Adapted from “When It’s Better to Be in the Dark,” first published in the September 2011 issue of Negotiation.
When your agent negotiates on your behalf, it’s generally smart to have her keep you in the loop throughout the process with regular phone calls, e-mails, or meetings. But in a recent article in Poets & Writers magazine, literary agent Betsy Lerner identified conditions in which you might prefer to be uninformed.
When a writer signs with a literary agent, the agent typically sends the writer’s work to a handpicked group of editors at the major New York publishing houses—from as few as three editors to as many as 20, depending on the book’s prospects and the agent’s submission strategy.
After pitching the book’s virtues, the agent must sit tight and wait for the phone to ring.
For both the agent and his client, this is an intensely nerve-racking time.
As the hours and days tick by, the agent might get a call or two from editors who have fallen in love with the manuscript. Should the agent share such promising news with her client? Not necessarily. “I explain that they can either get on the ride with me or go off on a retreat,” one agent told Lerner.
This agent prefers to get in touch with her writers when she has news—“a rejection or an offer, but nothing in between.”
Why would an agent keep information from her client? Because in an era of slumping book sales, an editor’s enthusiasm for a manuscript stands a good chance of being dampened by her company’s editorial board or sales or marketing department. In such cases, the writer’s desire to stay on an even keel may outweigh the benefits of being up-to-date.
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