Thursday, October 23, 2008

why does it take so long to get to "no"? (or, love your agent)

The second half of the reader's question from yesterday--
When you know it's going to be a no, how soon do you tell the poor bastards? It seems to me "Yes" comes fast and "no" takes forever. As they say in Tinsel Town, if you haven't heard, you've heard.

Ok, well. A confession about editors. We hide our heads in the sand.

Can you blame us? Would you want to pick up a phone and call someone and tell him or her (or even his or her agent) that you didn't like the project in question?

No. No one likes giving bad news (or geez, no one I ever want to work with) so most of us avoid it.

I pass on a project when the agent calls or emails me to follow up. That way, it's not a cold call.

However, I have to say this--in a lot of cases, the first time your agent calls to follow up I won't even have reviewed the project yet. I get tons of projects, and unfortunately a lot of them are from agents who practice the sticks-to-the-wall method (you know, throw it ALL at the wall and hope something sticks). These agents will frequently send really worthless projects or projects that don't match my tastes or my company's list (and lots of them) and then never follow up. (I can't even tell you how many agents never follow up--I have no idea why. I just. don't. get it.)

Sure, there are those crazy stories about "I read it in one night and I knew I had to have it!" and "I was desperate to outbid the other houses--I made my entire department take it home and called an emergency editorial meeting the next day!"

But you know why those editors read it overnight?... Because an agent followed up. Yeah. Seriously. That overnight read was most likely a product of an agent's calling the editor and saying, "Just to let you know, I've been getting tons of interest on Project X and I'm expecting an offer to come in on Thursday." Or something along those lines. Another good honest tactic is calling and asking around for feedback--then the agent can pretty legitimately say that they've had good feedback from other editors, as long as one editor said something positive. But anyway, it's all about the agent.

So, the moral of this story (how did we get here? Oh, I guess I always get here): get a pro-active agent who makes calls. Otherwise, you'll never hear anything at all.

30 comments:

Kate Lord Brown said...

"I read it in one night and I knew I had to have it!" ... Moonrat, are you psychic? This is exactly what I have been daydreaming about. Like most writers with books being submitted :)

Anonymous said...

Moonrat: Hmm. I know many book types tend to be nonconfrontational, etc., but it seems to me you are not doing an agent or their author a favor by sitting on a 'no' until the agent follows up. Best to rip that bandage off quickly to mitigate the pain, I think. Rather than keep them hanging and hoping. I find most of what you do without fault. But on this I have to disagree. While I fully understand the reticence to bring bad news...the quicker they know where they stand, the quicker they can move on, yes? Other than this, I think you're perfect...and some day, perhaps I will be fortunate enough to snag an editor as terrific as you are. You're a gem...and you sparkle.

Anonymous said...

Hi Moonrat,

I'm the reader who wrote both halves of today's and yesterday's comment, and you know what? It almost feels like I'm published!

But seriously: you aren't cheering me up, Moonrat. My takeaway is that you pass on 90% of the stuff you agree to look at, and my guess is both you and your trusty assistant know very well as soon as you hear the agent's pitch it's going to be a big fat no, but you go through the Kabuki Dance anyway. It's a professional courtesy thing. It's about fostering good relations with an agent.
It's like buying a lottery ticket: hey, you never know...

Meanwhile, back here at the ranch, I'm slowly, slowly twisting in the wind. Do they like it? Have they read it? Is it going to committee? They've had it for (insert X number of weeks) now and what does it mean?
Is my agent following up per Moonrat's advice?
Should I email my agent? Call? Drop by?
Could I please stop thinking about this, I'm driving myself &^#$* batty!!!!

As far as I'm concerned, I'd much rather have a no today rather than a month from now. It's not hope I'm trying to keep alive; it's reality. So if my novel is on your desk, Moonrat, and you know it's going to be a no, go ahead, just tell me and get it over with. I can handle it. Kind of.









So when my agent tells me 5, or 10, or 20 editors have my novel on their desk as we speak, I don't

Anonymous said...

Moonie...I can't remember if you've discussed in the past what your "average" day looks like...I'm pretty sure you have. But in case you haven't, it might be helpful for readers to know what percentage of an "average" day you can spend on submissions, compared to the time you need to spend on a) projects you're currently shepherding through production, b) projects you're actively editing, and b) projects you're already trying to get accepted.

Anonymous said...

I'm right there with you Anon 11:39. Sucks, don't it? On the other hand, you gotta be in it to win it.

I very much want my agent to be like Moonie suggests, but how do I know if she is? I'd like suggestions--how can I go about making sure she is doing the talking up and the following up? I never wanted to be one of those people afraid of my agent--and I'm not--but I do not want to annoy her or piss her off. So, how do you find these things out or make these suggestions without the agent feeling like you are telling them how to do their jobs?

Charles Gramlich said...

All about the agent. Sigh!

Colorado Writer said...

*sigh*
*throws self on bed*
*sobs*

AC said...

I'd like to know about the agent thing, too. Are there cues you can pick up by talking with an agent who wants to represent you to figure out whether they're the follow-up type or the sticks-to-the-wall type? The scary thing is that you might never know, so meanwhile your YA mystery languishes with an editor who only reads epic-length erotic fantasy...

Juliana Stone said...

AC...when my agent who I adore, sent my ms out in the summer...she told me every house and the specific editor my ms was going to. She told me why she was sending the ms to those particular editors. I then, googled them and got to know them that way. My agent was spot on...the the ms sold.

ChrisEldin said...

rip that bandage off quickly

AHAHAH! I see a vacuum in the publishing industry. The need for the Bandage Ripper.

Moonie, I'm sending my resume right over... I'll have my kids tell you how evil I am.

Ebony McKenna. said...

Thanks once again for the sneaky peak into the mysterious world of publishing.

Thanks for your honesty. I think this post also shows that you're developing good relationships with agents who have a very good idea of what you like and dislike. These are the smart ones who make calls and follow up.

The 'sticks to the wall' agents sound like they're wasting everyone's time.

Anonymous said...

Wow. While I'm getting my share of no's, I am absolutely certain my agent is doing everything possible and then some. I don't expect overnight or 4 weeks or even longer. I just expect a response. To hear that some editors, and you in particular, don't respond until asked to respond... wow again. I don't know whether to be pissed off or discouraged or just say FIA.

I don't think I've ever read anything on your blog that bothered me. Ever. It's actually occurring to me that you were joking when you wrote: "Can you blame us? Would you want to pick up a phone and call someone and tell him or her (or even his or her agent) that you didn't like the project in question?"

No one WANTS to. But we all have shit things to do at times and avoiding them is not the most professional attitude. And since you all respond with niceties that I've assumed were based in fact followed with "but", what's the BFD? So yeah, I blame you. Would I still kill to have you as an editor?

moonrat said...

Wow, I'm surprised at some of the anger here. I was giving an honest answer about how publishing works, and whether you like it or not I think it's safe to say this is how the industry works. I hope you'll strive to see this from my perspective.

Just briefly--I don't feel bad about admitting that I only give an agent a yes or know when they follow up because I get so many very bad products from so many agents who haven't done their homework that I don't have a reason to spend my time on their projects. I just don't. I have a lot of other things I HAVE to do, and responding to agents who haven't researched my wants/needs and who can't be bothered to follow up with me...? Very, very low on my list of priorities.

It is sad for the author that an agent treats their book like that. But that's a different issue. You, as an author, should never be getting frustrated with me as an editor. You shouldn't need to. Your agent is just that--an agent on your behalf--and there is literally no connection between an author and an editor until it looks like a deal might happen. So please, don't blame me for the fact that your agent isn't doing their job. I can only help the people who care as much as I do.

Robert the Publish, my boss, will [rightfully] remind me that agents aren't my boss. HE, RtP, is my boss. Authors on submission? Certainly not my boss. Sure, I'm incentivized to acquire some books each year, but there are a lot of other things I absolutely have to do. And they are my priorities.

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

Yep, I can well see the merit of a proactive agent - which, I guess, means authors really having to do their homework in the search for on the ball agents.

Anonymous said...

I understand what Moonrat is saying and I don't think it's right to blame her or to be angry. She is doing what she can, prioritizing her time. It makes sense. As always, I appreciate the honesty.

Briane P said...

I love the inside scoop; thanks for putting these up here.

How about talking about why it's so important to let editors know if it's a simultaneous submission? Does that get a book bumped up or down, or have no effect?

Crimogenic said...

What's a bit sad about this post, is not how Moonie works, it's that some agent don't correctly target the right editor with project, and that some agents don't follow up on submissions. Agents are suppose to be advocates for the writers, this is discerning.

Anonymous said...

Mine was one of the angry posts, though it came across more angry than I felt. I was more surprised, though surprise filtered through angry words doesn't translate well. I do apologize for letting the internet take me over for the few moments it took to fire off a post. But (yes, as you editors know well, there's usually a "but") (that's a joke)-- I was mostly reacting to the way I perceived my agent being treated than I was to how long your response took. I guess it felt to me like you were lumping all agents together and treating them equally as far as waiting for a nudge to respond. I don't blame you in the least for not caring about quick responses to the agents who haven't carefully researched you and your list. Maybe I misunderstood your post. Maybe agents who are diligent and well-informed and polite and professional get their attitude returned in kind. Maybe that didn't translate well in your post. Hard as it is for you to say no to an agent, can you imagine how hard it is for them to pass that no along to the author? What a horrible position to be in: the agent hearing the no from the editor on a book he loves and believes in and then having to repeat it. Tough duty.

At any rate, I appreciate your honesty and your high level of insight and perception.

moonrat said...

Anon--I think maybe there's another interesting conversation in this, re: what an agent should do for you and how to make sure you and your agent are on the same page.

It's a hard coversation, esp when you're trying to launch your debut novel and you're offered representation by someone. Even a great agent may not be quite the perfect fit... but are you in a position to say no? Are these ok questions to ask before you have an agreement? Etc.

Maybe we should do an agent clinic (from my editorial point of view, of course)... what do you think? Worthwhile?

Anonymous said...

I've finally faced the fact that I have an agent with a throw it at the wall and see what sticks approach. My agent seems to target the right editors, but does not appear to follow-up. It has been a year with over ten submissions and only two reponses. I know I have to leave my agent, but does this mean that I cannot use this book to query a new agent? If I can verify that only the two editors read the manuscript would a new agent be interested? Should I use a new book to query? I know this is slightly off-topic, but I have had a discussion with my agent based on a previous agent communciation post by Moonrat!! I did everything recommended and my agent agreed to nudge every two months. It isn't happening. He admitted as much and I know it is time to move on. Thanks for being so honest, Moonrat. I think the nudges makes sense personally, so I'm not angered or upset by the fact that editors are prodded to take a look at a manuscript (amonsgt the piles they are sent). I feel that an agent should be an author's advocate and I know it's time to try and find a new agent. I appreciate any advice!

Ello said...

I don't get the agents that don't follow up bit. That doesn't make sense. But then again, it might explain why so many agented writers might also be unhappy with their agents.

JKB said...

Man Moonie, what a great post. I think we're (my agent and I) are getting closer to seeing your side of the pond, and these details about your harried life as an editor I consider pure gold.

You're my hero. ;)

cindy said...

having gone through querying hell and submissions, it's SO HARD not to take it personally. it's our writing...and of course, we can be very sensitive to how our manuscript is treated.

it's something a striving to be published writer has to get over QUICK if s/he is to survive in the business. i've quickly learned to listen, learn, adjust during my road to publication.

as always, thanks for sharing your insight, moonie. i back you 100%. anyone who has followed you know how hard you work and what an advocate you are for your authors.

WendyCinNYC said...

"Maybe we should do an agent clinic (from my editorial point of view, of course)... what do you think? Worthwhile?"


Yes, yes! Worthwhile!

Christy Raedeke said...

From the looks of these comments it seems like we writers need an anger management clinic as well! You definitely struck a nerve. For me, knowing exactly how the machine moves by getting a peek into how editors work really helps with the patience portion of being a writer. So thanks.

Anonymous said...

Moonrat: Love your blog and thank you for the time you spend educating the masses. It is very much appreciated!

Can I just ask a clarification because this has always confused me. When you receive submissions from those 'throw it to see if it sticks' agents, do you receive a pitch or query first from that agent to see if you are even interested in the idea/concept/story before you request a submission? Or is the 'throw it' agent sending you the manuscript without seeing if you are even interested in the idea first? I know my agent always queries the editor first to see if they want to see more and then the submission is requested. Just wanting to know if that approach is a distinction that makes any difference to you?

ChrisEldin said...

Every time I come here for food advice, some editor is spewing words and they're all, like, literary.

moonrat said...

i'm sorry, Chris. i've gotten totally derailed from the important stuff lately.

Marian said...

My first round of submissions to editors got some good feedback with the rejections, identifying a problem with the story, so I corrected it. The revised version is much better.

Now, though, I'm worried that my agent isn't as interested in the book as she was before (maybe because now we're more limited in the number of places to which we can submit the ms). She's just taking more time to read the revised version. The editors seemed really helpful and polite in their feedback, though - I would've liked to work with any of them.

Bruce Pollock said...

Sorry to be so after the fact. But this is the post that made me a fan....

My agent said my novel went to ten houses over a year ago. Only four responded. He said I should consider the other six rejections--and that's it's humiliating to call for follow ups. Is it possible that the other six places have never even seen the book? Should I pester my agent to resubmit to different editors at these houses?