Breaking the Rules

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Nov 29 2011

I’m a rule breaker. I believe there’s a purpose to rules and I also believe there’s a time and place to break them. As you know, I was closed to queries for some time, and yet I still got queries. Which was fine, because if you follow the guidelines you’d get my automatic reply that I was closed to queries and the query was dropped in my trash. I never saw it.

During that time, though, an author received an offer for publication through a contest. It was a decent offer, and even though I was closed to queries, with the encouragement of a friend she queried me by putting “offer from publisher” in the subject line. I was intrigued. I got back to her immediately and told her to send me the full manuscript. My thought was that I would take a look and see if it was decent. If it was I’d pass it along to either Jessica or Lauren, who are also looking for this particular type of book. Fortunately for me, I couldn’t put the book down, and I definitely couldn’t give it away. A day and a half later I eagerly offered representation, the author accepted, and we went on to sell the book for a deal we were both really happy with.

So see, sometimes rules really are meant to be broken.


20 responses to “Breaking the Rules”

  1. Avatar Phil Hall says:

    Question: if the author already had an offer for publication, why did he/she need an agent to sell what is already "sold"?

  2. Thanks for the inspiring story on this dreary winter morning, Jessica!


  3. Congrats to you and your author! Rule breaking can work, if done correctly. (sounds like a total oxymoron, I know)

    @phil – for the contract. An offer is not the same as "sold". An agent can spot problem clauses because they know what to look for; an excited writer doesn't. There's also a chance for better terms if there's an agent involved, rather than just getting handed the standard boiler plate "as is".

  4. Avatar Lorenda says:

    @phil – and I would add to Josin's response: to sell the next one

    One book does not a career make, and an agent would be a huge asset for further sales.

  5. @phil–another thought. An offer of publication is only an offer. An agent might be able to get a quick read at other houses and get multiple or better offers for the author to choose from. The goal is to find the house that will publish the book well–not just publish it. And as Josin said, even if the author goes with the original publisher, the contract can be very different.

  6. As to Phil's question, I'm thinking that even with an offer from a publisher, an agent can navigate all the ins and outs and get the best deal for the author. If I get an offer, I'll certainly want to find an agent, because that end of things is time consuming and not very creative and takes away from writing time.

    Meanwhile, congratulations to you and your author, Jessica.

  7. Avatar Anna says:

    This is such great news for you and the author. I clicked the button but I thought I would write it anyway: this made my day!

  8. Also to Phil, having an offer for publication as a prize in a contest is not the same thing as actually selling the book and being published. This just demonstrates the variety of levels publication can take.

  9. Loved the uplifting post, Jessica! This is one of those stories that inspire hope and a push to just–go for it!

    Congrats to you and the author!

  10. Avatar Anonymous says:

    @Phil…authors are always going to need someone to go to bat for them. A lot of authors work without agents. I do and it's stressful hell. But the releationship between publisher and author, small press or large house, is tricky at best and the author is never able to put his or her guard down. Publishers only have their own interests at heart. This is basic human nature because there's money involved. And a publisher, large or small, e-book or print, will screw over an author the first chance they get. This is obviously why I'm posting anonymously.

  11. Avatar Lucy says:

    This is the kind of story I love reading. 🙂

    Thanks, Jessica!

  12. Avatar Robena Grant says:

    A great story, and fabulous outcome for both of you.

  13. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Phil Hall, I can answer that question because I've been in that situation.

    The answer is that the agent got me 10x as much $ as I would have gotten for myself.

    When I had no agent, I made a living from my books but it was a ramen noodles living. Now I'm making an organic filet mignon living.

    That said, an agent who was closed to queries wouldn't've been my choice for who to query.

  14. Avatar Victoria says:

    Phil… (don't you love that everyone wants to answer you?) the truth is, it is harder to get an agent than a publisher, and the choice of an agent is more important. The author did exactly the right thing in using the offer from a publisher to help her get an agent.

  15. Avatar girlseeksplace says:

    I'm with Phil. It seems like those contests include a number of copies of the book anyway and are usually run by small presses and include publication.

  16. Congrats to this author! They had a very good reason to think they were the exception to the rule. I'm glad it worked out so well.

  17. Avatar Anonymous says:

    "the truth is, it is harder to get an agent than a publisher"

    This is an excellent point. And it's why I'm still working unagented and dealing with things I'd rather have an agent deal with. I'm contracted to do multiple books a year and there are times when I'd love to have agent's advice and representation. But a lot of agents haven't embraced all the changes in publishing and don't recognize authors who are, indeed, getting published and making money in non-traditional ways. With most, it's still about the unsolicited query and a lot of us have moved on from that place. This is something I don't get. And I think it will change. But it's taking longer than it took Grandma to figure out the iPad.

    Anon @ 11:45

  18. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I don't understand how her message got through. You said your email system would send her an automatic reply then trash her query. Am I missing something?


  19. Avatar Bec McMaster says:

    As the author in question, just to clarify…
    Jessica had been my preferred agent all along, but I was waiting on the results from two contests (hopefully to improve my chance (: ). The contest prize wasn't publication – but the editor in question requested the full, loved it and rang to offer for it. I'd waited all through May to query and realised Jessica had closed to queries at the start of June! I was cursing myself for blowing this chance when my CP suggested I go for it anyway, even knowing it was cheeky.
    As for why I wanted an agent? Contracts, perhaps a better deal, and someone to help me kickstart my career. Best of luck to everyone!

  20. With all the 'this is so inspiring and made my day comments, I just had to weigh in on the other side.

    That breaking the rules can work is good to know but may be confusing to writers trying to understand the submission process.

    Keep in mind there are always stories out there of how people landed an agent or a deal in an unorthodox manner. And that's the part that's good to know.

    However, it's also important to realize that something like this happening is tantamount to winning the lottery and doesn't replace the whole write a good manuscript, solid query letter and persistence routine.

    The bottom line is that this author wrote a great book. That's why it sold and that's why this agent chose to represent her. Not because she broke the rules.