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I Can Have Another You In a Minute

Hello Betsy!
I love reading your blog, so I hope you don’t mind if I bug you with a question I’ve been pondering. 🙂
About two years ago, my first YA book was picked up by BDA*.  But the book didn’t sell, and my agent took a new job, leaving the agency.
Now I’ve finished another project, and am getting ready to start the agent hunt all over again. My question is, when I write my query letter to try and nab a new agent, should I mention that I was once repped by  BDA? Or would that just make me look bad (since the book didn’t sell)? I have no idea what to do, and would greatly appreciate your expert advice!Thanks so much!
Dear Awkward Spot:
It is impressive that you were taken on by BDA, but it isn’t particularly helpful since the book didn’t sell, and the agent went AWOL, and no one else in the agency tried to snap you up. Telling a new agent that you were left at the altar of a BDA doesn’t really help your cause. It’s like telling someone you went to Harvard but dropped out after freshman year, or was one of the first employees at Google but traded in your stock and quit before they went public, or found a two thousand dollar Burberry jacket in your size on sale for $400 at the Barney’s warehouse sale, but you wavered and some freak in Tori Burch flip flops nabbed it. In other words, no one cares about what might have happened. So leave it off. Start fresh. Your history with BDA will become important when your new agent is coming up with a submission strategy — so at some point  during your preliminary conversations you should mention that an earlier book was circulated. But I’d wait until you were past the first date.

Love, Betsy

*Big Deal Agency

What would you do?

26 Responses

  1. I would do just what you said. You know what you’re talking about.

  2. Holy shit, did I get overserved one night and send this off to you, or are you just reading my mind again?

  3. I love your pragmatism. I agree, don’t mention BDA, but I hope she has a history of where the books were submitted by the BDA so the new agent can try others. Did the book get a re-write since the BDA. I feel for the author, it’s got to be painful to get so close and then have things fall apart. Have a blessed day.

  4. Re: the Burberry jacket scenario, that’s why I carry pepper spray.

  5. I’m too unnerved from the smiley face to respond coherently.

  6. Sound advice. I think l am guilty of reeling off some near-misses in the past well okay the other day. It was my personal assistant. Wearing that Burberry coat.

  7. Learnings, learnings …

  8. Miss Awkward, Great advice. I would have said the same thing only I wouldn’t have been half as funny. Maybe a quarter…nay, a third…Nop, not gonna go there. Just take BL’s advice and run with it.

  9. I would query the current book as if I’d never been repped before. Best to first get an agent’s offer based strictly on the merits of the current book. Only after signing up with a new agent (if that can reasonably be undivulged until then) would I come clean on the previous agency and book. Since she had a book that essentially went nowhere and an agent who went missing, etc. all that negative history is best saved for further down the pike as it isn’t likely to advance her cause in a positive way in the early stages of securing representation. Get the agent first. Bare your soul afterward.

  10. Y’all know what my answer would be.

  11. This exact same scenario DID happen to me – and I did exactly what you’ve suggested. In fact, reading this post was so frigginly, eerily familiar, I had to think twice to make sure it wasn’t me who’d written it to you. Good luck to the writer, though!

  12. Is the Burberry jacket an entrance requirement? Because I’m still trying to wrap my head around $400 being the SALE price. Am I the only one running around in a pair of 501s and a hoodie from Target?

    • I’m partial to the thrift store finds: a Judith Hart wool jacket for $3; a vintage Butte Knit coat for $2, although I DID receive a Burberry umbrella as a holiday gift…

      • I found an adorable tangerine Ann Taylor jacket at Savers last year. A $15 splurge, plus I got store credit for my trade-ins. (Though I did have to pay for dry cleaning. Best not to think about why thrift stores always smell so funky.)

      • I try to imagine it’s the whiff of regret

  13. So do I have to stop name dropping all together, or just in very, very specific literary situations?

    Should I retire the story about how me and Neil de Grasse Tyson once bumped elbows over the same hors d’ouvre platter?

  14. I’d have mentioned the agent and the book that didn’t sell, and then wondered why no one was calling me back.

  15. I don’t know. Some contact and success in the industry is a sign of experience and and at least a modicum of prior success. There’s an incremental nature to many things in life. Seems I’ve read that somebody made a few albums or wrote a pair of novels before finding their true voice or audience.

    There’s a ton of writers out there and if a query can help set you apart from the pack, highlight that you’ve been at it a while and emerged from the slush pile, I don’t see how it could be damaging.

    Going to Harvard and dropping out as freshman is still pretty good. If I were an editor at a newspaper, I’d give that kid a shot just to see if lightning strikes, or if all she’s missing is the proper Pied-piper to play her tune.

    Just some thoughts.

  16. I do not post anonymously, although I often hit-and-run. I don’t know why that happened. The above post belongs to Stephen Siciliano.

  17. are there really agents who wouldn’t google her to check her out and find out about the previous book on their own? not mentioning it, even in passing, sounds like a weak handshake move to me.

  18. But what would there be to Google? There probably wouldn’t be any news/internet mention of her manuscript going out on submission unless she herself blogged about it.

    I agree it’s better not to mention the previous representation for the same reason that you don’t spend a first date talking about your past relationships.

    I think what feels “off” about folks who try to make their publishing near-misses sound impressive is that they’re allowing success to define them. I’d be hesitant to work with a writer whose identity is built on whether big deal agents like their work.

  19. Thanks for the advice, Betsy. I appreciate your honest feedback. It’s an odd situation to be in . . . since I personally feel that it was an accomplishment (to be repped by the agency I was repped with) but others may see it as a bad thing. I totally get it, but it’s frustrating. What you said make a lot of sense. Thanks!

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