Thursday, March 19, 2009

Justin's Case

I've been working my way through the vacation backlog of incoming queries, so of course I've found some projects I want to read. I send back a request for a full. (I've almost totally stopped asking for partials now that it's all electronic--it's just easier to have the whole thing here at once)

What baffles me is when I get something akin to this in response:

"Oh, great to hear from you, I've just left on vacation, I'll be in touch when I get back."

Wait. You've queried me--within the week!!--and you've just left on vacation? A two WEEK vacation? Did you think you'd not be hearing from anyone?
Did you think this was the best way to deal with query-jitters?

I can understand stomach flu, an unexpected family emergency, a sudden call up to pitch for the Yankees, but a pre-planned vacation right after you query?

No. Just no.

And even if it turns out that you must do this, here's what you do. TAKE your frigging ms WITH you so you can send it! Be prepared for success!

A beloved friend of mine taught me that lesson some years back. We were gathered at our local watering hole catching up. She mentioned the new boss at work, how the boss didn't seem to much like her, and budget cuts were all around. My friend was pretty sure she was going to get fired.

Instead she got a promotion. The meeting where she had expected the ax turned into a planning session for the next year. My friend was excitedly talking about her list of ideas she'd brought to the meeting.

"Whoa," said I. "Let me get this straight. You thought you were about ready to be fired?"

"Yup," said pal. "Out the door, here's your hat, what's your hurry."

"And yet," said I. "There you were with a list of ideas for future projects? In your purse, at that meeting?"

"Well, sure," she said. "Just in case!"

Just in case.

Smartest business practice I'd seen in weeks.

Today's advice: be ready for someone to ask for your manuscript as soon as you hit "send".

Just in case!


Stephanie Faris said...

Oh good heavens. I always have my laptop with me and could send a requested partial or full from anywhere. And I'm at least smart enough not to query right before I go on vacation.

Ella said...

That would be the smart thing to do, but I suppose writers are too familiar with rejection.

Susan Adrian said...

Hee! Great advice.

Because *some* crazy agents might even read your whole manuscript and offer the same day.


Anonymous said...

Great advice! I've been pleasantly surprised several times recently when querying. Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised! After all, I've worked hard on my MS, and crafted the best query letter I could.

It's easy to get caught up in the talk about how long things take or how low the chances are or the horrible state of the industry and forget that it just takes the right letter to the right agent to get a positive response.

Eric said...

I back up all my manuscripts - and pretty much everything else - by emailing it to myself at Gmail and then keeping it on the server. That way, if I need something and I'm away from home, even away from my computer, I can go to any internet cafe or such, log in to Gmail and get what I need, send it to someone else, or anything else of that nature. You don't even need to take a computer with you, or even so much as a disk or a flashdrive to have your manuscript available.

Unknown said...

Maybe the manuscript wasn't finished and the writer was just buying time to finish it with a vaca excuse.

Authoress said...

Point well taken.

However, please understand that cynicism sets in early. Early, as in having experienced non-response and learning to query-and-forget-about it after the first round. Early, as in you've actually received requests that got you a NON-RESPONSE as your answer.

I would personally never leave for vacation without my manuscript (that's what laptops are for). But I can understand a writer who just might go there.

Being professional and prepared is one thing. But a writer's vacation is just as important as an agent's -- or anyone else's. There comes a time when work -- all work -- must be left behind.

It's a sanity thing. And a relational one.

If the manuscript is that good, it'll still be hot one week later.


whirligigdaisy said...

Wow. I think I needed to hear that "just in case" story today. Fabulous way to look at life.

Andy Erickson said...

This attitude is so perfect. We've all heard it said that luck favors the prepared. I don't know how many times I've expected the worst and I'm pleasantly surprised.

I would also expect that many of us don't take full vacations anymore, anyway. You just bring the laptop along, return voicemails at convenient times, and check email when the rest of the family is taking a nap. No one even has to know.

The Gerlings said...

I don't even go to the doctor's office without my thumb drive with current MS draft saved on it in my purse. True, that could be because a 3 hour wait is common and I use my time to edit, but I've never gone on vacation without my current WIP either.

You never know when an agent might jump out of the bushes and demand to see the first three chapters...

SundaySoup said...

I always carry my entire Word files backed up on a CD when I travel, just in case, so on one hand I'm totally with you! But come are definitely the EXCEPTION answering that quickly!! If he's new at querying, everything he's ever read says wait six weeks before you even follow up! He just didn't know...he was trying not to think about the possibility!

Granted, if it were me, and I got a response from an agent and didn't have my stuff with me, I'd be on the phone, instructing my friend to break into my house and get to my computer before I'd send you that email. And if that wasn't possible, I'd at least lie and say, "I was called away on an emergency, etc."!


Cathy in AK said...

I can understand if he didn't expect a response for two or three weeks. It seems that the more we wish for a quick reply the longer it takes.

That being said, he should have been prepared. If I'm going out of town for longer than a few days, I carry a thumb drive with my mss and wips on it. It serves as my document back up should the home computer fritz out as well as "just in case" if I get a request.

Margaret Yang said...

Okay, I totally see what you're saying. But to be fair, most agents do not respond quickly unless they are named Nathan Bransford...

Tana said...

I think it's awesome that you ask for a full. I've been caught off guard before with partial's even (which I immediately polished within an inch of their or my life). Now I have my manuscripts ready, shiny and sparkling. At least until the next round of revisions.

Literaticat said...

Ha! I sometimes reply quite quickly to queries if I am at my desk - like, within minutes. I can't tell you the number of times I've requested a full only to get silence... then a sort of sheepish "you called my bluff! It isn't ready!"

I just don't understand - why would you want to bluff me? Why bother sending out a sample for nothing? Grr.

Anonymous said...

Lol! Can you say, "Shit! I'm not done editing! Uhm...I...that is, I mean I'm about to...vacation! Yes, I'm out the door on a two week vacation! Sorry, I'll send it as soon as I get back. Promise! I'm literally walking out the door as I type, leaving my email open and ready to send just the split second I get back. Swear to God! My apologies for the delay...Hello, my utterly fabulous crit partner. I need those crits on the last six chapters like yesterday. This agent wants my stuff now! Yes, she just requested the whole f'ing thing. WTF! What happened to partials? What happened to, 'you should hear back within thirty days?' I mean, come on! I sent it at two p.m. yesterday. What? Yeah, I know what the f'ing internet is. You know what? You're no help at all. Just please get those crits back to me asap. Thanks. Bye."

CuTRis said...

Very true. I'm always ready to send my manuscript at any time.

Kristin Laughtin said...

My guess is that the author thought it would take you longer to get to that query. Still, never hurts to take a flash drive and check your email every day or so, just in case the agent gets back to you more quickly than expected.

Julie Weathers said...

When I first started in real estate, we were encouraged to make cold calls offering a free market analysis on their house. We were also told not to get discouraged because it usually takes 100 calls to get a yes.

The first call I made said yes. It scared me so bad I hung up on them.

That broke me of being too prepared for failure.

Jonathan Lyons discussed how a deal went down once.

He got a query and replied back the next day. Author sent the partial back within the same day. Jonathan read it immediately and told him to send full. Author immediately sent completely polished full. Time from query to signing, one week.

I'm pretty sure it was Jonathan, if not, forgive the memory lapse. I blame it on lack of fajitas.

It was a case of both parties being professional and prepared.

I thought for a while I would send out Paladin even though it wasn't completely ready, but that enlightened me.

Be prepared. Don't send anything out until it's ready. Then, be ready to respond quickly.

Stephen Duncan said...

You have to be prepared, don't you? When querying, I always kept a digital copy of my MS saved on my email to forward when needed. Sometimes, this business is as much about opportunity as it is talent.

Tyler said...

I couldn't imagine getting a full request from an agent and responding with, "Sure, I'll send it to you when I get back Hawaii."

Especially today, how hard is it to email your manuscript to yourself and have it waiting in cyberspace?

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Me: Bill, your scowling ... What's wrong?

Bill E. Goat: The new doe head butted me. I've got to talk to her ... put her in her place ... You know I hate doing that ...

Me: Yes, I know ... umm ... but why do you have an over-night bag and a toothbrush?

Bill: Just in case.

Jon said...

Would have been better if he'd just sent the MS when he got back without the explanation...

But yeah, these days I go everywhere with my laptop. If only it contained a finished MS I'd be all set. ;)

Sarah said...

First of all, your friend was lovely! What a great attitude to have.

I think many of us could sent a MS pretty quickly- or find a way to. I don't condone being lax, but I understand not expecting a quick response.

When I've queried a MS, I've hoped so much for a quick, please-send-me-the-rest-before-I-die-of-longing response. And because that's probably off the charts fantasy, I try to temper it with remembering how busy the agent/editor may be, how large the slushpile is, etc. Part of that's a reality check and part of it is trying not to live or die by how someone responds to my query. But it's there to balance the bit of me that is certain they'll adore my MS and sell it for six figures.

I know any time I have a conference critique or a query out, I'll have that crazy optimism mixed with self-enforced trips to the real world. Maintaining your sanity means balancing the two.

Though sanity is overrated...

Tara Maya said...

Oh my, self-sabatoge is a bugaboo. I love story about the woman going to the meeting with future plans, though. That's really inspiring.

Daisy Bateman said...

I don't know about this. I mean, yes, it's great that you got back to the writer right away, and it probably would have been ideal if he had been ready with a response. But most agents say "allow 3-6 (-infinity) weeks to hear back;" is it really fair to give the writer not even a fraction of that time? Especially considering how infuriating agents tend to find it when the situation is reversed.

Recently I received a snail-mail response to my query requesting a (hard copy) full, which came in the mail about three hours before I was to leave for a long weekend. And I admit, rather than racing to print and post it, I set the letter on my desk and left it until I got back. Not out of disrespect for the agent (who I would be thrilled to have represent me) or a lack of drive, but because there is more to my life than getting published and because if I didn't think it was unreasonable to wait two months for a response (and I don't), then I thought she wouldn't mind four days. Could I have been wrong, and I just totally shot myself in the foot? I guess so, but that seems a bit harsh. Right now I'm a lot more worried that I somehow got the two packages I sent at the same time mixed up, and accidentally mailed her six copies of my submission for the MWA anthology. (Oh, please no. Please, please no.)

CNU said...

Laptop? Blackberry? I-phone? Wi-fi?

Bueller? Bueller?

Wow- apparently his brain is dial up...


PurpleClover said...

Hmm. I have to play devil's advocate. I'm the unluckiest person in the world (yes I know we are talking talent not luck but still). So had I brought my MS with me...I would never get the NOT taking would be just my luck that I would actually get a real agent to want to read it ASAP.

At least you know you can send it when you get back...the other way, the request would have never come.

I'd rather be dumb and barely unlucky instead of smart and completely unlucky.

DeadlyAccurate said...

I've been on vacations where I spent half the week without electricity and hot water. I would never bring a laptop and probably not even a cell phone to Costa Rica, for example. We lost a brand new digital camera to the humidity in the jungle there. If I'd gotten a request while I was in Costa Rica or any of the other places I'd been on vacation, I could never have dashed off a manuscript at the press of a button, even if I had some level of Internet access. It's not unreasonable to wait on someone to return from vacation before they respond to an email.

Obviously, if the writer had waited until they returned, this wouldn't have come up, but they probably figured based on experience that if they sent out a few request before their vacation, very few if any would respond before they returned.

Anita said...

Just in case someone asks for it, I keep my manuscript tucked inside my bra.

PurpleClover said...

I'm electricity and hot water? What, exactly, kind of "vacation" is this? lol.

sorry...I'm sure it was adventurous! I just had to go there...

PurpleClover said...

Can I just add...maybe they gave another agent an "exclusive" and that was the best story to come up with for the delay??

SundaySoup said...

You know what? The more people talked about taking their books on CD (me) with them, taking their laptops on vacation, etc. the more I started thinking, "Oh, god...I so don't want to be that person. I just want to have an out of office reply and go on vacation because publishing is fantastic, but you know...a life is good too." And then someone posted that he wasn't finished with his manuscript and DUH. I'd totally missed that this wasn't about vacation at all, was it? I mean, obviously, we all know to take our books on vacation. He just isn't done. He thinks he can be done in two weeks. I get it. I also take back the bit where I said you're the exception being fast because now that I think of it, I could name ten very timely and quick on the draw agents without even thinking hard about it, mine to start with!

Daisy Bateman said...

@Anita: Gives a whole new meaning to "padding your story!"

Chris Redding said...

I can send my ms from anywhere, but in hundred of queries, I've only had one agent get back to me in anything less than a month with a request.
I can completely understand sending out a query the week you go on vacation.

Aimlesswriter said...

Inspiring advice!
I always travel with my laptop. What's a vacation if I can't write???

Tracy Holczer said...

What an uplifting post. Be prepared for success. I love it. What a way to turn my perspective around.

deal or no deal? said...

Good advice, always expect success.

Jenna said...

If I'm working, I'm working every day, even the day before vacation. If I send queries daily or weekly, then yes, I may send queries just before I leave.

When I'm on vacation, I'm ON VACATION. I never get them, so damned if I'm giving them up. That means I might not respond immediately.

Aren't you agents and publishers always telling us that writing is a JOB, and we should treat it as such? That includes working on all work days and taking breaks, too.

That said, I usually have some form of MS copy easily accessible online, on thumb drive, or my laptop in front of me. But still, the scenario isn't unlikely. An agent can respond at any time, meaning that the query could have been sent a week, a month, or a year earlier, and the fact that I'm on vacation for this week hasn't been altered. Shall I never take vacation until the end of time?

You make a lot of writers wait. Part of the job, not your fault. Just try to remember that you must wait sometimes, too, and it's part of life, not our fault.

Anonymous said...

If I had a pre-planned vacation and knew I couldn't check email for some odd reason, I'd at least wait until after said vacation was over to send the ms.

That writer just shot himself in the foot.

Unknown said...

With varying response times, that would mean you shouldn't send out anything for 6 weeks before you go somewhere (even more in some cases). My last vacation I was able to connect, but this one I'd have to be like Robin Williams in RV running from mountain top to mountain top looking for a signal. What a bummer. Looks like no vacation after all, or maybe I'll send off to agents I don't care so much about beforehand, and if I miss out on them it won’t be so bad. I’ll still have a shot at my dream agent(Janet)that way, and if one of those other agents still wants me after I hitchhike out of the boonies then it’s just an added bonus. Janet you’ll be tops on my list (no, scratch that I’ll query you after vacation so I don’t make you angry waiting on me, because you mean that much to me).

Anonymous said...

I make sure I can check email anywhere, have access to my ms from anywhere, and can send from anywhere. I have no excuses for not responding promptly! :) I either have a flash drive or my laptop with me at all times.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

One semi-serious comment: I'm still waiting to hear from 15 agents I queried three years ago.

At this point, my vacation is more important than waiting on an agent who may never reply.

I was a good writer then; I'm a better writer now. But there are some things that are simply more important than waiting on an agent’s reply: Ice cream, Oreos, raisin pie, sex, goats (I did NOT say sex with goats, and I expect NO rude comments!), and cute shoes.

Agents are an undependable lot, slow to respond, sometimes never responding at all. A few are terminally rude. The will die of rudeness. And that fella who sends ads for his books never ever, ever responded. He kept my SASE and probably soaked the stamp off of it! (Yes I mean you, the guy with the two "A"s in your name.)

Experience has conditioned me to expect to be ignored for a prolonged period.

I have a short list of the very bad agents; and I don't mean the fake, rip-off agents. I mean the ones who never answer, not even a form rejection. Or those who feel they are educating others by posting lying blog posts about your query letter. Or those who think they're god. (Note the little "g". I'm sure they are offended that I didn't use the capital.)

He of the rude rejection and Pacific Ocean view who also can't put together a series of standard-English sentences without some unintended and unrecognized grammar fault is on the list too. You're passing on our writing? Thupp!

Now that I've beat up a few bloging and writing agents, I should say that I have my favorites. None of them are my agent. But they're nice people. They're what agents should be. The nicest of the lot isn’t taking queries right now. I don’t know why, but if she’s sick, my sympathies and best wishes. The good agents aren’t vain. They’re professional. They further talent, even if they can’t use the writing submitted.

Another observation: Being mile-high doesn't make you sweet, only high.

Taking the time to write pointed and helpful comments makes you nice.

Dal Jeanis said...

Really, Janet, do you *really* never send out manuscript requests unless you will have time to process them immediately when they arrive? Are you *truly* implying that you will never have a two-week delay in dealing with an incoming manuscript?

Pardon me while I guffaw.

We *know* you are a business on your end. We *know* that, even though you are extremely professional, you just deal with things as you can, and that you will occasionally go on vacation, go to trade shows or conventions, and so on.


It's just as businesslike for a writer to have other things in his or her life, and to politely inform you when you will receive your requested materials.

Your presumption that no one should ever contact you unless they have space in their schedule to immediately cater to any sudden requests you might have... Wow. Just, wow. And you are in *what* industry? And typical response times you and your peers and your clients deal with are *what*?

My advice is the opposite - writers, don't let anything stop you. Most agents are NOT on top of their in-basket, and you will seldom get a response instantly, with one or two exceptions, and the most common responses will be rejections anyway. Sure, it's good to be able to respond quickly, but it's more important to respond accurately when you do respond. (Don't send the wrong version, for God's sake.)

And if an agent takes himself / herself so seriously that he / she can't wait two weeks for the manuscript, well, maybe you'd best just move along.

I hope this came across as polite rather than snarky, but, *really*.