What happened in my particular case is that I had queried arcaedia on the first novel of the trilogy and been requested to send her my synop and three. She read that, asked for the full MS, and then contacted me and said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t sell this as a first novel. But do you have anything else finished?”
In comments, bixxy was seen to say:
“I’m sorry, but I can’t sell this as a first novel.”
What exactly does that mean? It sounds rather qualified — “I can’t sell this as a first novel, but let’s go back to it after you’ve published something else as your first novel.” Or something.
Why was that ms. not saleable as a first novel?
I replied (and then cross-posted it here for my own purposes….):
…what I meant when I said that to her was more of – “it’s not time for this book yet.” (And, she did somewhat oversimplify my response – heh.) There are a lot of factors that went into my saying that. I liked the writing. I liked the character. I liked the challenges in the book. It was certainly enough to get me to ask for more (which is very telling in its own way these days considering my volume of submissions). But I thought it would be a very difficult book to sell for a number of the reasons eBear mentions herself. The crux of the matter, I think, is that part of an agent’s job these days is to balance between art and commerce (e.g. author and publisher) in an attempt to maximize the potential for both. In the case of a first novel, I need to put the author in the strongest position possible in order to beat out the competition. Why take a long shot, when we can take another project out and have a stronger advantage? Just out of curiousity — I jotted a quick note off to eBear’s editor and asked her how many first novels she acquired in 2003, the year in which Hammered sold. She told me in the last two years, she’s bought five. I’ve been in her office, and I’ve seen the stack of submissions — and those are just the partials and fulls requested, not the myriad of queries. It’s a long shot just to sell a first novel to start with.
Selling something non-traditional and different isn’t impossible. It’s just tougher. And what you also have to consider is where that author is going to go down the road. If their first novel is something that doesn’t lend itself to a large readership out of the gate, will their numbers suffer and will the publisher then find it necessary to not pick up their next novel? Far better, I think, to establish a readership first, in that case.
So, what would have happened if she’d come back and told me that was all she had? I can only speculate. It’s entirely possible I might have given it a shot anyway. I’m stubborn. I know what I like. I just have to keep going until I find the other people who like it. It once took me two and a half years to sell a novel. But I knew it had something. I just had to find the editor that agreed. Sometimes you just have to dig in your heels until art wins out. On the other hand, I have a crowded list of clients and I’m competing for a limited number of publication slots with a lot of other agented writers and, in some cases, unagented writers. I have to maximize my potential too. So, I might have left it at — show me something else when you’ve got it, let’s stay in touch. I did that with someone else once after rejecting their first book, and roughly three years later, I ended up taking on a different book and selling it.
Hmmmm…..rambling…..Did it answer the question?
Addendum (4/15/2004, 1:58pm): Since I could, I asked the editors who were my 2nd and 3rd choices for submissions on Hammered how many first novels they bought last year. One of them is apparently out of the office today. The other said she bought one (only one!) in 2003 and that her counterpart at the same line bought none. How’s them odds? Eep.