Friday, June 06, 2008

The Art of Persistence

I received a question recently from a reader who was asking how persistent she should or needs to be when it comes to her queries. She had e-queried Agent X in late December and again on April 14th, but has yet to hear anything back. She assumes her query ended up in a spam filter or something similar since friends who have also queried the same agent have heard back. The question is when do you stop or when do you assume that no answer means no?

This is a trickier question than it should be. I would imagine many readers will simply tell you that no answer means no. However, if this is an agent who does reply to all queries (and not one who says that no reply means you’ve been rejected), then you would assume you would hear back. You would be amazed at how many e-queries get lost. If they make it out of our server’s spam filter they can often end up in our email program’s spam filter. While each of us do check those regularly, things can easily fall through the cracks, especially if a query is not marked “query” or “submission” in the subject line. And you might be amazed how often I respond to queries that for whatever reason don’t get through. Sometimes they are bounced back because of my server or yours, and sometimes I receive a notice that they are in your spam filter (which I hope you are all checking).

If you’re querying BookEnds and not receiving replies, I would suggest you try again and even follow up with a snail mail letter and SASE. In fact, earlier this year I received an e-query from an author telling me that in November she had e-queried and never received a reply so decided to try again. Guess what? Within two weeks' time or so that author became a client.

I can’t tell you anything specific about the agent mentioned above, but as long as you’re still willing to follow up within the time frame this agent suggests that she replies, go ahead and do so. Eventually you’ll hear back or decide yourself that enough is enough.

Persistence is great. I applaud and admire it, but don’t let it get in the way of what might ultimately be the right choice. While you think that Agent X is the perfect agent for you and are zealously pursuing her, don’t ignore other things that are going on. You might discover that, in fact, Agent Z, the agent you never considered, is in fact your dream agent.

Jessica

19 comments:

Mark Terry said...

I would be leery of saying, I'm going to bug Agent X until they respond to me.

But, in terms of persistence in writing and acquiring agents, I would change your mindset from quotas to results.

In other words, NOT:

I'm going to send out 10 queries, then 10 queries, then 10 queries, and if I don't have an agent, I'm going to quit.

I would start thinking: I'm going to send out queries until I get an agent.

Now, having said that, pay attention to the responses you're getting, because maybe you're not getting an agent because your writing isn't ready yet or this particular manuscript isn't strong enough for a market that's starting to look increasingly like a desert with very few oases.

Anonymous said...

I have a twist on this question:

Agent X asks for a full manuscript. You don't hear anything back for a few months, so you send a friendly follow-up. Agent X responds a week or two after your follow-up saying that he/she is really enjoying the manuscript so far and will be in touch soon.

A month goes by...maybe the manuscript is being shown around the agency? So you send a friendly follow-up. No word. Another month goes by. Maybe the follow-up got lost? Send another one. Still no word and it's nearly three months after Agent X sent the original email about how wonderful the work was.

What else can an author do to follow-up at this point?

Yes, other agents in the alphabet are being approached and some are looking at the manuscript, too, but this Agent X has such a great sales record in the all the right genres. Seems weird to get an encouraging message and then nothing.

Anonymous said...

Great suggestions. I have a couple. If you really have your heart set on at least getting a query through to the agent I would try something different. Perhaps your email program and hers aren't corresponding well with each other.

If you have read/receipt on your email I would apply that to your next query to see if it gets opened. Or, possibly create a different email address using a different program and try sending that way.

Good luck.

rachelsnyder said...

I am also interested in the questions raised by anonymous 12:03pm.

My email query to a well-respected agent netted a very prompt request for a full ms (in less than an hour). The manuscript was out the door the next day,and I received FedEx confirmation of delivery soon after.

In the absence of any information from said agency regarding a possible response timeframe, can you offer up any guidelines re: patience, persistence, and protocol? We're at about one month so far, which I realize is a nanosecond in agent response time.

Thank you, Jessica. Your recent posts have been particularly insightful regarding some murky and subjective issues.

spinney said...

As a user QueryTracker.net, I can tell you that a perusal of an agent's statistics on that website will help clue you in on whether the agent usually responds-- or not.

For example-- Jessica has received 79 queries from QT users and has responded (so far!) to 70 of them. A non-response from Jessica would appear to be an abberation.

Another agent (nameless!) received 118 queries and responded to two... quite a different story there!

December/Stacia said...

Litmatch.net also tracks response times, and there's a livejournal community as well. That one is here. It's more anecdotal than the others, but still a good place to check.

Leona said...

In my case, its not my story writing thats a problem, at least not in general. It's my query letters. Jessica received my very first query letter and very kindly told me it sucked. Her words were very nice and encourageing. The sites I had found up to that point weren't helpful. I have since found more and Im improving. BUT ...

I said on another blog i "fixed" something and actually made it worst to please a possible publisher. The response to that was hard to take. Until I realized and was able to laugh that they didnt like the same parts I didnt like. I'm changing it back, with the additional dialogue I wanted before they said anything. Why am I still peruing this? why am i still writing and thinking about this series? Because I have to. Its there. And as long as it keeps hitting me in the face, Ill keep trying to publish it and write the next one in the series. The story wants to be shared. yeah yeah I know its me who wants the stroy to be shared, but, my stories are their own entity. I've written some that dont want to be shared. Maybe one of those ones would be the best seller?

I have to keep trying. Its like once I admitted to myself that I REALLY wanted to write, and be published, nothing else was as important.

Merry Monteleone said...

I think the various tracking systems and writers' boards that discuss response times for agents can be great - but you have to take them with a grain of salt.

I've seen writers on those boards get flustered because they haven't heard back on a query they sent out only a few days before, because a number of writers said they got replies from the same agent in a few minutes or hours... I don't think you should take the small sampling of writers who comment there as gospel on how long an agent takes to respond or if they do respond.

Unless the agent stipulates differently, I'd say to give a query a two or three month period and then decide whether to re-query or not... ideally putting it out of your mind and working on something else or other queries.

rachelsnyder said...

spinney & december/stacia,

Thanks for the tips.

querytracker didn't have info on the particular agent in question, but the livejournal community provided me with both qualitative and quantitative info. More details supporting the positive and professional reports I've seen elsewhere re: said agency, so I'm good to wait out the process.

Melinda Leigh said...

I have two email accounts. They're both free, so why not? If I suspect that a particular query may be getting spammed out, I send a query from the other account.

Robert Walker said...

Funny thing just happened to me regarding the "spam filter" issue. I emailed a query to an agent a few days ago. Yesterday, I got a response saying that he found my query in his spam folder (even though I had put "Query" in the subject!), and wanted to see a full. So, there you go. Anything can happen.

Now, given what happened in this case, if I haven't heard anything in a while, I figure I'll send a very brief email, just to make sure he got it.

I think if you are polite and use common sense, it shouldn't be that big of an issue.

AstonWest said...

I queried an agent, and didn't hear anything back for two months. Sent a follow-up, and turned out they never received it. Re-sent the query, and almost two months went by before they requested a partial.

They ended up turning it down (3-4 months later) in the end, but one should always follow-up, in my opinion.

Julie Weathers said...

I would not harass an agent. If they aren't interested, they aren't interested. That just means my dream agent is still waiting for me.

If one requested a full and said it would be a week or two or a month, that's fine. If three months go by with no word, I'm probably not interested in them anyway.

Garth Brooks sings a song called Unanswered Prayers and I pretty much believe it. Sometimes the things we desperately want aren't really what's best for us.

Bluevitriol said...

Out of 7 e queries I sent out on one day in March - including Bookends, I had 3 rejections within a couple of days. The other 4 never replied at all (Including Bookends). I can understand the spam filter thing etc and can see some queries might get lost. Since I can also see that Bookends appear to make every effort to respond, it looks like my query to Kim slipped past but when agents like Ellenberg say - if you don't hear back assume we don't want you, I went on to assume that's the norm. Am I wrong?
We don't want to pester agents so it's hard to judge at what point you should wonder if they got your chapters. If they accept email queries, I can't understand how hard it is to say no in an email.

Elyssa Papa said...

I've gotten responses from agents which have said yes, send us the partial or full; some have said no; and then there are the ones you don't hear back from who say you hear back even if it is a no.

So, it's always a tricky subject on if you should requery after the second time. I definitely don't want to come across as stalkerish. *g*

And I also agree that you constantly have to be on the look-out for that agent who just gets you and responds ASAP to what you're doing in your book and wants to represent you.

fsl3 said...

I have some direct experience on this topic.

I found what I thought would be the perfect agent to look at my first non-fiction book proposal, and sent it off to her by mail. I waited about a week or so past her listed response time (4-6 weeks, I think), and then sent her a short e-mail with a summary of my proposal. She replied almost immediately, saying that she thought the summary was terrific and asked if I could put together a full proposal.

She was surprised to learn that I had already sent a full proposal to her office. It must have gotten lost in either the mail or in her office. In any case, she was really glad that I did a follow-up query to her, and we ultimately were able to get the book published.

I think there is no question that if you don't hear from an agent or editor, it's completely appropriate to do a polite follow-up.

debralex said...

I'm with fs3 above. I sent a query to an agent in early February who asked for initial chapters (electronic files) a day later. After no word, I touched base in late April and was told that the file couldn't be opened, please resend. Which I did. No word.

Sent another email last week asking for assurance that the file was readable and apologized for being a pest. Agent wrote back immediately with a kind au contraire; she didn't see my email as pesky but simply a note from a writer following through on her work. And yes, the file was readable and she was looking forward to reading it shortly.

So glad I tried one more time. This is a business. I think as long as we are all brief, professional and respectful there should be no reason not to follow up. Sans apology, from here on out.

Anonymous said...

I queried several agents for the first time last week, and received a response from one the next morning asking for the full which I then emailed her. She's assured me she will read it this week and get back to me the next. The others I queried...I'm curious to see how and when they respond. I did query Kim a few weeks ago and have heard nout.

How to Plan, Write, and Develop a Book blog author said...

Great advice and good information for book writers hoping to be published. I've shared it with readers at my blog, http://howtoplanwriteanddevelopabook.blogspot.com/ (How to Plan, Write, and Develop a Book blog). Thank you for being there!