Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Waiting by the Phone

In February I attended a writer's conference, pitched to an agent and he asked for my full MS. We had a very pleasant and positive meeting. Eight weeks later I followed up and he quickly and warmly replied that he'd get to it ASAP. Two weeks later I contacted him again because another agent requested a partial, but as an exclusive. I let the first agent know, because I wasn't sure how I was supposed to handle the issue and to try and nudge him for an answer since he'd had my MS for ten weeks. Once again I received a prompt and warm reply. He encouraged me to send my partial to the other agent and said he was still "looking forward" to reading MS. That was four week ago.

Am I being naive thinking this guy will ever read my work? Other than not getting an answer, all my communication with him has been positive. Do I contact him again or move on?

Anything is possible. What I would focus on is moving on. It’s hard, I know, not to try to put all of your eggs in one basket, but since you are getting requests for partials from other agents I would keep querying, keep submitting and continue to touch base with Agent #1 every 3 to 4 weeks or so. By my calculations he’s had the material for about 12 weeks now. That’s about when I would think you should be hearing from most agents. While I know many will say he’s probably just not that interested if he hasn’t gotten to it yet, and certainly that’s sound advice, it also doesn’t mean he won’t be all over you with interest once he’s finally had a chance to read it. I know that frequently I’m overwhelmed by the submissions that are taunting me (and yes, they do taunt) and sometimes I find myself frozen by their glaring eyes. Even though I’m excited to read a certain submission, the shear numbers of submissions I should be reading overwhelm me. What finally breaks it for me is that one book that gets me excited to offer representation again.

Never give up, but keep moving on and checking in, with everyone who is reviewing your work. You never know when that offer will come, who it will come from or what it will spark from other agents.



Debra Lynn Shelton said...

OK, call me crazy, but I've never heard of being asked for an exclusive on a partial? Is this SOP for some agents?

Anonymous said...

Move on.

I sympathize with you completely. I've got a partial out with an agent right now and she's had it for a several months.

I've completely written her off.

I've got another agent that went out of her way to say she was still considering my query -- not even a partial -- a query, and then never heard from her again, either.

Honestly, it could work out in your case and maybe the agent will love it and happy ending and all that, but I really think that there is that "hungry" agent that DOES read a partial when they say they will, that MAKES time to make you a priority. That DOES keep you informed of what is going on instead of making you nuge and nag and guess. There are Agents who view partials or ms as opportunities not burdens.

I haven't met any of those agents yet. But I have faith they are out there.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I hear this very often from agent blogs... being overwhealmed by reading requested partials.

I've always found that odd. Because, really, any reader knows pretty fast (a few pages) if they like the voice or not. And since an agent already views the plot and characters as fresh -- based on the query -- all you have is the voice. Since A LOT of ms are rejected on voice alone, it seems like reading partials would be the easiest part of an agent's job. You only have to keep reading if you like the voice (the writing), so you've wiped out 75 per cent of your partial load right there.

Got to be something I'm missing.

Aimlesswriter said...

Question: If an agent asks for an exclusive should you give them a time limit? Like only give them the exclusive for a month? What is the correct way to handle an exclusive request? Also, why would they ask for one?
This could be a difficult situation as we don't want to offend any agent who we might someday work with but we also want to keep moving forward.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

Anon 9:02 (and everyone really) partials are opportunities and I think all agents look at them that way. the problem is that you start to feel guilty at how long it takes to get to them and then, yes, they start to feel like a burden.

The problem isn't that the partials take so long to read, although they do take much longer to read then you'd think. Sure the voice is the most important, but once you decide you like that you have to keep reading to see if the story and character, the pacing and plotting are also working.

Anyway, it's the other things that get in the way of even getting to partials. Remember, in the grand scheme of my job this is the lowest on my priority list and in the past two weeks alone I had to do extensive edits on a full manuscript and read something like six partials (edit and comment) for my clients in addition to negotiating and reviewing contracts, and the other everyday activities an agent has. The manuscript alone takes more then a full day and edits and reviews on a partial can take a few hours when I need to get feedback to a client.


BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...


I've written extensively on exclusives. do a quick search and you'll find exactly how I feel on the subject and I do have some definite opinions.


Mira said...

One of the trickiest parts of this whole writer/agent dynamic is you have all this guesswork. Since agents are so busy and in demand, and the author is not supposed to pursue the agent too agressively, there's so much guessing - this part sort of drives me crazy.

That's why it's helpful to have Jessica answer these questions.

One thing though, if this guy does make an offer of representation, you can also use your knowledge of what happened to decide if you want him to represent you. You know that he is very pleasant. He responds to all of your questions promptly. He is also appears to be very busy. But he might be wishy-washy. He might have trouble keeping up with his workload. He might not be as efficient, or even as honest, as you'd like your agent to be. If he wants to sign you, I'd keep those points in the back of my mind when I met him.

Anonymous said...

For those with agents and already published -- how long does your agent take to read your new work? If your agent takes a couple of months to read a new or revised manuscript, might that indicate a lack of enthusiasm about the author or his work?

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:25

I've had wait times on proposals to my agent of two weeks to two months. It all depends. She's a very successful agent, and I'm not her only author. sometimes, the shite literally hits the fan and you just gotta wait your turn in line! I don't mind, because she's awesome and knows her stuff.

Kimbra Kasch said...

I look at it like dating. Would you sit by the phone and wait for a guy to call that's only asked you out once. . . ? Or would you be trying to meet new people to date? Some guy -or gal- out there who will only be able to think about you - um...I mean your book ;-)

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:25 -- it could just be that the agent is busy, but I had an agent that kept a newly finished book of mine for something like 6 months without reading it, though I nudged her twice.

In the end she didn't read the book but parted ways with me telling me she didn't have time for me anymore. So, in my case, yeah, she just didn't care about my work anymore.

You could email the agent and vice your concern about why things are taking so long -- and then choose to believe her answer or not depending on your gut. My gut told me long before my agent dumped me that she simply didn't care about my ms anymore, despite her urgings to "hang on, I'll get to it."

This is such a tough business. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:39

Six months is totally unacceptable for sure, and yeah, I`d not be happy in that situation. However I was by no means complaining. I have no problems with my agent. We talk all the time. If a project needs a look over asap, she`s there.

I`ve got books contracted on, that I`m writing and if I send her a proposal for an idea that maybe I might want to flesh out in the future, I don`t expect her to put that ahead of clients with more urgent needs.

There`s a huge difference between an agent ignoring one of her authors and an agent prioritizing.

That`s why communication is key. If you`ve repeatedly tried to talk to your agent and she`s not returning calls or giving you answers you don`t`s probably time to look elsewhere.

Mira said...

Anon 11:39, that really sucks. You have my sympathy.

There should be a way to complain about something like that. That's really unacceptable.

Part of the problem is that if you contacted her boss to complain, for example, you'd have to worry first, that the boss wouldn't care, and second that word would spread that you're hard to work with.

I wonder if you could file an anoymous complaint with the better business bureau?

This business, overall, treats writers badly. It just does.

Anonymous said...

First stupid mistake I made when I started querying my first project was to grant an open-ended exclusive on a partial. As a writing partner later pointed out, if you don't stipulate a time frame, the agent is under no duress to read your submission in a timely fashion.

Here's my rule now that I'm wiser and older: two weeks if asked for an exclusive on a partial. (But not really happening these days - I'm not getting requests for partials because I'm either going straight to a full from a query or query with required "writing sample.")

In the past, all agents were fine with setting a two-week limit, although not all responded in that time. Still, I felt comfortable moving on. (Yes, and two even asked for fulls based on the two-week-limit exclusive partials I sent them.)

I've never been asked for an exclusive on a full. But if I were, I'd make it three months because of of the many fulls I've sent out, I've always heard back within that time frame except for the time I never heard back. Ever. Even when I nudged.

But you learn from these experiences. You put the agent who never responded to a requested full on your "Loser List - Never Query Again."

RC Writer Girl said...

For the orginial questioner, I would just say that you shouldn't give up, but you should move on.

Agent Rachelle Gardner had an interesting post a couple of weeks ago. She said she's looked at projects before, and liked them but not been interested in offering representation at the time because she didn't think she could sell it right now. Then, months later, when she'd seen editors asking about such projects, she'd thought about that thing she'd passed on. So, it could just be an issue of timing.

Agents are about selling. You want an agent who thinks s/he can sell your work, so giving it time is a good idea.

Patience is a virtue very few have, so try not to be stressed too much by the process

Anonymous said...

Q: If an agent sees a partial as a "burden" to read, then why request it in the first place?
Seems it's better not to get the writer's hopes up and then make them wait months on end for any replay..Frankly, it's happened more than once and seems a waste of time for both author and agent. Just let it go and give the writer a chance to find an agent who's excited--not obligated or forced--to read their. ms.

Margaret Yang said...

In the wise words of Miss Snark: query widely. Quit obsessing.

Jessica Brockmole said...

Thanks for addressing this, Jessica! With requested material out to a few agents right now, I've been wondering if I should start sending out some more queries. I'm only holding back in case I get any feedback on the manuscript that could help me in future queries.

It's also reassuring to hear that a long wait on requested material isn't necessarily bad news, but just that other things can take priority. I know we can sometimes read a little too much into a request for more material, assuming that the agent can't wait to open it up and start reading, and that a lengthy wait might mean lack of interest.

Debra, I've been asked for exclusives on partials in the past. As I didn't have any other out at the time, I was happy to grant 2 weeks and always heard back within that time.