Friday, January 25, 2008

waiting for responses to your submissions?

I know you're all working hard on the contest entries, but I'm going to distract you with an interesting reader query I got recently. The reader had a really good question. Here was the email (edited for anonymity):

Hey, Moonrat,

I could use some guidance, if you have a moment. Here's my situation:

My book went out in a rolling submission to a good group of editors in October. I received one non-specific rejection in November and since then, nothing.

My agent says we are still within the realm of normal, that anything can still happen, that editors are damn busy with other things that keep them from debut novel submissions. He says I need to be patient. But...

My agented writer friends say this is too long to have waited, even given the holiday season. They believe something is amiss. My writer friends certainly received their rejections faster, but they are still as unpublished as I am.

To me, it feels weird that it has taken this long to even get a no from so many editors, but what do I know? Only what I see on the Internet, a very dangerous place to get information. What do you think?


This was a really interesting question to me, and thanks to this reader for letting me post about this. I imagine a lot of first-time writers feel a little lost waiting on the end of their phone line for things to happen. So here's my take (and I would love to hear if others disagree or have had other experiences--this is just how I operate).

I have to admit that (except in certain very special cases) I never even look at a proposal until an agent has followed up, and I know from having worked with other editors from other houses that I'm not the only editor who functions like that. We have so much to do that we really waffle on acquisitions a lot, and tend to put off looking at manuscripts until we feel some pressure to. I'm honestly not a huge fan of agents who start pestering you three days or a week after they've submitted, but a month is a very fair pester-window. In this case, it sounds to me like the agent is being a little sleepy.

If I were one of the editors who had received this novel, I probably would not have looked at it yet, and I almost certainly wouldn't have been in touch with the agent. I never send out-of-the-blue rejections. Never. It just creates bad feelings and awkward conversations. However, I usually don't make out-of-the-blue offers, either, since it drives the property price up (the agent can then take that offer, shuffle off to other houses, and shop it around--my offer would make the project more valuable elsewhere) so most editors avoid that like the plague. Meanwhile, while the agent isn't in touch with editors, the property price goes down--if it gets to be 6 months after submission and there are no bids, any editor you follow up with will say, "Hmm, s/he hasn't sold this in 6 months. There must be a problem with it." (Even if there's not.)

Of course, different agents and different editors have different systems locked into place, and the things I say here might not be the MO of certain agents or the editors they tend to work with. I just know that with the amount of work on my desk (don't even get me started!) it's really hard for me to make myself read a proposal unless I feel a little pressure.

As far as the possibility of getting rejections, I think rejections are better than non-responses. There will always be other editors to query in another round, if that's in the cards, and rejections might give insight from an editorial standpoint about what isn't quite working. They might give an author the boost or polish s/he needs to lock it in during the next round. I would say that if you're at the point where you're getting some rejections (even if the book sells!) ask your agent if s/he can squeeze some critiques out of editors. It will be hard--we're a cagey bunch--but not impossible.

Any other thoughts on this?


Anonymous said...

And how might a client go about bringing this up with her agent? I don't want to offend her by implying I know more about her job than she does, but I am starting to wonder if she's doing everything she should.

Anonymous said...

This is tough, because how do you know if it's the editor or the agent, right? There's no tactful way to bring this up.

I'd say the 'longer you wait the less money that rolls in' is very accurate in my case.

booklady said...

That's fascinating. I'll have to keep it in mind when I'm looking for an agent. During that period when we're supposed to ask questions, maybe I'll ask about how they follow up with editors, or something similar.

writtenwyrdd said...

So now we know editors work on the squeaky wheel principal. Cool. You have unglamorized your job for me, cuz I'm imagining what my desk looked like back when I was a personnel manager. Stacks and stacks of paper. Bleh.

Kaytie M. Lee said...

As insightful as always, Moonrat!

Church Lady said...

What a great question and answer session.

anon 5:14--Maybe ask instead of tell. For example, you could say "I'm new to this and am hoping you can teach me as we go along. Editors have had my ms for xx time. How long should we give them before moving on? Should we follow up?"

I think the question is more than fair. But as in everyhing in life, it's about the tone. If you're polite and respectful, your agent should respond in kind. And if she doesn't, then it's a lopsided relationship. One that I personally wouldn't want to be in.

Good luck!!! (I hope you are able to keep us updated!)

Amie Stuart said...

For whatever this is worth, and it might not be much!!! My agent's been shopping me in a new genre since Labor Day. We just got a third rejection (and I know she's "nudging"). That's not quite six months and she's starting on the second round of editors. I've finally decided that I'm not one of those authors who's going to get bought quickly (and I've seen plenty who do), so who knows.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

I followed a link from Jill Myles over to here and I'm glad I did! I'm adding you to my blog feed. Thanks for the cool blog . . . always interesting to see what happens on the other side of the desk.

Jennifer L. Griffith said...

I cruise quite a few agent blogs and I can say that I've never heard this subject matter discussed. Thanks for that insight from an agents POV.

Anonymous said...

I am in the exact same situation! My book was submitted almost 6 ago and so far only one response. My agent sounds knowledgeable, but does not really give a straight answer about checking in with the editors on the status. Supposedly, I should hear within a couple weeks and that was almost 3 weeks ago. I am also confused on how to approach my agent without seeming rude. Does anyone have any other suggestions?

Amie Stuart said...

Anon...don't be afraid to nudge your agent and ask specific questions as far as where it is, who has it etc. Your agent works for you, not the other way around (though I'm more in the "we're doing this together" camp, I like that we get along well, have open communication and i can ask her pretty much anything but it took me three agents to get here).

Anonymous said...

I am going to speak with my agent about this. I know exactly who received the submissions, but I think I'll have to be very clear about editor status calls or emails. I might wait another week or two and then tackle the issue. It will then be 6 months. I'll let everyone know how it goes and what I said (in case it can help anyone else). Someone on another board suggested I (politely, of course) ask her to check in once a month with editors even if they only tell her that it is till under consideration. Does anyone think this is to pushy? Thanks for all the advice.