What Have We Learned From This?
When I was a kid, my parents let me make my own mistakes. If I fell or got hurt by people I'd chosen as friends or got a bad grade due to procrastination... they let me fail and helped me with the fallout. Each time, though, the question was asked, "What have you learned from this?" Even in college when I got my first speeding ticket, Dad asked me the same question. Last week, he asked me again when I told him of my latest foray into "failure".
First of all, I have to say a few things: This post will NOT name names and it will not be a bitch fest. Also, I have to thank Candace Ganger for posting about her own experience. Seeing someone else go public with such grace gave me some strength.
So, the story...
Back in October I queried some agents and a publisher. By the end of the month, I'd signed a contract with an interested agent. I'd done my research, I'd found a few entries in Writer Beware/Preditors and Editors about the agency, but those were for years ago and for people who'd been rejected. All of the first-hand info I got from other authors about the agent and agency said that I would be safe, that this was what I wanted. The high of getting the offer for representation was loud enough that I couldn't hear that Voice In My Head that says, "Dude, bad juju". My gut told me to wait, but I didn't. (Mistake #1.) I signed with her and she told me to keep quiet about it. Don't announce publicly until after we're on submission.
My gut tweaked on that.
Aren't you proud of me? Why can't I announce it? But, being new at this, I figured there was some publishing industry nuance I was missing, so I ignored the gut, complied and went about my merry revisions.
In December of last year, I asked the agent if we were ready to go on submission. She said we were and that I could announce. She sent me the list of our first round of submissions including one or two of my dream editors. I announced it on this blog and elsewhere.
With holidays approaching, I knew that I wouldn't hear anything for a while. So in early February, I contacted the agent and asked if there was news. Yeah, we'd gotten a cold call on the manuscript and a new publisher was looking. That same week, I got an email from the Publisher I Queried (PIQ) in October. They liked the book and wanted to shoot it up to higher editing staff for review, but they'd done their homework and saw that I was agented. So I hooked up my agent and PIQ and agent said the revised manuscript had been sent to them.
Then something happened. Communication completely broke down. She ignored my emails, my phone calls. Everything. She dropped off the face of the planet for more than a month. Just when I was starting to ponder terminating my contract, she called with some news and direction. She wanted a new revision to take into account some editors' notes and do a new submission round. She said she needed them in less than 7 days so she could have it for an event she was attending. I worked my fingers off and had them to her in 3. When I asked her for an update 2 weeks later, she said she was just getting through the revisions. *eyebrow quirk*
I started lining up my ducks and weighing the pros and cons of terminating a contract while on submission.
After another month of ignored emails and phone calls, the agent quit without notice. I found out because she changed her employment on her Facebook. That's right. Facebook. No notice. No nothing. I have since reached out to her to ask what happened but she hasn't responded. (Go figure.) Totally unprofessional. After being a bouncing ball of rage for a bit, I set to cleaning up the mess she'd left behind.
First, I terminated my contract. Done. Then, at the advice of a publishing professional (not within the agency), I began withdrawing my submissions. I also contacted the PIQ to see what my rights were since I'd initiated contact with them pre-agent. In that conversation, I discovered that my former agent never sent them the manuscript. In fact, they'd wondered why I'd just dropped off the radar. Other publishers began replying to my withdrawal notices saying they'd never heard of me, my manuscript or received anything from the agent. In fact, one of them had been closed to submissions for more than a year!
After more digging, it has become clear. My manuscript never went on submission at all. I don't know what she was doing with my work for 8 months, but it was not agenting. That scares me. What if my work is being stolen and there's nothing I can do to prevent it? I can react if I find plagiarism, but can't outright prevent it at this point. Guh...worrying won't help. It's not productive and it's a waste of good imagination.
The good news: In the past few days I've found out that I have several people willing to help and go to bat for me. Bad things happen to talented, good people, but there are people out there who will help you clean up the mess if you ASK. FOR. HELP. I've already got a future for this manuscript. A better one. Only good things can come from this experience.
So, what have we learned from this. Above all else: LISTEN TO YOUR GUT. I had reservations throughout the past 8 months and didn't listen. I made excuses for her...she's busy, I'm new, I just don't know how this really works...I rationalized those tweaks that said, "Something's wrong here." You can't do that. You have to be your own advocate and listen to that voice in your head. Also, put your pride aside and ask for help. Seriously, if I hadn't I'd just be flailing in the dark right now.
So yeah...I know I've been cryptic about this situation the past week. My agent lied and never submitted my manuscript. She left the agency without notice. Again, not naming names. However, I have written to Writer Beware on the matter.
Learn from my mistakes, kids.
Onward and upward into the bright future.
Ms. Wyman is a pre-published author back in the agent hunt. In May of 2011 eBookNewser included her in their list of "Best Online Fiction Authors" and featured one of her flash fiction pieces. You can learn more about this talented author at her blog: jamiewyman.blogspot.com