Thursday, October 29, 2009

How Long Is Too Long to Wait

If I’ve learned anything from writing this blog it’s what an anxiety-inducing process getting published is, and while the unpublished think it gets easier once you have an agent, I think I’ll have to disagree. It seems to me that having an agent, but still seeking publication and, heck, even having a publishing contract can still be equally anxiety-producing.

An agented author recently got in touch to ask how long is too long to wait for minor revisions and does silence from an agent mean the agent has lost interest.

Sadly there’s absolutely no way to answer this question without holding a couples counseling session with the author and agent. How long is too long? Is it a proposal or a full manuscript? What is your definition of minor revisions? How many rounds of revisions have you already been through with the agent? What else does the agent have on her plate during that time and has the agent given you a due date? Without knowing at least some of that information I probably can’t answer your question as clearly and concisely as I should. That being said, let me give you some guidelines so you have a time frame in which you should feel comfortable checking in.

I think that if you have only a proposal you should hear within four weeks. I know that seems long, but I’m giving all agents the benefit here. One week is too short. If I don’t have advance notice that your material is coming I can’t promise a one-week turnaround because I might already have two proposals scheduled for revisions that week. Two weeks seems very reasonable to me, except that it could take me a week to even get to the proposal and another full week to get my feedback together (sometimes I will have to read the material a couple of times and frequently I have to sit on it and think about it). Three weeks probably makes the most sense, so four weeks gives everyone a safety net. If you haven’t heard within four weeks, definitely check in.

What about a full manuscript? Well, the same timeline holds true in terms of how long it might take an agent to actually get to the book, the difference is that it’s 400 pages versus 50. It takes a lot longer to read and put together notes on, and if any parts need to be reread, it’s going to take even longer. I still think however that it’s reasonable to check in after four weeks. That seems plenty long to me and at least by that point you should be able to get a time from your agent for when she will get back to you.

Minor revisions means the work you’re doing should be minor. It means that presumably you won’t be recreating characters or deleting entire plot points. It does not mean the work the agent is doing is any less than if you were getting major revisions. In fact, in my experience minor revisions often mean more work for the agent. While major revisions are often a short letter telling you to go back to the drawing board, a minor revision letter can go through the manuscript point by point and often end up being 15 to 20 pages in length.

As for whether an agent has lost interest. There’s absolutely no way to know unless I’m in that relationship, but waiting for revisions doesn’t necessarily mean a loss of interest, just not enough time.

My very best advice is get to work on your next book. Lose yourself in another project so those weeks fly by as quickly for you as they always do for the agent.



Anonymous said...

One agent has had my (requested) full for almost four months, and another for almost five months.

I'm not holding my breath. I've written them off completely. It's still disappointing though, that even after a polite status check or two they can't be bothered to say, "Hey, no, I don't want it!"

When this happens to me I tell every writer I know so they can be steered clear of the annoyance.

DOT said...

Of the three agents I have approached, one specified ten days, the second sixty, and the last ninety.

At least they announce upfront how long you might expect to wait. Still frustratingly slow and I cannot think of any other business that treats potential clients so cavalierly.

Marsha Sigman said...

I see the need for that extra time. It takes a while to read the manuscripts of the clients you are contracted with and then to make edits on top of that plus find time to read unsolicited manuscripts! My head is spinning!

On the flip side of that, I think writers tend to be impatient personalities so this just adds to our pain.

Anonymous said...

At least once you have an agent, you know your work has interested a professional. That has to give you a boost, knowing your work isn't total trash.

Anonymous said...

Are you talking about an author's actual agent? Or an agent an author's trying to land?
If I'm reading it correctly, it's the former. That's insane. My brother and I work with a manager for our screenplays. If we have to wait more than a weekend for him to read a new manuscript, we're all over him to get it done. And we haven't made him a dime.
4 weeks! That's outrageous. Lose myself in another work? It took me eight weeks to write the first draft of my novel. You're telling me if I sign with a literary agent, it could take them half that time just to read my next book? I mean, I understand if I'm just submiting a requested manuscript before an offer's on the table. But once an agent signs a writer, they take 4 WEEKS to read 400 pages? Sorry, but what does an agent do again but work with and submit their clients' manuscripts?
With advances dropping to next to nothing, you guys need to pull it together. If you're busy, change your process or decrease the # of clients you hold. There are an increasing number of ways to make money from writing. I mean, in four weeks, I could have my manuscript edited, published by different online services, and create a website and marketing campaign.
Or I could wait for an agent to... um, read the book. Gee, thanks... and writers are impatient! That's not impatience; that's a reaction to BS.
Maybe a writer won't make that much money from self-publishing... but from what I read, it's a fat chance I'll get much money from the agent/publisher machine.

I've got agents reading fulls now. SO GLAD I read this post in case one of them offers. This issue will absolutely be my first inquiry. I thought four weeks was a long time for an unrepresented author to wait. Wow, I can't get over it... no wonder publishing's dying.

Kate Douglas said...

One thing I've learned is that things almost always take longer than you think they're going to--and that works for both agents and authors.

Paul Greci said...

When I'm writing or doing revisions things always take longer than I think they will.

I like Jessica's advice: lose yourself in another project.

This is probably obvious but I'll add it anyway: Check in with your agent if you have a question. Sometimes that anxiety isn't about the time, it's about communication.
Hopefully you and your agent will settle into a mode of communication that you are both comfortable with.

Rosemary said...

Anon 10:44,

Not sure if you're new to this blog, or any other agent blogs, but the reading times Jessica quotes are fairly standard across the board, even for agented writers. And trust me, they're reasonable.

As for what an agent does for her clients, it's a whole lot more than reading and responding to my work. (A little research on this blog and others will fill it all in for you.)And she doesn't see a penny from her labors unless and until I do. That's a lot of unpaid hours.

Just something to keep in mind while you're waiting for all those agents to get back to you. . .

Lisa Dez said...

This is another great argument for going with a newer agent with fewer clients. I LOVE my agent.

It took me a week to work through minor revisions and, during that time, if I had any question as to what she was looking for, I emailed her. She usually got back to me within an hour. When I sent the manuscript back, she reread and copy edited the entire thing in a week and we went on submission the following week.

SphinxnihpS of Aker-Ruti said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Rosemary is right. Anon, screenwriting reading time is much faster than novel reading time.

And "managers" (a category that can charge any amount, unlike agents) usually only have a handful of clients so they can hand hold. But you're paying for it, which is why you're better off getting a real agent instead. Managers often attach themselves as producers which is dead weight when trying to sell your script. Only a few working screenwriters have managers.

Mira said...

I don't know. A month to not only read but thoroughly edit a book seems very reasonable to me.

What's the big rush once a book is being edited? I would want someone to take as much time as they need to do their best.

In terms of deciding on representation, that seems alittle different to me. It doesn't seem like such detailed, meticulous work. Yes, it's a big decision, but Anon 9:44 - I agree. That would feel bad to me to wait 4-5 months. So exciting to send a full, and then just not hear back. Painful. But that's a different place altogether than having someone who has already offered representation take their time.

Anonymous said...

Long waits can drive you nuts. One very respected agent held onto my full for over six months, but every time I prodded they'd ask for more time. So I was convinced they were interested. Finally I withdrew it from submission when another agent expressed interest and only then did they say they liked the idea but wasn't sure they could sell it. NOW they tell me that? What a waste of time!
The other agent didn't work out but it was such a relief to pull that ms. from their consideration. I wouldn't want that kind of agent anyway.

I'm now waiting on other agents who seem to think the grass is greener cuz they spend all their time going to conferences, etc. while my REQUESTED FULL ms. languishes in a pile. Why do agents keep looking for new clients when they don't have time to service the ones the have?
Is it greed or disorganization or laziness? In any case, it turns writers off and they'll keep searching until they find one who treats them and their time with respect and consideration.


So basically we are all on a "Month-to-Month" lease.

Good to know.

nightwriter said...

Why not create an "unofficial" industry standard? One month turn-around for a partial (up to 50 pgs) and 2-3 months max for a full. If the agent doesn't respond by then, they're not that interested or too busy to do a good job of representation anyway. Then the writer is free to market or accept other offers. Seems fair to all concerned, and takes the writer out of waiting limbo. Any opinions?

mulligangirl said...

I had to chuckle a little when I read through these comments. In my ‘day job’, I work for a large corporation. At the end of August, I moved my desk by 1 cubicle. As part of the work order submitted (because God forbid we move ourselves) they neglected to move my phone. It’s been almost 8 weeks and they’re still ‘working on it’. Same thing with new software—6+ week service level agreements are not uncommon. I’m talking about software I could download myself in 2 minutes if I knew I wouldn’t be escorted out the door for doing so. Target dates are pushed out or missed all the time. The cogs move slowly in big machines. Traditional publishing is a big machine.

As I reread this post and think about my own experiences, I wonder if we writers would mind so much if we could truly assume the agent was still interested. If I had an agent proactively tell me they were taking so long to respond because they were mulling it over, I’d be a lot happier about the wait. But when an agent sits on a requested full ms for nine months and I get nothing but silence, I wonder what’s going on. Did they lose interest? Are they mulling it over? Are they about to go out of business? Did I offend them so severely I’m undeserving of any response at all?

Of course, this is my imagination running wild (and aren’t writers good at that?). I could conjure up all sorts of scenarios for their non-response, but for my sanity I like to either (a) give them the benefit of the doubt if the agent is truly someone I think I’d like to work with, or (b) assume not interested and move on (this might mean withdrawing my submission from consideration)

Bypassing the agent, self-publishing or e publishing might be the quick fix (like downloading my own software). It’s tempting and it could be satisfying, but is it the right thing for your career? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. But when I’m stuck in a waiting pattern, I remind myself that ultimately it’s still my choice.

AM said...
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Phil Bolsta said...

Mystified that your terrific manuscript hasn’t been snapped up by a high-powered literary agent? Guess what, it’s not them, it’s you.

Phil Bolsta
Author of "Sixty Seconds: One Moment Changes Everything" (