When Landing an Agent Lands You Nowhere: Rick Daley’s Story

While I’m immersed in revision hell with two books and hopping around the Interwebz trying to promote two others that just came out—in case anybody wonders, this isn’t something I’d recommend—we’ve got a fascinating guest post.

Meet Rick Daley, the man behind the Public Query Slushpile, and author of the Middle Grade fantasy, THE MAN IN THE CINDER CLOUDS

When I heard that Mr. Public Query Slushpile—the man who has helped so many writers to learn to query and land an agent—chose to self-publish, I had to find out more. I knew he had an agent, so what was up?

It turns out Rick had an experience similar to mine: I’ve had four different agents, but none of them could sell my books. Two dropped me after a round of submissions and two left the business.

It’s an emotional rollercoaster that can break your heart. That initial acceptance by an A-list agent is such a high—then there’s the slow slide into disappointment when the editorial rejections come in—then, sometimes, an exhilarating spike when an editor loves it and agrees to take it to a meeting—then another kerplunk when the marketing people nix it. This can go on for a year or more. With me, all the agents dropped me when the first book failed to get a place at a big house.

But Rick’s agent suggested he write another book, hoping she’d have better luck with a two-book offering. In the meantime, unfortunately, she took on way more clients than she could handle (with today’s fast-sinking advances, agents have to sell a lot more books for a lot more clients to make a living.)

So Rick finished the book and waited. And waited. And waited. Nearly a year after he sent the manuscript to her, she still hadn’t even read it. 

He knew he had a fabulous, unique idea that was just right for the Christmas market. But he didn’t want to wait for Christmas 2013, which would be the earliest it could come out, even if the agent loved it and was able to sell it immediately.

So he fired her and went indie.

I think I probably would have done the same. But it must have been tough for him to give up that agent/Big 6 dream to go off to publish on his own.

Here’s his story--(plus some info on what sounds like a perfect gift for any MG-ers on your Christmas list.)

Where is The Man in the Cinder Clouds?
by Rick Daley


A team of climatologists stationed in the Artic reported a startling discovery: part of an ancient book found embedded in an ice core. After days of digging, they retrieved the rest of the book from deep within the ice. The book’s age and origin are unknown, but its title and text have been successfully translated, and it’s a story you have to read to believe. THE MAN IN THE CINDER CLOUDS reveals new truths behind one of the world’s most extraordinary legends, and exposes the roots of age-old traditions that are still in practice today.

Back in 2003 I came up with an idea for a story: What if the melting ice caps revealed a book…a very old book that was chock full of ancient secrets. A book that told an intriguing tale about the origins of western culture’s most well-known figures…

I came up with a whole mess of ideas. I clung to them, and jotted them down, pulling them into a semi-cohesive narrative. A mere page and a half, but within in it, the central piece to a tale that would grow to be a story-within-a-story (within a story). I saved it in My Documents and went back to work on my first novel, a paranormal thriller.

Fast forward to spring 2010. The first novel had been completed, but I stalled mid-way through a much-needed re-write.  I had other irons to tend to in my literary fire. I had an agent, and a kids’ chapter book (RUDY TOOT-TOOT) just went out on submission. I needed to decide what to work on next: my re-write, a new kids’ book, or that end of the world satire that is most definitely NOT a kids’ book.

I went with the new kids’ book. It made sense, because I was sure to get some offers for RUDY TOOT-TOOT. My agent had been an editor for 20+ years. She was well-respected and connected, not to mention a published author herself. It had to happen.

I waited confidently.

While I waited, I lost my job. The financial stress was difficult, but fortunately I did have some savings to fall back on. I hammered away at a new manuscript while searching for new job opportunities. This story had been in my head since 2003, and once I started writing it, it just flowed. Then moments of pure inspiration hit (Thanks Muse!) and the story became a special tale about the man in the cinder clouds, and his search for his true family one Christmas long ago.

I read through it and edited it, then emailed the finished manuscript to my agent and five trusted critique partners. I also sent it to my family and friends, including a 5th grade girl who is an avid reader. I read part of it out loud to my son’s third-grade class. All (save my agent, who did not respond) said they liked the concept, and had varying levels of criticism ranging from “This should be published” (opinion of the 5th grader) to being torn apart, shredded, and spat upon (figuratively, of course) by one critique partner.

A month passed. No word from my agent. I emailed her, politely asking about RUDY as well as the new manuscript. Nada.

At least I got a new job. 

I digested all the criticism and went back to the manuscript. I read and revised obsessively. Once a month I reached out to my agent. No response.

After six months I sent my agent an email to let her know I was going to look for a new agent and needed to know which editors had received RUDY TOOT-TOOT so I could let the new agent know the book’s history. After a six-month void in contact with my agent, I finally received an apologetic reply via email and a follow-up phone call. It seemed we might be able to work it out. She hadn’t read the new manuscript because she had been bogged down. She had taken on too many new clients too fast, and had to deal with an illness in the family. She was still fond of my writing, and disappointed RUDY didn’t fetch any offers.

I won’t lie…I didn’t want to go down the query path again and have to find a new agent. The lack of communication was concerning, but she was great to work with when she was engaged. I urged her to read my new manuscript. It was early December…the perfect time to read a bold re-imagining of the origins of Santa. She promised to read it before Christmas and get back to me the first week in January.

She didn’t call or email in the first week of January. I reached back out to her the following week. She acknowledged her tardiness, and asked for one more week. I gave it to her. I understand being busy, especially around the holidays. A week passed and again she hadn’t read anything and asked for more time. Shortly thereafter, we parted ways professionally. She never read a single page.

My new book was good. I knew it. I had to decide: Go the traditional route and try to find a new agent, or self-publish?

The traditional route would take a couple years. First getting an agent, then submitting to a publisher. I would be lucky if my book hit the stores by Christmas 2012. Most likely 2013.

Self-publishing I could have it ready for Christmas in July 2011.

While I contemplated the decision, I read the book again. A tweak here or there. (How can there still be typos after dozens of readings? It boggles the mind.) I read it again and made some more adjustments, adding nuances, grace notes to character revelations. I came to the realization that more changes would make it different, but not necessarily better. A very trusted critique partner agreed with me.

Decision time.

I chose self-publishing. I’m looking at this venture as a start-up company (something I have experience with), and the idea is exciting. I think the timing is right…for me personally, and for The Man in the Cinder Clouds.

So where is The Man in the Cinder Clouds?

He’s waiting for you, dear reader, at Amazon.com and BarnesandNobel.com.The Man in the Cinder Clouds is there to show you what really happened that Christmas long ago…To show you how the legend of Santa began.

About the Author:

Rick Daley has been writing professionally for over 15 years. His experience includes marketing copy for print and web, press releases, business proposals, training and technical manuals, and whitepapers. His essays, ranging from family life during the holidays to his first skydiving experience, have been featured in The Columbus Dispatch. An experienced public speaker with a background in music and theater, Rick has also authored and delivered numerous training seminars and workshops. Rick lives in Lewis Center, Ohio with his wife and two sons (and a neurotic schnauzer).   

You can read more about Rick in a great interview on Susan Kaye Quinn's blog. And do visit Susan’s indie book fair on October 25, which will include my new mystery with MWiDP, THE GATSBY GAME. 

 What about you, scriveners? Would you have done what Rick did? Have you ever been disappointed by an agent? Have you reached the point when you realize that any more changes to your WIP “would make it different, but not necessarily better”?

Want to win a FREE copy OF my romantic comedy-thriller FOOD OF LOVE? They’ll be giving away three at Chick Lit Central, the Blog from October 17th through October 23rd.

Don’t forget that our November guest will be superstar mystery author, MWA Grand Master and legendary writing guru: Lawrence Block  He’ll be right here on this blog on November 13th!

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,