5.23.2006

There's Glacial..and then there's agent response time.

Dear Miss Snark,

While rejection isn't a pleasant thing, I find it preferable to no reply.
When I don't hear from someone by the top end of their suggested wait time plus a little extra (if it says three months, I may wait four or five), I send a polite yet brief note containing key info needed to identify my work and ask if they can verify that nothing was lost.

This has happened with query letters as well as complete submissions. More often than not, I receive replies explaining the reason for delay or a resub request stating that something cannot be located. Sometimes the problem continues after the reply, or I receive no reply after repeated, though well-spaced, attempts atcontact.

I've even seen anthologies go to print while waiting for a reply.
I follow guidelines, so that is not a contributing factor to this ongoing problem. This has happened with both snailmail and email, so it can't simply be the work of rogue stamp collectors hunting down SASEs.

Is there a way to prevent or minimize these incidents? When dealing with these situations, at what point does it become appropriate and prudent to withdraw one's work and submit or query elsewhere?


Well, I'd get out my soapbox, wave my arms and screech about bad manners except I have about 25 unanswered two month old query letters (not partials! LETTERS!!!) on my desk right NOW.

Mostly these are sitting here cause they aren't auto rejects but that's not a uniform standard to apply to all agents across the board. A couple are sitting here cause they're people who've queried more than once and I'm trying to figure out how to say "stop" without sounding too cruel.

And then, there's this thing called 'what I get paid to do' which isn't query letters.



Stuff happens. We get behind, the paperwork is insane, it's really impossible to get off lists and stop queries when you don't want them, let alone manage the stuff that comes in when you do.

Ok, all my justifications are now in order.

Given people are sending SASEs and we're sending back form letters, it's not all that hard to stay up to date. It's fucking rude to not respond, and worse to not respond to a follow up.

I think part of the problem is that multiple submissions are now the norm, so no one really has the sense there are people waiting with bated breath on the other end of the SASE. I figure you're querying one gazillion of my colleagues despite that coy little line of "a few select agents".

And actually, you SHOULD be querying widely. Waiting around for Mr. Glacier and Miss Mesozoic to answer your queries isn't a good use of time.

If you don't hear back, don't write to withdraw a submission, just keep following up for a pretty long time (and when you get an agent THEN you send them a nice note saying "neener neener").

Don't burn your bridges till you're on the other side as Grandmother Snark told me more than once as she held a match to ignite the hatpin of death.

As to how to avoid this, not much beats the Puritan model of public shame: some clever beasts amongst you may want to start a blog wherein you keep track of who answers their query letters and how fast. That way you know if Miss Snark is a speed demon or a tortoise (or dead) and you can plan/plot accordingly.

Meanwhile, I better go answer those queries before you get that list developed or I'm gonna be turtle soup.

21 comments:

anonymous said...

A couple places where writers keep track of agent response times:

http://fmwriters.com/community/dc/dcboard.php?az=show_topics&forum=178 (forum registration required)

http://community.livejournal.com/agentturnaround/

amanda said...

Some enterprising souls over at Live Journal have created such a thing. There's a community called agentturnaround that tracks response times. The writers who started it are genre folks, but it doesn't mention listing only genre agents.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I'm past the point of frustration with this issue. If an agent's website says 4-6 months on an unrequested partial, I'll wait 9 months before I write them off on my excel worksheet. If they don't want partials, put it on the webpage--it isn't hard to do. Queries get double the expected timeframe before getting written off. If they don't want to do the crap work, then hire a high school kid for the summer to help clear the desk.
JMHO,
MAGOLLA

PS: Many buckets of Tanquery to the queen of Snark. And I tip my tam to the Killer YapMeister.

LauraT said...

This is totally off topic. ;O)... Thank you Miss Snark for getting back to me so fast. Does anyone here know if this:

http://misssnark.blogspot.com/2005/08/snarklings-brave-snarkometer-44.html

was ever published? I am very curious to read more of this story. I was having fun in the Snarkives and saw it.

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I met an agent at a conference, and she was "very excited" by my pitch etc blah blah. I sent her the requested material. Wait. Follow-up. She says she's busy. I wait and follow-up again. She says she's lost it, and can I resubmit it. I do, and in my heart I know I will not follow-up again and immediately enter it as rejected.

Three months later, she emails me out of the blue and asks if she ever read my material because she liked it so much. I give her dates and titles. She asks for it again. At this point I'm just doing it for the humor because I wouldn't sign anything with her. I resend her the stuff she asks for...and I never hear from her again.

This scenario started two years ago, and my last contact with her was a year ago. A friend of mine who pitched her at the same conference is still swapping emails with her every three months. I've encouraged my friend to let her go, but my friend also has no confidence.

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark said, "I think part of the problem is that multiple submissions are now the norm, so no one really has the sense there are people waiting with bated breath on the other end of the SASE."

I was told by several editors that multiple submissions were different manuscripts sent to the same editor, while simultaneous submissions were the same manuscript sent to different editors. Wrong?

M. G. Tarquini said...

I advise patience. If you query widely, refuse to grant exclusives, continue to improve the work or start something else while you wait, you won't notice that the mailbox or email account are overly silent.

I've had agents respond that I was ready to write off as non-responsive. The worst that will happen, if the agent interests you that much, is you'll resend the query after you've heard from everybody else.

Emails do get trapped in spam filters, queries do sift to the bottom of the mail bag. Consider the non-responses fair fodder for a fresh round of queries in the future. If you don't get a response on the second go around...mutter about that person under your breath and move on.

Life is short.

kis said...

There's also a site where they keep track of publisher response times, both book and magazine. If memory serves, it's called the Black Hole, but I think the "Swirling Vortex From Which There Is No Escape" has a more poetic feel.

In some cases, this isn't far from the truth. I think one guy waited 700-odd days for a rejection. Nice, especially when the stated response time was supposed to be something like five months.

Now,I don't mind waiting--even for two years--but I'd like to have an honest estimate of when to give up hope. It's ridiculous that a book can be agented, sold and even published, before a rejection from the first agent queried comes in.

AM said...

There is a good source for response times at

http://www.verlakay.com/boards/index.php?board=43.0

Because there are a number of agents who handle both adult and YA books (as well as authors who write both), some of the agents listed are of interest to more than just kidlitters.

Anonymous said...

If you query an agent and don't hear from him/her in a reasonable amount of time, is it then permissible to query another agent in the same agency? If so, should you mention that the other one has been non-responsive?

Jillian said...

A brief glance at my notes reveals that my "first round" of queries (yes, I keep records forever...) boasts no less than 8 non-responses. Not a postcard, not an email, not a scribbled "NO!" on the top of a returned query.

Silence.

And these were well researched agents in my genre with proven track records.

Disheartening? Yes. Rude? Abysmally. Common? Seems to be so.

Anonymous said...

"A couple are sitting here cause they're people who've queried more than once and I'm trying to figure out how to say "stop" without sounding too cruel."

How does a nitwit writer know, when a rejection is just for that particular project, and when it is a 'stop bugging me message'? (Obviously in Miss Snark's case, the writer would get a clue, from the delightful KY, but what about those ultra polite agents?)

Yours faithfully,
Hopeless Nitwit.

P.S. KY, may I offer you a squirl?

Richard said...

I actually had the experience of visiting the Mendenhall glacier last summer when I was in Alaska. The tour guide pointed to a large boulder sitting in the middle of the ice field. She said, "If you were to come back to this spot in a few weeks, that boulder would've moved about twenty yards closer to the sea." I realized we've been wrong all along to say that everything in the publising industry moves at a glacial pace. Glaciers move MUCH faster!

Kirsten said...

A brief glance at my notes reveals that my "first round" of queries (yes, I keep records forever...) boasts no less than 8 non-responses.

I just checked my notes, and out of 26 agents I queried in January and February for my completed novel, I also had 8 non-responses. These were all email queries.

kis said...

I once waited three months for a response, only to learn that the agent was recently deceased. A different member of the agency was kind enough to send me a rejection--I didn't expect anything else, since he was the only one there who repped my genre. I've always had a lingering feeling of guilt over that one, though of course my prose couldn't possibly have been responsible...

Mark said...

Well, glaciers are moving into oblivion really fast these days. Which happens to be the subject of my current recently completed novel. Onward up the valley.

jude calvert-toulmin said...

> I once waited three months for a response, only to learn that the agent was recently deceased.

Wow, kis, that's really sad.

> If you query an agent and don't hear from him/her in a reasonable amount of time, is it then permissible to query another agent in the same agency? If so, should you mention that the other one has been non-responsive?

That is a great question anonymous. Whilst I was still unjaded, unsullied, sweet and innocent, I queried the Wylie agency in London; unsure whether to address the query to one particular agent in the office, I ended up querying the general agency.

My main error though, was that at that point I hadn't researched how the industry works, and I was querying for an uncompleted MS. LOL! :)

Sometimes one's own foolishness can be the source of even more amusement than others' ;)

Tori Scott said...

I've only had one bad experience with a popular agent not getting back to me. She'd read my first two pages aloud at a conference workshop, liked them, and asked me then and there to submit a partial. I did. Six months later I'd still heard nothing, so I sent a follow up letter. Still nothing. I followed up by email, got a reply back that she didn't know where the partial was, the letter was probably buried somewhere unopened, so would I resubmit by email. I did, waited another four months, still nothing. Sent another follow up email, no reply. It's been 13 months since I first submitted that partial she'd been so enthusiastic about. I've written her off my list and moved on.

I'm a Golden Heart finalist, not a newbie who can't string two words together. I could understand being ignored if it was obvious I had no talent or wasn't serious. But writers do have feelings, we have a burning desire to sell our work, and all we ask is to be treated with at least a bit of respect for our efforts.

Jillian said...

kirsten,

I just checked my notes, and out of 26 agents I queried in January and February for my completed novel, I also had 8 non-responses. These were all email queries.

That's interesting. Mine were fairly evenly split between e-queries and regular snail mail. And I'm sure I missed a few -- I only glanced briefly at my papers.

Anonymous said...

interesting how once again you refuse to post my comment because it is critical of agents' manners!

Felixpuppy said...

I was referred to a literary agent by an editor at a major publishing house who liked my work. I sent my query to that agent well over a month ago and have gotten no response.

Since this is a bit more of a point query than a typical unsolicited one, would it be entirely proper for me to follow up already, even though it has only been 4-5 weeks?