In honor of all the hardworking agents in this business, I’m holding a contest today for the most outrageous story about a writer’s experience with an agent. The winner gets a copy of my novel (or if you already have my novel, I’ll host you on my blog—whoopee!) Being a good host, I’ll go first.

In August 2003, I attended a writers’ conference and pitched two novels to an agent I’ll call “Susie Strange.” (You can name your agent, if you’d like. I have good reason not to.) She loved both pitches and asked to see full manuscripts for both novels, which I happened to have with me. So off she went to New York with about 170,000 words of mine. I waited the customary two months, then sent an e-mail. No response. I eventually sent another e-mail and made a phone call with absolutely no acknowledgment that I even existed. But this is not the bizarre part.

I went on with my life and wrote yet another novel called The Sex Club. As I neared the end of process, I started sending out query letters (with 3 chapters) to agents—knowing how long it takes them to respond. I sent one (on a whim) to Susie Strange. You know the opening: “We met once at a conference …” The date on that Word document is October 21, 2004.

A year later, I signed with a different agent, spent another year working with her on the story, then she failed to sell it. Then I spent another year or so bringing it to print through a niche publisher, followed by months of promoting it.

Then on February 7, 2008, I received a call from someone in Susie Strange’s agency. I didn’t recognize the caller’s name, but I knew the agency. The caller said she had read the first three chapters of The Sex Club and wanted to see the entire manuscript. I was confused at first. “What do you mean you want to see the manuscript? It’s a published book.” Then it hit me. She was responding to the query I had sent THREE YEARS AND THREE MONTHS ago!

The poor woman was new to the agency and had inherited an old slush pile, but she handled the situation gracefully. She asked if I was working on anything else and agreed to read the first 50 pages of Secrets to Die For. She got back to me within three weeks and said she loved it. Now she’s waiting for me to send the entire manuscript. As much as I want to be represented (as all writers do!), the idea of working with her makes a little nervous. After all, she is a protégée of Susie Strange.

First, I mean no disrespect to other agents. In fact, I have a very positive agent story to tell someday.
Second, the poll: Should I send her the manuscript? Should I send it to other agents as well?
Third, the contest: Can you top that outrageous agent story?

  1. I can’t top that story, I have little experience with agents, other than the fact that none of them have given me the time of day yet. They all (the ones I’ve contacted) want to have your ONLY submission (no multiple/simultaneous queries) so you’re not wasting THEIR time, then I hear back from them months to a year later that “it’s not for them, good luck finding an agent that is a good fit.” Or some such lame stuff. I send out multiple queries to agents and pubs. I let them know that, in fairness, but I refuse to die of old age and natural causes while waiting for the one singular agent or pub to get back to me. My vote is you send your sub to the agent, but let her know she’s not the only one and first come is first served.

  2. I would put her towards the bottom of the list of agents you’d really like to have rep you. But, don’t you have a publisher already that would want your second book? Why the agent search now?

  3. I have a similar story involving screenplays. My screenplay agent (whom I loved) was quitting the biz and trying to get her clients placed at another agency, so she sent one of our projects to this other gal (I don’t remember her name so we’ll just call her Mz. Rude). Mz. Rude LOVED the script (so she told our agent) but wanted changes. So we spent a few weeks making the changes, sent the script back to her…and never heard from her again. Followed up several times with polite emails and two phone calls. nothing. Feh.

  4. I would definitely send it out to other agents you have on your list. As to Susie Stange’s stand-in, I’d investigate her first. Find out who some of her clients are, what she’s sold, what genre she usually reps, how long she’s been in the business, etc. All the things you would do for any agent you query.

  5. Can’t top 3 years and 3 months. The sloppiest response I’ve received to date came from an agent who advertised that he was actively seeking new work – send query with first 30 pages, but first jump through these hoops, blah, blah, blah. I followed to the letter, taking great pains to make sure all requirments were met. One week later my SASE found its way to may mail box. The agent had scrawled in pencil across the back of the query letter that he wasn’t in the market for new work – good luck. For some reason, this hit me harder than those impersonal postcard – “Dear Author…”But I think I’d rather have that sloppy response than nothing for three years.

  6. Experiences with agents are too numerous to choose the worst. After 23 years, I’ve actually had three agents. Only one is dead, but I’ve parted company with the other two. It’s worse than looking for a mate. Guess we just keep trying till we get it right. Or give up and remain single (agentless) Thanks for an entertaining post.

  7. I don’t have an agent story to share. The ones I have been associated with haven’t given me “humor fodder”. But I do want to say how much I like your philospohy “write first, clean later.” It was one I could always live with, but my family seemed to object to no clean clothes and dishes piled high in the sink. That’s when I introduced them to the washing machine and the dishwasher. 🙂

  8. I *think* you saw my outrageous agent story — the one where the agent solicited me when I requested an interview on a neutral topic, demanded I overnight the manuscript to them, and then clearly hadn’t read it at the appointed meeting.

    That’s the short version. It was strange.

    As for what to do? Keep querying. Let anyone who wants a full or a partial know that there’s some interest, but you are in no rush to make the right decision. Use the current soft market in your favor to take your time. I know from experience: a bad agent is worse than no agent.

  9. I love that agents will now accept email queries and will email a response. At least you don’t always have to wait for months by the mailbox for the misery to arrive. It comes fast and furious in your email box instead.

    I had one agent who emailed me right back after receiving my query and said he wanted to see the first 10 pages. I emailed them right back to him. Almost before I had hit the send button, I received a reply, “Competent, but not compelling.”

    I felt for weeks like that line was the story of my life!

    But, I kept at the demoralizing query process, and now have an agent that I like and respect, and (I hope, I hope) will hear from soon with good news!

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