The Offer I Turned Down

If all the posts about getting an agent didn't drive you off, then you know I got another offer before Tricia called. I turned it down because it felt sketchy, for a number of reasons I'll go into here. Though I won't name anybody; for all I know, the agency and the offer was totally legit and it was just the way it was handled that scared me off.

When the Agent still had my full, I did some research on them (I do that sometimes; part of the Crazy) and discovered two things. (1) The agency was listed as Not Recommended on Preditors & Editors. I don't know if I just didn't check P&E when I queried, or if I didn't care. After some Googling, it seemed the rating was based on something that happened years ago. Also, I'd heard of instances where the Not Recommended label was possibly applied unfairly, so it wasn't an immediate "no" for me.

(2) I discovered the Agent was not at the agency anymore. I looked at the full request e-mail again and noticed that it was from someone else "on behalf of the agency." Again, not a definite "no," but since they didn't say anything about it, I was concerned.

So they were red flags, but I didn't think much of it -- most of my manuscripts got rejected, right? When I got an offer though, I had to face them, and the offer itself came with a couple more red flags: (3) The offer came from yet another person (not the Agent, nor the person who requested the full), who I discovered was an intern who'd been with the agency no more than 3 months. (4) It was just a straight out offer, with no mentions of revisions or wanting to talk first or anything.

Again, these were just flags. They didn't necessarily mean the offer was a scam. It's possible the agency was just taking care of the original agent's queries after she had left. It's possible they liked my story so much they didn't need to talk. It's possible the intern was a new agent (like, I don't know, my agent).

But the biggest problem was that, even before I'd talked to them, I didn't trust them. The agent-author relationship is, well, a relationship, and those require trust in order to work. These people weren't telling me much, so I didn't trust them.

But I gave them the benefit of the doubt. I e-mailed them direct questions: Who are your clients? Can I talk to them? Who are you thinking of submitting to? Will we do revisions first? etc. Instead of hearing back from the Intern, I heard back from a fourth person: the Head of the Agency. Unfortunately, the Head answered very few of my questions. The only definite answer I got was that we would submit right away. To who? I have no idea.

I wasn't even clear on who would be representing me.

I talked to a friend about it, and she said, "You can do better." It confirmed what I already felt -- not that I could do better (at the time, I thought that was the only offer I'd get), but that it wasn't the kind of offer I wanted. I walked away.

I'm glad I did, and not just because I got a better offer. Really, the two offers are very similar: they both came from someone I didn't query, who had been an agent only a very short time.

But the differences are telling:

Good OfferSketchy Offer
Joan told me she'd passed the manuscript on and that Tricia would be e-mailing me about it herself.A different person e-mailed me each time, with no acknowledgement of that fact. No one even mentioned the Agent until I said something.
Tricia didn't offer representation until we'd had a chance to talk.The Intern offered without talking at all.
Tricia answered all my questions (most before I even had a chance to ask them).I only got vague answers, where I got answers at all.
Tricia's other client and fellow agents went into detail about how awesome she was.The Head told me his client list "speaks for itself," but never told me who they were, let alone how to contact them. Nobody said anything about The Intern.
Tricia had specific revision ideas and told me the name of at least one editor she was thinking of submitting to. Talking to her, I got the strong impression she really gets my book.Nobody mentioned my book at all except the title and that we'd be "submitting right away."

The lesson here? Think about what you're being offered. It's easy for the Quest for an Agent to slip into desperation, when we just want someone, ANYONE to represent us.

Trust me. You don't want just anyone.

Does anyone else have stories like this? Got any warnings for the rest of us?


vic caswell said...

ohman. that's scary! and i don't know if i were in your situation that i'd recognize all those signs! thanks for the informative post, man.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Thanks for sharing this cautionary tale, Adam. (Sorry, I just had to throw the phrase "cautionary tale" in here somewhere:) ) Like you said, it's easy for querying to drive a writer to desperation, but no agent is one hundred times better than a bad one.

I used to query everyone under the sun, but I try to be more circumspect now. The litmus test I use is, "If this agent actually offered and I ended up posting his or her name and agency on my blog, am I going to feel embarrassed about that?" If the answer is even remotely close to yes, then I just don't query that agent.

Natalie Whipple said...

I'm SO glad you had a level head about you in this process, Adam. From what you've talked about, this really has sketchy written all over it. And that's putting it nicely.

It is hard when you've been working so long to have that courage and say no, but like Krista said—no agent is better than a bad one. I know that's easy to say, but I've seen the truth of it several times now that I've been around enough. Thanks for putting this out there.

Bonnie R. Paulson said...

I've been learning so much from the querying process and have my own bumps and bruises to go on. I love that your agent makes time for you. that's a huge one!
Well done. I love your series of posts. Good luck!

Janet Reid said...

good post. Excellent advice.

Natalie said...

I missed your big news! Congratulations! I think were super smart not to take that first offer. I've seen several friends deal with shady agents and wow, it's not cool. It sounds like you got a wonderful agent in the end. I'll look forward to seeing where you go from here!

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Yes, this sounds definitely fishy. Good job walking away.

Wow, and did THE Janet Reid just comment on your post?! That's big time, Adam!!

Anonymous said...

Preditors & Editors is not necessarily credible or the best source for this information:

Jeffe Kennedy said...

I did a very similar blog post not long ago. I totally agree. The vagueness, the failure to keep phone appointments, the "oh, yes, you need to revise" and "I'll send you some notes on that," which never happened, all turned me off. Since then I've discovered the agency has filed for bankruptcy and is involved in some lawsuits that make my skin crawl. Always trust your business instincts. Great post!

Victoria Strauss said...

Thanks for a great post, Adam. A lot of excellent advice here for writers.

Writer Beware collects advisories and complaints about agents (and others); if you run across a red-flag agent, please let us know.

James R. Tuck Dark Urban Fantasy Author said...

I am currently unagented. My first book (Blood and Bullets) comes out 2/7/12 from Kensington as the first in a 3 book deal.

I wanted an agent. I queried heavily. I had CONTRACT IN HAND and still got passed on. It was bizarre.

But since then I have secured a second contract for three e-novellas from Kensington, had a short story published that is being made into an independant short film next spring, and am lining up a jam-packed summer of conventioneering.

I still want an agent, but now I am not going to take just anyone.

Peggy Eddleman said...

I think it's so important to pay attention to those red flags! My experience was with a fabulous agent, but she wasn't a fabulous agent for me. Since then, I've been glad a million times over that I didn't just jump at the chance to take anyone, and listened to those red flags. In the end, it works out SO MUCH BETTER!

Congrats again on getting the agent that IS perfect!

Nicole Zoltack said...

Doing research and talking to other clients is so so important. It's better to have no agent than a bad one.

Unknown said...

Congrats on signing with an agent! W00T! And congrats too on knowing what not to accept! :D

Cindi said...

P&E is a very reliable source for this type of information. As is Absolute Write. You can never do too much research, in my opinion.

Angela Brown said...

You played your hand smart. That's very important in the industry.

There are tales of woe and misery from writers so anxious for an agent, ANY agent that they took the very first one who offered without questions or anything. You pried and you tried to be open minded. Had you not have checked P&E, I have a feeling you still would have passed. The constant blind hand off and lack of answering your questions or talking to you about your writing career was enough to give them a big No Thank You.

Liesl Shurtliff said...

Congratulations on getting an agent! One of the best feelings ever, I must say. And good for you for sticking with your gut. That agent definitely sounds sketchy, but Erin Murphy Literary is great! Congrats again and hopefully a speedy sale will follow!

Myrna Foster said...

Thanks for this post, Adam. With so much information available on agents and agencies, it surprises me when I hear stories like this, especially from someone I know and respect. It's a good reminder to be careful. They must have looked legit.

Anonymous said...

Did ... did Anonymous Commenter really cite 'The Write Agenda' when saying Predators & Editors is not a credible source? Oh dear. (If anyone doesn't know why this is funny, the Internet will tell you.)

And ah man, I'm so glad that you passed, because talk about red flags. I once talked a friend into doing the exact same thing, and for a while the friend was angry at me for advising caution. Turned out for the best, though it was more along the lines of "The Slow No" instead of sketchy behaviour.

Congrats again!

Adam Heine said...

"Did ... did Anonymous Commenter really cite 'The Write Agenda' when saying Predators & Editors is not a credible source?"

Yeah, I think the key word there is "agenda."

Also, I get the feeling Anon didn't actually read the post (and he certainly hasn't read this one).

Nancy Thompson said...

I think after all the querying & waiting, it would be exceedingly difficult to turn down any offer, but your gut is the best detector of what is right, of what you should really do. And as hard as it is to listen to those feelings, you know in your heart, if not your head, that you've done the right thing.

(How cool, Janet Reid commented!)

marilynn said...

My tale is even worse. I returned a Twitter follow request, and the person tweeted back that he liked my work, from the excerpt on my web site, I guess, and wanted to see a chapter. I sent it, and shortly after that, I mean an hour or two, he wrote that he wanted to publish me. I asked if he didn't want to see the rest of the mss, and he said no. That they did things differently. I checked his publishing house on Amazon and found that, while they had published several books, most of the listings were short stories. His house was so new that there was nothing on P&E.

A friend advised me not to walk away but to run. Seemed like good advice, so I took it.


Adam Heine said...

That is sketchy, marilynn. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

John Steinbeck Family Defrauded by Writer Beware™ & SFWA Attorney: The 2007 Scam that Writer Beware™ Didn’t Report . . . Why?

Anonymous said...

I really love your matrix on good offer/sketchy offer and am copying it down to remember.