Thursday, January 29, 2015

Agent question: Is she just not that in to me?

I’m a historian with several academic books on my CV; I also write for some well-known mainstream magazines and blogs. A couple of years ago, I was contacted by an agent who had seen my journalism and was interested in representing me if I ever wanted to do a more commercial nonfiction book (which I did).

At the time, she was new to agenting but had solid publishing credentials and worked for a reputable agency. We met and chatted, and a few months later I sent her a query and sample pages based on some new research. She liked the project and made useful suggestions, but ultimately felt the subject was too specialized to appeal to a mainstream publisher.

I should point out that it took weeks if not months for her to respond to my emails about the project, which were by no means frequent or pushy. But we kept in touch and a few months ago I sent her a second, much more commercial idea which she seemed really excited about.

Again, we went back and forth (sloooowly) for a couple of months with her giving feedback on sample pages and me fine-tuning, and finally she said she wanted to represent it and I should send her a formal proposal, which I did.

No response. I sent a follow-up email after two weeks, to confirm that she received the proposal and ask if she had any suggestions for improvements, or if perhaps she was having second thoughts about its mainstream appeal.

Again, crickets. Now it’s been a month and I still haven’t heard anything.

Is this normal, or is she just not that into me?

Having spent two years building a friendly relationship with a real live agent, I don’t want to burn that bridge, but I'm passionate about this project and I would like to move on and query other agents if this is going nowhere.

If you had asked me this question even just a year ago, I would have said something like "hang in there, agents are often behind, her lack of reply doesn't mean lack of interest."


In the last three months I've had three specific instances of agents basically dropping the ball and leaving clients (let alone queriers) high and dry.

I posted about one agent who was essentially forced out of a job which is not quite what you're talking about here, and there are two other instances where I'd helped writers connect with agents other than me, and had those agents drop the ball.

Now my advice is this: you're not running your railroad on Agent Time. If she's dawdling, you start querying. She has not offered you a contract, and you have not agreed to work with her. It's not only fair to query other agents, it's smart.

I've gotten off the rails with clients before, and I will again. It's part of the time management problem of balancing the important with the urgent. However, when I'm wooing a client to work with me, I'm generally trying to put my best foot forward and NOT behind too much. And I've learned (which this agent clearly has not) that keeping queriers informed is the ONLY way to assauge their fears while their work is under consideration.  I tell queriers who have full manuscripts with me that they can check in any time they need to.  And I do reply. It's often "haven't gotten to it yet, but I'm not dead, and I am working."

Query widely. Just because you've spent some time talking to this one agent does NOT mean she's the right agent for you.


Laurie Lamb said...

"You're not running your railroad on Agent Time." I love how you word your advice. I'm going to borrow that. Next time I can't get my kids off their computers and out the door I'll say, "I'm not running this household on Minecraft time." Thanks!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I'm running my life on Sherwin Williams’s time. I want to get some lipstick on this pig and sell it. Funny how I'm loving the paint colors I'm putting on the walls of a house I want to sell.

Oh, regarding this post. Like my mother used to say, “Ya gotta kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince.” She married my father after knowing him a mere 18 days. They were married 62 years.

Colin Smith said...

Great advice. I completely sympathize with the writer here. Querying is such a long and nerve-wracking process, when one agent holds out hope, you don't want to do anything that might jeopardize the relationship. But Janet's right. While you're waiting on this agent to get her shtuff together, there are other agents out there who may also love your work and be a bit more responsive to you.

A few weeks ago I received a rejection from an agent for a query I sent out back in July. I know agents get a lot of queries, and often get behind on replying, but six months? I had written this one off as a "no response means no" agent. Publishing moves slowly, but a lot can happen in six months.

Stacy said...

Right now I'm running my railroad on Waiting for Amazon's BOSCH to Start time, which is probably neither smart nor productive. :P

Unknown said...

It's hard not to get cynical by the whole process. (Maybe that's why so many writers drink!)

Anonymous said...

I hear the intro music for the Star Trek TV Series in my head for some reason as I read the question and Janet's reply.

Music to this:

Writing, the literary frontier. These are the queries of writers everywhere. Their five year (???) mission, to explore the strange world of publishing, to seek out new agents and land lucrative contracts. To boldly go where many have gone before."

It's perfect, don't you think?

Anonymous said...

Sigh. Colin?

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Ha ! Donna must have added a little vodka to her orange juice this morning.

Anonymous said...

Ha! Nah, that's just endorphins from my morning run - in 25 degree weather. Maybe it's brain freeze.

I'm super ticked my linky no worky.

Colin Smith said...

Excuse me, everyone, but I'm testing this for Donna. Neither she nor I have Blogger, so I want to see if this works:

Star Trek TV Series

Thanks! :)

Anonymous said...

Thx worked (of course, dagnabit)

It may have to do with the way I sign in under OpenID and Wordpress...if you notice, most everyone's username out here has a blogger or Google+ icon, even yours, even though you mention you're not on Blogger either.

Anyway, at least I know I did it right... :)

Colin Smith said...

Donna: Good point. I don't have a Blogger site, but I do have a Google account, and I'm signed in under that.

I suppose this means I *could* set up a Blogger site for testing these things and not waste Janet's comment space on this. But maybe someone else here will find this discussion useful?

Or not. :)

Anonymous said...

Talk about THE sidebar of the week. Oh well. I'll just have to post the usual boring mess'ola without any scintillating music or pics.

Sorry if we wasted anyone's time reading about all this!

Ardenwolfe said...

Excellent advice again from Ms. Reid.

DLM said...

I'm struck by our letter writer's use of the phrase "a real live agent" - this has a feel of someone who (a) hasn't done a lot of querying (and possibly (b) hopes not to have to). One of the very first things I learned from James River Writers events and conferences was that you can't pin all your excitement on the first agent who looks your way.

Given that this sounds like the first or one of VERY few agents this author has interacted with, this is an indicator there is a compelling property here. As Janet says, query widely. I'd bet money there are other fish in the sea, and ones who'll bite like they're hungry. Or sharks, for that matter ...

Unknown said...

Barbara Poelle's ring statement quoted at the top of Janet's blog seems to relate to this question.

Julia Munroe Martin said...

I had a similar experience and my gut told me to do just what you've advised, but I didn't...I was too afraid to rock the boat, ruffle feathers, I don't know what. I ended up losing a year of querying...and much hope too. These words alone "And I do reply" tells me I should've followed my gut. Thank you.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

Colin - yup, I'm still getting form rejects wandering in almost a year later. It's always a start to see that "query" subject line pop up.

Lack of time management (a condition I know only too well) isn't a good sign. Sure, stuff happens (I have paying work I should be doing RIGHT NOW,) but your stuff if your book. And if there is no explicit exclusivity agreement, it isn't reasonable for agent to assume you are twiddling your thumbs waiting for them.

To quote the song (and Tawna Fenske's wedding vows,) "if you like it, put a ring on it."

All the best to you. How frustrating.