"I'll get back to you"

From the comment pile on earlier posts comes a question about what does "I'll get back to you" really mean.

First let's distinguish two completely different groups of people.
First: clients
Second: queryers. Queriers? Queerists? Q.s.!

If you are a client of this agency, your calls and emails are answered the day they arrive. That said, clients are asked to understand MY work schedule and they do. They don't call at 8am. And they don't call on Sunday. IF they haven't heard back from me, they call or write again and I get back to them RIGHT THEN. Email isn't a sure thing sometimes.

If you are unagented, you fall in the Q group. I do not have a business relationship with you. I don't know you. You are a stranger asking for my time. That being said, I will do my utmost to respect your time and get back to you when I say I will. Turnaround time for query letters is
about ten days. Turn around time on full manuscripts is 90 days. I make no secret of this.
It's in the guidelines on the website and I'll tell anyone who asks.

People who write to me when I've requested a full ms and say "i'd appreciate an answer in 30 days" usually get one. And it's NO. The threshold for taking on someone like that is about 99%.
They'd have to have the hottest juiciest sexiest novel of the year, and even then I'd probably say no. Why? I don't want to work with them. And there are enough agents in this world that I don't feel bad about saying no.

When you write to an agent considering your work, you are somewhat like a job applicant. Would you TELL a recruiter when to get back to you? Probably not. You'd ASK what the decision timeline is.

If an agent asks to look at your work on an exclusive basis, you still ASK what the time line is. Then if the answer doesn't suit you, you counteroffer or don't agree.

Now, if an agent says "I'll get back to you in three weeks" and doesn't you should write (not email not call) a nice letter that says something like "thanks for considering my work. You thought you'd know whether this would be a good fit with your list by July 17. Should I move that date forward one week or two?" or something along those lines. Not "I assume this means no"
NOT: "what the hell is wrong with you that you don't keep your word. How can I work with you if you're this sloppy. (actual email from someone I swear). One guy called me at 8am one day AFTER I thought I'd have the project read.

If it makes you feel any better, I do the exact same thing with editors. Editors lose manuscripts, they bite off more than they can chew and get behind, they said yes to persuasive little ol me when they should have said no (I hate that!!). Mondays I spend at least an hour doing follow up on submissions. To quote a guy who sold four million books last year "I feel your pain".


Anonymous said...

Hey Miss Snark, thanks for the insight. I do fall in the big C(lient) list- been wearing that badge proudly for a few months, now. My agent is an absolute doll- well-read and assertive and willing to speak industry with me. My only concern has been the promptness issue, as in I wonder if he's this way with people on the other side, too. It just really annoys me- I keep a mean minute and I beat myself up for getting behind on anything, no matter who's counting on me.

I guess this is something I need to politely address if it's still an issue when he's shopping the manuscript...

As for exclusive reading rights, my agent offered up a few weeks, and asked me to please just let him know if any of the other agents I'd queried made an offer in the meantime. Personally, I had no problem with this-- it wasn't like the book was going to grow legs and run away in three weeks after I'd worked on it for three years.

PS- Day Two of the Confessions is so informative. Thanks for taking the time to share after an obviously hectic day!

Can't wait for the third installment...

Miss Snark said...

Management styles vary.
If it dries you really really crazy, you should mention it.
But, people are what they are. Some people are scattered about certain things, some people are compulsive about unimportant things. Miss Snark of course, being perfect in all things, is qualified to comment.

Oh, excuse me for a second, my hair appears to be on fire from a lightning bolt.

ok, back. As long as your agent gets the job done in a way that doesn't drive you to distraction, it's all good.

Let us know when the book is sold so we can buy it and cheer you on!

Anonymous said...

Hello Miss Snark --

I fall into the "C" category and tend to spend my life in a black abyss of non-communication.

It's such a point of contention, in fact, that I am seriously considering terminating my contract.

Is it truly better to have no agent than one who doesn't respond to his own clients? Do I dare begin this process all over again??

We're talking -- completing requested revisions, mailing them, and hearing NOTHING. It's been...oh, 3 weeks or more. And this is business as usual.

Phone calls aren't returned, either. And I almost never call. Seriously.

And yes, this is an established, legitimate agent.

I am beyond distracted here!

Miss Snark said...

Dearest Anon:

Unreturned phone calls and unreturned emails make me crazy. People who are slow to return calls are not people I like to work with.

This was something I learned the hard way. As a snarkling starting out I was lax about that kind of stuff. I was also lax cause if people called me about something that hadn't gotten done yet, I hated to break bad news. It was easier to dodge their phone calls.

I learned not to do this when opportunities dried up and people chose not to work with me on certain projects.

I got compulsive about calls and emails. And I started recognizing that it made a HUGE difference.

I remember a client calling once and saying "I didn't hear from you so I know you didn't get what I sent cause you always get back to me". It was a small thing, but I STILL remember it..and it's been years.

I think of it as a way to build trust. Maybe I'm overstating the case. I do know this: the busiest and most powerful people I know in this industry return their calls. Almost 100%.

All this is to say, there are people who don't understand or don't care that it makes people crazy when calls aren't returned.

As for dealing with your specific agent, if this were me, I'd call every morning and leave a message. No crazy threats, no screaming matches, just name, number, brief message.

If the call isn't returned in a week, I'd write a letter.
If no answer then, you've got to decide what to do.

If the agent is part of a large firm, ask for a different agent. If your agent is a sole proprietor you'll have to suck it up, or leave.

The first question I'd ask is: is your agent selling your work? is he returning editor's calls?

Only you can decide. Inner peace is worth something, but an effective agent is worth a lot too.

Let me know if you employ the strategy I suggested and how it goes.


Anonymous said...

Miss Snark,

Many thanks. Seriously! If my agent responded to me as quickly as you answered my comment here, I'd be stunned beyond the ability to function.

I don't believe that you overstated the case. And I do believe, as you said, that it's about building trust. This sounds/feels/is horrible, but I don't exactly "trust" my agent.

No, s/he hasn't sold my work. S/he did do a somewhat decent job of attempting to sell my non-fiction bit, but that's gone dry. My huge project right now is a novel -- and this is where we've stalled.

No, s/he isn't part of a large firm, and yes, I've been sucking it up for several months now, after having made my concerns clear. Someone else in the business gave me the very good advice to let my agent know what I was unhappy with before just up and leaving. Evidentally my concerns weren't important enough to warrant any significant changes.

OK, no changes at all.

This is what daily eats at me, though. I've got an agent -- there are writers who would sign off their firstborns to be where I am. And s/he COULD be the one to sell my manuscript, yes? S/he's gutsy and experienced and New York tough. So it's a little bit close to terrifying to think of starting over.

That's a bad reason to stay in any relationship, though.

As an agent, don't you find that you've got to have a certain amount of passion for a manuscript before you decide to move forward with it? Something that grabs you; moves you; something you can "share the vision" with the writer?

Anyway, that's another big thing that's missing here.

Thanks for your advice; thanks for actually responding. If anything, you have begun to reestablish my faith that there really are people in the industry who take the time to answer.

Miss Snark said...

Yes you have to have passion for a work. That said, I've sold things I thought were losers for sure. By this I mean I sold them on the 30th editor call. It's HARD to keep enthusiasm up when you get a lot of rejection.

For every rejection letter an author gets, I get 26. I've NEVER sold a novel on the first call I've made. I used to chalk this up to youth and inexperience but than I heard Philip Spitzer who is neither a youth nor inexperienced say he'd never sold a novel to the first person he'd pitched either.

An agent who isn't returning your calls and isn't selling your work is NOT agenting you. He's holding your work. Agenting means both he sends your work out and he answers your call. He's not the fucking Queen of England and you aren't Oliver Twist.

Let him/her/it know. Tell him Miss Snark said so.
And if he wants to duel..well, ok, inkjets at 20 paces.

Rachel said...

Miss Snark,

Thank you, thank you for the insight into your world... I am still on the Q list, but an agent is currently reading my ms (first one to bite!). I have to say, I was quite impressed with his speedy response requesting it. I had emailed him (his pref. method of contact) on a Sunday evening, and I had an acceptance by Monday evening, and again when I emailed to ask for a timeline, I received a speedy response -- by the end of the day.

I'm with you on the importance of returning clients' calls and emails, but when that kind of response happens for a measly Q-lister like myself, I'm doubly pleased. Even if I don't make it to the C list this time, I'll be singing praises for this agency for a while.

Anonymous said...

Dear Miss Snark,

You wrote, "An agent who isn't returning your calls and isn't selling your work is NOT agenting you."

That is probably what I needed to hear. That, and your Queen of England comment (my husband particularly enjoyed that one).

So, methinks it's time to cut the ties.

I am terrified. I mean -- starting over? Who wants to do that? Yet it's been said (and I'm finally listening) that a bad agent is worse than no agent at all.

So, you're an agent. Tell me -- what is the best and most delicate way to say "bye-bye?" And to make this more interesting -- there is no "30 day termination" clause in my contract. Nada.

Why am I so terrified? I'm striving for emotional intelligence as I press on here; thanks again for your insight.

Miss Snark said...

ah yes, the contract that forgets to mention it might not last forever.

You REALLY need a lawyer on this. It's $350 an hour but it's going to be worth it if someone else sells your work.

That said, even without a 30 day term clause, slavery is illegal in these United States and you can end a contract with notice. 30 day term clauses are just spelling out how that notice takes effect.

Note to all snarklings: do NOT sign a representation offer that doesn't spell out how you will part amicably if either of you so choose.

A polite letter with JUST THE FACTS (no histrionics about his failure to be human etc). A date of termination. That should cover it. You don't need to give a reason. Resist all temptation to sugarcoat this. It's a business deal, not a divorce.

For good info consult Kirsch's book on Publishing Law available in the writing reference section of any bookstore.

Or, National Writers Union.

Or, Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts.

Keep us posted on your progress.

Anonymous said...

Dear Miss Snark,

Thank you. That you would take the time to mentor an anonymous snarkling is -- well, it's beyond words. You've got a tangible passion for this business, and for the people striving to entangle themselves in it.

My "termination clause-less" contract has been faxed to my lawyer, who I hope will have a response today. Fortunately I don't live in NYC, so he won't cost me $350/hr.

I won't be querying you, since you don't represent my genre, but I surely do hope that I find an agent with the passion, dedication, feistiness, and chutzpa that you've got, Miss Snark.

Amie Stuart said...

Dear Anon...been there done that and for ALL the same reasons you cited. It's tough and it sucks a huge big ugly one to start over like that, but in the end you'll feel so much better.

Anonymous said...

Thank you cece -- your words have given me a huge boost for today!! Still waiting to hear from my lawyer. I think my life is going to move in slow motion until this is over.