. I don’t blame you. What I want you to stop doing is assuming that the behavior or reputation of this agent has any impact on a future agent’s decision.

Since the first book never went on submission it was never shopped to publishers. That means the book is still as viable to agents as it was before you signed with an agent. You are still providing them with a fresh book.

If you have a new book even better. As far as agents are concerned you first queried one book and now you have another. Most authors have a book that never sold or even got them an agent. Most of those authors finally signed with an agent who rejected them before. You’re no different.

I don’t see any reason you need to hide yourself or your experience. It sounds like you trusted someone who failed you, but were wise enough or lucky enough to get out when you could. Hold your head high for taking back the control of your career and move forward.

Good luck!

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6 comments

  1. I can’t believe you answered this. Heartfelt thanks. The weirdest thing is, I absolutely swear, I was on your site just now looking for sub guidelines as new book is finally ready to query and read this instead. Thank you so much for the wisdom and solid sense of perspective.
    Your blogs are always hugely helpful.

  2. I hope I may submit this anonymous comment. I had a superb, very high-profile agent in 1998/9. You’d instantly know the name. I also had a huge, comprehensive book of 200,000 words that pitted genre romance against a non-fictional background that in many places read like a tourist guide. Not good, but he accepted it, regardless.
    Although the writing and the subject were strong, the book went in too many directions. I knew it; he knew it. He suggested I winnow it to 150,000 words. That wonderful man sent the book to 33 (!) people in the industry. Most replied in glowing terms, but said – correctly – the book needed a narrower focus. Many major publishers asked to see it after I’d re-edited it. How I wish I’d had the strength to take that advice! The agent also suggested a second rewrite and a renewed focus on the fictional element. For many reasons, I wasn’t able to do it. I went on to
    other, simpler projects. It’s been 20 LONG YEARS! but I’m finally ready to return to this as an exciting, pleasurable project.
    In summary: There are many lessons, here. Sometimes, it’s not the agent. It’s you. I hesitate to write that fine agent’s name on Query Tracker without explanation. There was no problem with our “relationship.” He believed in me and I believed in him. He did everything he could. He’s now retired, but I’ll always admire and respect him.

  3. Jessica, when do you reveal your past “been agented” experience? If you put it in your query you are taking up valuable real estate (ie word count) when you could be talking about your book.

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