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Upsetting the Agent-Author Relationship

Is it the ultimate nail in the coffin to find out the writer you just signed has already submitted to, and been rejected by, editors? We’ve seen where querying an agent with an offer in hand is always a bonus for the agent to accept you as a client. Should eager writers refrain from submitting to the publishers that still take unagented queries?

Actually what upsets me most would not be that the material was already submitted to and rejected by editors, although that comes in closely behind what really upsets me. What really upsets me is that if you signed with me and then told me the book had been sent around and submitted to editors, I would feel lied to. Lied by omission, but still lied to. Let’s look at it this way: What if you submitted to me, we had a long, pleasant conversation and finally agreed we were going to work together. Then, after signing on with me I told you that I had decided that from now on I’m only selling books to two publishers and will only submit to those two publishers. That’s not presumably what you signed on for.

This is why it’s so, so important to talk to a number of agents, if possible, before signing a contract with any one agent. Those conversations you have with an agent when an offer of representation comes up is the time to talk frankly and honestly about what you want in your career and how an agent operates. It’s the time to make sure that the two of you see your book in the same way and have the same thoughts in terms of submission style and the same goals.

Of course, if your book has been seen by a number of editors or is currently under consideration, that should be mentioned, at the very least, in the cover letter you send with any requested materials.

I know I’ve addressed this issue before, but obviously it never hurts to bring it up again: Shopping your manuscript around to editors should only be done on request. If you enter a contest and an editor requests your work or if you are a nonfiction author who has been approached by an editor, go ahead and send the material. Otherwise, if you really want an agent it might be wise to hold off.


Category: Blog



  1. Thanks for the post. I guess a manuscript that was submitted years ago when the subgenre I write in was last popular is not a candidate for another look, now that the genre seems to be showing signs of life. Or is it? Can a manuscript that was submitted long ago be “new” again?

  2. Thank you for validating my impressions. So many people advise writers to submit to publishers directly, but given the number of editors who will accept unagented submissions in my genre, that never struck me as productive.

  3. Eek, I’m a little confused.
    After placing in a contest, an editor requested only a synopsis. I’m sending out queries on a different manuscript, so I don’t need to mention the editor, right?
    Since it’s a different manuscript and the editor hasn’t shown interest so far besides a synopsis?

  4. I thought I read here, somewhere, that BookEnds occasionally encouraged direct submissions to Harlequin/Silhouette.

    I must be wrong, but I did it anyway.

  5. 1) Am I correct in assuming by editors you mean editors for Big Houses? Editors for small presses and ePublishers don’t offer enough payment to benefit an agent.

    2) Since editors and agents take so long to respond, an aspiring author can spend the better part of two years or so querying for one novel if she queries only agents first. It may be great for agents to get first dibs, but how does that benefit the author?Odds are she’ll go through all that and still end up with nothing, since agents are only interested in books which will sell to the Big Houses.

  6. You can make a career writing category romance for Harlequin and not ever sign with an agent….they are one of the few houses that take unsolicited queries….however, their single title division, Mira and HQN will only take agented submissions. If you’re in this business and on a career path with the goal of writing single title, you will need an agent for sure…it just depends what you want to do. My contract with my agent covers everything except epubs…so I can sub on my own to epubs and any $$ I make is wholly for me.

  7. I thought I read here, somewhere, that BookEnds occasionally encouraged direct submissions to Harlequin/Silhouette.

    me: I’m pretty sure Harlequin is a non-agent publishing company. They have subsidiaries[i think that’s the word] like Mira that you need an agent for, otherwise, anyone can submit to a line in the harlequin books. I’m pretty sure Bookends isn’t being contradictory or two-faced. 😀

  8. Jessica, what about if you’re querying a new work but your first book has a partial with one agent and is with an editor? Should you mention this in the query even though you’re not querying the first book but concentrating on the second? Or is that a conversation you have later down the road?

    (HQN does take unsolicites queries btw).

  9. Harlequin Category accepts queries from unagented writers. HQN and MIRA however only accept agented submissions, as per their guidelines.

  10. Kimber An, I’m sure you meant this for Jessica, but let me share my opinion.

    Most agents do more than just send out manuscripts the day after the author sends them. Quite a few will ask for revisions and discuss marketing strategy.

    For me, the agent is the last in a line of people who have gone over the work in preparation to send it to an editor. Do you really want to cut out what might be the last chance to spruce it up before meeting the editor’s eye?

    I believe in my book, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to do every single, possible thing to make that baby shine before it goes out.

  11. once again…Julie you’re right…my agent loved my ms, which is why I was offered represention…but she also had several valid points and directed me to a few revisions that as a whole made the book much stronger…we’ve pitched it….and now we wait…but I trust her opinions, her strategy and her guidance….I wouldn’t want to be making my way through the publishing waters by myself…sheesh…I’d probably drown!

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