Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Why Requested Material Never Shows

You would be surprised how often I request material—either a full or a partial—and how often it never comes. In fact, you would probably be equally surprised at how often I donate critiques and never have to do the work.

So what happens that I never see the submission? Of course, I have a few theories, but would love to hear yours as well:

  1. The author doesn’t have a book. Writing a query letter is easy, and sometimes and author will write one (especially in nonfiction) just to see if anyone would be interested in her book. When it comes to actually writing the proposal though (and I’m just talking a proposal) the work is a lot harder than she ever envisioned and she never gets it done.
  2. Cold feet. For years an author has dreamed of getting published, but when it gets to the point that you have a publishing professional who is actually interested in your work, panic ensues.
  3. A faster agent. The author signed with someone else before even getting the package together to send to me.
  4. Exclusives. If the author got multiple requests and one was an exclusive, she may have granted the exclusive and I’m going to have to wait my turn—and wait for her to receive a rejection.
  5. The author just plain didn’t like me. While I thought we clicked, there was something about our meeting that didn’t sit right with her and she doesn’t feel I’m the agent for her and her work.



Virginia Miss said...

Sorry, I can't help you here. I'm one of the thousands of unpubbed-but-aspiring writers just desperate for an agent, so I simply can't imagine treating one like that.

Your list looks reasonable though.

Anonymous said...

Another reason is that between your request and the original query, the author has received feedback and perhaps requests for resubmits from other agents. A manuscript that was done is now undone, the author frantically rewriting and restructuring, unwilling to send it out until the feedback's been incorporated.

Sometimes agents respond to queries months later. Perhaps, the beginning is rewritten and can go out, but when the request for the full comes in, it's not complete yet.

L. Faye Hughes said...


Great post, as always. How about the writer never received your response? Emails get lost; so do regular letters.


Jennette said...

I once got a request during a group appointment with an agent, but didn't send the material after hearing his comments to an author who pitched after me. The concerns he expressed about her work fit mine as well, so I saw no point in wasting his time.

In other cases, an author may think the work is ready when s/he queries or pitches, but after getting the request and reviewing the ms again, realizes it's not ready - and won't be within a reasonable amount of time.

B.J. said...

Did you follow up with the author and ask? I know in the publishing game the agent is often king or queen but sometimes the dear peasant author may be surprised to hear that it wasn't received as well.

I notice that all of your theory place the author as a culprit and not one suggested he/she the victim of misfortunate. It does happen.

P. M. B. said...

I love you blog. This particular topic I read with great interest because one of your agents came highly recommended to me and when I queried she was willing to take a look. I was so honored and so excited.

I'm an establshed writer with several books published who was making the tough transition to a new agent so that he/she could follow up with interested editors.

So I with enthusiasm I submitted to and waited patiently as we writers know all too well to do. This only to find out many weeks later that my proposals had not been received. To this day I don't know why.

With how difficult it is to get an agent, especially one highly recommended as yours was, it would seem to me--a writer in search--so stupid for a writer to waste time with a query unless ready and definitely interested. We can only be flattered when an agent or editor is willing to read what we've written.

Also, I read your blog faithfully. Many of us writers do. So thank you for doing what you do. We appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

I think the amount of conflicting advice out there must be taken into consideration. I've heard that you should NEVER submit until you have a completed ms. But I've also been told by a number of very well-known authors that you should NEVER wait until you have a completed ms to submit because the submission process supposedly takes forever.

In my own experience, I submitted before completion because I thought the person who told me to do it knew a heck of a lot more about the business than I did, and wouldn't you know it, I got a letter in two weeks from an editor who wanted to see a full ms ASAP. It took me three months to send it to her because the book wasn't finished.

I learned the hard way that I shouldn't have taken advice (no matter where it came from) without doing my homework. I'm sure there are many others out there like me who haven't yet learned that lesson. Your author may not have been stupid or afraid. She may have merely listened to bad advice.

L. Faye Hughes said...

And aliens.

Yeah. You can't discount the aliens theory.

Faye, who is having way too much fun today for someone who's only drinking Diet Coke

Dwight The Troubled Teen said...

Speaking as an insecure writer-type who has enjoyed more than one irrational instance of "Oh, I wonder if my partial made it there or got lost in the mail. I know that I'm not supposed to act needy and contact the Agent, but shouldn't somebody have gotten back to me by now?"...

Thank you. Thank you for scaring the bejeezus out of me. I'll never mail another partial without enclosing a receipt return post card.

Dee said...

I found this post quite interesting too. It makes me want to follow up more agressively to make sure things haven't been lost in the shuffle even after delivery confirmation.

Publishing is like a strategic game of craps it seems, which is impossible to theorize. You can try to angle your die but ultimately it's all about luck. I've heard that for nonfiction the deal is made based on what WILL be written whereas for fiction the deal is made on what HAS been written. I've also heard of editors buying fiction based on a proposal but wanting to read the story told from a completely different point of view. In that case it would have been terrifying to have the entire novel written.

Interesting. Ham and cheese for thought!


anonyme said...

Hmm - well, I think sometimes it's just as simple as life interfering - maybe the person has to move house, or gets married, or a parent dies. I remember years ago an agent requested a partial but I was in the middle of writing my thesis and had to go abroad to do some research - it was months before I could get back into the pursuing publication mode and by then I felt I'd wasted so much time that if I sent it to her she'd think this was the way I'd be as a client so I just never sent it.

I know now a polite query about her continued interest might have been the way to go but back then I was young and green and quivering.

BookEnds, LLC said...

Some great feedback and food for thought for me too. I've done some thinking on what many of you have said and I think that for one I need to keep better track of fulls and partials I request. When done at a conference or even via email I often don't keep or can't easily access the author's contact information. There have also been many times when I have contacted an author to find out if the material is still available since it's been so long since I've heard. Sometimes I have gotten to see it and other times I've heard nothing in return.

And never be afraid to follow-up on your material. It amazes me sometimes when I find something that's clearly been here too long, or a letter comes back for some reason or another, that the author never seems to touch base to find out what happened.

p.m.b. I don't know if I'm the agent who never received your material, but I can tell you that it happens a lot--too often. Who knows if it's the postal service, our office, or just a fluke. But you're proof that it never hurts to follow up.


Anonymous said...

Jessica, I just had a full read request and mailed about a week ago. I did the delivery confirmation. Will I seem anxious if I drop the agent an email and say "Just wondering if you received." I don't want to wait two months to hear only to find out it was "lost in the shuffle." I'd like to have peace of mind while I wait.

Shelly said...

I have an idea!

Wouldn't it be cool if agencies placed a tracking board on their website where authors could go online and see either "received" "reading" "in process of responding" next to their initials? Then we wouldn't have to bother you with annoying, "Hi did you get it yet" and "Hi just wondering if you've read it yet" emails or phone calls.

I think agents should say offer a "will wait" clause when requesting after a query. "Okay, send. We will wait thirty days to receive." That way the author will wait to query unless they are able to send in the next thirty days.

I don't know. Just random thoughts. Interesting thread here.

Sariah S. Wilson said...

While I think there are all sorts of possibilities and reasons why a partial or full never materializes (like those listed above), if I had to vote on what happens, I think I'd go with the first thing on Jessica's list. I think people probably submit queries and pitch stories that they haven't written yet. I've heard too many writers confess to doing so. It's probably this mentality that you've got this great idea, you pitch it at a conference (or send in a query), the editor wants you to send a full, and the writer thinks no problem, they'll get it done in a few months (without telling the editor/agent that because they've pitched as if the story is already finished) and then they lose interest or aren't able to write the story as quickly as they'd hoped and the project gets abandoned.

Kate said...

I can't imagine nor do I know any writers who would ask to have an agent read something that they haven't even written. And then hurry up and try to compose if they agree to look at it. I'm scratching my head. Writers who are serious, professional, and/or seasoned in any small way have to know that you are not supposed to ask an agent to read something UNLESS you have something for them to read. I find it very interesting (and bizarre) that writers are doing so. Seems very unproductive.

Kathleen Irene Paterka said...

I am one of those shaking in my size 10 shoes that my requsted partial manuscript wasn't received by your agency ... sent it via UPS, as I like to "track" on their web site and you can tell who signed for it. BUT, in this case, UPS delivery confirmation only said "Porch".

So I worry and I ponder. Did it fall off your porch? Did it slip under your door mat? Is it covered with snow? (In New Jersey? In September? Come on, Kathleen, get real!) So I wait, and I wait, and I figure that after the "correct" period of time (whatever that maybe - just one more thing to stew about), I will screw up all my courage and write a follow-up letter (or email) to check and see if the partial actually was received.

P.S. As for your statement that perhaps the author " ... just plain didn't like me ... ", I can only say - WHAT? I found you to be extremely polished and polite, a true professional in every sense of the word. Who couldn't like that?

My take: The author did not have the full manuscript ready to go.

P.S. I also agree with P.M.B. Thank you very much for blogging every day. Some of us DO read the entries faithfully, and the information is often extremely enlightening.

Cindy Procter-King said...

I confess to the last with one of my agent appointments in the last year or so. Though not with you, Jessica! :) I met with the agent, she didn't appear to have one good thing to say about my story, I didn't feel like we connected at all, and then she requested a partial. I knew from that meeting that no way would I want her for my agent--I didn't care who else she represented. I've been through one poor match, and I have to be super certain about my next agent before I sign with him/her.

IMO, the agent appointment isn't just for the agent to decide if she/he wants to see the work, but for the author to decide if he/she wants to work with that agent. I don't see the point in submitting something when I already know from the meeting that I'm not interested. It's a waste of time for both agent and writer.


Anonymous said...

I have a question that you might address in a future blog. If an agent turns down a partial or a full manuscript with a standard rejection letter, can you query them again on future projects or is that door closed since they turned you down once?

Anonymous said...

I hate to admit it, but I've done exactly what you describe in #2. At the time I always had a reason to not follow up (I wanted to rewrite, I wanted to research more about the agency, and I always figured they'd never notice because they get so many proposals), but in hindsight it was just panic. Sometimes rejection is easier to take than acceptance.

Wanna Bee said...

Great twist Cindy. You gave me even more to think about. Hot topic.

Anonymous said...

So, what is your response time? You (that is, Jacky) requested a partial from me back in June and I haven't heard back. As it was sent from the UK I'm wondering if it ever arrived!

jolinn said...

I think anonymous hit it on the head. Sometimes, you just know it can be better,and a minor revision that looks like NOTHING on the surface can turn into a pivotal plot point where you have to go in aqnd fix it, everything that comes into contact with it, and before you know it, it's three weeks of one hour nights and there's still work and family.

Then again--a thought?

Fulls are expensive. Sometimes people just run out of money for ink and paper and postage and have to wait for their bi-monthly check. It kind of s*cks.

BookEnds, LLC said...

Always feel free to check in with an agent to see if it's arrived. It can't hurt. Just make sure you keep the email short and sweet, but include all important information: when it was sent, who to, the title and, if possible, a brief description or even the plot description because sometimes that rings a bell faster than the rest.

I like the tracking idea on the Web site a lot. I have a few concerns about it though. It certainly opens you writers up to a lack of privacy. People could use it to track who you're submitting to. To make it truly effective we would also have to post who was rejected and I would hate to do that. I suspect there are also things that would happen that I haven't considered.

I will try to address resubmissions in another post.

Annie Dean said...

I sent a requested partial to Jessica and never heard from her. Then when I signed with someone else, a little while later, I wrote an e-mail to let her know my material was no longer available. That was when I found out she'd never received the submission package. So "lost in the mail" does happen.

Anonymous said...

You can always buy the additional 90 cents tracker for first class mail. (US Postal Service Delivery Confirmation Receipt.)

No one has to sign for it and you can track it online and see when it was received by the local PO service, when it was shipped out, if it is in transit, when it was received by the arrival post office and when it was delivered. It's the best way to assure a package was received.

I use it for autographed books I send to prize winners and anything else I want confirmation of receipt. Before using this service I had prizes lost in the mail. Great service and not too pricey.