Skip to main content

Funny You Should Ask: Why did my literary agent stop submitting my manuscript?

After submitting to several imprints, all of whom passed, your literary agent says she “will no longer be actively submitting” your manuscript and asks what you're working on next. What now?

Funny You Should Ask is a humorous and handy column by literary agent Barbara Poelle. In this edition, she explains why your literary agent may have stopped submitting your manuscript and is asking about what's next...

Dear FYSA,

After submitting to seven imprints, all of whom passed, my literary agent said she “will no longer be actively submitting” my manuscript and asked what I am working on next. Some of my friends have had agents submit their manuscripts to as many as 20 imprints. Why isn’t my agent getting back out there with something she initially said she believed in?

Sincerely, Short End of Stick

Image placeholder title

Dear Shorty,

This question, much like a myriad of other author questions, can best be answered by my third-grade teacher, Ms. Gamlin: Keep your eyes on your own paper.

Whenever one of my clients tells me about something that an author friend “got” from his agent or editor, and we get to the “Why come not me?” portion of the call, I lift up the back-page of the calendar hanging on my wall and add a hash mark to the long-running series there. Every time I slash a diagonal through a group of five, I take a shot. It makes it fun for everyone! Here are just fi ve of the many reasons why you might be getting the “What’s next?” more quickly than some of your writer friends:

1. THE ISSUE WITH YOUR PROJECT is a unanimous one (meaning that all seven of those editors replied with some variation of the same), and one that isn’t easily addressed with further revision. For example: “We already have a sci-fi fantasy featuring ninja mermaids in the queue,” or, “Th e protagonist was unlikable without still being accessible,” or, “Th e story is just too quiet.”

2. THE MARKET IS SATURATED with the themes explored in your work and no new angle is being explored in yours.

3. ONLY A FEW IMPRINTS are looking for your type of story or publish it well, and those few imprints are the ones that have passed.

4. THE MARKET HAS CHANGED and the appeal of your subject or even your whole subgenre has waned.

5. THE AGENT HAS A SHARP EYE for which editors want which projects in your subgenre, and/or only works in your subgenre and always sells to the same six or eight editors because she feels there isn’t anyone else with similar taste.

Or any combination of the above. Or your agent is spending your submission time browsing designer shoes online. (Holy delicious do I need to get on the waitlist for the Tory Burch Kingsbridge Mule.)

The fact is, publishing journeys are like fingerprints on a martini glass: They are all different, and—hey, who’s been drinking out of my martini? I will grant you this: When your agent said she wouldn’t be “actively submitting” further, she should have followed that up with a clear series of supporting reasons why—even if they are hard for you to hear.

Remember, your agent does believe in the manuscript—she never would have shopped it at all if she didn’t—but belief alone doesn’t sell books, or my butler would be writing this from my private island. Sometimes, too, we agents can believe in the author a little more than the book, and the idea of the first novel needing to get out of the way to get to the real gold is not a unique one.

When I signed Renée Ahdieh, I told her that I was going to go ahead and shop her first young adult manuscript, but that I had a feeling we were going to hear no. I also told her, however, that I had faith that whatever she applied her talents to next would sell. And that’s exactly what happened: The Wrath and the Dawn was her second eff ort, and a bestselling one at that. But I was very clear with her from the start about my intent.

In the end, the takeaway here is that if you keep looking to the left and the right, you may fall off the path. Clarify with your agent why she is looking forward to what’s next, and thoughtfully consider doing the same.

Ask Funny You Should Ask! Submit your questions on the writing life, publishing, or anything in between to wdsubmissions@aimmedia.com with “Funny You Should Ask” in the subject line. Select questions (which may be edited for space or clarity) will be answered in future columns, and may appear on WritersDigest.com and in other WD publications.

*****

21 Days to Your Novel Outline and Synopsis

This course is designed to help you understand how to craft a winning premise, how to outline your novel, and then how to take both of those things and assemble a synopsis that will act as a guide for you to write your novel and sell it.

Click to continue.

Going From Me to We: Collaborating on the Writing of a Novel

Going From Me to We: Collaborating on the Writing of a Novel

Past experiences taught bestselling author Alan Russell to tread lightly when it came to collaborating on projects. Here, he discusses how the right person and the right story helped him go from a “me” to a “we.”

From Script

Short Film Goals, Writing the Cinematic Experience on the Page and Sundance Film Festival 2022 (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by Script magazine, set your creative goals with a monthly guide to write and produce your short film, provided by Script contributor Rebecca Norris Resnick. Plus, an exclusive interview with Academy Award-winning screenwriter William Monahan, a Sundance Film Festival 2022 day one recap, and more!

Your Story Writing Prompts

94 Your Story Writing Prompts

Due to popular demand, we've assembled all the Your Story writing prompts on WritersDigest.com in one post. Click the link to find each prompt, the winners, and more.

How Inspiration and Research Shape a Novel

How Inspiration and Research Shape a Novel

Historical fiction relies on research to help a story’s authenticity—but it can also lead to developments in the story itself. Here, author Lora Davies discusses how inspiration and research helped shape her new novel, The Widow’s Last Secret.

Poetic Forms

Saraband: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the saraband, a septet (or seven-line) form based on a forbidden dance.

Karen Hamilton: On Cause and Effect

Karen Hamilton: On Cause and Effect

International bestselling author Karen Hamilton discusses the “then and now” format of her new domestic thriller, The Ex-Husband.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: The Ultimatum

Plot Twist Story Prompts: The Ultimatum

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character give or face an ultimatum.

6 Things Every Writer Should Know About Sylvia Beach and Shakespeare and Company

6 Things Every Writer Should Know About Sylvia Beach and Shakespeare and Company

Sylvia Beach was friend to many writers who wrote what we consider classics today. Here, author Kerri Maher shares six things everyone should know about her and Shakespeare and Company.

How Writers Can Apply Business Tools to Their Writing

How Writers Can Apply Business Tools to Their Writing

Author Katherine Quevedo takes an analytical look at the creative process in hopes to help other writers find writing success.