Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I Get Paid to Pester

Not too long ago Moonrat did a post on waiting to hear back from your agent on submissions. In her post she asked any agents who might be reading to jump in and give their own advice or opinions. Of course I did. But the post also got me thinking about this particular situation.

The reader in question asked Moonrat how she should handle an agent who doesn’t seem to be nagging editors the way her agented friends claim he should be. The original letter to Moonrat can be found here. In this case the project had been on submission for roughly three months with only one response. And as far as I’m concerned that’s at least five responses too few. After three months, in my opinion, you should have heard back from all but one or two editors. I think Moonrat’s advice was spot-on. She suggests first a gentle nudge and later a polite phone conversation. Very civil of you, Moonrat. Well done. The unfortunate part of this is that it’s not an easy situation for an author to handle. How do you confront your agent and question her business practices, which is essentially what you’re doing? This is just one of the many reasons why it’s so important to have an agent you feel you can really communicate with and an agent you trust.

A huge part of my job is to be a pest. I nag editors for answers to submissions, for contracts, for checks. . . . I hound them for better covers, more publicity, and a stronger contract. In other words, I should have been someone’s little sister, because like a little sister I don’t leave those editors alone. When you're first talking to a potential agent I think it’s very fair to ask what their expectations are for the sale of your book. Not necessarily how much money you’ll make, but how quickly they think it might sell and how they usually approach the selling process. How many submissions do they send out at once? At what point do they start following up with editors, and at what point do they just give up with editors? I also think it’s worthwhile to ask what their relationship is like with editors or at certain houses. I know for a fact that I get very quick reads with a number of editors only because we have the same sensibility and they want to get a jump on any project I send over. I also know there are editors who don’t or won’t read anything until they’ve been nagged, and then there are those who don’t bother reading anything until you have an offer in hand. I know who they are, though, and I use all of that to my advantage.

Most important, though, I think you need to know how you’ll handle a situation like this, and there’s no easy answer. In my case all it takes is a simple phone call from a client checking on the status herself. Usually I follow up every few weeks with editors, but those phone calls always spur me to check my list and make sure it’s only been a few weeks since I last followed up. Each agent is different, though. Some don’t like to be reminded to do their jobs and will need to be handled more carefully, while others need more than a subtle hint and could probably use a cattle prod. I guess the bigger question here is how do you feel about that agent? Is she someone you still feel you can trust to handle your work, and her response to your prod might give you that answer. Remember, the agent works for you and there is absolutely no harm in calling your agent and asking point-blank if she would check with editors because you’re getting antsy. Don’t be afraid to be direct. What’s the worst thing that can happen? The agent gets mad at you and I suppose she could fire you, but in all honesty if she fires you over something like this she has lost interest in your work anyway.

Good luck! I’m off to bug a few editors.



Mark Terry said...

A timely and useful post. Thanks.

Aimless Writer said...

Thank God for agents.

Kate Douglas said...

I think a lot of it comes down to respect--I respect the fact my agent has a heavy load and I'm not the only egg in her carton, but I also expect her to respect my general writerly neurosis and keep me notified of the entire process. So far I've been more than satisfied on all counts--and I never hesitate to call and touch base. This is, after all, my career.

Jeannie Ruesch said...

Speaking as a little sister who was quite effective in nagging and bugging her older brother, I appreciate the skills required in your job. So, I'll just echo Aimless writer's post: Thank God for agents.

I would definitely not want to spend the rest of my life nagging people like I did my poor brother. Although I can't imagine they would lock me in the closet when I annoyed them. (Yes, I deserved it.)

Anonymous said...

I read with interest your time frame for bugging editors. I recently parted ways (amicably) with my agent as she indicated she was moving away from representing fiction to non-fiction as it was 'an easier sell.' My fiction book was with a publisher for six months and still no word. When I questioned my agent regarding the slowness, she shrugged it off by saying 'they are notoriously slow in responding.' I think glacial is a better description. It is comforting to now know the norm as I had no measuring stick by which to judge. Now I do. Thank you for that.

spyscribbler said...

I hate having to pester, LOL. Amen to what Aimless said.

I find it uncomfortable to ask for something from my epub, but at the end of the day, I'm the one who has the most interest in my career, who needs my career the most.

I have to be aware of every part of the process, not just the words between the covers. And I've been trying to ask more, to understand why we do something and make sure its best for my book, and ask for help when help will make it a better product.

It's uncomfortable for me, but how can you not? If writing is important to you, how can you leave your career in the hands of someone you can't talk to? How can you just sit back and wait, unless sitting back and waiting is a calculated, informed decision?

I just think that we each need to be our number one advocate for our career. We have to learn to be diplomatic and how to ask, but we can't just leave our careers helplessly in the hands of others.

If we're lucky enough to find certain "team" members who we trust, who we discover can and will do certain parts of that better than us, then thank God and kiss their feet, more time for writing.

moonrat said...

I really appreciated your input at the time AND again here.

I, for one, need the nag :) It doesn't make a lot of sense for me to spend time telling agents to nag me, since I spend so much of my time ducking from the agents who do nag me (please? just one more week?). But I really do feel bad for authors whose agents opt for the throw-it-at-the-wall-
and-see-if-it-sticks philosophy.

Your authors are, again, very lucky to have you!

This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie Weathers said...

I dislike pestering people.

Another vote for thank heavens for agents.

When I get an agent, I really hope it will be one who just keeps me posted on what's going on so I don't have to bug them. Drop me an e-mail periodically or call and I am happy. Still nervous, but happy.

Anonymous said...

I'm an older sister, so pestering is not me. Definitely not a skill I've developed or choose to.

I once heard an editor say she responds fastest to the scary agents -- but she declined to identify who they are. I have to admit to some curiosity. Also, would an agent who scares editors also scare her clients?

Heather B. Moore said...

I was just thinking how grateful I am for email. If I had to call an agent or editor to check in every time, I'd be a wreck.