Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
Recently a blog reader wrote and asked: I was wondering, what if I get an agent and she tries to sell two or three of my novels, all in the same genre, and nothing sells. What would happen in this case?
My answer: Sounds like you and your agent will be at a crossroads and need to make some decisions.
Each agent is different, and some agents might set you free at this point, believing they’re not the right agent to help you find success. You’ll want to clarify whether your agent wishes to continue or hang it up.
Remember that you have a choice, too. If you think another agent can serve you better, it would be a good time for you to make this decision. Be cautious not to automatically blame your agent for the lack of a sale – she’s put in many hours on your behalf and hasn’t gotten paid a thing. She probably deserves the benefit of a conversation, at least. But if you honestly think the agent hasn’t done a good job, you need to address it.
If you and your agent want to continue working together, you’ll probably have a meeting to discuss your options. You’ll take a hard look at why these projects are missing the mark with publishers, asking questions like:
→ Why aren’t your books capturing the attention of editors? Is it the ideas? The writing?
→ Could there be something specific about your characters and plot lines aren’t resonating?
→ How much of this is due to the market, and how much is it the specific books you’re pitching?
→ Is it the genre? If so, is there another genre you’re interested in writing that perhaps is more saleable?
Ideally this meeting would culminate in a strategy and action plan for moving forward to find the success you’ve been working toward.
Keep in mind that this isn’t an uncommon scenario. Once you get an agent, it could still be some time until serendipity strikes again and you find the perfect match between a project and a publisher.
What would you do if you were the writer in this situation?
What happens when publishers aren’t snapping up your projects? Agent @RachelleGardner answers. Click to Tweet.
What to do when your projects are missing the mark with publishers. Click to Tweet.
What would I do in this situation? PRAY!
Is God calling for action, or is He calling for me to wait? It is such a temptation to run ahead of God and take matters into my own hands. I love the old biblical phrase about “the fullness of time.” Maybe my time’s not yet full.
If God ordained the writer/agent connection, I would want God’s affirmation that it is over–and in dealing with a Christian agent, I think both sides should be in agreement to either wait it out or make a change.
I was going to say, “Cry” but your answer is way better, Shirlee. 🙂
“Not all tears are an evil.” – Gandalf
What a great response, Shirlee!
Great answer, Shirlee. It’s a good idea to cover everything in our careers with prayer.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Oh yeah, I seem to love love love writing what doesn’t sell. I shopped a YA ms. at conferences when the entire editor panel informed us that the CBA could not sell YA and mine was Biblical Fiction and they also informed me that Biblical Fiction was dead right then…but that it might pick up later. Now I’ve fallen in love with middle grade, middle grade? At least I’ve also figured out that I can write romance too, I just had to stretch myself and write quirky, action heavy love stories. Perhaps this is the key to changing to a genre that sells better, finding a facet of that genre that is you. Hey, I fell in love too. I should be able to write a romance, right? It just had to be my kind of story, but wearing romance clothes. Thanks for the insights Rachelle, you have given us something to think about.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Hmmm…that sounded bad. That would be action heavy love stories as in love stories with a lot of non-romance plot occurring throughout, not um…anyway.
Have hope: I am a reader who likes YA, Biblical fiction, ancient Assyria, and a writer who is also figuring out how to write romance that I would read (most of it is too fluffy for me; I’m in your lots-of-plot camp). Readers are out there for the books we like, but we haven’t yelled loud enough for the publishers to hear us yet!
I think I would ask my agent what is selling. So for the benefit of all of us out here – Rachelle: What is selling?
Hi Sheila. If it were that easy, my post would have said, “Just start writing what’s selling!” While agents keep tabs on what editors seem to want, it’s always a guessing game and things are always changing. So you always want to be looking for that “sweet spot” where the genre that interests you intersects with something publishers seem to be looking for.
And while some agents like to discuss current trends, I never like to say “this is what’s selling right now.” It’s unhelpful on so many levels. Unagented authors can write what they want, and see what happens. Who knows, your manuscript may be the one that brings back a dead genre, or opens up a new one. Agented authors can discuss their direction with their agents.
Sorry, no easy answers here! 🙂
That happened to me. I kept writing! My second project sold on proposal.
If and when I ever have an agent, I’d ask what needed to be done, and then I’d do it.
I am not an expert in the publishing industry. I’m more of a Labrador Retriever who’s wandered into a board meeting with a ball in his mouth, looking to see who wants to throw it.
The agent I sign with…again, should that happen in this lifetime…will get a writer who is really good at doing as he’s told. Ego is for idiots.
Janet Ann Collins
Andrew, judging by all your comments I’ve read on this blog you definitely have the ability to write well. It’s probably just a matter of time until you get an agent and publisher.
Thanks, Janet. It has been a long process, but perhaps one day…
Andrew, I nearly always read your posts here, and I’m always glad I did!
Diane, you don’t know how much that means to me…especially today.
Good advice, Shirlee, and I think that is what I’d do too. Besides that, I’d just keep writing and pitching. Maybe those projects are not right for this time frame, and a year later, they’ll sell. But I am convinced that, if I’m writing what God has called me to write, something will come of it. In God’s timing, not necessarily mine, or even my agent’s. I’d see if there’s a way I can improve the manuscript. Maybe there’s a major element I’m missing.
So I’d just pray, and keep working.
Stephanie Grace Whitson
There is nothing better than having an agent who believes in you and who is willing to sit down and have “the meeting” you mention. As to the “write what sells” idea, it makes sense that that’s not the best advice, because from proposal to contract to book release will arch out over a long period of time during which “what sells” can change several times. There is no denying that writing for publication with traditional publishers is an act of faith for everyone involved.
I agree with Shirlee. Pray first!
That being said, the questions you pose are so practical. I would hope, if i were in this position, that the agent and I could discuss them and move forward accordingly. It seems like there are so many aspects to an agent-client relationship that go beyond the client’s current writing ability and what’s selling in the market. I’m thinking another factor might be how well the agent and client fit together personality-wise, like-minded-wise (can this be a word–just for today? 😉 ), and expectation-wise.
It’s a dilemma, because you may not get the feedback you need regarding whether it is the idea or writing, plot or characters, etc. I believe you spoke on that in a previous post. If you are the type who can write to the market or change your genre, you might be able to come up with something new. However, if you are writing something more literary and feel you have something to say through your work, you might just have to wait until interests change or “the time is right.” I would first work with my agent, as they have already invested in me. If we can’t come up with a plan that we agree on, then I would search for another agent. But only after I did all I could with the agent who initially believed in me.
Thank you for the blog, Rachelle. Timely with lots of good feedback.
Face the truth as I ask myself, is it the genre or my writing that’s being rejected? Publishing houses aren’t as interested in art as they are making a profit. If the genre’s chockablock, I could be writing a perfect novel and have it rejected for not meeting current needs, and if it’s my writing then I need to improve. I should think that a “heart-to-heart” talk with the agent would be the first step. One of the first things we’d discuss is the definition of insanity, which is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result each time. I believe a good agent would force such a discussion and that it would probably end with us parting company; a agent’s time and reputation would be suffering too.
As much as I love your post and advice, Rachel, I really love reading through all the comments. Prayer – YES! I’m also a fan of finding balance between listening to the professionals with in whom I’ve placed my trust AND listening to what my gut is telling me. Not always an easy thing, but – like seeking God’s discernment – it’s always worth the investment of my time and energy.