Friday, June 25, 2010

Would you please quit assuming stuff already?

I'm attending a wonderful writing conference this weekend at Seton Hill. It's for the alums of the Seton Hill writing program, and they are a terrific bunch of talented and genuinely nice people. I hardly know what to do with myself...there's nothing to yell about.

In the course of pitch sessions today, I met a lovely and talented woman who told me about a book I was eager salivating to get my paws on. As I entered her deets on my data base, she mentioned, a bit timidly, that two other agents had the manuscripts.

Snarl! Foiled in my quest to grab The Next Big Thing.

Well, said I, who are these evil usurpers?

She named names.

Fortunately I knew them both. Quite well.
I fired off an email saying "I hope you haven't read this cause I'm about to scoop her out from under your slacker noses, ha!"

In short order I heard back from both. They did not HAVE the manuscripts, but remembered both the writer and the ms quite well. They had never received the fulls the writer had sent.

I fixed my evil eye and formidable fin on the writer. Had she followed up? Confirmed receipt? Asked what was going on in Slackerville after 90 days?

Well no, no she had not. She was hesitant to do so. She thought that no response meant no.

Glory hallelujah, my lucky day! I now have what's essentially an exclusive on a darn good manuscript. '

But honest to helvetica Author Friends, DO NOT DO THIS.

If you send a requested partial or full DO FOLLOW UP if you don't hear back.

Yes some agents are real slackers and don't reply. A pox on their noses and their coffers.

But other agents, like my pals, would have LEAPED to the mailbox and said "holy moly I don't have it, please send."

After the query stage never EVER assume no response means no.

And this is another reason that agents who practice the less than polite, and really shortsighted method of query response "no reply means no" are shooting themselves in the foot.

Now, I'm off to read and chortling the entire way!


Adam Heine said...

I can understand the "no response means no" policy for queries; it's the same as applying for a job, after all. But agents who do this (a) HAVE TO say it on their websites and (b) really should have some method--preferably automatic--of telling the reader they received the query.

Good advice about the partials. I hadn't considered that. Thank you!

Francis said...

Suzie Townsend sent me an e-mail WITHIN 3 LIGHTNING MINUTES after she received my full to confirm receipt. Since then I've bitten all my nails to extinction, drank too many Long Island Iced Teas (darn they're good) and have been deprived of some sleep, but at least, I know she has it. That's FPLM quality.

Second agent at other agency also send me confirmation within 24 hours. I wonder why most agents don't take 30 seconds to copy/paste a form confirmation message?

I would probably have nudged after 60 days, but it is true we are all afraid to nudge. Last thing we want is to have a limb turned into high quality sushi by capable sharky fins...

My friend John had some kind of neurological ED after a childhood accident. For years doctors tried all sorts of treatments, and then came Viagra. He had finally found his erection, and he's now living happily ever erect.

We writers pile up rejections like Lindsay Lohans piles up court appointments. When a request for a full comes in, it's a bit like when Viagra came into John's life. It's success, and we really want to hang on to it... nudging an agent might screw that up, so we are reluctant to do it. We don't want to do anything that could jeopardize that little ray of hope. If you try to take John's blue pills bottle away from him, you'll see what I mean.

Full requests is a writer's Viagra. It keeps us going.

I am trademarking this metaphor.

Julie Weathers said...

Holy crap. Yes, I am not properly chastised. I would have assumed the same thing she did.

BJ said...

A question:

An agent has a partial of my novel, and has had it since January. I know this, because he responded almost immediately that he got it.

Since then, I've heard nothing from him. In April, I sent a follow-up e-mail, asking if he had responded but I didn't get the response. I still haven't heard anything more from him.

I've just been assuming since the beginning of May that he wasn't interested.

I know this sounds like a Dear Abby question, but I hadn't really thought he might still be interested until I read this. I don't want to be pushy, but should I send another e-mail?

Geez. It really *does* sound like a Dear Abby question, doesn't it?

R.C. Lewis said...

*feels better about decision to send follow-up email on full after three months*

*now pondering what the lack of response to follow-up means*

*hopes agent has just been busy and fallen behind on email*

*seeks better distraction than biting nails*

Pam Stucky said...

Great and helpful advice - thanks

Robin Lemke said...

This is good to hear. I gave had agents ignore fulls, and follow ups, and then I never know if it's the right thing to follow up or not.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Well, I started chortling when I scrolled down to the art at the bottom of the post. Everybody pull in your appendages!

Kathryn Rose said...

Wow, so good to know. I probably wouldn't have followed up either since we always hear from agents' websites not to call. But the agents I've sent partials/fulls to have been really good at confirming that they received my ms and that the file opened without any problems. But still, if I had received no confirmations, I never would have thought about emailing or calling. I would have just assumed that they were busy.

Richard Gibson said...

Cool. Thanks.

Valintine Pawson said...

I send a follow up at 4-5 months (or double the agent's promised turn around time). I'm very disappointed to say that a large number (relatively speaking, which is about 20) of agents who promise in their submission guidelines to respond to all subs, and even requested partials or fulls have never responded. Not to the submission or to my follow ups. I too, just thought no response meant no.

And, after submitting, waiting 5 months, following up, waiting two more months, trying to follow up again and still getting no response, then do you assume that no response means no? Or that your emails are all going into the spam folder?

Ronda Laveen said...

I was going to write "lucky you." But this was not luck, rather thorough, thoughtful, consistent work. Good on you.

Joseph L. Selby said...

My full is past the 3-month mark as well. I had originally planned on sending a follow-up as soon as that day passed, but realized I was so swamped with work that if he needed a little extra time, he could have it. Not like I had a lot of time to handle any requests he might make in a response (if there were any). At four months, I will be over my "hell month" and will follow-up appropriately. Waiting this long has been agonizing, to be sure.

Unknown said...

I'm not at that stage yet. But it's good to know. Thanks Janet.

Anonymous said...

R.C. Lewis, I'd be asking myself if I even wanted to work with an agent who was that bad at getting back to people.

The Writers Canvas, Author Elaine Calloway said...

Wonderful advice, Janet. I wish you could point your shark fin and evil eye to those agents who STILL don't respond even after the author has followed up - twice. And met the agent in person at a conference.

For queries, no response means no. I don't like it, but okay. For partials and fulls after meeting/pitching to an agent, and even after followup they don't respond? I think this is where writers don't want to make a pain of themselves, but c'mon - people should respond if it is requested material, yanno? Of course I'm preaching to the choir.

Great post, glad it worked out for you...


adam.purple said...

I certainly would have assumed that no response meant, no. Or perhaps even, bug off. Thanks for the advice.

Margaret Yang said...

And this is another reason that agents who practice the less than polite, and really shortsighted method of query response "no reply means no" are shooting themselves in the foot.

This. Yes. This.

Elizabeth Flora Ross said...

You mean to tell me that AFTER the agonizing wait of 90 days, there is a chance the agent never even received my book proposal, and all my nail biting has possibly been for nothing and I have to start ALL OVER AGAIN by following up and then waiting some more?! OMG, this process sucks so bad!

Blee Bonn said...

What a great story, and awesome advice.

Alice said...

I had to smile at your excitement to scarf up a new and wonderful ms from worthy opponents. Congrats on your win!

Spiced Apple Eye said...

I'm forwarding this to a friend.
She did that very thing and I asked her why didn't she call or e-mail again? For that matter check to see if the agent has changed agencies. I mean, afterall, the agent asked for the proposal why would she do that then ignore you?

Kate said...

Oh Janet! I have loved your attitude toward how the agent business should be worked for a long time. But NOW, I LOVE LOVE LOVE really LOVE your attitude!
So Yea! You Rock!

Buffy Andrews said...

Some agents are great at confirming receipt. A quick "Got it" is all that is needed. It would be great if all agents did this. And now I'm thinking I should nudge some agents who have fulls just in case they never received my material. I, too, didn't want to be a pest. How long do you think you should wait after sending a full before you inquire about its status? Thanks for all of your valuable information.

MAGolla said...

Egg-cellent, Janet! *taps fingers together in a Montie Burns manner* I hope you and the author get it to auction!

Pamala Knight said...

This post is so full of win!

First, we have the shark swimming off with the prize author and manuscript and next, there's the good advice/reminder that timid is not the way to go when waiting for a response after a request for a full.

Thanks for keeping us on point.

Tessa Quin said...

I love it when I see agents foaming at the mouth for a manuscript. I also love, love, love your posts, advises, and your attitude toward the agent business.

I wish you represented my genre.

Marisa Birns said...

Very good advice here. And congrats on your coup!

Now. Commenter Francis really had me laugh aloud with the viagra story!

John Wiswell said...

How can I possibly stop assuming things now? Now I think no response might mean they're lazy and want more! Incredibly assuring post, Janet. Thanks for sharing.

Dave said...

Relax everybody. If your novel and query are any good you'll probably get published. All this agonising over the minutiae of agent-response is a waste of time.

I used to sell fake Chanel perfume on the street. If people weren't buying, it meant I had to improve my gear, shout louder, or jazz up my spiel. The passers-by were entitled to be indifferent, just as agents are entitled not to have an orgasm every time they receive a query.

I couldn't give a damn if I'm rejected or ignored by an agent. It just means I have to get better.

Pam Stucky said...

A question about disclosing, as I don't want to annoy either through over-disclosure or under-disclosure.

In my last round of queries, Agent A requested a partial the same day she got the query. First request for anything, hurrah!! Then a few hours later, Agent B requested a full! OMG! Hooray!!


1. I assumed that Agent B would not want nor need to know that Agent A had requested a partial, so I didn't disclose. Was this okay?

2. I am continuing to query agents, as it's my understanding that you don't stop querying until you have an agent. I'm not telling the agents I'm querying now, that anyone has requested a partial or full, because I assume they don't care. Is this correct?

3. If Agent C requests a partial or full, do I tell him/her that Agents A and B have partial/fulls? My instinct would be to tell Agent C that another agent has a full ... would that be right?

4. If Agent C requests a full, do I go back and tell Agent B? I would assume not, is that correct?

5. If Agent C has requested a full, and then either Agent B or Agent C expresses an interest in representing me, I'm assuming that at that point, if I haven't heard back from the other agent, I should let them know where things stand?

6. I suppose it's impossible to get a writer to stop overthinking things? :)


Sandra Cormier said...

In 52 1/2 hours and three sleeps, I'll be in a position to nudge on two requested fulls. They both provided receipt notices (thank goodness, I hadn't thought of that) and I regularly tweet with one of them.

I am eyeballing my inbox with trepidation. I'll wait till after the July 4 holiday before I work up the nerve to nudge.

Julie Anne Lindsey said...

Now I'm fretting a bit. I have a full out without a confirmation of receipt. Its out with an agent who took 6 months to make the request following a partial. I has assumed long ago that it was a no on the partial. When it wasn't. I sent the full and got comfortable to wait until Christmas on the full. I am feeling a touch more brave now. I'll check on the full in a couple months. I can't imagine finding out a year from now that she never even received it, and I sat on it unnecessarily. Wow. Thanks!

Theresa Milstein said...

Good advice. I know someone who gave someone a full and waited for an entire year. Even though it didn't need to be exclusive, she didn't submit anywhere else. And then she finally received a rejection.

I'm sending her this post.

Sandra Cormier said...

Gray Matter, don't fret. Agents A & B don't need to know Agent C requested a full unless they expressly ask to be in the loop.

If any agent makes an offer, do contact other agents with fulls (and requested partials, in my opinion) so they can have a chance, too.

Pam Stucky said...

Thank you, Sandra!

Amy Sue Nathan said...

I have followed up with agents who've had my full or partial manuscript since January/February/March. Out of 8 -- 2 replied that they are still reading/considering. The others - nothing. I'd rather have a no than a nothing. And with each email I replied to the agent's previous request so they'd have the string of emails, and reattached the requested material in case they'd lost/deleted/forgotten.

I know I'm at their mercy, but there's no way around the fact that it's rude. I have no problem with no-means-no for a query -- but for a full manuscript?

Rebecca Mahoney said...

Thanks for this, Janet! I decided to follow up on two submissions that had been out for over a month to confirm receipt, and because I did, I got a lovely, encouraging response from the reader of one of the agents. It made my week!

I definitely worry about sending e-mails that might bother an agent, but it would be even worse if they never got the MS and neither of us would be the wiser.

Elizabeth Mueller said...

Whoa, imagine being so wanted that an agent does his/her evil scientist laugh to get their hands on my stuff?

Good for you, I'm so happy they slacked off for your sake! ;)

Unknown said...

Well, I'm flabbergasted! I too thought that when I didn't get a response from an editor or agent, they just weren't interested.

JEN Garrett said...

If you happen to looking for a picture book agent, I suggest treating the nudge as an opportunity to also query with a NEW manuscript. Something along the lines of "I haven't heard back from you on XXX, but I thought you'd also like this."

If they've been on the fence with this MS, the new manuscript could cinch the deal, because it shows that you produce more than one picture book. Or it could hurry along the rejection, because they now know you as an author would be not be a good fit. Either way you've got a better chance of finding the right agent for you.