Oh Those Heartbreaking Gatekeepers! (A Writer’s Journey: 10th Installment)

Carol Hoenig
4 min readAug 19, 2022

In the 9th installment of my Writer’s Journey, I shared how thrilled I was that I finally snagged a literary agent. What an exciting time for a new author! Now that I was on my way, I was determined to let my agent do her job and not be a nudge. With that in mind, I made sure not to reach out to her too often to see where things were while hoping I’d hear from her first with good news. But about a month after she took me on, I shot her an email, just asking how things were going. She replied that she’d been out with pneumonia, but hoped to get moving with my book once she was on the mend. I replied that I only wished her well and hoped she was better soon and left it at that — again, I didn’t want to be one of those authors who were an agent’s nightmare.

However, about another two or so months later, I followed up to check in and she replied that she’d hurt her back and, once again, hoped to begin pitching my book soon. I took my career as a writer seriously, still do, so when several more months passed and there were no emails from her, my optimism was beginning to wane.

At the time, I was becoming friends with a personal publicist of a celebrity novelist. Again, I will not say the names of either, even though they both have since passed. I told the publicist the issue I was having with my agent and she suggested I send my novel to her so she could give it a read and see what advice she could offer. I sent it to her, even though my writing was much different from the author that she worked for. After reading and seeing its potential, she spoke to the celebrity author’s agent, telling her the issue and since I didn’t have a contract with the first agent, which seemed to be the case then for many agencies, the second agent invited me to send it to her. Just like the first agent, I was familiar with this one and the impressive agency she was a part of. To my delight, after reading it she also saw value in Without Grace and wanted to work with me. To have two high profile agents interested in my work could only bode well for me, right?

However. (See? There’s always a however.) However, she would need to know where the first agent had sent it out since it is considered unprofessional to send to editors at publishing houses who already saw and rejected the work. As far as I knew, the first agent hadn’t sent it out since I had yet to get any updates or responses, something that was expected. Still, it was up to me to contact the first agent and tell her that I had another agent who wanted to represent me but needed to know first where the novel was pitched.

Now, here’s the kicker: That first agent then sent an email with dozens of editors that she’d ostensibly pitched. I was stunned, not to mention dubious. When I asked to see the rejections, she dismissed it by saying that they were “over the phone.” In other words, there was no proof and no comments from said editors that I could take under consideration. What this meant was that the second agent, who had been willing to take me on, was blocked since she didn’t want to take the chance of sending it out to someone who actually already did reject it, even though she agreed that she, too, was dubious and thought maybe the first agent was being vindictive.

I know this all sounds confusing, but where that left me was that Without Grace wouldn’t ever have the chance of being traditionally published. If you recall, I wrote about that in the 5th installment.

Now, while you were reading this, you probably thought I was nothing more than a disgruntled novice writer making up the details. And that is exactly why I couldn’t take my complaint and dissatisfaction to anyone in the industry. After all, I was sure I would come across as an embittered novice instead of a justified “David” up against a less-than-professional “Goliath.”

This all transpired over 20 years ago, and I’m presently working on my 5th novel. So, I didn’t give up, but, still, I wonder how much further along my writing career would be had I not been sabotaged. Granted, I never really self-published, since I never had to pay anyone to get my novels into readers’ hands; yet, I never got the kind of publishing deal for which I yearn. That said, the agent I now have is my fourth because I believe having an agent is really an important piece of the puzzle. (My 3rd agent ended up retiring before anything transpired with my 3rd novel, which is in limbo.) For some, an agent, aka that gatekeeper, isn’t necessary to them, but for me, it is. So, we’ll see how this pans out.

See, this is some hell of a journey, isn’t it?

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Carol Hoenig

Carol Hoenig is President of Carol Hoenig, Publishing Consultant, Inc. and the author of several novels. You may find out more about her at carolhoenig.com.