Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Cautionary Tale

On Aug 21, I got an email from "L," a book designer/packager I know. She was working on a nonfiction book for an author, "MD," who planned to self-publish, but she thought his topic was important enough that he could get a commercial publishing deal. Could I refer him to any agents?

I did some digging and found a treasure trove. MD, who's an authority in his field, was extensively quoted in recent front-page New York Times stories that I'd read closely because their subject touches me personally. WOW! I contacted two agents with experience in MD's subject area, who were interested and wanted to see the manuscript right away. I told L, who said she'd pass the word on to MD and get back to me.

Yesterday, a full week later, L called me. "What's happening?" I asked excitedly.

Her answer was a thudding surprise. Seems that in the meantime, L had contacted an acquiring nonfiction editor at a biggish publisher, whom I know and like. Oh, the editor told her, MD's manuscript was submitted by "Agent J" months ago and she'd passed on it. No further interest. Over and out.


L got hold of MD and asked him about Agent J. Oh yeah, he told her, J had submitted his manuscript (which was a mess, according to L, who'd had it edited by a pro) to FIFTY publishers and they'd all rejected it. And some of their responses were rather rude, MD added. (Hahahahahaha!) So MD stopped corresponding with Agent J and assumed they were through.

In case you hadn't figured it out by now, MD, though a high-powered professional, has zero knowledge of the publishing business. He'd first contacted L in July, expecting her to design his book so he could publish it (unedited, natch) by September. She set him straight on that immediately. And the other day, she had to explain to him that no one--not even a self-publishing house--
can touch his book until he cancels his contract with Agent J. In writing. MD couldn't remember any details of his agency agreement, which he may not have bothered to read, but he duly sent off a termination letter to Agent J (who has a string of solid-looking deals on

Now what?

L is backing away slowly from MD. With his book dead in the water at basically every publisher in the country, it's highly unlikely that an agent would want to take it on now. Besides, MD's gone off agents after the one didn't work out. (Rolling my eyes...) The only way I think his book could be shopped anew, I told L, would be if an agent matched MD up with a well-respected co-writer who would totally overhaul the manuscript and add late-breaking material, of which there will soon be a quantity. And of course if MD gets media coverage over the new stuff.

But all that's iffy, and MD is itching to get his book out now. So he may self-publish after all. And L may soon be running away screaming.

Moral: Too many to enumerate.

1 comment:

Bella Stander said...

I had this same tale in my newsletter and an agent responded:
"Another reminder of all the questions you need to ask up front. Sometimes I can't tell if authors are simply ignorant or willfully ignorant of certain protocols in their effort to make maximum progress."