When All You Want is the Rainbow Poop

Here’s what you might think happens, if you ever spend time thinking about signing with a literary agent:

You make a choice, if more than one offers, and then the heavenly choir sings and unicorns start pooping rainbows on your front lawn. You have an agent! Someone Important with a capital I has read your work, likes it, thinks publishers will like it, and is willing to invest quite a lot of time on based on that belief in you and your work before ever getting paid.

You’ve hit the big time!

And you have. Being offered representation is a Very Big Deal.

But the choir and rainbow-pooping unicorns are another story. Because maybe, once you’ve had some time to think about it, you realize you made the wrong choice. If you’re choice is anything like mine, there were really no second place finishers. Everyone was tied for first, and you only have a few days to decide which of those tied-for-first agents to sign with.

It could be that you weren’t able negotiate an appropriate author/agent agreement. Maybe after a day or two, you find yourself unable to stop thinking about another agent and what they had to say about your work. Sometimes personality differences come out that you couldn’t have anticipated even a week before.

I’m not going to lie. It is serious, big scary to even think about not signing with an agent that you’ve already told you want to sign with. Every time you think about writing an email that has any variation of “I think this might not work” in it, you’ll want to puke. You’ve already sent out those awful rejections to the others, and you probably thought you’d never have to do it again. At least, not this soon.

There is this moment of panic where you’re sure that you’re about to step off a cliff back down to the querying process, just after you were so sure it was all over.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably feel like you’re throwing your career away, giving up your one and only chance at being published, and branding yourself forever as difficult and high-maintenance.

My advice (which I had a very hard time taking myself) is to try to breathe. Here are some things to consider when you’re thinking about choosing not to sign that agreement:

1. What was the response to your query? If you sent out 10 queries and had five requests for your manuscript and three offers, you’re in a different position than if you sent out 100 and had just one request and offer.

2. Where there other agents who offered? You’re allowed to realize one of them might have been a better fit. They wouldn’t have offered if they didn’t feel strongly about your book, and chances are they are still interested a week or two later. You have options, which hopefully makes breathing a little easier for you.

3. Did some ask for a revise and resubmit? Did some who backed out after you had an offer do so because of a lack of time, rather than a lack of interest? These are options, as well. 

4. Are you really uncomfortable? No one but you can make the choice to sign a contract with an agent. Just because your lawyer friend thinks something needs to be a deal breaker, doesn’t mean it does. Do your research about the agent and think carefully. Make a pro and con list. Whatever it takes to get yourself to a place where you aren’t making a choice based on the emotion involved in even thinking about turning down an offering agent.

5. Can you work with this person for years, maybe even decades? I just read where Neil Gaiman has been with his agent for 18 years (maybe even longer, since I’m not sure how old that article was.) That’s what you want. An agent you can grow old with. An agent for the length of your career. And the fact is that even a rock star, cool kid agent to the NYT best seller list maybe not be that agent for you. Is that hard to face? Oh, yeah. Trust me. But if it’s true, it’s true.

Hang in there. The choir and rainbow-poop might never come, but you didn’t get into this for the smooth ride anyway, did you? This is just part of the adventure.

* * *

I blog about body acceptance and athleticism at Live Once, Juicy, and about writing on my new Tumblr.


Recent Posts by Shaunta Grimes