Thursday, November 13, 2014

Query Question: Enthusiastic Silence

Is it wrong to expect an answer back from an agent who requests a full manuscript?

An agent enthusiastically requested my full almost eight months ago and emailed me when she received it, saying "I'm reviewing it now and will get back to you soon."

Twelve weeks later, after no word back, I sent a polite nudge. She immediately responded, apologizing for the delay and telling me she planned to get back to me "in the next couple of weeks."

I did not hear back. After another twelve weeks, I sent a short, polite nudge. This time she did not reply at all.

In the meantime, we tweeted back and forth twice about general topics (not my ms!). She's always been friendly.

In a last-ditch (probably ill-advised?) effort a month later, I sent one last nudge. I apologized if somehow my email had been lost in cyberspace, mentioned my new WIP and that I was excited to hear the head of her agency speak at an upcoming conference, and asked where my MS stood. This was 28 weeks after sending my full.

No response. I have to admit I'm embarrassed, mystified, angry, and disappointed at the same time. I would prefer a short "I'm no longer interested" over this complete radio silence. I'm starting to doubt myself, wondering if my three short, well-spaced (I thought) nudges over eight months have offended her in some way.

I know agents are swamped. But am I wrong to think it would be common courtesy to let me know where I stand? Or is "no response a no" when it comes to full manuscripts?

Note: I haven't stopped everything to wait for this agent. I've continued querying, have had a couple other requests (one still out) and am working on another novel in the meantime.

I read through your blog and didn't see anything addressing how long a writer should hold out hope in a situation like this. I apologize if I missed an entry that would help me!

My first thought on getting questions like this is to wonder if they're about me.  I have manuscripts in my requested full queue that have been there for quite some time. 


One thing I've learned from doing this blog and from listening to writers at conferences is that agent's silence makes writers crazy.  It took me a while to realize that responding to nudges even with the very lame "sorry, I just haven't read it yet" is mortifying but better than silence.

Now when I request a full I specifically say it's ok to check in as needed, and it's ok to do so on the WRITER'S schedule. For anxiety prone folks that's once a month. For the calmer ones, it's less often.

And surprisingly, for MANY of the writers in my queue it's not at all. With permission to check in, they don't feel the need to.  Interesting isn't it?

And agents know this pain first hand. There are editors who don't reply. Don't reply to pitches, don't reply to submissions. We talk about those editors All The Time amongst ourselves. And share names.  And often, remove them from lists of editors we submit to.

So, yes, you deserve a reply.
Yes, it's rude of this agent to not reply.

But, what to do? Exactly what you have been: keep querying. Nudge every 90 days.  I've signed and sold manuscripts that languished for a year. (But the author did hear from me in that time, I must say.)

You might check in on AbsoluteWrite to see if other authors are experiencing this delay with this agent.

And bottom line: you know something now about how this agent conducts business.  How you treat the people you don't "have to" be polite to says a lot about character.


mhleader said...

Having had far too much experience with bad agents, I would immediately withdraw the ms. You've been very patient with this agent and given him/her a real chance to keep you informed. If the agent cannot communicate with you now, expect a similar lack of communication if you (silly you!) sign on with that person.

IOW, this cannot be a productive, useful work relationship with your agent/partner without BOTH of you being willing to communicate. A simple, "I'm sorry, I'm running behind. I'll get to it as soon as I can," is enough. Without that, though....

Ask yourself this: Would you go into business with a person who refuses to speak to you for 8 months? Would you MARRY this person? That's what your relationship with your agent is: it's like going into business or even marrying this person. If you answer those questions with a no...withdraw the ms. If the answer is yes, consider going for counseling.

Just my never-so-humble opinion. You're taking the right steps by looking elsewhere for representation and going on with other projects.

BUT...I think you should pat yourself on the back (in a BIG way!) for behaving in a very professional way, and for moving on in spite of bouncing off this particular speed bump!

Kitty said...

First it was, "I'm reviewing it now and will get back to you soon."

Twelve weeks later the writer was told, "in the next couple of weeks." The agent never responded.

This is no way to begin a business relationship.

I'll admit that I'm not querying anyone. However, I'm chafing at this idea of treating agents as though they're omnipotent.

Colin Smith said...

I second mhleader's commendation of the writer's patience and professionalism. Waiting is torture, and s/he's done well to keep it together.

@Janet: Do the same "rules" apply for partial requests, or should we only expect a response for fulls?

Anonymous said...

I've always been curious about email volume with agents. I've heard it's huge, especially if they have a big client list. I really like Ms. Janet's idea of this writer going out to AW to snoop around. And speaking of absolutes, this author was absolutely professional and kept their cool when a full was requested. Something tells me patience and professionalism like that will pay off in the long run.

Anonymous said...

Oh..., and...,

As to the new digs here, I agree that shark grey is more apropos for this site - although bright red and pink would remind me of chum.

Which now makes me sort of queasy thinking about that. Too early for thoughts of chum.

Melissa said...

She's just not that into you. I know you had a great first meeting and you went back and forth a few times since then. But there are other fish in the sea, yada yada. It's not you, it's her.

But by this time if she wanted a second date, she would've asked. Wait, what website did I stumble into?

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

So you meet a guy in a bar, you like him, he likes you and you offer him a little nooky, as a matter of fact he’s so nice you give him the whole enchilada.
“I’ll call,” he says.
He. Does. Not.
Twelve weeks later, you call him.
“Who, oh, yeah, sorry, I loved your enchilada, I’ll call.”
He. Does. Not.
Twelve weeks later, you call. Yadda, yadda, yadda.
A month later you get in touch with the guy again because, maybe it was you, maybe it was him. You are mystified because you both enjoyed your Mexican cuisine.
Ya know what, it’s time to change the menu.
Face it, the guy is married to a Polish chick from Krakow. Do you really want a relationship with a guy who keeps your enchiladas on the back burner for months, while Gertrude’s kielbasa and sauerkraut fills his belly every night?
Ha, I didn’t think so. Switch to pizza.

Artemis Grey said...

I agree with Mhleader and Kitty. This isn't any way to start a business relationship.

I've had some 'slow' interactions with at least one agent (whom I LOVE) but that's strictly in the sense that she takes quite a long time to respond (even in a favorable way) like, a year, even. But let me be very clear that I've never nudged her. Even once. She's a slow response, but she DOES respond. And I have every confidence that if I *did* nudge her, she would respond quickly.

The fact that this agent is NOT responding, and that after she said she would, doesn't bode well for any future interactions. I mean, I've nudged agents and had them respond with apologies, and one even admitted (which I'm sure was mortifying for her) that she'd totally just forgotten the full she'd requested. But they RESPONDED, which instantly made it okay. And the ones who promised to get back to me in a certain amount of time (after the nudge) promptly responded just as they promised. Which just makes them look human and honest.

Anonymous said...

This kind of thing would make me crazy. I've had agents take forever to respond to a full, but they always get back after I nudge them. I agree with the commenters above that this is unprofessional behavior, and you have behaved beyond professionally.

However, I would not withdraw the manuscript. Just write her off mentally and keep querying and writing. You'll probably never hear from her again.

But if she does eventually offer representation, you can talk about this and ask what happened and why she didn't respond to your emails. Those are appropriate questions to ask. It's possible she might be able to reassure you. I wouldn't count on it, and I'd be VERY skeptical and wary of her, but I just don't think there's any reason to withdraw the manuscript at this point. You haven't agreed to anything with her except to allow her to read and consider your book, so it's not like you're under any obligation to work with her further. You never know, she might think that you're being rude if you withdraw, and I hear that agents talk about this kind of thing. Just don't burn any bridges.

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

I read somewhere that when high-power people, CEOs and ambassadors and stuff, meet for the first time, the trick is to watch how the other guy treats the waiter. Because of course he's going to kiss your butt. He wants the business deal/treaty/whatever. But if he's rude to the waiter, then that's how he treats people he doesn't have to be polite to and now you know about his character.

Colin Smith said...

@Stephen: "If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals." --Sirius Black (HP&GoF)

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

My experience is limited to the visual creative industry. WTF does that mean? I'm not yet querying a m/s but I've worked with galleries and agents for quite some time.

I agree with @mhleader, this type of 'professional' relationship will make you lose sleep and you will imagine arriving in their office ready to wring their necks only to act like a freakin' sheep when you see them. It's because 'you' (I) want that agent/gallery deal so bad I'd give blood and stand on my head. And because they sell.

Forget it. Save yourself the grief.


as said
Don't burn any bridges. We all talk, plus that agent really might come around. Though eight months is long enought to read 300 pages.

Move on, set some rules/limits.

Don't apologize, don't be too nice. You'll get mauled.

Ardenwolfe said...

Excellent advice from Janet and in the comment section.

Listen to them.

You don't want that agent. I know it's rough, especially when the carrot's dangled in front of you, but always remember: a bad agent is worse than no agent.

Keep querying. You'll make it.

Calorie Bombshell said...

I would move on quietly and continue to query other agents. You've already nudged her several times without success. In the event she ever gets around to reading it and responding, she can email you. In the meantime, dust off your querying skills and go for it. Good luck!

Jennifer D said...

This: How you treat the people you don't "have to" be polite to says a lot about character.

Nailed it again, Janet.

mhleader said...

Just a comment on nicolerider's suggestion to leave the ms. with this agent...No, I wouldn't do that. I wouldn't be rude about it, but I definitely would withdraw the ms. You can write a brief, polite note that you would like to withdraw the ms. from her consideration.

You don't even have to give a reason why. Withdraw it, thank her for her time. Then move on. And take her off all query lists. Try something like this:

"Regretfully, I find I must withdraw my ms. THE NEXT BOFFO BESTSELLER from your consideration. Thank you for your time."

That will do it nicely. Polite. Simple. Short. No problem.

There is nothing in that kind of "withdrawal from consideration" that would in ANY way generate anything negative. You will be professional to the max. People withdraw mss. all the time for a huge variety of reasons. You do not have to give a reason. Just...pull it.

The thing is, NOTHING she could say as an excuse can forgive the lack of communication. You asked simple, polite questions. She didn't respond. At all. Strike her off your list and forget her.

Having had too many of them (and even one is too many!), I can assure you that a bad agent is far, far worse than having no agent at all. She has set the tone for how she does business. This is Bad Agent territory. Withdraw it.

Sarah said...

This is really helpful. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Please do tell us you're querying this manuscript elsewhere!

This agent would be hard to deal with. She's shown you that. Friendly, but hard to deal with.

Many years ago, before my first book was published, I gave a talk at a conference. An editor came up to me afterward and asked could she read my manuscript. She was bursting with enthusiasm.

I sent the manuscript and did the same tango you describe. I nudged for a couple years. I can't remember which happened first... she left the publisher, or I sold the manuscript. Anyway, a manuscript that one agent enthuses about is probably going to attract other enthusiasts.

Inkworthies said...

I would add one caveat to the above advice.

Agents are people too. While it's probably unlikely, it may just be something as simple as, "Gee, got your manuscript and then my mother died. I switched agencies. I've discovered I have stage 4 cancer."

I think it's up to your gut. If there was something you really, really liked about this particular agent, aside from the fact she requested a manuscript, then wait. Keep submitting elsewhere, keep politely nudging every 3 months or so, and don't worry about it. If it truly is a case of her being swamped, super-busy, or getting hammered by a life event, eventually you'll hear something.

I would keep querying, and leave the submission alone for now. Either the agent isn't interested and is being impolite in not bothering to send a quick "No, thank you." or she might respond back later with some good news. Either way, withdrawing your manuscript doesn't benefit you particularly.

And if the agent gets back to you in another 4 months with no excuse about some catastrophic event delaying her, you can always refuse, knowing that you'd rather not work with someone that tardy.

It's frustrating not hearing anything, but right now it sounds like you're doing exactly what you need to. (And yes, definitely check on whether this agent is getting similar complaints. Giving people the benefit of the doubt is all well and good, but so is being up to snuff on the agents you should avoid.)