October 31st, 2009 | Deep Thoughts | 39 Comments
Okay, we've all made stupid mistakes. Done things in a hurry and later regretted them. I remember once, a couple decades ago, when I was working as an associate pastor at a church, and we had a puppet team come in to work with our youth group. They had those big foam Muppet-like puppets, and were training our kids how to use them to do inner-city puppet shows. The girls were all handling the girl puppets, the boys the boy puppets, and we were all doing our Muppet voices and acting dopey. So, when the woman in charge announced we were going to take a break, I happened to be standing next to one of the girl puppets. I picked it up, slid my hand into it (which meant sliding it under the puppet's dress), and said, "I'd like to see how one of the girls feels."
Oops. The room suddenly got real quiet. "Um… that's not what I meant!" I ended up having to call all the parents of the kids to apologize. Yikes. Sometimes it's the little things that come back to bite us.
I tell that story because it's a Saturday morning, and I woke up to discover that, last night, while racing to catch up on some work, I did the dumbest thing I've ever done in more than a decade of agenting. Some background: As an agent, you try and figure out which editor and publishing house is a fit for each project you represent. You put together a list, and you query people, checking to see if they would, in fact, like to look at the manuscript.
I've got a great novel that I'm representing, from a fine author. I've been really excited about this one, thought it had broad appeal, and put together a nice list of editors. Last night I sat down with that list, opened the proposal… and then SENT EACH OF THEM MY QUERY LIST INSTEAD OF THE PROPOSAL. That means when each editor reads my email and opens the document, instead of looking at the author's words, they'll be looking at a list of other editors and houses who are also receiving this query. Good grief. I've never done anything like that before, and it's such a stoo-pid rookie mistake that… well, I was in shock when I woke up today, checked my email, and saw a note from an editor friend saying, "Uh, Chip, you sent me your query list." AAAAAACK!!!!
Some days, I know I'm a good agent. Over the last year, I've sold more projects than any other agent in the country. I represent great authors. I have an ability to recognize good writing. And then, other days… I do something SO bad it leaves me shaking my head, aghast. Yikes. I'd like to be able to say, "That'll teach you." Except I don't really know what it'll teach me. Not to be a bonehead, I guess. Or maybe to appreciate editor friends who can be honest with me, instead of rolling their eyes and refusing to ever read anything I send them again. Good grief. And the worst thing is that I rarely create a long send list any more — the industry has changed considerably the last couple of years, so that the majority of projects we sell are actually only sent to one or possibly two houses, since we try and target publishers instead of querying a long list of people. In this case, with a new author… well, again, yikes. I am, indeed, a bonehead.
You know, years ago, when I was working as an agent at another company, we had something similar happen. We were working with an author named "Elizabeth," and she had a great project that two publishers were fighting over. One of the editors at one of those houses was also named "Elizabeth." Uh, you know how your computer will sometimes fill in the name in the "send" line of your email if you just type the first few letters? Well, my assistant MEANT to send a message to the author, laying out our strategy. Instead, she accidentally sent that email to the editor… who was NOT happy to find out she was being played, and who immediately withdrew from the whole deal.
Sigh… It turned out okay, I guess. We sold that deal to a great publishing house (in fact, that author is STILL publishing with them, ten years later). And the funniest part of the story is that my former assistant who made that mistake is now WORKING FOR ELIZABETH, the editor who withdrew from the proceedings. I guess people really do forgive mistakes and grace abounds after all. Let's hope.
Geez. What a lousy morning. I'll go apologize to the list of editors who are opening up their emails and wondering, "Has this guy lost his freakin' mind?!" But first, I need to go buy myself a Starbucks, so I'll feel better.