Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Pulling from Consideration

Admittedly I take too long to get through my submissions. In my defense, I do read them all myself and am busy doing other things. Trust me, I don’t have time to play literati or surf for the best deal on new shoes. I spend seven days a week working in some capacity, so if I’m taking too long to read it’s simply because my Sunday was booked. Whatever the excuse, though, I do apologize to everyone who has been waiting too long (and 10-12 weeks as posted on our Web site is already too long). I wish there was an easy way to read faster, but short of not reading submissions at all or simply not accepting them, I don’t see an alternative.

Despite how long it takes for agents to get back to an author, one thing continues to confound me, and that is the author who pulls her work from consideration when, to the best of my knowledge, she hasn’t made extensive revisions or found another agent. And this does happen at least once a month.

Why would you do that? It really confounds me. Now, it seems to me that usually when an author pulls her work from submission she’s doing so out of anger, as if she’s taking revenge on me for my long reading time. In all honesty, it only clears up my calendar to read other things. So while I do feel bad that the author is angry at me, and that I take so long, I’m always a little relieved that I have one less thing to stress about.

Sorry, I digress. This isn’t supposed to be about me. Back to how it benefits an author to pull a work. Most agents know and admit that we take longer than we’d like to get to submissions, but you never know how the market will change or what will happen from the time your work is submitted to the time an agent finally gets to it. And, most important, you never know what is going on within the agency. I don’t know how many times I’ve read something and sat on it, for weeks and sometimes months. There’s something there, but I just can’t pick it out. Obviously this could go both ways, but there have been times when I talk to an editor who is, strangely, looking for just the thing I’ve been sitting on. Voila! The market has changed and suddenly, this work that has stumped me, is suddenly hot.

So what’s my advice? Unless said agent has an exclusive, leave it there. Keep all of your options open. I have, in fact, asked to see an entire manuscript for work that’s been sitting in my pile for well over four months. You just never know.

—Jessica

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow. Now that's one I really can't understand at all. I think you may be right about it being an act of anger. A way to say, "Since you haven't read my submission as quickly as I'd like, I'm pulling it. So there!" Immature, but the only motivation I can think of for doing something like that.

Anonymous said...

Or maybe their situation has changed. Maybe they do have interest from someone else and just didn't mention it. This is a business, perhaps they made a business decision.

Agents who don't honor their slush leadtimes tend to get taken off of my sub list. It's one thing to state a long leadtime and honor it, another to exceed it and exceed it and exceed it. I would wait four months for my dream agent but not if they'd told me eight weeks.

Perhaps it's because I have a very demanding day job and am held to a very high professional standard, but I want to work with people who are efficient and professional. If I can handle my workload and find time to post comments like this plus write in my free time, why can't other people manage their lives and work?

Working Too Hard

L. Faye Hughes said...

Oooh, another great topic!

One thing I've learned over the years – I published my first novel in 1993 – is that publishing operates at two speeds: Too Damn Slow and Too Damn Fast. *s*

I recently concluded a hunt for a new agent. A few weeks ago, I received an offer of representation (from an agent I absolutely love!) and had to contact the other agents who still had partials. Jessica was one of those agents.

She was amazing, people. She read the first 240 pages of my WIP in a matter of hours and got back to me with her answer by the end of the day. Personally, I don't care how long it takes for an agent to read her slush pile. What counts - to me, anyway - is that she moves fast when she has to move fast. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Jessica and BookEnds to any of my friends.

Faye, who is not a BookEnds client but still loves this blog

Michele Lee said...

See, I don't get that at all. An agent's priority is with contracted works and authors. Slushing is needed, but not the firsdt thing on the to do list. I just got into a huge arguement at Absolute Write with a person who felt that since an agent didn't get to her requested mss within two months the agent was a fraud, stealing her ideas. Two months? And a requested full is still slush as far as I know. Client mss still come first. I just don't get it. Things happen, people have other things to do. Response times aren't a deadline, they're a loose idea. I guess people who get upset and pull their mss after the response time is up just make it easier for those of us with patience.

Jaye Wells said...

Do you think some of these people are misguided and hope that when they withdraw you will beg them to sign with you?

Kim Lionetti said...

These last two blog entries and the responses we've received has really been enlightening for me, too. I must admit that when it comes to late response times, I'm probably the worst offender at BookEnds. Ever since I went on maternity leave last year, I've found it impossible to catch up again to a respectable response time. Unlike the other agents, I've resisted the form reject. I'm so guilt-ridden by the piles of submissions I've had for so long, that I feel I owe it to those people to send a personal letter. However, after reading your comments, I see now that I'd probably be serving those writers better if I just went ahead and sent the form rejects, rather than hold on to them a while longer until I can compose my letters.

If you're one of the people still waiting to hear from me, I sincerely apologize. Hopefully with these changes, I'll be able to make more efficient use of my time and get an answer to you soon.

Thanks for the wake-up call!

Anonymous said...

This agency doesn't request an exclusive submission, unlike others that want exclusives even on queries, and then don't respond for months, if ever. So you could always submit somewhere else if you're tired of waiting. As long as I know they received the submission, and they did, I'm sticking it out, especially if it's an agency I really want to work with.

Anonymous said...

First let me clarify, I have nothing in Bookends' slush. So I have no stake in this discussion and my observations were not personal.

However, the fact remains, I run a multi-million dollar product segment with a small staff (I suspect I'm handling a larger business than most agents). Most days I don't have time to pee let alone eat lunch. I get behind. I get backlogged, but I catch up, usually within days. I meet most of my deadlines and if I don't I have a darn good reason why.

I streamline processes, change systems, and make things work efficiently. Not just because time is money, but a half-as$ed system is a huge pain in the as$.

Any good business person, no matter their industry, does the same because efficiency hits the bottom line, even in art. Plus, inefficiency is a ton of work that leads to lost time, lack of communication, and poor results overall.

Sure, agents have obligations to their existing clients. Sure, people get behind. But having dealt with several agents now, I know there are agents out there who take care of their clients _and_ their slush. These are the agents that impress me. These are the agents with whom I want to work, because they pay attention to the details and display the ability to be proactive managers.

It's what people do when it doesn't count that matters. Someone who pays attention to slush knowing 99% of is going to be a pass, who honors their word...this is someone who earns my respect.

Working too hard

Anonymous said...

Kim:

I hear you. You are probably not going to dig yourself out with such a big backlog. You may be able to go back to personal letters once you are caught up, but you have to get caught up first.

If it were me, I would take whatever help I could in getting current (form letters, slush readers) and then reassess.

Good luck.

Working too hard

Linda Adams said...

Some of this "I want it done now" mentality may come from the immediacy the Internet has given people. Too often, I see people saying things like, "It's been a week, and I haven't heard from the agent. Should I contact them?" They just don't seem to have the concept that they are one of many, many people submitting.

Virginia Miss said...

I can't understand why an author who hasn't signed with another agent wants to pull her work for consideration, unless someone else has asked for an exclusive.

Since publishing's business model is unlike most other industries (except maybe the performing arts) in having an overabundance of eager suppliers, authors need to develop patience.

When authors pull their work or nag the agents for status updates out of impatience it annoys them. These days, fewer and fewer agents are willing to consider unsolicited queries. Why piss them off?

Anonymous said...

Agents, who are in the BUSINESS of representing writers, are often too busy to read it seems. And that's always been very weird to me.

Ever consider just having readers to filter at least? It's really unfair how long it takes for an agent reads when nine times out of ten it's going to be a pass. Put yourself in the authors

Anonymous said...

...shoes. I think it's silly to pull out without ANY valid reason but it is also a very stressful thing waiting months just to know whether or not to move on which more than likely you end up doing.

I'm not bitter (smile).

Y said...

Hi Jessica!

I've been lurking for a while and thought it was time to say HI! :)

I can't understand why someone would withdraw from consideration if they didn't get another agent, either. I'm one of those waiting patiently for a response on a partial I've got with you and would never think to pull out with no real valid reason.

I'm very much looking forward to your answer, but at the same time am very aware of how swamped you are with clients, proposals and queries.

Have a GREAT day!

Anonymous said...

But how long is too long?

I waited more than two years and finally pulled my submissions from a well-known agent who kept expressing interest but not actually reading my manuscripts. Every six months, I contacted the agent with a polite note saying that if the project wasn't right for him I'd certainly understand, but I wanted to know whether I should start looking elsewhere or not.

The agent would respond with a frantic email begging for more time, but when the next six months rolled around, he hadn't yet looked at my manuscripts.

Finally, when I had found a publisher on my own for one of the manuscripts, I politely withdrew both of my submissions.

By that point, even if the agent had wanted to sign me on, I wouldn't have wanted to be represented by him. In my opinion, two years is too long to drag a potential client along. A rejection would have at least allowed me to move forward.

I understand that agents are busy and cannot always meet promised response times. Writers must be patient and professional. Ultimately, however, agents and writers are in a business relationship, and I don't believe writers must wait interminably like puppies for their masters. Agents may be in the power of position, but it's still a professional-to-professional relationship.

Bren MacDibble said...

Four months! That's luxury, that is! Getting replies within four months is a dream!

I just got offered a contract after two and a half years. The ms has been with another publisher for the last 10 months. I'm waiting till I see the contract before I pull it... imagine getting two contracts to choose from? Nah... never happen.

Three other things a publisher "has an interest in" will be with them two years come October. And this is a publisher who knows me and has published me three times before. Definitely a puppy/master scenario. :( But everyone luurves their style and they sell so well... I think I'll pant puppylike for another six months.

I don't have an agent because I figure no agent wants a percentage of what I make. Perhaps the slush piles are longer this way and self-promotion totally reeks so I'm less inclined to put in the effort or expect outcomes.

If an agent can do in four months what takes me two and a half years... I'd be pleased.

Isn't it hard to get an agent and therefore hard to switch agencies? Might they be left with no agent and have to suffer those slow slush piles?

anonymous2 said...

"Ultimately, however, agents and writers are in a business relationship, and I don't believe writers must wait interminably like puppies for their masters."


WELL SAID ANONYMOUS!!!!!!!! Yes.

Kim Lionetti said...

Wow. Two years is definitely too long, especially if the agent is expecting exclusivity. (Suddenly I'm feeling much better about my own response time.)

As we've mentioned in the past, BookEnds never asks for exclusives. We know that the publishing industry can be frustratingly slow, so we don't think it's fair to ask an author to put everything on hold while we make up our minds.

Still, there are some very reputable agents who do ask for exclusivity. If one of your dream agents asks for an exclusive, do yourself a favor and make sure the terms are reasonable. Set a definitive end date for the exclusivity. I'd recommend no longer than six weeks.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps a writer might pull their manuscript out of anger. It could also be a business decision on their part. Agents often seem to forget that not all writers are naive about their interests and responsibilities, and not all writers feel desperate to accept whatever offer comes their way.

There are times when a writer might decide an agent simply isn't willing or isn't capable of representing them adequately. Maybe the agent is shopping for shoes, or maybe the agent has too large a workload with too little help. It's unfortunate, but a writer should take this into account. You wouldn't partner up with a publicist or another publishing partner who demonstrated they are unable to respond in a timely manner would you? At some point this becomes unproductive and maybe even unprofessional, and again it's something to take into account when selecting an agent for representation.

(Note: I'm not referring to you or your agency personally. It's just that your comments are echoed in many other agent blogs.)

Before I submitted queries I did plenty of research, and yes some agents were nixed because they had a reputation for being untimely (this I found out from various writer forums and bulletin boards). It definitely wasn't the only factor I considered, but when other issues were lumped into the equation...well, it mattered to me.

I understand that agents first and foremost have an obligation to their current clients, and queries/MSs may not even come second. Agents have to be selective because the supply of manuscripts far outweighs the demand for agents. That doesn't mean all writers will put up with something that may affect their career.

elysabeth said...

I think someone once told me that a six month waiting time is long enough when querying an agent; of course if skipping the agent and going directly to publisher, I believe the wait time is longer - maybe up to a year - but could be even longer since the query was unsolicited and the slush piles on the editor's desks are probably ten times what an agent's are (only kidding - don't know actual figures but agents are the middle person from writer to publisher and a lot of authors feel that there is no need to get an agent and tend to go directly to submitting to the editors at major publishing houses -

I would seek an agent if I felt I were doing more than one book and then I would have to play the patient game. There are many agents out there that don't ask for exclusivity in the query process so my guess is that it would be safe to query several agents at the same time -- Hopefully when my friend gets to that point her books will be picked up rather quickly - so I keep my fingers crossed for her - and since it was about a 2 year process already for her to write, edit, revise, and rewrite, and edit before submitting - she knows now it is a waiting game - but she has worked in the industry before and knows these things - her books are really good and I can't wait to say I had given a helping hand in getting her to the point she will be at some day - E :)

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't take it personally if an author asks to pull his/her work.

I've pulled work before. It had nothing to do with the (in this case) editor. It had everything to do with the fact that I had only been writing for a few years and had learned a lot over the months that my work had been sitting. I wanted to submit something hugely improved.

Editors and agents tell writers to not take rejection too seriously. They need to remember their own advice!

Anonymous said...

If a waiter tells me my meal will be along in twenty minutes, he has an obligation to deliver the meal in twenty minutes. If I tell a student her essay will be returned in two weeks, I have an obligation to return it in two weeks. If an agent says she will respond to a submission in 2 days, or three weeks, or seven months . . .

When people don't do what they say they will do, they're irresponsible or unprofessional or both, and a writer who would prefer to work with someone who recognizes that simple principle has a good reason to end things with someone who does not.

Chumplet said...

When you take into consideration the amount of time it takes to actually produce a novel, deadlines mean nothing. Waiting for a response to a submission means nothing. Sometimes a quick response makes me think that the agent hadn't really considered carefully.

Taking a query, reading the full manuscript, sending it to publishers and waiting for offers can take a year, maybe two years or more. By the time the book is out in print, the author could have waited three years.

If an author spent one, two or three years crafting a novel, he or she should expect the same care from the person who will decide the future of that novel.

That being said, I work for a newspaper and we have four deadlines per week. Imagine the chaos when the pages are not delivered to the printing press on time. The edition gets bumped to a later hour, the drivers don't get the papers delivered to the outlets on time, and customers complain. Advertisers complain. Homeowners complain. Sometimes advertising accounts are cancelled. It's a tense situation.

Considering MY work environment, I should be as impatient as Working Too Hard, but I'm not. I'll wait for my dream agent to give my manuscript the attention it deserves.