Wednesday, November 30, 2016

"Just pass and get it over with instead of dawdling"

A recent commenter said

Why do agents hold onto manuscripts so long? If you're too busy, pass and let the wrter move on. A month, sure. Two months, three, okay. But seven months? That's terrible.

There aren't too many industries where this is acceptable, and it's only given a pass in publishing because writers are desperate for the attention of editors. But just because an agent can get away with it doesn't mean that they should.

My initial reaction was "authors would rather wait than have me pass just cause I haven't gotten to it yet" but then I realized I did NOT know that for a fact.

So, I decided to ask. I emailed six writers who had heard back from me (yea or nay) on their requested fulls, and six others who were still waiting. Most had been waiting more than the 90 days I ask for in my initial reply to them.

I asked:

If  you had a choice between hearing back soon and an agent saying no simply due to a lack of reading time, would that be preferable to waiting for many (many!) months?
There's no downside to brutal honesty here. I'm genuinely curious.

Here's what I heard:

Writer One
Janet, you are absolutely correct . . . well at least from my POV. I would rather wait for you (especially you) than receive a blanket “I’m too busy to read your ms” form rejection email. I don’t see the downside of waiting.
If you’re the only agent that has requested my ms, why would I pull it? And if several agents have requested it, again, why would I pull it? If one of the other agents who has my ms says yes, then I’m in the catbird seat and can write the email every debut author dreams of sending. And, if they all reject it, then again, I still have one more bullet in the chamber. So again, why would I pull it?

Agents are not trying to “get away” with anything. Quite the contrary. You want my book to be as good as I think my book is. And nothing would make you happier than finding your next best-seller blockbuster. Not only is it your job but, from the agents I’ve met, you love discovering new writers. So if that takes an extra month or three, I’m willing to wait.
Janet, I hope this helps.
In the meantime, I look forward to hearing from you, um, whenever.

Writer Two

I really don’t care how long it takes someone to come back to me on my query, especially if they seem to be genuinely interested.  My theory is that it’s all about timing.  If the agent is busy and has a lot of clients, you probably will either not hear back or will get that short “not for me but hang in there” response.  If the agent has a little time, recently lost some clients, decided to ramp things up for whatever reason, you might get a real response.

Writer Three
Speaking for myself, I much prefer waiting for rejection than being rejected immediately. But waiting doesn't mean the writer should hover around their computer waiting for THE e-mail. There are always more novels to write. In fact, by the time the agent rejects one novel, a writer might have finished another and feel even more confident that this is the novel that will definitely SELL! Thus, a writer need never feel depressed.

At the same time, I imagine most agents would feel a bit depressed if they learned that the manuscript that had been yellowing on their desk for the last six months was scooped up by a competitor and sold for a six-figure advance. Plus, a bidding war ensued for the film rights. .  

Don't think the above hasn't happened. And recently.

Writer Four

I might have a little more perspective on this than most since I have worked in the book biz for some years now, and I have seen how slowly the sausage gets made, but here are my thoughts.

First off, this person just sounds scared to me. They can’t take the waiting so they would rather you just say “No" so they can check it off the list and move on. I don’t know in what industry, or world, that kind of impatient thinking would yield a better result. I think a lot of people assume that writing the book is the longest part of the process, but it clearly is not.

Second, even if it is a “No” or “Pass" after you read the manuscript the feedback is worth the wait. I got a few polite boilerplate rejections that offered no feedback, but the stuff you pointed out about the first 50 pages having to much backstory and not having any plot, really stuck with me. It has caused me to really rethink how the story needs to be told. I think it is going to make me a better writer. I am all ears if you ever want to talk in more details about the story, characters, or anything else.

So in answer to your original question, YES I would rather wait six (or more) months to hear back from you either way with some feedback than to have you say “No" just because you are too busy to read it right away. I think most writers would be with me on that. By the way, you were great about getting back to me when I reached out to follow up, and you even let me know when you were moving agencies - that feels like a fair deal to me. Bottom line your opinion matters and I know you have a lot to read so I’m not going to rush you.

Writer Five
It's a really interesting question. Personally, I would hate to think my book got passed over due to a lack of time to read it. I'd rather wait those seven, or eight, or nine months (or more) to know the book was read, even if it ends in a rejection. Otherwise, there would always be that what if in the back of my mind. That would drive me insane. You also did a good job of keeping in contact with me and responding right away whenever I sent a follow up. I think if you hadn't have done that it would have been a bit more painful to wait.

That being said, I do have more a laid back personality and I think that has a lot to do with it as well. I have a friend I would keep updated about the progress, and she would get irritated on my behalf. But she is a very precise, strict deadline kind of person (she's an attorney).

I'm sorry, I don't know if any of this was helpful or not. Personally, I didn't mind the wait. I'm fully aware that my book isn't the only one you'd be reading, and that you would probably have about a bajillion other things on your plate at the same time. You spend a very long time writing a book, what's another seven months wait in the long run? It's like a hiccup.

Writer Six
I would always prefer to wait over getting a "no" due to mere lack of time.
But on the other hand, if I had sent out a dozen queries on the book and nine agents responded positively, that changes things quite a bit!
Then there's the question: Does the agent have an exclusive requirement in order to read a full? I don't know the general practice on this, but I would hope that the exclusivity requirement would come with a promise to read/respond by a certain date.

Also, updates from the slow agent would go a long way towards building trust. "Hi, I haven't gotten to your MS yet, but don't give up on me. There are 3 (9) MSS ahead of you, so please be patient a little longer."

Yes, exclusives (which stink and also smell) should have a SHORT time limit.


  Writer Seven

With absolute certainty, I would rather wait extra [fill in the blank up to 12] months before asking an agent to pass on it due to a lack of reading time. I suppose there is some number of months where you'll begin to think that an agent doesn't have time for you on their roster if it takes them too long to respond. Off the top of my head, I'd say that number is between 7 and 12 months. However, that doesn't translate to "time to pass because it's taken so long." Rather, that translates more closely to "time to nudge and find out WHY it's taking so long."

If I nudge after 7 to 12 months, and an agent doesn't respond to my email, that's telling. (As in, telling me to search elsewhere because they don't have time or me.) However, if I nudge and an agent says something akin to "You again? Remember I said patience is a virtue. I'm popular, what can I say. My stack of requested fulls is getting shorter, and yours is getting eerily closer to the top. Hang with me another couple months." Well, then I'm right back to saying I'll give them more time to read rather then pulling my ms back because it's been too long. Just show me you still have interest, and I'll show you respect by granting the time.


Writer Eight (who has experienced many months waiting not just once, not just twice but THREE times with me) 

Though everyone would like to hear as soon as possible, I can't imagine they'd rather receive a quick turn-down than a reply after an agent has had an opportunity to take a good look at the work. We struggle mightily just to get our manuscripts in someone's hands who will give us an objective evaluation. If that requires a longer than normal wait I guess it's just one of the things we have to put up with.  

Bottom line: No one in my requested fulls list simply wanted me to pass after 8 weeks so they could move on.

I know waiting sucks.
I also know it's simply part of general trade publishing.
If you just can't tolerate waiting, there's a perfect alternative available now: self publishing electronically.  You can write something and publish it the same day.

Or you could work for a daily newspaper and see your work in print the very next day.

Or you can write a blog and not only see your work the next minute, you can voice your opinion on all matter of things. Like those dastardly slacker agents who are lollygagging about.

Thanks to all of the writers who helped out on this blog post.
(I'm sure they all would rather I was reading their manuscript!)


nightsmusic said...

I'd be so slap happy that I had a full requested (it's only happened once) that I'd be willing to wait until I hear from the agent. Until I Hear From The Agent. I might nudge if many, many moons have passed, but until I hear one way or another, you bet I'm waiting. Because it's not my timing in this that matters. It's the agent's timing and how full their plate is and I'd hate to be pushed aside like a bunch of wilted kale because they didn't want to be bothered with it.

Timothy Lowe said...

One of the nicest rejections I've received on a full was from an agent from a very well-thought of firm who held it for seven months. A month after I nudged, she wrote back with a "sorry it took so long" email, complete with some glowing words followed by the reason for the reject (Any agents listening - yes, these types of rejections are fondly remembered!)

Thankfully, I'd just read a blog post here about waiting that put it in perspective. I wrote back "No biggie. I'm glad you took the time to give it a good look," along with a promise to requery with something else. The kind agent responded (again) with an invitation to do so.

I have to echo the writers Janet polled. I must say I'm impressed that she took the time to actually research something that most would have assumed.

Kitty said...

I don't think the recent commenter is necessarily impatient, although who wouldn't be after 7 months of silence? So, isn't there some sort of 'happy' medium here? When an agent requests a manuscript, couldn't the agent give the writer a ballpark idea of how long it might be before they get to it?

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

No matter my efforts, plan or scheme when I buy a lottery ticket I know that the time between the purchase and the drawing is most probably, certainly and absolutely the only chance I get to hang a star on my life changing dreams. That time lag (and it’s faint, faint, faint glimmer of hope), is all I get.

Waiting for a response from an agent...I sure as hell wouldn’t turn that down. It may be, (so far), all I get. But someday, when the balls drop and my numbers fall into place, it will be because I finally picked the ‘write’ ones

Lisa Bodenheim said...

8 out of 12 writers responded and they all preferred to wait. I'm not surprised. Of This is QOTKU. I'd be patiently waiting too if she had requested my MS. After all, since it's taken an extraordinary amount of time to write my first story, only 3 plus years, I can surely handle a 7-12 month wait on a request to read. Plus I'd busy myself with drafting, revising, editing, and polishing my second WiP in addition to the routine of ordinary life enjoyed with family and friends and colleagues.

Thank you, Janet for checking this out and sharing.

Donnaeve said...

It doesn't surprise me the writers said they'd wait. My thinking the entire time I was reading was, if OP prefers/wants agents to simply pass b/c they're too busy, they would have no one to query b/c ALL agents are busy.

And, I also thought, but wait, if the agent has requested the full, and if they suddenly up and pass after, oh, say two months, finally deciding, "ya know what? I'm just too busy," then OP or any other writer for that matter, (I would think) would be in a bit of a snit over that!

Having a full out there is a good thing. Someone once told me having a dog teaches you patience. (Or kids for that matter) And that's true, but I can tell you now, publishing traditionally, or otherwise, teaches this tenfold. If you're the sort of person who likes control and if you're also impatient even to the tiniest degree, this ain't going to be an easy for you.

This is why it's so important and helpful to try and distract yourself by writing another book. I know, because that's what I did, although my circumstances weren't relative to a full w/an agent, but a book out on submission. There are going to be a multitude of events that happen where you'll have to wait. From that full, to going on submission, to waiting on your editor to read a revised ms.

There isn't a thing I know of in publishing that happens fast.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Excelllent post and yes, better to wait. While that hamster wheel gets to us all now and again, you're a writer. Write something else while you wait as suggested above. Build your arsenal.

I really am looking forward to the query trenches although Lord knows how long it will be before I am there again. Patience and persistence. Both are job requirements for writers.

Colin Smith said...

First, I echo Timothy's comment that you took the time to research this with writers who recently submitted mss. Such a QOTKU thing to do, and why you are truly a special snowflake in the publishing blizzard.

It was the second paragraph of Opie's comment that caught my eye when I first read it the other day. "There aren't too many industries where this is acceptable." Here's the thing: Publishing isn't like many other industries. All the parallel industries to publishing are other art-based industries (e.g., the recording industry, the film industry, etc.), where you are also dealing with agents and subjective decision makers that will keep you waiting to make those decisions. To compare publishing with, say, banking or retail is and apples-to-oranges comparison. Like comparing running the U.S. government with running a business... let's not go there, shall we? :)

I submitted a short story to a magazine last night. I expect to wait for a response, but that's because I know they read every submission, and they have to evaluate each submission to decide whether it is good enough and right for their publication. If this is true for short stories, then naturally it's true x 100 for novels. As Janet said, if you can't hack the wait, maybe self-pubbing is more your wheelhouse.

Colin Smith said...

Oh, and talking of waiting a long time for things, I posted my review of THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE by Donna Everhart(usatba) today. The link to my blog is in my Blogger profile if you want to read it, though by now I think everyone here has at least heard of it, or owns a copy. :)

S.P. Bowers said...

I would rather wait and be rejected (or accepted) on my writing rather than a quick rejection just because the agent didn't have time. It's all about the writing and that's what I want to be seen.

Mister Furkles said...

If authors would rather not wait any longer, they may pull their manuscript. Why not leave it up to the writer to decide. Nobody pays a legitimate agent to read their manuscript. But no novelist need wait if they are unwilling to do so.

Robert Ceres said...

What a timely post. No, wait, it could have been a month or three from today and still been timely!

I think the real objection (least for me) is having to sit on my hands to keep them still. NOT writing a nudge, a hey I'm still alive and still thinking of you email is tough. I was just reading John Green's An Abundance of Katharines. There's a scene in there where he describes how it might be better if the Katharine intiated the kis. How Colin, the main character, is reluctant to initiate a kiss, the anticipation where he knows she likes him, and things are still good, there is still a warm and fuzzy inside, versus the risk, the fear of rejection. Perhaps the nudge is a bit like this. Well, not really. Still, it's a great romantic scene.

Colin Smith said...

Robert: That happens to be my favorite John Green novel. :)

french sojourn said...

Colin, Nice review. I left a quick note. You don't have to post it though.

On Topic: Why would one not wait?

As a tangential analogy: Back when I was single, in the late 80's...1980's thank you. I don't imagine that I would have asked a charming young lady out on a date and couched it with "Say No if you need a couple weeks to think it over." But that's just me.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Reading "only given a pass in publishing because writers are desperate for the attention of editors" is one of the sillier things I've experienced today, and keep in mind that I woke up because my cat was petting my hair. Agents/editors aren't keeping authors waiting because they're arrogant, high-handed, or malicious, they do it because they're busy. The only way for wait times to be shorter would be if there were more agents - which would imply more editors, more publishers, and a higher demand for new books. So blame readers or the economy, but certainly not agents!

But I can also sense a high degree of frustration from the comment - so hang in there. Just because it's tear-you-hair-out frustrating doesn't mean it's not worth doing.

John Williamson said...

In France many years ago, an author who had been waiting for a very long time to hear something about his new manuscript sent a letter to the publisher.

The letter read simply: "?"
The reply came back from the publisher: "!"

The author was Victor Hugo. The book was "Les Miserables".

Megan V said...

Thank you QOTKU for researching this.

I'm with majority in that I'd definitely rather wait the extra ___ months than receive the 'too busy' rejection. Publishing is an industry that moves at a glacial pace. I know that. I'm willing to wait.


I will also admit that I had to think about the question for a bit. Here's why: I know that some agents work through their non-client TBR queue based on level of excitement. As a wheel-spinning woodland creature who watches QueryTracker and Twitter, I try to keep general tabs on where my MS is in a potential queue. If it's been X months (and if I discover that the majority of MSes before and after mine 1. have received responses and 2. weren't bumped up in the queue due to offer by another agent) it's easy to think that Agent Awesome simply isn't as excited about my MS as when they first requested it. And that's okay. But it's tempting as a writer to say, you know, it's okay if you changed your mind about wanting to read MS. Please send rejection.

Bethany Joy said...

Waiting is uncomfortable, but it doesn’t cause any real harm. I would much prefer to wait because my work was being seriously considered than to have it auto-rejected for lack of time.

The feedback I’ve gotten from agents who have read my work has been so valuable. Insightful comments helped me to see my work in a different way and to learn more about the industry. I wouldn’t have those insights if I had been impatient. Even though they were ultimately rejections, I didn’t feel like I left empty handed because I had roadmap for how to proceed.

Colin Smith said...

Megan: That's an interesting question, and I would love to get Janet's take on it: How much does the speed of response equate to an agent's interest? For example, you read a query and think "Wowsers! I hope the pages are as good as this!" You read the five attached pages and scream, "Double Wowsers! They ARE as good. I HAVE to read this novel!!" You send a full request, and, of course, before the shot of whisky has reached the back of your throat, the writer has responded with a hyperventilatingly excited email containing the complete novel. Knowing how much you loved the pages, how easy is it for you to resist reading the full immediately? Do you take another shot and put it to the back of the manuscript queue? Do you put it higher up the queue because you really want to read it? Or do you just blow off the rest of your reading for that night so you can read it and get back to the author ASAP before any other agent snags them?

What this boils down to for us woodland creatures: how much stock should we put in the time it takes for an agent to respond to a full? Sure, we may get a positive response after seven months. But if, hypothetically, I get a requests for rep from an agent who has had the ms for 7 months, and from an agent who has had the ms for 7 hours, can I safely assume the latter agent loved the ms more than the former, and might be the better choice for this novel?

Dena Pawling said...

In less than an hour, I am leaving my house to go to court for the purpose of evicting a tenant who my landlord client has on video brandishing a firearm. Even tho courthouses in my area are equipped with metal detectors at security screening, the first thing I'll do when I get to the courtroom is notify the bailiff of this fact. So, in honor of the day, my post is entitled “lessons in cross-examination” or “what to ask during deposition”.

Janet sent out 12 emails, 6 to writers who are still waiting and 6 to writers who presumably waited a while and then received their response. Eight responded.

1. Of the four who did not respond, were they writers who were still waiting or had they already received their response?
2. If the latter, what was the response they received?
3. Assuming for the sake of this question that the four did not respond because they didn't think you'd like their response, would their response have been the opposite of the ones who actually did respond?
4. Changing up the question and redirecting it back to Janet - How many ms did you simply not request for the reason that you lacked reading time?
5. If a 2/3 response rate from writers to agents' queries is typical, does that mean writers are more professional or less professional than the significantly-lower percentage response rate of agents responding to writer queries?

Tomorrow is December 1. Time sure does fly faster, the older I get.

Kara Reynolds said...

I think the only time a long wait for a response on a full (or query, for that matter) would bother me is if there were another agent at the same agency I was interested in querying. But as someone said earlier, in that case the author has the right and ability to contact the agent and withdraw the manuscript from consideration. Or ignore the agency guidelines that say "no simultaneous submissions," but that does not seem like a wise choice to me :0)

Craig F said...

There are ways to justify anything. To me it boils down to the fact that I am not a patient beast. There are reasons for this that don't just apply to writing.

In writing it is this:

At the moment all genres are in flux and close to reaching Malthusian Proportions. Each of them is so full that the outfall of each is clogged and the shit is rising.

I have couple of thrillers that I, and others, like. They have strong concepts, good pacing and the writing is better than some other thrillers on the market.

If I queried one and got a request for a full I would be happy for a time. As time passed, though, I would be able to see the market getting continually further swamped. A year later it would be easy to place blame if the agent FINALLY decided it had potential but it was a year late to hit the market.

Timing is an important part of publishing.

Colin Smith said...

Kara: Ahh, but agents WANT writers who live on the edge. Writers who shun guidelines and do their own thing because they are independent and unique. Difficult? Yeah, maybe, but that's what makes them so desirable. They don't follow the crowd. They cut against the grain.

They say NO to rules because we don't need no stinkin' rules!
They ask for extra kale with their salad because we don't need no stinkin' taste buds!
They hook their lines with chum because we don't need no stinkin' arms!
They forgo social media because we don't need no stinkin' friends!
They forgo deodorant, hairdressers, and laundry detergent because we don't need no stinkin'... well, ok, we DO need stinkin' stink!

After all, you can't be a Struggling Artist if you don't struggle.


Lennon Faris said...

OK, I can sympathize a little with the frustration of long waits. However, it drives me insane when I'm on the other side (not in publishing), and someone acts indignant that I do not give them my time in what they consider a timely manner. They are waiting on the other end and can't see me running around and giving up lunch and working late just to make sure all the critical things are taken care of. I'm not sure OP MEANT to come off as indignant/ entitled, but that was the impression I got from the word choices.

Also, as I understand it, waiting for an agent to read the mss might be one of the least stressful things about traditional publishing. Maybe the shortest, too.

BunnyBear said...

One good thing about a long wait - if it ends in a rejection, the sting isn't quite so severe. This morning I received a rejection on a partial request I provided on 3/9/16, and although the agent apologized for the long delay, I'd already mentally moved it into the "oh, well" file and it didn't hurt a bit.

Anonymous said...

"I think a lot of people assume that writing the book is the longest part of the process, but it clearly is not."

Absolutely! I had no clue of this truth before I started this journey. It's nice to see my feelings confirmed in these responses. Also, It's great to see that an agent cares enough to solicit opinions from writers.

Ardenwolfe said...

It's a harsh thing. Yes, we writers want a quick response, but will wait a long time for a yes. A very long time. The sad thing? A lot of times these days gives no response at all. And that's a little more than discouraging.

But that's the business these days.

Anonymous said...

I think the original person who wrote that may be a new writer who's only written one thing? I definitely felt that way my first time querying--that's because I'd spent years slaving over ONE manuscript and it was everything to me. The biggest thing I've learned as a writer is to just keep writing. You need more than one manuscript so you don't have all your eggs in one basket, and also, the more you write, the more you learn, the better you get.

So in short: I have no problem waiting. I'll use that time to write another thing.

Claire Bobrow said...

Great post today. It's really helpful to hear, again and again, how important it is to embrace patience in the publishing world. I would say that extends far beyond waiting for feedback from agents and editors, to the development of ideas, the writing, and the editing process.

There's no mistake as valuable as the one you make yourself. I learned an easy lesson right off the bat about querying too soon. My goal now is to cultivate patience, but prevent it from morphing into procrastination, or fear.

Best of luck to everyone out there waiting - I hope there will be good news (or good comments) for you soon!

Karen McCoy said...

Really great insight from what seems like a super group of writers.

I've thought about self publishing, but am wary. I've heard it behooves the author to be very careful about what is considered their debut novel. I've also heard the shark's warnings about low sales being a detractor when agents come calling. If anyone has thoughts on this, please share!

The Sleepy One said...

I'd rather wait for an honest evaluation than a quick rejection based on time.

Besides, publishing is a lot of waiting. If you get to the point where you sell a book, you have to wait for the contract. Wait for your editorial letter. The whole process is a ton of waiting even if things move as they should. I know someone whose novel was supposed to come out in 2015 but she keeps getting bumped, and she was just bumped from 2017 to 2018 by her publisher. There's value to learning patience while querying.

John Davis Frain said...

Eight out of twelve responses is phenomenal in direct response marketing, whether print or email. And we're not told if the four non-responders aren't shown here because they didn't respond or other reasons. Maybe Janet thought their responses were already reflected in the other eight or maybe they asked their response not be printed but she could use for data.

Regardless, I don't think we can assume their answer would have been different. Or the same. We just don't know their answer.

One could argue some research bias because if Janet had your ms for six months and you answered the question by saying waiting for six months would leave a taste worse than kale in my mouth you might be shooting yourself in the foot. But Janet is such a straight shooter on the blog that I wouldn't put any weight into research bias here.

In defense of the original poster, there are hours (maybe even days!) when I think like that and wish the waiting was over. It's probably best not to nudge on those days.

The 100% solution: Write something new.

Jen said...

Take it from a Type-A personality who was lucky enough to have multiple fulls out with agents (one of which took 8 months), and an exclusive with editors (that took 5+ months): impatience will KILL you in this business. Keep querying, work on other projects. It will be worth it in the end not to dwell on time tables.

In a COMPLETELY unrelated topic, I had a friend alert me that there are such things as scotch whiskey advent calendars. It's November 30th, and there's always expedited shipping. ;-)

Colin Smith said...

Jen is absolutely right! And there's more than one to choose from! Here's an example of a Whisky Advent Calendar. Google will pull up others. :) And if whisky isn't your thing, here's a site offering other adult beverages. :)

And if spirits aren't your thing..." :D

Julie Weathers said...

"and it's only given a pass in publishing because writers are desperate for the attention of editors. But just because an agent can get away with it doesn't mean that they should."

I'm trying to be understanding here because I do know the frustration at times. However, this tone irks me a bit.

It's only given a pass because authors are desperate?

What do you suggest the solution is?

The agent has clients who actually make them money who come first. Most agents appear at a number of conferences as a matter of business. The read queries, which people also gripe about if they get answered: too slowly, too quickly, not personally, not at all, the day before Thanksgiving (Yes, one author lit into an agent for sending a rejection the day before Thanksgiving.), or with comments they disagree with.

You got a request for a full. Hoorah! The agent probably told you it would be at least 90 days, many agents have told me it can take up to six months, but be assured they will give it every consideration.

In that time I did not wait on that one agent. I marked it on the spreadsheet and kept querying and kept writing. I didn't lose a single day by them taking one day or one year because I was still working. I put them out of my mind. I think at one time I had ten or twelve partials and fulls out on Far Rider at one time. That's how completely I put it out of my mind. I didn't keep count. Every now and then I would look at the spreadsheet to see where I was, but I wasn't living and dying by the inbox and calendar.

So, the author is going to do something about this unacceptable behavior. What are they going to do? Tell agents they have 90 days to make a decision? Pull their manuscript after 90 days or whatever time limit they impose?

What have they accomplished?

Let me tell you what my experience with quick responses on fulls are. Rejection. I've had agents receive a partial and request a full within 30 minutes, which is pretty astounding, but that doesn't usually happen. Usually the agents who are taking a longer time finally get back to me with a "I've been sitting on the fence about this." Then they tell me what they liked and why they declined. It's followed by a heartfelt invitation to query them again with my next work.

I'm more than happy they took the time to consider and reconsider even if they declined because they left the door open with an invitation.

As for the four who weren't reported here, I wouldn't read too much into it. If Janet had emailed me while I was traveling, I would have missed it. We do email about other things than the daily notices about blog posts, but if I've been offline and I am trying to catch up on emails, I may just glance through and think something from her is just a blog notice.

Busy little author brains are trying to ferret out fabulous mysteries where there's probably perfectly boring explanations.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I've only had two fulls. One was a fairly fast rejection, with some nice personal comments. The other took months and months, and was an R&R. The waiting is agonizing, yes, and the temptation to just keep looking at your email is very strong (I'm a slave to that little blue light on my phone, which is also a Google Hangouts notification, which is how we play some of our Shadowrun. But I digress).

A reasonable answer is, certainly, to write more!

BunnyBear said...

Patience is essential in this industry, but there's another issue here that nobody has mentioned. Querying has been compared (accurately) to dating. That means BOTH sides are doing the "please like me" dance and agents aren't the only ones doing the evaluating. The author has to believe that the relationship will be a good match and if timeliness is important, an agent who requests a full ms and then sits on it for months with no status update will not be a good fit for that author. Yes, agents are busy. Who isn't? Yet perhaps they sometimes forget that their behavior, good or bad, speaks volumes that you can't get from looking a their web page.

Barbara Etlin said...

A good agent is worth the wait.

Before I got my lovely agent's offer, the best, most helpful personal rejection came six months after I sent the manuscript. I had given up on that agent and the personal rejection was a wonderful surprise. (She didn't want a revision, but asked to see my next manuscript. Very encouraging.)

The amount of time you wait for a response doesn't necessarily reflect any lack of enthusiasm or quality of response. It probably just reflects the agent's available reading time.

Julie Weathers said...


"I'm a slave to that little blue light on my phone"

Which is why I don't have my email on my phone, blasphemy I know. I don't want to be summoned to the phone like a Pavlovian dog every time a whistle or light goes off.

The Sleepy One said...

"Which is why I don't have my email on my phone, blasphemy I know. I don't want to be summoned to the phone like a Pavlovian dog every time a whistle or light goes off."

I have a Garmin smart watch that's awesome for hiking--it has GPS--and it also alerts me when I have email. Talk about a love-hate relationship. And I need to figure out how to turn off alerts for Words with Friends because my watch doesn't need to buzz when it's my turn to play.

Julie Weathers said...

Sleepy One

I have a little chirp on my phone for when I get a text. I had to put it on because I was missing them and then my son would show up concerned I was dead or something because I hadn't responded. When I was at Mom's the chirp would go off, and not that often as Will is the only one who texts me, but it drove her batty. I thought about disabling it until I left, but I didn't get that many texts and knew I would probably forget to turn it back on. The ringtone also bugged her, so I don't think it would have helped to change the sound.

Notifications on my watch? No thank you. I want to know what time it is only.


RachelErin said...

I was at a wine tasting last month, where the winemaker wanted to copy the techniques his grandfather remembered his grandfather doing. He'd read about crazy 18th c. winemakers storing their wine for thirty years in barrels - absurd! But he said aside a barrel or two one year, when he was just starting out, about thirty years ago.

Wouldn't you know, the wine was fantastic. Not just good, but amazing in a way unlike any wine he'd ever tasted. Now he's sad he hasn't put away a barrel a year. Of course he's about sixty, so it's a little late.

Just a shout out other industries EVEN SLOWER than publishing.

Maybe that's why so many writers drink so much wine (although I bet most of us can't afford the stuff that needs to age).

Anonymous said...

I am happy to wait. I look at it like Schrodinger's Cat... At any one time an agent might be reading it and not reading it. I live in hope. I don't want to ever not be excited that I may receive THE email/phone call.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Julie Well.....the thing is, I do really want to know. The problem is, I also subscribe to the newsletters of the magazines I submit to, so I end up with a lot of false positive. "Ooh, I got a response on the...nope newsletter." The only time my phone makes noise, though, if if I get a text or a phone call. (or a Facebook notification, which I have turned off everywhere I see how, and it does it anyway)

Matt Adams said...

While i appreciate Janet's post, I think the sample is skewed.

What were the writers going to say? I'd rather have you reject me without reading? She's still got their MSes in her hands. None of them were ever going to say anything other than "take your sweet time, just happy to be here ..."

Unagented writers are NEVER going to say anything bad (or even slightly negative) toward an agent (Look at what happened to the guy who did), and especially when that agent is a) awesome and b) still considering the MS. No one is ever going to say anything beyond polite and respectful and understanding and all that jazz. Even the ones Janet passed on still want to maintain their relationship with her, and in this climate, this relationship is one of deference (until money rolls in. Then maybe the tables turn. Not having made any money, I don't know). So I don't think this kind of questions is going to get a completely truthful response, because writers are trying so damn hard to not piss agents off in any way possible.

Karen McCoy said...

RachelErin I loved your story! I grew up in California Wine Country and the only thing that might seem slower than waiting for the bottles to age is for the grapes to be ripe enough for picking!

P.S. You should come to Napa and/or Sonoma during the months of September or October--you can actually smell the crush in the air!

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

In reading submission guidelines, I'll periodically see where an agent has put a temporary moratorium on querying. I'm sure the reasons are as varied and personal as the agents themselves... but I have seen a few say "until I get caught up on reading requested manuscripts."

Seems like a smart and prudent thing to do. Yes? No?

Julie Weathers said...


Yes, I certainly understand. I get a lot more junk in my email than I should since I follow a lot of military, research, political, publishing and various other places that notify me daily of something or another. I've had 27 emails today alone so far. Yesterday was around 60 because I was working on some technical stuff. I would be bouncing around like a chihuahua on speed trying to grab the phone every time a notice goes off.

Other people are more organized or don't mind reading on a phone screen. I read there as a last resort. I know, I'm a dinosaur.

Julie Weathers said...


"Unagented writers are NEVER going to say anything bad (or even slightly negative) toward an agent (Look at what happened to the guy who did"

There's a difference between expressing an honest opinion, which Janet encourages, and someone going out of their way to be rude, insulting, and in every way possibly demeaning to someone both personally and professionally. Janet's even posted some dissenting opinions from commenters before and said why the people were right.

The poor soul you mentioned launched a vitriolic attack because she rejected his manuscript and then people try to pass it off as he had the courage to stand up to "the man"? Bull.

He was given the rules before the conference, but then balked because he was expected to obey them because he's special and she's just a young twit barely out of school with an IQ lower than Hemingway's dog. He completely ignores the fact she has two degrees, is a both a licensed teacher and lawyer in his diatribe.

The only person I feel sorry for regarding that man is any woman who has to put up with his crappy attitude and I am not a burning feminist.

Beth said...

If waiting is so difficult a quick no is preferable, why query at all?

That said, I confess to grumbling to myself about it taking longer for the editor to read my story than it did for me to write it (literally). Eventually, though she read it, she bought it, and all is well.

Gretta said...

I just have the nagging feeling that the waiting just means the agent isn't excited enough. Nearly all the stories I've read about How/When So-and-So got his/her agent tell the tale of Rabid Excitement, and Whirlwind Response Times. When I was querying for my memoir, that was my experience. The agent I signed with (and a couple I didn't) was/were lightning fast in getting back to me (I've since left said agent, and am back in Query Hell for fiction). I need to hear the stories of the writers who had to wait (and not Victor Hugo - times were too different back then), but then signed with an agent who sold their book for Piles O'Cash.

Gretta said...

Also - this:
"I imagine most agents would feel a bit depressed if they learned that the manuscript that had been yellowing on their desk for the last six months was scooped up by a competitor and sold for a six-figure advance. Plus, a bidding war ensued for the film rights. .

Don't think the above hasn't happened. And recently."

Was it the one about Tangiers? My guess is it's the one about Tangiers. And now I'm dying to know who passed on it. I'm so nosy! I can't help myself!

Jamie McCullum said...

But how long does it take to read a 50 page partial?

Agents are professional readers and writers. The average person reads at a page a minute. Someone who reads for a living, according to research, reads double that speed. So, a 50 page partial should take only 25 to 30 minutes adding in taking sips of coffee, or Scotch.

Maybe Janet can illuminate: Do agents ever, when considering partials, send those partials out to editors to see if there's any interest? Then if so, the agents request the full or sign the author.

This would make sense to me, but then I'm just assuming. Why would an agent bother to sign a debut author unless the agent had a strong inkling or basis that the work could be sold. Just like us, if we have not written a viable book that can be sold, then having an agent isn't going to do us any good. An agent can't force a publisher to publish us. They can only present our book, after maybe a little editing on their part, and hope for the best. To avoid a lot of hurt feelings, and bad blood if the book fails to sell, I can understand why an agent might evaluate the partial by send it out to familiar editors first without telling us. On Absolute Writer there are lots of thread about people bad mouthing agents who can't sell their books. Unless the agent is truly crooked, I think this is unfair. These authors don't want to accept the fact, they just didn't write a viable book. They need to get working on the next, not finding escape goats for the first.

I know we're not supposed to assume things that we have know way of knowing about, but sorry I can't help it.

Colin Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt Adams said...

Julie --

I don't want to rehash the topic again, because the guy's a jerk and I don't want to be seen as defending him, but the vitriol, number and lengths to which he was attacked was, in my opinion, unequal to his crime, and the ensuing echo chamber from unagented writers agreeing, but also okay with letting agents know they are completely on their side against jerks like this) was also, in my opinion, disproportionate to the crime. I understand other people disagree.

That being said, Janet can ask for honest feedback from unagented writers about agent behavior, but she is not going to get anyone to tell her anything other than what they think will make her think of them in the most positive way possible. Interest from an agent is to rare an occurrence for most unpublished writers to risk upsetting them and certainly not by implying they are doing something wrong. You don't insult those from whom you need something resembling a favor (not exactly, but hopefully you get my drift), and you don't tell people whose help you need they are doing their job wrong.

All that said, I think the questioner had a decent point. I didn't experience a long wait with agents, so I don't know whether I'd prefer it that way, but I can tell you being on submission for a long time is equally maddening, and lots of times I wish editors would just pass if they're going to pass. At some point keeping hope alive gets in the way of making changes or looking at other options. You don't want to piss away opportunity, but you do have to wonder how long it helps to hang out in limbo. Especially when it turns out to be a pass.

Janet didn't break them down, but I would have been interested to see how many of the three passes she asked the question of agreed they were okay with taking as much time as she needed.

Colin Smith said...


Agents are professional readers and writers.

Agents do read for a living, but most are not professional writers. Some are, but not most.

The average person reads at a page a minute. Someone who reads for a living, according to research, reads double that speed. So, a 50 page partial should take only 25 to 30 minutes adding in taking sips of coffee, or Scotch.

The reading an agent does for a living mostly consists of contracts and client material. As I understand it, a large part of the agent's working day is spent handling client business in some form or another. Most agents seem to do their non-client work in their "spare" time (after hours, on weekends, first thing in the morning). So while an agent can theoretically get through a partial fairly quickly, you can see how that partial might sit in a TBR queue for a while. And the conscientious agent is going to give it a fair shake before deciding to request a full or offer representation, so that half hour might extend to hours. Then you have agents who don't request partials--either a full or nothing. I believe Janet is one of those agents.

Just some thoughts. :)

Michael said...

I was the one who asked that question, but I don't think I explained myself well, because people are mostly addressing a question I wasn't asking. I wasn't asking whether the author should wait or not, I was asking why the agent didn't speed up the response.

Given a choice between waiting and getting a quick pass, obviously waiting is better. But what is the reason why the agent is so slow?

An agent can't read a greater volume of queries simply because it takes six weeks to get to each query rather than six days. She can't read any more full manuscripts in a year if she's working on a six month delay versus six weeks.

I believe that when an agent gets too far behind, it would be better to wipe the slate clean and start over. If you continually get behind, then it seems that there's either a problem with procrastination or the work load cannot be managed, in which case fewer manuscripts should be requested.

An ideal world, I know, which doesn't exist. I still think that it's a problem of power. Agents have full power over aspiring writers, and the writers have little option but to wait. And wait. And wait.

Janet, thank you for addressing my question seriously and fairly, by the way.

P.S. Just to address this comment from one of the respondents:

First off, this person just sounds scared to me. They can’t take the waiting so they would rather you just say “No" so they can check it off the list and move on.

I haven't queried for years, but that's because I have an agent and a book contract. I've been on the receiving end of hundreds of rejections over the years, and also delivered hundreds of them. It's painful to get them, but it also sucks to hand them out, knowing you're crushing dreams one at a time. I do wish the industry would speed up the pain-delivering process, as I think it would be better for all involved. ;)

Steve Stubbs said...

If these people are that afraid of rejection, the word is wimp. The solution is quite simple. If they would rather be rejected 9 months after sending the full, reject the MS immediately, then mark your calendar and send out the rejection 9 months late. Problem solved.

In the real business world, which is much nastier than the publishing business ever thought of being, managers are firing everyone they can so they will be unemployed during the holiday season. Here are some contents I have seen in help wanted ads. This is from memory, but none of it is made up.
“Arrogant Americans need not apply [meaning they hire foreigners only],”
“We originally were offering twelve thousand a year for this job (minimum master’s degree required) but got so many resumes we have backed that down to ten thousand,”
“Work for us ninety days and if we like you we will give you your first cut in pay [your FIRST cut? As in first in a series?],”
“We do not pay bonuses to non-management personnel [English translation: no frozen turkey at Christmas for flunkeys]”
“$4.75 an hour and not a penny more [the legal minimum wage is $7.25/hour]” etc.
Be glad you are self-employed. Be glad you are in publishing.

Jamie McCullum said...

Or maybe the response time is directly related to the salability of the manuscript.

Viable manuscripts with editors clearly in mind, might be read faster? From Query Tracker Success Stories, you can see that many agents have responded, requested fulls and signed in a month, and sold the book by the next.

What the dynamics underneath such situations are, only the agent knows I guess.

Julie Weathers said...


Recently an agent asked on twitter if authors preferred not to get rejections right before holidays. She genuinely wanted to know. The reason she wanted to know what she worked right up to Thanksgiving and part of that work included answering queries.

She was rather shocked to have one author respond rather vehemently about how rude she was to ruin the author's holiday.

Would it have been any less ruined if the rejection came two, three, or four days before a holiday? What if it arrives on a birthday or an anniversary?

Some people said if a rejection would bother them, they just don't look at agent emails right before the holiday. They must be built of stern stuff.

Some said they would open it and it would bother them.

The vast majority said they'd rather the agent just keep to their schedule and not try to figure out if someone is going to be hurt by a rejection.

Were they all trying to suck up to her given the answers fell everywhere?

"Janet didn't break them down, but I would have been interested to see how many of the three passes she asked the question of agreed they were okay with taking as much time as she needed."

I wasn't in the group questioned, but I fall in that category. I hope Janet won't mind me sharing this. If so, I apologize. We went through three rounds of R&R and I will forever be grateful to Janet and her minions for the help. Far Rider and I are much better off for the experience.

In the end she passed because as much as she likes my writing, she truly just can't get into fantasy. We went back and forth some with revisions and it took a long time. I didn't care how long she took because I wasn't waiting on her. I was writing other stuff and querying widely. It didn't matter if she passed eventually or not because I had not tied all my hopes to one agent though heaven knows many of us would love to have "repped by Janet Reid" made up into a neon sign and installed on our roof.

Was I disappointed? Yes. Was I surprised? No. Though she does like my writing, she doesn't rep fantasy.

The average response time from I think 137 queries, I'd have to look again, was 61 days. The quickest rejection somewhere around five minutes. The quickest request, two minutes.

If an agent says their average response time is 90 days on a query and my average wait time on everything is 60 days on the vast majority, I am not going to whine about the ones who go for months on fulls when many sites flat out say it can take six months.

To those who think the publishing world is grossly unfair, I'm sure it is. Who on earth ever told you life was fair? I look at the vet who lost both legs and says, "People ask me how I can be so upbeat when you lost both your legs? I tell them, How can you not be when you still have both of yours?"

DeadSpiderEye said...

Seven months wow, that's over 10,000 cigarettes and about 150 bottles of gin.

Anonymous said...

I have yet to query, so grain of salt. Maybe an entire lick.

I think of an agent's submission inbox as being sort of like my own TBR, only with higher stakes. I own books that I bought for some reason that seemed compelling at the time (or simply to support a friend) and when I'm scrolling through trying to decide what to read next, sometimes I wonder what the hell I was thinking. Just as there are books so compelling, I start reading the minute they download and, once I finish, immediately want another from that writer. Why should an agent's response be any different?

I don't think I'd ever want an agent to pass on a full simply because they were too swamped to get to it. But honestly, if it took an agent an inordinate amount of time [don't ask me to define that] to get back to me, I'd assume the reason they requested my ms was no longer compelling, and mentally move on.

As to why agents don't/won't speed up the process, it's my understanding that finding new writers to rep isn't their top priority or main responsibility. Seems to be more of a nice but infrequent bonus, one that will only add to their workload (and yes, ideally, the bottom line).

Anonymous said...

Just realized that I said "submission inbox" and I know better. Submissions are what agents send to editors. I meant "requested fulls inbox."


Words. Can't live without 'em, can't delete from blogger comments when you get 'em wrong.

Julie Weathers said...


"I believe that when an agent gets too far behind, it would be better to wipe the slate clean and start over. If you continually get behind, then it seems that there's either a problem with procrastination or the work load cannot be managed, in which case fewer manuscripts should be requested."

Can you imagine the fury this would invoke if an author had been patiently waiting for eight or nine months and then got an email saying, "I decided to start the month with a clean slate and empty inbox, so regretfully I am declining."

You think authors are irritated now? Query tracker and every other board would be lit up with justifiable complaints.

I follow a LOT of agents. From time to time you'll see one post they are closing to submissions so they can get their backlog caught up.

I think that's a much preferable solution to just rejecting an author who has been patiently waiting so you can clean the slate.


As Colin said, most agents are not professional readers. They read as part of their profession, but that doesn't make them speed readers. Remember the post a while back about the editor who speed reads manuscripts so he can get back with an answer right away and then settles in to really read with an editorial eye later? Most agents aren't that editor.

I've discussed this reading partials thing with agents before and a lot will tell you they usually know within a few pages if they're interested, but will read on to see if it holds together or improves.

More than one agent has mentioned how the first five pages are very well done and then it starts falling apart. That's a dead giveaway the first pages have been workshopped to death and the rest is going to need work. Whether the agent has the time or desire to invest that time varies.

I've had requests for fulls off partials within minutes or it might take months. The ones that requested within minutes must have been very much caught up and it was like me hitting the lottery. (At least with three numbers.)

It's such a mixed bag, I think writers do themselves a disservice by reading too many signs into something. You might be able to predict the weather from bird behavior, but watching a flock of agents for signs will probably only lead you to the best bars.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

I'm on the query train and have two dozen active subs, plus a couple is partials out. I send them out and forget they're out there.

If an agent doesn't have time for queries or partials, they'll close to submissions until they catch up. Seen it done many times.