2.28.2007

If you get your eyes checked you'll notice you're not the only person in the world

Dear Miss Snark,

Because of a book she sold on a related theme, I queried an agent at a large firm (by email, pursuant to the firm's guidelines). She quickly replied, asking for the manuscript of my novel. I sent it immediately. Six months went by and I no longer had any expectations of this agent other than, maybe, some useful explanation as to why my book "wasn't for her." I emailed to check the status of my submission. Nothing. Three more months went by. I emailed again. Nothing. And then yesterday (nine and a half months after I sent my manuscript), I received this letter, not in my SASE:

"Thank you for sending me material for XXX. Unfortunately, you have come to us at a time when we are inundated with requests for assistance and representation. The need to allocate our time effectively forces us to decline participation in many worthy projects, and I regret that must be the decision in the case of XXX as well. I do appreciate your thinking of us, and wish you the best of luck with your book."

I don't believe this agent read my manuscript, although that's beside the point. I think she's merely "closing the book" on our interaction, just as I was trying to do by my email status query. But I am outraged by this agent's behavior. She didn't have to ask for my manuscript; she didn't even have to reply to my original query. But she did, and then she sat on the book for 9 months. There's neither an explanation nor an apology for the delay, and I think she at least owes me that, if not more.

The question is: when an agent requests a full manuscript from a writer, what is her obligation?



A decision. That's it. No explanation required.
If you think you're entitled to more than that, please do us all a favor and self publish.

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

9 months? A few days ago a received a large envelope with my manuscript I sent to the agent three years ago....three years. The letter apologized for the delay. If an agent doesn't respond, doesn't even reply to your emails, then, by diggidy, move on.

Anonymous said...

You're allowed to query other people while you're waiting. She's not the only gopher on the prairies.

ORION said...

See my previous response re: SASE.
Be glad it wasn't a hammer.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I do think nine months is too long for a form rejection letter. Why did they bother to send it at all? There's got to be a workable system for these things, even for the over-swamped.

Whatever. You don't want this agent to represent you.

Liz Wolfe said...

I once got a form rejection letter a YEAR after the query. Please. Did they think I was even waiting at that point? I know some agents are swamped and I know thet queries are usually at the bottom of the list. So, what is considered a reasonable time frame for a query. I've been assuming an auto rejection after 3-4 months.

Anonymous said...

If an agent is too swamped to read a manuscript they've requested, you obviously don't want them to represent you. Run like the wind and find someone better.

Kit Whitfield said...

Let the outrage go. Odds are, it won't be the only rejection you get: just about everyone has to go through a lot of 'no's before getting a 'yes'. If you get angry enough to be writing letters every time things don't go your way, you'll just get an ulcer.

Yes, you had a frustrating time with this one. I sympathise. But it's just part of the game, and it does good to no one, and harm to you, to get outraged about it. Just tell yourself that you were unlucky with this one, and get back on the horse.

John B. said...

I would bet a hundred letters were sent out on the same day as yours. Somebody got way too behind and had to clear her desk. And away went the stack of manuscripts.

John B. said...

By the way, I'm still waiting to hear back from the Paris Review about a story I sent them. It's been two years. Do you think it's safe to send it someplace else?

Anonymous said...

You should be glad that the agent didn't accept you. That's not the type of character you want pushing your characters.

writtenwyrdd said...

To be fair, sometimes things get in the way and an agent who might be a good match has a massive pile up. Things like new babies, illness, a death in the family might cause a backlog in submissions while the agent deals with life events and just the existing clients and business.

It could happen. I've seen it happen to busy professionals in other fields.

But, speaking for my own interests, I wouldn't put this slowpoke to the top of my list for submissions, either.

The Home Office said...

Though I disagree with Miss Snark with eyes averted and with the most humble prostration of my unworthiness, I think nine months for a response is not a matter of being busy, it's a matter of being negligent. I agree with the other comments. You're better off without this clown.

I once had a small publishing house sit on a manuscript for which they had requested an exclusive for two years. I won't name them here, but my fantasy is to be published and sit on a panel of writers where I can steer fledgling authors away from them.

michaelgav said...

According to my notes, I sent my short story "Sparky and the Dipthong" to C. Michael Curtiss at The Atlantic Monthly on July 22, 1985 and still haven't heard back. I am starting to think these people are disorganized. I will give them another two months, then fire off the huffy letter I've been composing in my head since early '94.

Anonymous said...

As I read this letter, I see more than the author's final question, which is all Miss Snark answered.

I see an agent who read a promising query, quickly requested the full manuscript, then waited nine months to say, "...you have come to us at a time when we are inundated with requests for assistance and representation..." as if the writer sent the manuscript, unsolicited, at a bad time. But, in fact, it was sent only after the agent requested that the author send it.

That's what would bug me.

Anonymous said...

I hate it when agents reject fulls with a form. It's lazy, self-important, and derogatory, and it's a practice that has few (if any) parallels elsewhere in the business world.

Anonymous said...

At least there's closure.

Ellen said...

"To be fair, sometimes things get in the way and an agent who might be a good match has a massive pile up. Things like new babies, illness, a death in the family might cause a backlog in submissions while the agent deals with life events and just the existing clients and business."

Are you telling me agents are allowed to have private lives? The nerve!

Anonymous said...

To quote MS: "Exclusives suck."

And apparently, you gave this agent one without her even asking for it. I gotta wonder why you weren't sending your manuscript out to others during this time? The best thing that would have happened was you might have gotten more than one agent interested in your stuff.

And the worst thing? Nine months lost of valuable submission time. Egad...

Janny said...

Re:

I see an agent who read a promising query, quickly requested the full manuscript, then waited nine months to say, "...you have come to us at a time when we are inundated with requests for assistance and representation..." as if the writer sent the manuscript, unsolicited, at a bad time. But, in fact, it was sent only after the agent requested that the author send it.

Exactly. This is why I have to side with the writer. At least scribble a note on the bottom of the letter saying something to the effect of "I know I asked for this...sorry." Whether or not the writer was "sitting around" waiting for a response has nothing to do with it. The agent was excited enough about the material to ask for a full. What happened in the meantime?

This kind of thing has happened to me, and I attribute it to agents "eyes being bigger than their stomachs," so to speak. They get excited about LOTS of stuff and then all of a sudden...they've got LOTS of stuff to deal with and they're swamped. Like they couldn't see that coming?

That makes just another reason to cross this agent off the list. Not with anger or outrage, just considering oneself forewarned. Poor planning is poor planning, and this is a sign of bigger things wrong than whether an agent cares about someone's ego!

My take,
Janny

Heather said...

I'm amused that no one has entertained the idea that maybe, just maybe, the book sucked?

Maybe she did read it. And thought it so horrible beyond belief that it wasn't worth more than a form rejection letter.

Just a thought.

John B. said...

Quote: "I'm amused that no one has entertained the idea that maybe, just maybe, the book sucked?

"Maybe she did read it. And thought it so horrible beyond belief that it wasn't worth more than a form rejection letter."

It may very well have sucked. Who knows, but it doesn't take an agent nine months to figure out if something sucks. More like 2 paragraphs. I think that is what all the hullabaloo is about. For writers, the hardest part is the waiting. Well, and maybe the staring at a blank monitor... and public speaking sucks, too...

Anonymous said...

Regarding the idea that the book sucked and didn't "deserve" anything more than a form . . . I thought we weren't supposed to read into rejections unless they addressed specific issues with the book? Now we have to suppose that form=book sucks? I thought form=agent doesn't have time to deal with lowly author.

Ellen said...

"Maybe she did read it. And thought it so horrible beyond belief that it wasn't worth more than a form rejection letter."

Ouch.

See, this is why I don't invest the energy into trying to figure out what the agent was thinking. You're trying to read her mind, and that's impossible. While the agent's job is to sell the book, your job is to sell it to the agent. If it were any other "product," say a Kitchenaid Mixer, and your customer wanted a pink one and you only had a yellow one, that would be it. End of sale possibility. You wouldn't take it so personally. It wasn't what she wanted/needed for her pink kitchen. You wouldn't need an explanation as to why she wanted a pink kitchen rather than a yellow one.
Silly analogy, I know, but you get the idea. Don't stress it. Get over it.
To continue the sales analogy, you went to the agent. The agent didn't solicit you. When I get a no, I get out my list, and look over the query letter to tweak it again before I send it out.
I can't control what the person needs at the other end, but I can control what I do.

Craig Steffen said...

I thought we weren't supposed to read into rejections unless they addressed specific issues with the book? Now we have to suppose that form=book sucks? I thought form=agent doesn't have time to deal with lowly author.

I'm not a writer or anything related. However, from what I've read on this topic I'd guess one reasonable algorithm is:

Single form rejections are meaningless.

50 form rejections means that something is terribly wrong and you need to fix it.

Anonymous said...

Chances are if the book is that bad, you won't have 50 requests with which to garner 50 form rejections.

sister_clamp said...

I sympathize. Really I do. But it's all down to economics. If the supply outstrips demand then the gatekeepers will treat the supply however damnwell they please. As much as I've learned from Miss Snark, she is one of the gatekeepers and so I'm not surprised by her reply.
To everyone else who has said to query more widely, I agree. Best of luck! But I don't necessarily agree that you didn't want this agent in the first place. Chances are they were neglectful with the slush because they were too busy supporting the writers already on their books.
Whatever the case, join the rest of us as we slowly slog our way to Enlightenment & the NYTBL!

erin said...

Y'know, it sounds like this sort of thing is fairly standard and, fine, publishing is slow, agents don't rush to make sure authors they don't care about get a rejection in a timely manner.

You know what gets me about the rejection letters? The ones that are all about the agent. Like, "Dear Author - I, the agent, have deep regrets about rejecting you so callously, unfortunately I am very busy and given the fact that I get X number of queries and have so much other work to do, I just can't write a personal letter.

Be aware, however, that I, the agent, am full of tender feelings and sensitivity towards all the authors receiving this form letter and have great faith that someone else might be the right person for you."

I once got a rejection that was just my empty SASE with "No thanks" written on the back. I prefer that to these "me me me" letters written by agents. Once they've decided not to take an interest in me, I'm definitely not interested in how busy their day is or how deep down they're still a good person.

Anonymous said...

It happens (form or form email replies for fulls). And it happens a lot these days. When I first started querying, I got personal letters and phone calls. Now all are emails.

Emails are faster, instant gratification (like the less-frequent phone calls). But they can be so brief and impersonal that they are no better than form letters.

However, the agent blogs nowadays are showing me exactly why we're getting form letters/emails on full reads that were requested (in many cases with enthusiasm): when agents take the time to say "I liked this, didn't like that," they may feel they're opening the door to a two-way relationship they don't want, or encouraging a future stalker of America.

Or, this author (and I) might write fantastic queries... so good we get "if I represent you" in the request email... but our novels aren't quite as fabulous yet.

michaelgav said...

In Catch-22, Colonel Cathcart writes the following letter of condolence to the family of every man killed in action:

"Dear Mrs., Mr., Miss, or Mr. and Mrs.: Words cannot express the deep personal grief I experienced when your husband, son, father or brother was killed, wounded or reported missing in action."

I recently received a letter that began:

"Dear Author: We'd like to thank you for sending your query, which we enjoyed reading. We are sincerely sorry to say that after careful consideration, we just don't feel we are the right agents to represent your book."

The only thing I would have liked more was if they began, "Dear Novelist, Short-Story Writer, Poet or Memoirist."

Janet Black said...

None months for an entire novel is nothing. Pah! I submitted a SHORT STORY to a major magazine. They state their response time as six months. After ten months I queried and they replied, "Soon, very soon." Three weeks short of one year, I received a FORM REJECTION. Yeah, I'm pissed, but I'll live.

Anonymous said...

Many of these comments are ridiculous. The author said nothing about granting an exclusive and in fact is explicit in saying he/she had moved on long ago, only finally querying status in order to get to closure. Nine months is too long. This agent is a loser and he/she is better off with someone else.