Monday, June 16, 2008

Waiting for your Agent's Attention

I get a lot of questions from authors asking how to handle an agent who won’t respond to repeated phone calls or emails, but recently I received a question from a reader with a slightly different situation. The author’s agent, Agent X, has been relentlessly working to sell her first book, exhausting all possible resources and still going strong. The problem? Agent X seems focused on one thing, selling the first work, while Author seems ready to move on. Author sent Agent X Manuscript #2 roughly six months ago and has still not received feedback, although Agent X is very responsive in all other ways. Author feels frustrated at the way she feels her career is stagnating and wonders if she needs to give Agent X an ultimatum, wonders how long is reasonable to wait on feedback, and wonders what she should do in general.

This is a bit of a tricky situation, and let me explain why. I do think six months is too long to wait for your own agent to read something you’ve sent in. As a client you should be at the top of her priority list. That being said, since Agent X is working on your career by submitting your first book, it’s not as though you’re being ignored.

Here’s how it works in Jessica BookEnds world. First of all, I will go months with nothing but silence from my clients while they work busily on their next projects or submissions, and then whammo. I swear they all email each other, pick a week, and steadily bombard me with proposals and manuscripts. I’m not complaining, not in the least, but I don’t understand why they all come at once, every, single time. My goal is to get to every client in about two weeks' time if possible. Now that’s not always possible. Sometimes I get stuck on a heavy revision with one work, sometimes a certain works needs me to take more time with it and needs me to step away and think. Who knows what the reasons are, but sometimes it takes longer. Never six months, though.

Typically I read things in the order they come in. However, if I have an incredibly prolific author and am currently submitting something for her, it’s likely her material will go to the bottom of the pile for the moment. I don’t believe it’s a good idea to submit two separate works by the same author at the same time, so there would be no rush on that particular project. However, again, six months would be a really long time to wait.

Now obviously I don’t know how Agent X thinks and can’t tell you what her process is, but I can tell you, Author, that I think you need to have a career discussion with your agent. It seems you are fully ready to move on to the next book, while Agent X is still focused on your last. While I know you would like to sell, maybe it’s time to talk to Agent X about switching focus. Before threatening her with a firing, I think you need to ask yourself a few questions:
  • Do you feel ready to put Manuscript #1 under the bed and move on?
  • Do you feel Manuscript #2 is stronger and might solve some of the reasons you’re seeing rejections on Manuscript #1?
  • If she’s really submitted the book exhaustively, are you even interested in the houses she’s now targeting or would you rather have something fresh for those houses who’ve already rejected Manuscript #1?
Once you have a firm idea of what you want you need to communicate that to Agent X. It sounds to me like she is actually working very hard for you, just not in the way you would like her too.

It sounds to me like you are still generally happy with your agent, just dissatisfied with one particular situation. Nip it in the bud. This is the time to have a frank conversation about your career. I’m not sure you are in need of a new agent, just better communication with the one you currently have.

My advice to any problem you are having with your agent: have the conversation first, fire later. A misunderstanding or miscommunication is a lot easier to fix than finding a new agent. Any advice from readers?



Nadia said...

I'd say call the agent and have a frank and honest talk.

Usually a phone call will save a ton of headache and heartache. Since the agent is trying to sell the work, I think the client should give her a chance.

Jessica Nelson said...

I don't think the agent should get fired. Are you sure the agent even got the manuscript? It could've gotten lost in the mail. Or misplaced. Who knows? Jessica's right on about talking with the agent. I think the agent sounds awesome. Could be he/she is so driven that to admit defeat on #1 is unacceptable, lol. Maybe she's procrastinating with the client, hoping it'll sell. :-)

Anonymous said...

I faced a similar situation not too long ago. My agent was busy submitting Book 1, about which she very enthusiastic. Meanwhile, I'd written Book 2, about which I was very enthusiastic. It took her two months to get around to reading Book 2, which she ended up accepting, another four months to work through revisions, and another two months to actually get it out the door. She ended up shopping it at the same time Book 1 was still making the rounds.

All of this seemed like an eternity to me, but I knew she was working hard on my behalf, and that of her other clients. Plus, we'd worked together on other projects and I knew she'd get back to me when she could.

It sounds like this writer and agent are still figuring each other out, but six months is way too long for any writer to wait for feedback. High time the writer contact the agent and politely inquire about the status of Book 2. It may be the agent is swamped, unenthusiastic, or dealing with a personal crisis.

Anonymous said...

Jessica, it's kind of like the lines at the grocery store. There's no one when you're about to finish your shopping, but when you're ready a moment later, they are six deep at every checkstand.

It's the feast or famine thing.

Rita Gerlach said...

I'd say call and have a frank talk with the agent about what you are feeling. Sometimes, we tend to assume things and that can damage a relationship. Communication, open and honest, is the key to any endeavor.

I'd be happy just having an agent, and give her time to do her job. Does this writer understand how hard it is to get one?

Anonymous said...

You might like to clarify that "Agent X" is generic, and not Rachel Vater, a/k/a Agent X.

T. M. Hunter said...

First of all, I will go months with nothing but silence from my clients while they work busily on their next projects or submissions, and then whammo. I swear they all email each other, pick a week, and steadily bombard me with proposals and manuscripts.

Because they all hang out at the same writer's site...and work each other up into a frenzy to the point where they all rush off to flood your inbox.