Saturday, February 09, 2008

waiting to hear back from your agent on submissions

I posted on this a couple of weeks ago here. I wanted to draw attention to the post again, because there's a live discussion going on there and a couple of agented writers have been chipping in their words of wisdom. I think this is a hugely helpful discussion--thank you all--and I have to admit that I'm happy to take advantage of this opportunity to get my two cents in on this.

I'm going to answer a couple of questions that have appeared in the comments section. But first, my caveat--I only speak for myself and my personal business practices here. However, I will say that although I can't say ALL editors work like this, I can certainly say that some (and perhaps most) editors do.

I really need the nudge to look at your manuscript. I do. I need to hear from your agent. If I'm flaky on the phone, it's because I haven't looked yet and I'm stalling. I don't mean this as a personal affront against your manuscript--I just get more than 100 solicited agented proposals a month and I have (you know) my editing to do to.

To further flesh out my editorial thought process, and why I need your agent to budge me... Many agents work on a throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks principle, some of them for all of their books, but most of them for books that they took on and love and yet haven't been able to sell. On my end, I naturally don't know what the agent has already been shopping, or what round of pitches I'm part of when I receive your proposal. (At least, I HOPE your agent doesn't let me know that XX other editors have rejected it!!) That's why if your agent doesn't follow up with me--and repeatedly--I'm going to end up assuming this is one of those not-hot projects and that I'm under absolutely no pressure to read it. On top of that, there's a good possibility I'm not going to be able to bid on the project, either, since if the agent's this passive about it s/he has probably given up on it, too (or so it looks like from my end).

One of your good questions: "How do I bring this up with my agent?" I'll admit, this is a tough one to me. I'm rather bad with confrontation (however friendly). If anyone else has recommendations for conversation openers that have worked, please chip in here.

First, a friendly nudge might help. When an agent nudges me about foreign sales, I nudge the rights manager, she nudges the scouts, they nidge the foreign editors, and sometimes we end up with a new deal. Your agent might be busy and with good intentions. Try the nudge.

If your agent flat-out tells you no, they won't follow up yet, and that you need to chill out, ask if you can talk it through. Agents are there to help shepherd new authors through unfamiliar and often hostile waters. I like Church Lady's line from the previous post--"I still have to much to learn about the whole process..." Make them lay out their plan for you. "Can you give me an idea of time frame?" If you pin someone by having them confess to a date, this gives you another opening to bring up conversation again at that point. This will hopefully also give you peace of mind--you'll know what your agent's plan is, how you fit into it, and what reasonable expectations are.

Most agents are good agents. Most WILL want to put your mind at ease, etc. And most have a plan. But remember that you're entitled to know (and to ask) about the plan. It's your book. So have the conversation.

If you're worried about your agent's plan for your book, I think it is ok to talk to your agent about this. Of course, your agent is a professional agent, and neither you nor I are (alas). I wish I had an agent to jump in here and give me their take on this--I think some dialogue would be helpful. Perhaps I will try to solicit some agent attention.

Another good question you asked: "Is asking an agent to check in once a month too pushy?" No. I think once a month is just right. It shows your agent continues to take the project seriously. It's also enough time for an editor to be reminded of the project, look at it, and decide if they like it. If they like it, it's enough time to bring it up at ed meeting. A month, in fact, is my ideal interval between phone calls. Honestly, when they come more often, I start to dread them.

Those are my thoughts.


cyn said...

i need to get myself one of these nifty agent thingamabobbers. =) thanks for the insight, MR!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for continuing this topic. I'm going to be talking with my agent very soon and I'm taking notes! I will let everyone know how the conversation goes. I'll keep checking if anyone has any further advice...

Kelsey said...

The timeline is the answer. Always ask your agent "What's the timeline on this? When should I hear from you next?"

Lucky for me, I landed an agent where this wasn't much of a concern. When she sent out my proposal she sent me a spreadsheet of who it was going to and then each month an update on who she met, spoke with, and their level of interest. And when there was any good news she let me know right away.

As with any working relationship it is important to establish expectations up front. If you find yourself in a situation where your agent has gone all incommunicado and you feel uncomfortable dropping them a line, your working relationship stinks.

BookEnds, LLC said...

I was directed to this post by a reader and I'm glad I was. Since you asked for an agent's perspective I thought I'd pipe in.

The trouble with this situation is that so much of it depends on personalities and the relationship the author has with the agent. I check in with editors regularly on projects and actually have an automatic reminder to do so set up on my computer. Of course, when I'm excited about a project checking in is never a problem, it's restraining myself to not check in after three days that's a problem.

I think the advice given is perfect. Find out from you agent what the plan of action is and what she'll be doing if you don't get an offer. Ask how long something like this usually takes and when she thinks she'll be checking in. And then, email or call right after to check in with her. Say something like, I know you had planned to check with editors this week and I'm hoping you have some good news to share.

I know that for me, whenever a client checks in it has the same effect I have on editors. It's gets my butt in gear. But I do suspect there are some agents who "don't want to be a pest" and that's difficult since part of my job is being a pest.

Only one response since October is not nearly enough. In my mind you should be down to only one or two responses you haven't yet received and your agent should be resubmitting or you should be rewriting. Yes, there are books that take a while to sell, but if an agent is checking in as she should be responses should be quicker than this.

You know your relationship with your agent best so be kind and nice, but definitely let her know you're checking too.


Charles Gramlich said...

I've not had good luck with agents.

Colorado Writer said...

Thank you for the information.

Ello said...

Moonie! First off - great post and thanks so much for posting it! What great advice! And then a huge thanks to Jessica Faust from Bookends for coming out and giving her advice also. I love that she said part of her job is to be a pest. I agree, I do think that is part of an agent's job. And Moonie, I think that for any agent that might poo poo their client, the client should direct them to your fabulous post!

Anonymous said...

Yes, thank you very much. I definitely feel prepared to talk with my agent now!

booklady said...

Very good to know. I might fashion some of this into a question to ask when/if I get to the point of "interviewing" a potential agent.

McKoala said...

Great info! It's interesting to see these situations from the perspective of writer, agent and editor.

Marie said...

Thanks for being brave enough to post on this subject. So much emphasis is placed on just getting an agent, but it's the in between stages--getting an agent and hopefully getting a book deal--that are so confusing to writers.

Demon Hunter said...

Thanks for this post! This is really good to know, especially since I plan to query a few agents very soon. :*) Thanks for your always informative posts.

Nathan Bransford said...

Sorry I'm late to this, things have been so crazy. I definitely think an agent needs to stay on top of submissions, and I'd basically second everything Jessica said in the comments -- I have varying degrees of keeping the author apprised of the submission process based on their preferences. Some want to know everything, some don't want to know anything. Their choice.

I'll also add that some editors respond more favorably to follow-ups than others, and this is another way an agent can help navigate the process. Some editors just take a long time. Also submissions tend to take longer on the children's side than the adult side. So there's no single rule of thumb.

moonrat said...

thanks, everybody and particularly both agents who've chipped in.

Anonymous said...

Hi- I'm new to your blog. I'm a published picturebook Author/Illustrator. Being that I never had an agent- I do all the poking myself. I do think it is important to keep up with the "statis" of the manuscript. I must say though- I have had interested publishers string me along for a year. (Finally they just offered a contract) and Other manuscripts I email and they buy within a month (though rare). I do agree you need to keep that communication going. If I get no positive response after three months, I'll send it off to someone else. Typically - if they are interested they clue me in on the statis (Bringing it to an editorial is being priced out etc.) Or I'll get a "nice" rejection. It's all part of the game.- Ciao Baby

Anonymous said...

I wanted to let everyone know that I spoke with my agent yesterday and it went really well! We had a good discussion about his timeline for calling editors. He agreed to a set a new timeline and had no problem with letting me know the status. I have to thank everyone, especially Moonrat and both agents, for their advice. Jessica from Bookends LLC and Nathan Bransford truly gave the best advice on how to handle this situation (and made it clear that I wasn't off base in being troubled about my agent's timeline).

I would say to anyone in the same position, please don't be afraid to have this conversation with your agent! Just be polite, clear and open to a compromise. All the advice here can guide you through this potentially awkward conversation. I was complimentary (thanks Moonrat!) and very open to what my agent had to say and the truth is he was very open to giving me a timeline that I was comfortable with. I really did not know to ask this question when I first signed, so if you are looking for an agent I would go over this when you are in discussions to sign. Thanks again!