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zolambrosine
05-17-2011, 04:59 AM
Now, this is purely hypothetical - I'd feel way too bad to actually do this - but I'm curious...

Say you've been working with an agent for a while now. You submitted to the agent, the agent gave you feedback, and for a couple months to a year you've been working together to put together a manuscript. When the agent says that he/she thinks the ms is good enough for submission to pub houses, you decide to take the ms you've been working on and submit it to an agent that's more well-known to up the chances of getting it accepted by a pub house.

Again, I wouldn't do this, but I'm curious to know if people do. Because this is a business, is this a common scene in publishing? (And no judgement towards anyone who has! I personally wouldn't, but I could understand the reasoning I bet.)

Becca C.
05-17-2011, 05:10 AM
Since you would probably sign a contract with the agent you'd been working with, to turn on them and submit it to another agent would likely be violating that contract and there might be legal repercussions. I'm not an expert in contract law, but I think the least that would happen is the termination of the contract. Also, I doubt any new agents would be too thrilled with the fact that you had betrayed your old agent, and I doubt anyone else would want to work with you :P agents talk!

suki
05-17-2011, 06:34 AM
I'm sure it happens. But you better believe the burned agent tells everyone who will listen and it gets around. You'd be surprised what a small world it is, especially in certain genres.

Now, the cynical side says the agent should have locked you into a contract, and so the risk was knowingly left there.

But, generally, if an agent gives you specific feedback and you are working on an R&R with an eye toward representation, there's an expectation that you will give that agent first shot - and not shop the revised manuscript to anyone else for a reasonable period of time. And if the other agent wasn't already under consideration, with the manuscript in hand, it's going to be tough to offer it up.

But, if you have multiple agents reading, and one offers representation, then you will notify all of them - and any may offer.

If you are working on an R&R, the expectation is the agent offering the advice gets first shot. Again, if the agent doesn't have you under contract, you are technically free to do as you please.

But, again, it's a small world. And when you trade on your reputation, it follows you. And in an industry built on trust, well, only you can decide whether to allow yourself to get such a reputation.

Legal, sure. But a hell of a chance with your reputation.

~suki

VoireyLinger
05-17-2011, 06:38 AM
Not betrayal.... breach of contract. It would cost the author. the first agent has put the effort into making (the hypothetical) you marketable, then you bail leaving her unpaid? I see that ending up in court.

That said, if an agent is unable to sell a manuscript, you can mutually end the contract. Of course the editors who have passed on the work won't look at it again, even with a new agent, unless there have been extensive rewrites. You would still basically be dead in the water with the old manuscript.

As you said, business is business, and in business one is required to behave professionally and honor his commitments.

ETA: I notice you didn't mention signing a contract but agents generally don't offer out free help like this without a contract on file.

suki
05-17-2011, 06:41 AM
Not betrayal.... breach of contract. It would cost the author. the first agent has put the effort into making (the hypothetical) you marketable, then you bail leaving her unpaid? I see that ending up in court.

That said, if an agent is unable to sell a manuscript, you can mutually end the contract. Of course the editors who have passed on the work won't look at it again, even with a new agent, unless there have been extensive rewrites. You would still basically be dead in the water with the old manuscript.

As you said, business is business, and in business one is required to behave professionally and honor his commitments.

If the agent hasn't specifically offered representation, it's not going to be breach of contract. There is no contract.

Some agents - even well known ones - will offer an R&R before offering representation to see if the writer is capable of getting the manuscript to the necessary publishable quality.

So, the agent is taking some known risk by offering advice without a contract. But the industry expectation as a courtesy is you will won't take that revised manuscript and shop it elsewhere until after the agent has had a reasonable chance to offer on it. And then often it is too late to query new agents with the manuscript once the agent offers.

But it's not going to be a breach of contract if the author isn't actually under contract - and that is not going to be implied by an R&R.

~suki

scope
05-17-2011, 07:19 AM
I never heard of anyone doing such a thing and would strongly advise against it. Many reasons why, not the least of which is my belef that doing so would be akin to comitting publishing suicide.

kaitie
05-17-2011, 07:51 AM
I've seen agents mention this prior to offer. Basically what suki was describing where they work with someone on a revision, and then that person gets a request and they send the revised manuscript and another agent offers and they go with that agent. It's frustrating for the agent because they put so much time into the manuscript.

Susan Littlefield
05-17-2011, 08:04 AM
Now, this is purely hypothetical - I'd feel way too bad to actually do this - but I'm curious...

Say you've been working with an agent for a while now. You submitted to the agent, the agent gave you feedback, and for a couple months to a year you've been working together to put together a manuscript. When the agent says that he/she thinks the ms is good enough for submission to pub houses, you decide to take the ms you've been working on and submit it to an agent that's more well-known to up the chances of getting it accepted by a pub house.

Again, I wouldn't do this, but I'm curious to know if people do. Because this is a business, is this a common scene in publishing? (And no judgement towards anyone who has! I personally wouldn't, but I could understand the reasoning I bet.)

I would hope this is not common behavior of writer with agents. No, I would never work with an agent then take my work to someone else, unless it was mutually agreed upon that we would no longer work together. I would let said agent know my plan due to a severance of the relationship.

Stuff like you described, however, can earn a writer a bad reputation really fast. Also, I'm sure agents talk.

aruna
05-17-2011, 10:49 AM
But it's not going to be a breach of contract if the author isn't actually under contract - and that is not going to be implied by an R&R.

~suki

I guess in such a case it's a question of personal ethics and integrity.
I met with a British agent in January, who suggested revisions to an older, trunk ms. I did the revisions, and then some more, and sent it back to her end of February. At the time of meeting with her I told her it was an exclusive. I also told her that another, US, agent was considering a non-fiction work of mine, that he knew of her existence and didn't mind if I had two agents for two different works (the fiction ms she has had already been shopped to publishers in the US in 2007).

I think, for an exclusive, she's taking rather a long time, though I didn't give her a time frame. I'm considering writing her in a month or two to tell her that I'd like to offer the ms to the US agent as well. I'm hoping she'll either agree, or else read the ms quickly and make a decision. I won't do it behind her back, though.

I'd really much prefer it if the US agent repped both books. But it would be unethical not to let the UK agent have the first option.
OTOH I was really disappointed at the time that she asked me to do the revisions without offering a contract. We didn't spend months working together on the book -- but it was a face-to-face meeting in a cafe, so she must have been fairly seriously interested.

Anyway, no big deal. In the scenario you suggest, even if there was no contract, it seems very underhand and unfair to me.

ETA: the UK agent didn't like the idea of my having two agents; she says they prefer to rep authors and not single projects, and actually suggested I submit the non-fic to them as well, which I had no intention of doing. I have since informed her that the US agent offered and I've accepted. The US agent is with a major agency; she's with a small UK agency.

Purple Rose
05-17-2011, 10:57 AM
I'm just so glad you kept saying you would never do such a thing. Your scenario assumes that there is an agreement (legal or tacit) that writer and agent would work together hence the agent's investment (time, effort) in polishing the manuscript.

The legal implications and industry blacklists aside, it is more a question of integrity. The bad things we do will always come back to haunt us.

I don't see serious writers doing such a thing.

PinkAmy
05-17-2011, 04:13 PM
Now, this is purely hypothetical - I'd feel way too bad to actually do this - but I'm curious...

Say you've been working with an agent for a while now. You submitted to the agent, the agent gave you feedback, and for a couple months to a year you've been working together to put together a manuscript. When the agent says that he/she thinks the ms is good enough for submission to pub houses, you decide to take the ms you've been working on and submit it to an agent that's more well-known to up the chances of getting it accepted by a pub house.

Again, I wouldn't do this, but I'm curious to know if people do. Because this is a business, is this a common scene in publishing? (And no judgement towards anyone who has! I personally wouldn't, but I could understand the reasoning I bet.)
I think it's bad bad Karma, but not just that, I think it's a pretty scummy thing to do. I understand business wise, it might seem wiser, but you've built a relationship with this agent and she had spent her time and energy to help you because she believes in you and your manuscript. It would be like you were using her. Legally, you have the right to do so, because you didn't sign a contract. Morally? Well, that's up to you to decide. I could never do it.
I place a lot of importance on working relationships and good communication. The agent you've been working with has a big investment in your book, time and energy. She will work hard to get your book published.
Plus, you never know who knows you and who is friends with who. Say you got a new big named agent and that agent found out about your previous working relationship, that new agent will not consider you a loyal person since you've proven not to be in a previous relationship.
But, you have to decide where your own priorities lie. If your ambition is to be a best selling writer and you don't think this agent can do it for you, maybe you're willing to risk your the bad karma.

quicklime
05-17-2011, 04:24 PM
Now, this is purely hypothetical - I'd feel way too bad to actually do this - but I'm curious...

Say you've been working with an agent for a while now. You submitted to the agent, the agent gave you feedback, and for a couple months to a year you've been working together to put together a manuscript. When the agent says that he/she thinks the ms is good enough for submission to pub houses, you decide to take the ms you've been working on and submit it to an agent that's more well-known to up the chances of getting it accepted by a pub house.

Again, I wouldn't do this, but I'm curious to know if people do. Because this is a business, is this a common scene in publishing? (And no judgement towards anyone who has! I personally wouldn't, but I could understand the reasoning I bet.)


you'd be violating a contract, in all likelihood.

beyond that, "betraying" is a judgement word, it carries a certain connotation and value--you didn't title this "selecting a better agent" or anything like that, so I suspect you have a pretty good idea how you feel already. ;-)

Barbara R.
05-17-2011, 05:12 PM
What would happen is that Agent A would tell all her friends and colleagues about the crummy writer who scammed her, and your chances of finding another agent will plummet. I actually know a major agent who did just that, and it ended the writer's career.

Regardless of whether or not you have a contract, an agent's time is her capital. If she spends it advising you on revision, and you then cut her out of the resulting project, she's bound to be majorly pissed. And as others have pointed out, commercial publishing is a small world in which the players pretty much all know each other.

It's better to play nice. If after reading the revision, the agent is not enthusiastic, then it's time to go out and find another.

aruna
05-17-2011, 05:27 PM
Yes, the way the OP has worded it it certainly sounds morally binding, even if there is no contract. Actually working together to perfect a ms over a year sounds like some heavy investment on the side of that agent; sounds like a Gentleman's Agreement to me. And to break it would indeed be betrayal.

shaldna
05-17-2011, 05:31 PM
Or you could be shooting yourself in the hypothetical foot if no one else wants the MS and the agent who did hears about it second hand when you query one of her friends, and then drops you and tells everyone, and suddenly you have no agent and no prospects and your names is mud.

ChaosTitan
05-17-2011, 05:34 PM
I think the advice here basically boils down to DON'T DO THAT.

Jamesaritchie
05-17-2011, 06:23 PM
Assuming thee is a contract, or even a verbal agreement, what you aren't taking into account is the new agent. If she's any good at all, she'd never go along with this. You could choose not to tell her, but she would almost certainly find out at some point, and drop you quick.

But if there is no contract, there isn't a thing wrong with doing this. With no contract, it's simply a risk an agent takes. Though I'd never spend a second letting an agent tell me what a manuscript needs. She doesn't have a clue about what my writing needs. At best, an agent can turn your writing into the same old same old that might sell, and vanish just as quickly.

ChaosTitan
05-17-2011, 06:26 PM
At best, an agent can turn your writing into the same old same old that might sell, and vanish just as quickly.

Really? Because my agent helped turn my book into something a little bit different that sold quickly and is still on shelves a year-and-a-half later.

:Shrug:

Calla Lily
05-17-2011, 06:37 PM
And mine suggested half-a-dozen little tweaks. That book is selling out in 3 different bookstore chains across the country.

MikeGrant
05-17-2011, 06:41 PM
At best, an agent can turn your writing into the same old same old that might sell, and vanish just as quickly.

Please change the record, James. Do you have this on copy-and-paste? You've been called out on it so many times and yet still keep saying it.

waylander
05-17-2011, 06:59 PM
Though I'd never spend a second letting an agent tell me what a manuscript needs. She doesn't have a clue about what my writing needs. At best, an agent can turn your writing into the same old same old that might sell, and vanish just as quickly.

That only applies to you and no-one else


To answer the OP's question, I think it is a question of ethics. if there is no contract then you can do this, but I think it would be a very bad move and would blacken your name across publishing.

COchick
05-17-2011, 07:35 PM
At best, an agent can turn your writing into the same old same old that might sell, and vanish just as quickly.

Seriously...do you have to say this in EVERY thread?

rwam
05-17-2011, 07:57 PM
Karma's a harsh mistress with long, sharp, purplish-black fingernails.

VoireyLinger
05-17-2011, 08:48 PM
If the agent hasn't specifically offered representation, it's not going to be breach of contract. There is no contract.

Some agents - even well known ones - will offer an R&R before offering representation to see if the writer is capable of getting the manuscript to the necessary publishable quality.

Very true. There is no commitment, implied or otherwise with an R&R. I've taken R&R notes, considered them, and decided to take my work elsewhere. I also notified the editor in question that I would not be resubmitting as a courtesy.

However the OP used the sentence, "Say you've been working with an agent for a while now." This implies more than a simple R&R. Past an R&R, hitting the 'working for a while," point, it's unlikely there wouldn't be a contract on record.

zolambrosine
05-17-2011, 09:15 PM
you'd be violating a contract, in all likelihood.

beyond that, "betraying" is a judgement word, it carries a certain connotation and value--you didn't title this "selecting a better agent" or anything like that, so I suspect you have a pretty good idea how you feel already. ;-)

Yeah, I do know how I feel - I'm only wondering if other people do it.

zolambrosine
05-17-2011, 09:20 PM
Very true. There is no commitment, implied or otherwise with an R&R. I've taken R&R notes, considered them, and decided to take my work elsewhere. I also notified the editor in question that I would not be resubmitting as a courtesy.

However the OP used the sentence, "Say you've been working with an agent for a while now." This implies more than a simple R&R. Past an R&R, hitting the 'working for a while," point, it's unlikely there wouldn't be a contract on record.

That doesn't imply that there's a contract. I know of agents and writers who've worked together for over a year on an MS, attempting to perfect it, before the agent offers representation.

And for clarification, in this scene I've imagined, there is no contract. Just trust.

And thanks for all the advice, guys... I guess... I do already think it's really wrong to do that, and like I said, I never would. I'm only wondering if this is something that commonly takes place in the business, regardless of whether you or I think it's wrong.

ChaosTitan
05-17-2011, 09:24 PM
I'm only wondering if this is something that commonly takes place in the business, regardless of whether you or I think it's wrong.

kcallender, you've stated several times that this is a hypothetical scenario, so I don't think we're mistaking your intentions here. Most of us who've posted blanket "don't do this" statements are doing so for the benefit for everyone reading. We're saying to everyone, not necessarily to you, to not do this.

And if it has happened in the industry (and I'm sure it has), I doubt the folks involved are going to speak up and say "Yes, I worked with Agent X for nine months to polish up my book, then took it to Agent Y and signed with her."

scope
05-17-2011, 09:32 PM
1)But if there is no contract, there isn't a thing wrong with doing this. With no contract, it's simply a risk an agent takes.

2)Though I'd never spend a second letting an agent tell me what a manuscript needs. She doesn't have a clue about what my writing needs. At best, an agent can turn your writing into the same old same old that might sell, and vanish just as quickly.

1). Nonsense.

2). Your same old song. Don't you find it peculiar that the only one who has this perspective is you?

cate townsend
05-18-2011, 02:03 AM
Say you've been working with an agent for a while now. You submitted to the agent, the agent gave you feedback, and for a couple months to a year you've been working together to put together a manuscript. When the agent says that he/she thinks the ms is good enough for submission to pub houses, you decide to take the ms you've been working on and submit it to an agent that's more well-known to up the chances of getting it accepted by a pub house.

Nope. Wouldn't do it.

suki
05-18-2011, 04:59 AM
I guess in such a case it's a question of personal ethics and integrity.
I met with a British agent in January, who suggested revisions to an older, trunk ms. I did the revisions, and then some more, and sent it back to her end of February. At the time of meeting with her I told her it was an exclusive. I also told her that another, US, agent was considering a non-fiction work of mine, that he knew of her existence and didn't mind if I had two agents for two different works (the fiction ms she has had already been shopped to publishers in the US in 2007).

I think, for an exclusive, she's taking rather a long time, though I didn't give her a time frame. I'm considering writing her in a month or two to tell her that I'd like to offer the ms to the US agent as well. I'm hoping she'll either agree, or else read the ms quickly and make a decision. I won't do it behind her back, though.



Rule of thumb is never give an open ended exclusive. So, I see no problem with sending a polite note, asking about status, and then saying something like I will continue to consider this an exclusive submission until X date, and after that time, if I have not heard from you, I will begin to query other agents.

My advice above assumes that the R&R agent only gets first dibs for a reasonable period of time (considering the level of notes, the time investment, etc) - not forever.

So, I'd say the writer is free to query even the R&R version after that reasonable time has passed, so long as she/he lets the agent know she/he is moving on to query more widely. Now, that may piss the agent off, especially if it feels like too short a period of time given the level of revision, etc. But I think it's fair to cut off that exclusive and open the field after a reasonable time - judging reasonable based on all the circumstances - including how well I feel the agent and I gel.


And I agree with James that it's not illegal if there is no contract. But I disagree that there is nothing "wrong" with it.

There are customary practices and expectations and professional courtesies involved. And when an agent invests effort and time working with an author with an eye toward representation, that does imply a certain amount of good faith on both sides.

That's why I too noted that the agent knew she/he was taking a risk, but I still believe that there are professional courtesies and expectations that will reflect negatively on the writer's reputation if ignored.

~suki

IceCreamEmpress
05-18-2011, 09:17 AM
The set of things that are "poor business practice" and "poor professional etiquette" includes many more things than simply those things which are illegal.

zolambrosine
05-18-2011, 11:56 AM
kcallender, you've stated several times that this is a hypothetical scenario, so I don't think we're mistaking your intentions here. Most of us who've posted blanket "don't do this" statements are doing so for the benefit for everyone reading. We're saying to everyone, not necessarily to you, to not do this.

And if it has happened in the industry (and I'm sure it has), I doubt the folks involved are going to speak up and say "Yes, I worked with Agent X for nine months to polish up my book, then took it to Agent Y and signed with her."

Oh, well thanks for clearing that up. :)