Agent/Bachelorette #1 was very keen on the Big Book, right up until the Fatal Word Count Question. After that, she didn't want to see this book, but hoped I would query her when I finished the Little Book. Typical pitch session. That's what usually happens, and that's what I expected all four appointments to be like.
Agent/Bachelorette #2 was pretty interested in the Big Book, and when she came to the Fatal Word Count Question, she had some useful things to say about her experience working with another author who had exactly the same problem. She took the guy on before he figured out where to cut his first book in half, worked with him through the revisions, and sold it to a fine house, where it has enjoyed fine sales and glorious reviews. I'd read the reviews when it came out, and wow, they really were glorious. We should all be so lucky. Maybe I will be. Agent/Bachelorette #2 asked me to send her the first chapter.
Agent/Bachelorette #3 had the most enthusiastically favorable response to the Big Book that I've ever seen in someone who wasn't already a lifelong friend of mine. Her questions were sharp, and she liked every answer she got. She didn't even ask the Fatal Word Count Question. Back at Writer's Weekend, other agents advised me to stop admitting to the word count, so I momentarily considered not mentioning it, but then she started writing her email address in my notebook and telling me that she wanted me to send the whole manuscript right away. "Um," I said, "the whole manuscript is 300K." And I braced for the usual death blow. She didn't even look up from writing. Completely unfazed, she said, "We can fix that. It won't go to press at that length, but if your writing style lives up to your ideas, a way will be found to work around the problem."
Well. How about that?
Agent/Bachelorette #4 was tired after taking pitches for two hours, and was borderline hostile, though she seemed to be trying not to be. She opened with the Fatal Word Count Question. I fessed up immediately, and the look on her face was such that I followed it up by saying, "Perhaps I should give you back the rest of the ten minutes?" Because if the answer is obviously no, sometimes stopping right away is the best option for both parties. "You're entitled to your ten minutes," she said. I tried talking about my other projects, but she came back to, "But this one is still too long for the market." Yes, I get that. I tried general questions about the industry, talking to her as a resource rather than as a person who was in any danger of ever representing me. Every answer came back to, "You do realize 300K is too long, though." Yes, yes, I said so in the first place. And if it weren't for the fact that several agents have asked to see partials anyway, even after knowing the word count, I would long ago have stopped bothering to pitch this book and would have concentrated only on finishing the short one. "People ask to see it?" she said, shocked. "How does that go?" As if she suspected me of making it up. Really, if I were the kind of person who could lie about the reception the ms was getting, I could have just lied about the word count in the first place. Whatever. I sketched out how that's gone, and all she had to say about it was...wait for it..."But 300K is too long." And then, mercifully, my ten minutes were up. It was the most awkward pitching experience I've ever had. It was clear from thirty seconds in that there was nowhere for it to go, but there was no polite way I could make it stop.
Fortunately, after the bizarre success of the third pitch, I wasn't in any danger of taking the fourth one personally.
So, I've sent a delicate message to the agent who currently has the long partial, letting her know that there have been other requests for materials, and that one of them may play out unusually quickly. I guess I'll find out soon what the answer was to yesterday's etiquette question.