Two Dates to the Prom

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Oct 21 2010

Hello! I have managed myself into a little predicament and I was advised to seek counsel from you. LOL. This is my situation:

In January, I sent a partial Christian YA manuscript to an agent who reps strictly Christian material, and I mean it has to have a clear presentation of the gospel, strictly Christian, not just non-offensive Touched by an Angel style.

Meanwhile, I went on to complete and polish a humorous womens fiction – think Arsenic and Old Lace – manuscript and began to query that.

In June, I received a request for partial on the womens fiction and a week later I heard back from the Christian agent requesting my full.

In July, I signed a contract for the humorous womens fiction with a brand spanking new, but eager to help agent. I knew when I signed with her that she was winging it, but I had no other offers and assumed I had nothing to lose. At the very least I would have a year (length of the contract) to learn a little more about the process and editing etc.

Now, I’ve received an offer of rep on the Christian manuscript.

I signed with both, but haven’t told either. Am I obligated to tell, should I not tell? Is there a reason to tell before I have a contract for publishing? The genres are so different…I’m terrified that the Christian agent won’t want anything to do with a writer who writes other materials – may turn off Christian publishers or readers? Help! I feel like I have two dates to the prom and I’m feeling a little like a creep. How should I handle this situation?

Ouch. You have gotten yourself into a bit of a predicament. What’s interesting about this is that the day I received it I had just been asked what I look for in a client, and my first response was open communication and honesty.

This is a bad one. It has me making funny faces and grimacing.

Here’s the deal, you need to come clean with both agents, and until you do, honestly, the only one you’re hurting is yourself. What are you going to do if both agents submit your manuscripts to the same house and those submissions end up in a database that has editors wondering why two different agents are handling work from the same author? What are you going to do if you get two different contract offers from publishers, both with a clause that limits you to writing only for that house?

An agent cannot properly handle your career unless she knows all of the facts. That means she needs to know what your intentions are for your career and what else it is you want to be writing or, more important, publishing. How she negotiates your career and submits your material will depend on this. How she negotiates your contracts depends on this.

What I don’t understand, and I’m making some assumptions here, is why you wouldn’t have told both agents about the other books, and the other agents, from the beginning. It seems that you could have found an agent who represents both Christian and mainstream fiction. They do exist, you know. It seems like you could have talked to the first agent who offered, to see if she was interested in both books, or used that offer to find an agent who does handle both Christian and mainstream fiction.

You’ve started off on the wrong foot with both of your agents, and to me you should feel like a creep. Honesty is something that is vitally important in all relationships. It’s important in romance, friendship, and business, and if I’ve entered into a business contract with someone who isn’t being honest with me I’m not going to be a happy camper. If I was one of those agents I’d be more than a little miffed.

You need to make it right and you need to do it sooner rather than later. The longer you wait, the worse it’s going to be.


17 responses to “Two Dates to the Prom”

  1. Avatar wry wryter says:

    I'm jealous, she's got two and I have none…no fair.

    I think getting miffed is a little harsh. It's obvious, because the question is asked, she simply did not know what she did smells like a three day old cod.
    It doesn't warrant anger it warrants disapointment and shows a lack of professionalism.

    Hey…we all screw up and hopefully we learn from it.

    I say write a Stephen King-ish horror sci-fi, find a third agent, tell him everything and be really famous…oh wait I was talking about myself.

  2. Avatar Laurel says:

    She definitely made a mistake, absolutely should make it right, but what she did was a combination of not knowing better and being afraid of losing both opportunities. Hopefully one agent or the other will understand that and cut her some slack.

    Here in blogworld it seems like a lot of agents do understand how many rejections writers stack up during the query process. I'm sure this isn't the only gal who made an ill-advised decision out of fear that she would miss her opportunity.

  3. Avatar B.R. Paulson says:

    Not only did she have to opportunities to sign, but they were two different books. Why can't she pub one under a different pseudonym and have the other under another and be – essentially – two different people? of course, full disclosure to both agents is a must, but what if half of her is a Christian author and the other half isn't and she really wants to be both? Are there situations where two agents would be okay with this splitting? or would it be better to have all your personalities represented by the same agent… wow, rereading that I sound like I have DID Dissociative Identity Disorder, no I don't, I don't think. But with full disclosure, would the two dates consider it? Hmmm… I'm just curious. I like to ask the what-ifs and while I agree that the dishonesty thing is cheap and a huge mistake (hopefully one she will learn from), is there a possibility she can still turn it around it with a showing of honesty from the Christian side and have two "dates".

    Anyone? : )

  4. Avatar Philangelus says:

    Did she not read the contracts before signing? Because every agency contract I've seen says something to the effect that the agent will represent all novel-length fiction by that author.

    Therefore at the very least, both agents will take 15% of whatever this person sells, but more than that, she's granted each one the exclusive right to represent her novel-length work.

  5. Avatar Robena Grant says:

    Yikes! All you can do is 'fess up. Today.
    Offer to use a pseudonym for one of them, but understand the decision is now up to the agents in if they want to work with you or not.

  6. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Here's an opinion from an author's pov who does cross genres.

    Tell the agent you have the least amount of faith in the truth and see how he/she reacts. If she gets annoyed, you still have one agent who doesn't know anything about the multiple submission and you've only lost one agent in the process.

    However, this is a situation a lot of authors face, especially authors who like to cross genres. Not all agents are open to authors crossing genres. They like to box them in and keep them where they are. At least this has been my experience. And authors don't like th is at all 🙂 We smile and say it doesn't matter, but we're really clenching our fists behind our backs.

  7. First, agreeing that this was probably done out of ignorance rather than any sort of malice or attempt to deceive.

    I think I've heard of authors having different agents to rep different genres (written under different pseudonyms as well), but they have to be honest with all parties involved. If you're trying to stay current and relevant in each genre, you're going to have to write twice as fast or else put out books in each twice as slowly. Your agent is going to wonder why it's taking you so long to write one book if they don't know that you're writing in several genres.

  8. Avatar Anonymous says:

    "Strict interpretation of the Gospel" … I assume she's referring to two faced Janus. It's amazing someone with such, um, "morality" would be so casually duplicitous, and confused about doing the right thing. Are they not teaching that in Sunday school?

  9. Avatar Stephanie says:

    I see why there is the need for two agents…if you write two completely different genres, chances of finding one who reps both would be impossible. But definitely let them both know.

  10. Avatar Scott Eagan says:

    I'd love to throw my two cents in on this one as well. One question that came to mind as I read this was the fact that the writer took the first offer because "she had nothing to lose." Finding an agent isn't a matter of "just settling" but really finding the perfect match.

    I fully agree with you Jessica that the writer should have found someone else that represents both genres.

    I also agree with the open communication issue. This is a TEAM EFFORT! That simply can't happen if one person isn't coming clean.

    Just some thoughts from another agent.


  11. I'd also recommend honesty in the sense that you (the question writer) should admit to both agents that you did this out of fear and naivety.

    What you've done is very human; I think if you quickly and honestly–with genuine expressions of regret–admit what you did and why you did it, things will work out alright.

    And even if they don't–you've got two viable manuscripts. Your career can survive this mis-step. (Congratulations, by the way!)

  12. Avatar clindsay says:

    Off the top of my head, Rachele Gardner is an excellent agent who reps both Christian AND mainstream commercial fiction…


  13. Avatar AstonWest says:

    As for mentioning both books in the initial stages, we're told time and again that agents only want to hear about one book at a time, not the three others we have ready as well.

    That being said…

    I'm not sure why there wouldn't have been contact made with the first agent when the first contract offer (from the second agent) was given. That's just the polite and respectful thing to do…much like cutting off dating other people when someone proposes and you say yes.

  14. Avatar Lucy says:

    @ Anon. 11:22

    You're assuming that if one agent is angry enough to terminate the relationship, the other will still be on board. That's possible. Maybe. But publishing is a small, small world; and I'd be surprised if the news didn't get around to the second agent somehow.

    This is not something you want your agent to find out a year or eighteen months after the fact. I'm going to have to agree with Jessica and others: crow is best eaten as warm as possible.

    Swallow it quick, hon.

  15. Very disappointing. I can understand making this mistake in a rush of fear on the phone, but not in carrying it on.

    Obviously your writing skills are apparent. Pity, I suspect the small town industry is going to hurt you. The two top Christian agents (Chip MacGregor & Rachelle Gardner) both rep both genres – and both have blog posts indicating they wouldn't touch someone with this kind of 'predicament' with a ten foot pole.

    I agree mercy should be extended to everyone and for that reason hope (and pray) one of these agents is willing to forgive and move on. But naivete is no excuse. A couple of blog readings / google searches on 'Agent Etiquette' would have given you the right advice within minutes.

    Better if you'd done that before The Call.

  16. Avatar J.M.Cornwell says:

    While I agree with the openness and honesty to both agents, I do not think this is such an awful situation. Many agents handle one or two books or specific genres. I've ended up with different agents for specific works because they each are so specialized. For instance, if you write books for the American public and others for an international audience, you likely won't have the same agent for both.

    Faux pas, yes. Horrible, not at all.

    Come clean. If one or both agents refuses to represent you, at least you know your work and you are marketable and will be able to find another agent.

  17. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Scott Eagen wrote:

    "One question that came to mind as I read this was the fact that the writer took the first offer because "she had nothing to lose." Finding an agent isn't a matter of "just settling" but really finding the perfect match."

    Whenever I read agents write something like this, I chuckle (no offense meant).

    As if it's that easy. If it was just about the writing, then maybe, yes. But add in agents' very subjective tastes, and it's a whole different animal — a slippery, hard to catch one, at that.

    Not all writers have the luxury of multiple offers.

    I think the writer said she took the only offer, not the first. I'd do the same, in that situation, if my hopes were a paycheck.

    (I don't mean the situation the whole blog post is about.)