Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Trouble with "Respond By" Times

One of the more frequent complaints I see from unagented authors is that agents seem to rarely respond to proposals and manuscripts in the time frames specified on our Web sites and I can certainly understand your frustration. From my side of things, you have no idea how many times I am told by an editor that I’ll hear something in a week, and yet a week comes and goes and so does another and then another. I think we can all agree this is frustrating and maddening and just plain annoying.

So if agents can’t meet those dates, why do we bother posting them at all? Because you ask for it and because it’s only fair to you to give ourselves some sort of deadline. The truth is that authors want to have some sort of time frame and we don’t blame them. We’d like some sort of time frame too, and having that out there pushes us to try to meet those deadlines, but at certain times of the year, or certain times in business, other things (like those pesky clients, for example) get in the way and meeting those deadlines falls to the bottom of our priority lists.

Summer for me is typically a great time for catching up on submissions. Sure I’m still behind and apologize for that, and I’m certainly farther behind than I intended to be, but I now have summer Fridays. Those glorious afternoons when everyone in publishing is rushing off to the Hamptons. Me? I’m sitting on my patio with a stack of submissions, a cold glass of water, and my feet in the baby pool (a purple elephant, if you must know).

I think the best thing about those time frames is that it gives you a concrete date in which you can start bugging agents and feel comfortable checking in. Our Web site currently states that we will respond in 10 to 12 weeks on partials and fulls and 2 to 4 weeks on queries; some of us are hitting those better than others and some are hitting them better at certain times than others. I know right now I’m a little outside of those. However, the minute 12 (or maybe 13) weeks pass from the time you submitted, it’s time to check in. Hopefully the agent you check in with will respond. I know at BookEnds we do our best to keep you updated when you check in. If you haven’t heard in another 3 to 4 weeks, check in again.

Since this discussion seems to come up so much I’ve made the decision to change the wording of our response time answer on the Web site. When I sat down to write this post, the answer read:
Each BookEnds agent receives roughly 100 submissions a week. Because of the high volume, you can expect to wait 10 to 12 weeks before receiving a reply on requested partials or fulls, 2 to 4 weeks on e-mail queries. At that time, if you still haven't heard, please feel free to drop us an e-mail with the following information: which agent the submission was sent to, the date it was sent, the title and author name.

It has now been changed to:
Because of the vast number of queries and partials each BookEnds agent receives we will work our hardest to respond in a timely manner. Our goal is to respond to all e-mail queries in 2 to 4 weeks and all requested partials and fulls in 10 to 12 weeks. Unfortunately, at times, circumstances mean we fall behind in our responses. If you haven’t received a response in the time estimations given above, please don’t hesitate to send an email requesting a status update. The email should include the title of the work, date the submission or query was sent, and the name of the author. Any other information you have that might help us remember your book is helpful. We understand that waiting can certainly be the hardest part and thank you for not only giving us the chance to review your work, but for your patience.

I know this doesn’t remedy the problem of agents taking a long time to respond to authors, but hopefully it will help give authors better perspective on what to expect.



Linda Banche said...

I think of your response time as partly your best estimate of how long you'll need to answer an author request and partly goal--you'll do your best to meet it, but it may not be possible.

And when the time's up, the author sends an email.

Unknown said...

Your blog is always helpful. I think the changes you made to the wording indeed make it clearer. It also gives a sincere picture of your agency's attitude toward authors. Thank you!

Aimlesswriter said...

Very reasonable.
I don't wait for agents. Since my work is unsolicited I figure they don't owe me anything. If it comes back; great, if not I just continue on. Most agents are pretty quick to respond with either a request or rejection anyway.
I had one agent who came back about a year later. That was the longest I ever had and I figured they just didn't send responses. But she was nice and wrote a note to appologize for taking so long. I had the feeling my work had just fallen under the desk or something.
I think it's great that agents respond at all. I can't imagine handling that many queries! Is your brain fried by the end of the day?
Thank you for this post.

Richard Mabry said...

The change you've made in the wording reflects the disparity that exists between your desire to adhere to a time frame and the unfortunate fact that it's not always possible. Thanks for making that clear. It's a nice gesture and makes it easier to see the human side of agents.

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

Thanks for caring enough to make the effort to respond within your stated time frame. As Tom Petty says, the waiting is indeed the hardest part. (Love the purple elephant pool detail, btw!)

Kristan said...

I think the rewrite is great. Much more clear.

Dawn Maria said...

Last week I got a form rejection from an agency a good six weeks past their stated should-hear-from-us date. I'd already figured they were a no, but since I'm in the I-want-a-response-camp, it was good to have final closure.

So I see how what you're saying is true. It's hard on everybody, but until you stop getting 125 queries a day, what are you going to do?

Mira said...

Thank you. This is very responsive to a frequent author concern, and also very kind of you to go the extra length of re-wording the website. Once again, I really appreciate your balance between practicality and compassion. Thanks.

And despite the allure of a purple elephant, I hope you get to go to the Hamptons occasionally, or somewhere relaxing.

SM Blooding said...

At least you're still promising to respond. Other agents are stating that if you don't hear from them, they're not interested and that....GRRRRRRRRR...that's frustrating. You can go ahead and be late, as far as I care. As long as I know that eventually, I'm going to get that response. I might have to follow up to get it, but I'm going to get it, darn it. *smile*

Anonymous said...

Okay, I apologize for going anonymous with this question, but I hope once you read it, you'll understand why I've done so.

I just got a request for a partial from an agent who also sent along an offer for me to participate in a program where I can PAY for a faster response time. The agent makes it clear that this is not a reading fee (all requested partials/fulls will be read), nor will it improve my chances of getting representation with the agency -- I would simply be paying a fee to cut ahead in line of the other partials and fulls the agency has requested. If the agency decides to represent me and the project sells, I get my money back. If the agency gets back to me later than promised (there are guaranteed response times with this program), I get my money back.

Writer Beware says it's a legitimate agency, and all the homework I did in advance seemed to indicate legitimacy, but honestly, I think this is really creepy and in poor taste. And, it's NOT cheap.

Now, I can still go ahead and submit my partial without paying a dime, and the agency promises the manuscript will still be read and evaluated fairly, and I believe that. But the mere offer of this "pay to cut ahead in line" program has left a really bad taste in my mouth, and I don't know if I want to work with someone who does such a thing.

Am I being stupid here? Is this totally a reasonable thing for the agency to do?

Rick Daley said...

Now I'm even more appreciative of the time you took to respond to my interview request for The Public Query Slushpile! Your generosity was very well received.

For your blog readers who may have missed it, it's posted at:

Aimlesswriter said...

Pay to cut ahead in line?
I'd run. Maybe send a copy of that letter to Preditors and Editors and Writer's Beware and see what they think.
Sounds strange to me. Is the agent taking bribes? What will they do with the money? Take an editor to lunch?
Can I ask how much they asked for?

Elle Robb said...

As always, your post is much appreciated. It's nice to know that agents are people, too, and I sincerely appreciate your openness to a querying author checking on a submission. Personally, I'd like a response - even if it's no - rather than wondering if my query is stuck in cyberspace or a spam filter.

BTW - the purple elephant pool sounds quite appealing! :)

Silver James said...

Thank you for taking the time to explain things from your perspective. Any "act" that keeps communications open and clear is a win for everyone.

Anonymous said...

Aimless Writer, the agency charges $60 for a sample chapter (response guaranteed within 10 days of receipt) and $350 for a manuscript (response within 3 weeks).

They emphasize that you cannot send anything that has not been requested. They only asked for a sample chapter from me, so I can't just go ahead and send a manuscript and $350; I have to stick with the stage I'm in.

Vivi Anna said...

Jessica, I think you guys go beyond what is expected by just blogging every day and being available and open in that way.

We as authors have to learn to be patient.

And those of you who think waiting 2-4 weeks for an answer to a query and 10-12 weekds for an answer to a partial is long, wait until you have an agent and are shopping your book and have been waiting 5-6 months on a submission.

Waiting for answers is part of this business, get used to it, and learn how to deal with it in constructive ways.

CKHB said...

The only respond by time I've ever seen that has bothered me is an agency that says it takes up to 16 weeks to consider a query... and no response means no.

Really? If you take up to FOUR MONTHS to read something, can't you take an extra day to at least send a form rejection email?

Word Verification: flater. When an attempt to flatter falls flat.

Anonymous said...

The fact that you respond AT ALL qualifies you for sainthood in my book. Trying your darnedest to respond in a timely manner puts you over the top. Much appreciated.

Aimlesswriter said...

I'd think it's a scam and cross them off my list. The rule is you don't pay an agent to read. Are they a member of AAR?
Just because Writer's Beware doesn't list them doesn't mean they're doing the right thing. It might just be Writer's Beware and Preditors and Editor's hasn't caught up with them yet.
I'd like to hear what Jessica has to say on this issue.

Anonymous said...


You responded 4 days after I emailed my query. Your no was very kind and I appreciated it. I'm still writing and hopefully a future project will be a better fit.

Maybe tomorrow you should bring a glass of wine w/ you while your feet are enjoying the kiddy pool.

Anonymous said...

Writer Beware says it's a legitimate agency, and all the homework I did in advance seemed to indicate legitimacy, but honestly, I think this is really creepy and in poor taste. And, it's NOT cheap.

I agree. Although The Zack Agency is definitely legit, I think this is in poor taste too. This practice has been hotly contested on the absolutewrite board:

(Andrew Zack weighs in there too.)

Steve Stubbs said...

I think every scribbler has heard of the "No response means piss off" rule. That is why manuscript paper is cut to fit bird cages. But I was very intrigued by one comment on your blog: "Everybody in publishing heads for the Hamptons" on Friday afternoon? I thought publishing was a cash starved business. When I lived in New York the Hamptons were not exactly a slum area. And agents all have beautiful houses in New York City with lavish pools? How do I get into publishing?

"Original" Anon said...

11:51am Anon, thank you for that link! I didn't want to name the agency in case I was totally misunderstanding something, but if they discuss it openly...

Off to check the link!

Jessica, even if you don't want to weigh in on the morality of the "pay to skip in line" program, could you answer another question, please -- would it hurt me, as a debut writer, to send a polite letter saying that I'm withdrawing my query and not sending the partial because I'm not comfortable with these practices? I don't want to piss anyone off, but I don't think I feel comfortable working with an agent who does this.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

Anon 10:09:

I'm running out the door to Thrillerfest so can only respond briefly. However...

That's crazy for a couple of reasons. First on the very basis that you said, it seems creepy that those with a greater disposable income should get first dibs. However, from an agent's perspective your reading should be sorted by time, interest and of course importance (proposals with offers or that might go faster), not who can pay the most.

You might want to forward the email to Writers Beware just to let them know. It might not be enough to make this agency a not recommended, but I think someone should be aware.

In general it just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.


BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

one last..

I don't think it would hurt you at all to withdraw your query. Otherwise you can just decide not to participate further with this agency


Mira said...


I looked over the discussion at AbsoluteWrite, as well as Zach's defense of himself.

Talk about taking advantage. It's brilliant in a completely sleazy way. He's gotten around the 'no-charge' fee through semantics.

There's a reason that the no-charge fee is a basic in agent ethics.

This is the worst kind of abuse of power in order to make a buck. I would never work with this person. He's made it clear where his priorities are, and that is making money, even if he has to twist basic professional ethics to do so. I would not trust him with my work.

And like many con artists, he appears to be charismactic. Such a shame.

Anonymous said...

Anon--that's crazy! You've got to report this scam widely so industry pros can know what's going on...I can't believe any "legit" agency would consider this.

Wish I could be @ Thrillerfest but what bugs me is I've submitted REQUESTED fulls to at least three of the agents who never responded, one who held onto it for 7 months before I withdrew it, one who still has it under consideration.
Plus a few others who rejected the query (some after a few weeks) perhaps it's best I'm not there for now.

My Q is: If these established agents are SO busy, including Jessica, why do they keep attending conferences to seek new writers when they know they don't have time for their current load?
I know it's fun and it's called networking but it'd be nice if they took care of their current worklaod before zipping off to yet another conference...

Vodka Mom said...

i just read your post on book proposals (January). After combing the internet for a week and wading through TONS of pieces, yours is by FAR the best advice I've received.

thank you.......

Kim Lionetti said...

First off, I'll admit that I'm by far the worst offender at BookEnds when it comes to response times. I'm slow and inconsistent on timeframe and I really hate being that way. Yes, I have big heaping dose of Lutheran guilt about it. And I know that 99% of the time when someone complains on the blog that they haven't heard back on a BookEnds submission, they're probably talking about me.

But eventually I do respond to every single query I receive that follows BookEnds' submission guidelines (if you don't put "query" in your subject line, you may get mistaken for spam, however). My big problem is that I'm always playing catch-up. If I'm overwhelmed for a week and don't have time to answer e-queries, then when I have some free time all of the sudden I have 1000 to answer. And they just keep piling up from there. If you're waiting on me, I apologize. I'll try to do better.

If you're asking "Why can Jessica answer more quickly and write a blog article every day and go to more conferences?" I've got a simple answer --She's inhuman and can live on like 4 hours of sleep every night. It's sick, really.

Anon 12:32 -- re: conferences

I don't go to as many conferences anymore for that very reason. However, I am attending RWA national this year and one or two next year.

Conferences ARE an excellent opportunity to network with editors, published authors and unpublished authors alike. The very nature of our business is all about networking. Knowing editors and their houses well enough to understand what books they want to see. Sure, we communicate with editors one-on-one too, but these conferences give us an opportunity to cover a bunch of bases all at once.

These events are also a great opportunity to educate writers about the business through workshops, one-on-one appointments and casual conversation. And that's not an entirely selfless act. We hope that by educating more aspiring writers, we'll attract more well developed, professional submissions and find a new bestseller somewhere down the road.

Finally, while Thrillerfest is an exception, most conferences take place over a weekend. So in most cases an agent is devoting their free time to go and meet these new writers and tell them about the business. Isn't it preferable to submit to someone who's obviously so enthusiastic about the book business?

Dawn Maria said...

I'm glad I stopped back here to read comments.

I'm really shocked by the pay to get in front thing. There is such a huge market out there that preys on aspiring writers' hopes and dreams. These folks are the lizard oil salesmen of the 21st. century. Thank you Anon. 10:09 for making us all aware.

kris said...

Anon 12:32, another reason agents attend conferences is because that's often the only chance for a face-to-face meeting with clients. Blessed as I am to be able to email Jessica with every worry that crosses my brain - and believe me, she sees some dillies from me - there's nothing like spending an hour sitting down together, touching base on any number of questions, and just having the chance to laugh, talk, and connect in person. Since clients are such a major chunk of an agent's current load, conferences are indeed a way to keep that load under control.

Becke Davis said...

This sounds fine to me. I guess I'm doing it wrong, because I only send out queries to one agent at a time. I've never had to wait very long -- and, unfortunately, rejections always come quickly.

I got your request in about a week, which was fantastic. After reading here about your workload, I won't expect to get any response for quite awhile. What with Thrillerfest and RWA, I imagine you will be swamped.

It helps to have an understanding of how busy an agent is, and all the demands on your time.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Kim for that explanation.
I'm just frustrated at seeing so many familiar faces @ Thrillerfest who requested partials and fulls but now are too busy to respond--but they're not too busy to schmooze. As a journalist, I was taught to meet all my deadlines, no matter what--and I do. Wish this whole business could operate more efficiently. If decisions can be made on the basis of 5 pages, why can't agents and editors just make them faster? Very aggravating to be kept in limbo with no end in sight!

Kim Lionetti said...

Anonymous 3:09 --

I know it can be frustrating. One of the suckier aspects of the business.

Unfortunately, the delay has less to do with your 5 pages than with the 5 X 5000 that were submitted before you.

Anonymous said...

Kim, I don't think you should feel guilty. Everyone, for the most part, understands that stuff piles up. It frustrates me though when I've asked about what the status is and receive no response. I certainly don't want to bother the agent, but it does make me wonder: is this how the agent normally is?

I also admit though that I always have anxiety or worry as more and more time passes that the agent is thinking no. This blog alleviates some of that.

But say there's an offer on the table for representation but partials are out with agents (and if I'm to go on this blog and comments, I could assume that the other agents haven't read the partial as well), do I owe them a chance to respond or no?

Kim Lionetti said...

Anonymous 3:46 --

You don't "owe" the other agents anything. If your offer is from your # 1 dream agent and you know that you would pick that agent over any others anyway, then there's not reason you shouldn't readily accept and let the other agents know that you've accepted other representation.

However, you owe it to yourself to weigh all your options if you're not sure who your #1 dream agent is yet. In most cases, it best serves your own interests to give all of the agents still considering your material an opportunity to offer representation when you already have an another offer on the table. Just because they weren't able to get back to you first, doesn't mean they won't be as enthusiastic or even more so than that first agent. Don't short-change yourself.

Anonymous said...

Anon, when I had a potential offer, I talked w/ the agent before I e'd the others--some never responded, others declined. I decided against her but may have found someone ever better
(working on rewrites). So I'd go w/ the bird in hand--good luck!

Rick Daley said...

Regarding pay for urgency:

I understand that these are difficult economic times, but it seems to me that the business model for a literary agency should be selling manuscripts to publishers.

If the agency needs to come up with creative new revenue streams, it makes me think their other revenue lines (i.e. manuscript sales) are not performing well.

If this is the case (let me remind you I am in the realm of pure speculation) would you really want that agent repping your work?

Anonymous said...

This may be a ridiculous suggestion, but would it help agencies to have a regular schedule of "dark weeks" where you didn't take queries, and could play catch up? Open inbox for six weeks, close for two, open for six, etc. As long as the schedule was clearly listed, and not every agency had the same weeks off, then it might give you some time to deal with the slush wihtout more piling up in the meantime.


Jory said...

I am a lurker and have been reading for a while. I just wanted to stop and say thanks for sharing with us your knowledge and advice.

Jessica Brockmole said...

How does one word a request for a status update?