Thursday, February 19, 2015

Query Question: I think I have an agent but she's not responding

Over my couple of years querying (had one agent I left because she never sent out my book as promised until I nudged and then never passed along the editor response until I nudged--four months apart) I have seen agent behavior deteriorating. I have had probably six agents recently who never responded to a full request, even to polite follow-up nudges. This used to seem shocking, now it's rapidly becoming standard.

And now--this agent offered rep, we talked, I accepted (no contract yet) and she has blown off two follow-up calls. I mean saying are you available tomorrow afternoon and then not calling or sending a note to cancel. This leaves me in a very uncomfortable spot. I am a consultant who always follows up with clients. I understand busy, also being a workaholic who has multiple projects at one time. If I'm in the middle of something, I send a note to let someone know.

My instinct is to pull the plug but not having a full understanding of "agent" protocol, wonder if I am alarmist and maybe she just has an extremely casual approach. I mean, if my daughter did that I wouldn't think she didn't like me or something or was a flake. But this woman supposedly wants me as a client. Not a good impression. I feel as important to her as sidewalk debris. Not a nice feeling!! 

Five years ago you would have gotten a good rant out of me about unresponsive agents and how disrespectful not answering emails etc is.

Now, not so much.

Here's the thing it's helpful for authors to remember, and it was one of the hardest things for me to learn AND figure out how to accommodate: no matter what I plan to do today, something will come up that knocks that plan into a cocked hat.

It can be that a description of a client's book on Amazon reveals too much of the plot. I need to get in touch with the editor, make sure they get new copy written and put into the system and most important, that I have a calender item that says to follow up in a week or ten days.

I sometimes think my entire job is writing notes on my date book about things to follow up on.

It can be the arrival of a batch of royalty statements, all of which need to be scrutinized. I know I'll be writing at least one or two emails for every five pages of royalty statement I receive. Some of my clients have 35 page royalty statements. And that's just for ONE of their series.

And right now it can be clients calling with questions on their 1099 tax forms. Those questions go to the head of the line, trumping even royalty statements.

You wrote that you have "multiple projects at one time" which means you're busy I'm sure. Do you have 36 projects going not just at one time, but all the time? That's my workload. And that's just authors. Most authors have multiple books, and multiple deals for each book (translation, audio, film.)  That puts my number of multiple projects just north of 100. And that doesn't count queries, answering questions on the blog or what most other agents try to do: have a life.

Some people are better at balancing this kind of deluge than others. You might have queried an agent who isn't. It doesn't mean she's not a good agent, or will be scattered in her business dealings. It just means that when her inbox tops 100, she's not writing the kinds of "hey, I haven't forgotten you emails" that would ease your mind.

Sure, we all wish she would. But, before you pull the plug on an agent you think is a good fit, give her some time to get caught up. Continued polite nudging is OK.  Don't read more into it than she's got a lot going on.

And one of the main reasons people (not just agents) don't reply to nudging emails: it generates MORE email.  On the days I send status reports to clients or queriers I know my inbox will flood. If you're trying to get your head above water, that's daunting.

Right now, you should be querying since you don't have a contract and the agent hasn't said why that is.  You query until you have an agent, and right now, you don't.


Kitty said...

I guess now would not be a good time to suggest another flash fiction contest.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Can we say energizer shark? What a lot that falls on the plate of QOTKU.

But--no contract. So a writer can receive the call and then not receive a contract following the call. Discouraging but, back to queryland.

And then, if there is offer of representation from another agent, the writer would email the first agent to let them know that they've received another call? And then potentially have 2 contracts being sent to them, to choose from?

Anonymous said...

Kitty, I suspect you'd land in Carkoon beside Colin.

Okay. Honestly? I thought this as I read The Shark's response, "We ought to call her Mom."

Except that sounds kinda creepy.

"Why would we do that?" you ask?

Well. Think about it. From what we ALL know, moms are cooks, cleaners, laundry fairies, doctors, nurses, chauffeurs, counselors, masters of finding lost homework, advocates for hurt feelings, referee, and on and on.

La Sharque lists as many things she does on behalf of her clients as an agent, (dare I say it, maybe MORE???) as a mom does for her family.

As usual, with her slick gray logic, she has quelled feelings of discontent, and offered a perfectly, not so toothy response to what appears to be a conundrum. What she offers is akin to a dose of gray Pepto Bismol.

As an attendee of this "class" I sometimes think of these daily sessions as attending the Queen of the Known UniversITY.


Anonymous said...

I'm probably suffering from a gross misunderstanding, which I may be because Gage the Wonder Dog has me up at an ungodly hour again, This time we did have a discussion about him going out to pee whether he wanted to or not. Yeah, I know, you can lead a dog to a post but you can't make him pee, but Gage does understand when Mom scoots him out the door to at least pretend.

Did the OP formally split the sheets with the other agent? Now a new agent has offered rep, but isn't responding?

I don't know, Sharque will probably chomp me for this, but some time back she mentioned this is a wooing period. When the agent has decided they want the client and are putting their best foot forward. Am I dreaming this? Anyway, if this is their best foot, what happens later when they aren't wooing?

Anyway, I don't usually talk about querying specifics because I think it's bad form. I have two fulls out that have gone beyond the stated response time. This meaning the agent said, "I'll get back to you in eight weeks about this and I look forward to reading."

Then there are the partials, which are also going beyond the normal response time.

My suggestion is to go to query tracker and look up the agent. Go to comments. Authors will jot down what they queried and responses. They may say, "Agent 001 just had a baby, so she's behind on responses," or some other tidbit. You can also go to the various charts and see normal response times, percent of rejections, genres requested etc. It's pretty interesting reading. You can be a super stalker and no one will ever know!

Then you too can play the Ray Stevens It's Me Again Margaret Game.

Just don't ask, "Are ya nekkid?' when you nudge...or mention Cool Whip.

God, I hope agents know I'm joking. I would never mention Cool Whip.

Real whipped cream all the way for me, baby. Southern girl here.

Ok, off to get coffee before I get in trouble.

ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) said...

Wasn't it just a week or two ago we had a similar question about communication? It sounds like this is a similar situation. If you are ready to pull the plug, that might already be an indication that it is not a good fit and regardless, absolutely keep querying. Getting another agent's interest is not a bad thing, it means you have a comparison point to make a sound decision on who you want to partner up with on this venture.

I don't want to diminish the workload of an agent (or a lawyer, or an educator, or a realtor, etc), but professional courtesy must still come into play. Give me an update, even if that update is to tell me you need until a certain date so that I can go on wit my life until that time.

Anonymous said...

Follow-up from the mile long comments yesterday.

Wait. Do I get to do follow up?

(Just this once?)

This is for Dena when she joins the class.

A woo woo lawyer in my book is GOOD.

Colin Smith said...

Accepting everything that Janet says... still. I would think from the agent's perspective, signing a new author would come pretty high on the priority list. Like any business signing a contract with a new client, you make the new client feel special because you want that relationship to last. Yes, life happens, which may mean struggling between ten, twenty, thirty things that need to be done. But signing that contract is a one-time event in the life of that agent-writer relationship that will set the tenor for the rest of that relationship. Already our writer friend feels like just another product on the agent's shopping list, somewhere below the Doritos and the Meow Mix. Is that a good way to start a business relationship with anyone?

What would QOTKU do? I know many of us on this here blog are not clients of QOTKU and yet have found her to be responsive to emails/Twitter questions, and most of us don't expect this of her because we're not her clients. We know our place on the priority list. On top of that she gives of her time to the blog and contests over the weekend. And that's for those of us who AREN'T her clients. Who don't have contracts pending with her. If she treats us this well, especially given her workload, how attentive and conscientious must she be to the needs of her clients and other business relationships?

In the end, I would echo Janet's advice: keep querying. Perhaps mention in your query that you've had an offer of representation.

@Donna: If Dena's a woo-woo lawyer, then there's nothing wrong with woo-woo! In fact, most writers, agents, and publishers have to be some degree of woo-woo, don't you think? :)

@Kitty: I'll light a fire in the pit here for you in Carkoon. :)

Unknown said...

I can understand agents who don't respond to a full: blow it off, keep on trolling. But a writer who's been offered representation--and then hears nothing? Or an agent who reps but does nothing to shop the book? IF THAT'S THE FULL STORY HERE (cause it sounds weird) the writer has a valid complaint. Otherwise, what's the point in having an agent?

Anonymous said...

@Colin - IMO, yes, generally woo woo is only a good thing.

Like a dollop of that real whip cream Julie mentions. It adds something extra.

Of course, if used sarcastically, it comes across as something having too much muchness. I.e., like trying too hard.

Cheyenne said...

I'm thinking this might be the answer to the query question I sent in last week, Janet... and I don't want to trouble you with an answer if it's similar :} Maybe I am guilty of undervaluing just how much is on an agent's plate (particularly a successful/reputable one). If that's what I've done in my somewhat similar QQ, apologies and move along! :)

Dena Pawling said...

I left my house at 7:30 yesterday morning, and got home at 9:30 last night.

I was lucky to get six hours of sleep last night.

Today I have six trials in downtown Los Angeles.

Thanks Donna for letting me know that a woo-woo lawyer is a good thing :)

Sorry Colin, I missed saying I liked your legal thriller lol

According to the CA state bar, the number one complaint the public has against lawyers is “my lawyer never communicates with me.”

I agree with Julie. If the agent treats you like this in the wooing [or is that woo-woo?] stage, I would be concerned about the future. But before throwing in the towel, I think I would send said agent an email and let her know my concern. Maybe she's having a week like 2Ns and I have had.

Anonymous said...

I keep going back to the she offered and I accepted part. The agent didn't call two different times after setting up the call and no word on why.

This would irritate me to no end.

I know agents are busy, but if she's this busy now, I can't imagine it's going to get better down the road. As much as I'd love to have an agent, I can testify that having the wrong agent is worse than having no agent.

After my experience with Tweedledee and Tweedledum, I quit writing for a very long time. I took in ironing, cleaned houses, etc. to support my writing habit. Then I had to listen to my ex yapping about how stupid I was and I was never going to sell anything. Sure enough, my agents weren't sending out the book they had signed me for, or so I thought. In my mind, they confirmed that I was foolish to think I could write.

Indians hang dream catchers over a baby's bed to keep away bad dreams. Maybe it's time we take responsibility for ourselves and make sure we keep dream snatchers away, also.

I want an agent, but now I want the right agent. And with that, I need to return to stacking bodies.

Shaun Hutchinson said...

I don't know. I get that agents are busy, that they're human and get overwhelmed just like the rest of us. Sometimes I drop off the map for a few weeks because I'm under a deadline or I have copyedits. But I also feel like good communication between an agent and a client is pretty important. If an agent has scheduled a call with their client and has to back out, I feel like it's pretty bad form to do so without even acknowledging it. Just like the agent has a crap load of work, the client also may have a crap load of work. Maybe they have a day job, and maybe they had to take an early lunch or sneak away in order to be available for that call. Blowing it off says (to me) that the person doing so doesn't value my time enough to at least let me know they're not going to make it. If it happens habitually and in the stage where that agent is trying to "woo" the new client, what does that say about their future working relationship? I don't know...if it were me, I'd be hesitant about moving forward.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Not receiving calls after two scheduled telephone appointments is disturbing. I wonder how much time has passed since the rep offer.

I understand overwhelmed with work. But but but... keep calm and query on sounds like the best bet in this case. Surely if you have one offer there will be more.

Stacy said...

It's amazing to me how much finding and keeping an agent can be like dating.

Colin Smith said...

stacy: Funny you should say that. The analogy that sprang to mind was a marriage proposal. Imagine your beloved got down on one knee and asked for your hand in marriage, but then, before you can reply, they take a call on their cell phone, and before long they've walked away to deal with some other business. And then when you try to call them later to ask about that proposal, they either don't answer, or say, "I've got a lot on my plate right now--but we need to talk about that. I'll call you."

I think you'd get a good sense of where that relationship's going. :)

That's not to say the agent in question here is that callous and disrespectful of our writer friend. But feelings and perceptions matter, and I think this is the kind of feeling/perception the writer has, and the agent ought to be aware of that.

french sojourn said...

Heavens Stacy, it's been so long since I dated, I forget who gets tied up?

Another great post, I liked the QOTKU-niversity comment. Very apt.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Isn’t it amazing what swirls in writer’s minds when they don’t get the attention they think they should be getting, or someone runs their agency in less than business casual? If you become a client maybe someday a neophyte will have to wait while you get all attention, maybe the agent’s dog died, pipes froze, or they got a concussion from Amy’s nuts or turned an ankle while running with Donna or got stuck babysitting ALL of Colin’s kids. Do you know he has enough for a basketball team, with back-up? Maybe the agent had to go to court and we all know how that’s been going the last couple days with our own lawyers-with-fins.
Like Janet said, that agent is not your agent. That agent is only interested, like the guy at the end of the bar who bought you a drink, asked to take to his place and bolted because he hadn’t changed his sheets in a month of Saturday night dates. Obviously, being busy, embarrassed or an ass, does not a good agent for you make. (huh)
Keep looking, keep querying and you know what, when you are well-known, rich, famous and haven’t got the time, remember to stop by occasionally and let us know what it’s like to make it. Because you will.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Here's an addendum, how's that for you lawyer-types.

Baby is sleeping so I'm scrambling to get a column out, update my woes on my blog, sorry, no time to edit it but it's there(baby monitor is chirping), my house looks like the town transfer station, I haven't had a home-cooked meal in two weeks and I have to go to work tonight. (Monitor is quiet but I watch the tiny screen for chest moving up and down. Yup it is). Did I shower, I think I showered, not sure. And all of this plus more is going on and here I am living a dumpster lifestyle, commenting on Janet's blog.
Prioritizing is everything. (Chirps again, glance, back down)
Ah, a few more words and I can actually switch the laundry from the washer to the dryer. The stuff in the drier has been there since SNL's special. The wash, 3 days damp, (phew)
(Chirp, standing, crying) gotta go. I hope I can get back before this one year old graduates high school.

LynnRodz said...

Follow your intuition, it doesn't lie. It's our brain reasoning that often leads us down the wrong path. If you're feeling red flags about this agent, then do as Janet said, keep querying.

Janet, just reading about everything you do tired me out, but it made me appreciate much more what you do here on this blog. Why is it the more things people have to do, the more time they find to do them? The opposite is true as well, the less things on someone's plate the less time they find to do things.

I definitely need to find more things to do, but thanks to Donna, I can now say I attend the QOTK-University.

Dena, if you were in France you would have more time to write during the winter months. There's a law here that you can't evict someone from Nov. 1st to March 15. Of course, there are pros and cons to that law.

Anonymous said...


"Heavens Stacy, it's been so long since I dated, I forget who gets tied up?"

Wait, you get tied up, too? Lord what I wouldn't give to find a romantic man like that.

The last time I bought some pink, fuzzy handcuffs my ex said, "What the heck is wrong with you, woman?! Those are way too small for any of the horses."

The joys of living with a cowboy.

Colin Smith said...

Julie: I think you've just invented a whole new shade of grey... :\

Fluffy bunnies, cute kittens...

Anonymous said...

Hank, Hank, Hank. And there you go, all Fifty Shades of Way too much information on us.

Not Julie, apparently. Julie, your ex-honeybunch was maybe thinking those pink handcuffs were "Fifty Shades of Neigh."

Nay? No?

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Oh Julie, I feel your pain. My Elka 1. loves the snow 2. hates being cold 3. loves watching birds 4. will pretend she has to pee so she can go out and look at birds 5. will, when prompted, pretend to pee (can't hide that sin with snow, because while she has the guile to lie [apparently] she has no sense of "getting caught).

But, Elka let me sleep 'til 7 today before standing up on the bed and putting her pointy nose to my (less pointy) nose.

I do think this is one of those "keep querying, but keep the phone lines open" sort of deals. It is, I imagine, a total letdown to feel as though you were this close and have to keep querying instead. Or, maybe that call will come this week, or next month, and the contract will make its rounds and everything will be copacetic. But, don't hold your breath. Because it'll alarm people when you hit the floor, and they might call an ambulance, etc. etc.

Christina Seine said...

So Fifty Shades of Pink Handcuffs would definitely fall under woo-woo chick lit, right?

I totally understand being super busy (in addition to homeschooling 5 kids, I run my own business and do some freelance writing on the side. And then there's the furry critters to take care of, and the garden in the summer, and catching the moose and salmon we subsist on, but I digress). There are days when I am literally putting out fires (my youngest girl is learning to cook). There are times when I looking at the blinking light on the answering machine and say, NOT TODAY!

That said, not hearing back from an agent on such an important issue (how often do they offer rep?) would make my tiny little brain explode. As soon as I stopped wondering what *I* had done wrong, I’d start wondering if the agent was this flighty all the time. Especially if I didn’t hear back in a day or two or four. I’d reason that if said agent was too busy to get back to a client he/she was wooing (or woo-wooing), maybe a less busy agent would be more appropriate for me.

Of course, that’s easy for an un-agented writer to say, right? =)

REJourneys said...

Julie and Jennifer, your dog stories make me laugh (and cry?) at the same time. At my house, it's a one to one ratio of dogs and humans, a puppy and two "senior" dogs (Am I talking about the dogs or the people? I don't remember). They take turns throughout the night barking, crying, and/or yawning in exasperation because they demand something. Usually a romp in the snow at 3 am. They love to romp in the snow, especially the puppy (that's what my parents get for naming her Tundra). She has a record of 45 minutes outside in the early morning. Boy was the whole family testy that day.

Anyway, I absolutely one hundred and ten percent agree that the writer friend should query on and continue the occasional nudge until a decision is made.

I made the mistake of becoming overconfident while interviewing for a job. I was on the third interview, with the president of marketing, and thought "this is it, I'm moving here for the job." Apartments were scouted, a down payment was made, furniture research was done, all for naught. I didn't get the job.

Yes this situation is different, but nothing is final until you have that contract in hand, with both parties' signatures. Until then, don't get caught up with the verbal "yes".

Now, back to writing cover letters, query letters, and love letters (well, strike the last one).

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Elka is 5, and has fairly good distracted recall, so even when she's mouthing off to the murder of crows out back, I can typically whistle her home (the freeze dried liver treats once we're inside help as well. Why do dogs like such gross things?)

"Now, back to writing cover letters, query letters, and love letters (well, strike the last one)."

Actually, REJourneys....why don't we stop looking at query letters as such a chore and reserve that for the synopsis. A query letter is a love letter for the novel you have written.

Christina Seine said...

"A query letter is a love letter for the novel you have written."

Oh Jennifer, I like that.

The synopsis, then, would be the ... prenup?

Colin Smith said...

Christina: The synopsis is the biology/psychology textbook explaining how love and attraction work. :)

Craig F said...

I am glad that I am allowed to be part of the Queen's audience when she rants. Maybe she got lucky by pounding us with the fact that she accepts queries during the holidays. Otherwise her rant would have included getting 600,000 queries on the 3rd of January.

There are so many things that seem like conflicting rules from Agents that it has almost seemed to have become a superstition. I heard of a bucket full of writers who were planning mass querying on Jan. 2nd.

Maybe it should all be superstition. You research and suck up for agents to put a gold star on your query and ask for a full.

Then they seem to forget how hard you worked and how much of your soul you sold and don't call. Gives you the same kind of feeling as dealing with your internet provider or auto insurance company.

The only thing to do is straight up and keep querying. Forget about trying to figure out if cats lie better than dogs or are just more neurotic.

Being too busy to call and playing phone tag are the hazards of the sport. Failing to keep appointments is rude. It doesn't matter who does it. Find another agent. Rude people will not change their stripes. It doesn't matter how much you plead. Find a better relationship.

Mirka Breen said...

Lots of super cute comments here, but I think, honestly, we can say it plainly--
OP: "...I feel as important to her as sidewalk debris."
This is supposed to be a business relationship, and one that will follow you for a long time. No one should make you feel like that.

Dena Pawling said...

LynnRodz – I assume French lawyers who do evictions have something else to do during the winter months? Otherwise, how do they survive? There's only so many ambulances to chase, especially down snow-clogged streets.

I'm feeling sort of bad about all the pigeons I apparently played a substantial part in evicting from Janet's fire escape yesterday. I hope that wasn't the only sheltered place they had to roost? And I'm not licensed in New York.

DLM said...

Jennifer, that is a truly excellent view of query letters. A great "AHA!" way to look at them - I'll need to hold on to that quote!

Stacy, just happened to look at your blogs and the one with the most recent posts and the art work is beautiful. I love your paintings! Everybody, it's the one called Stacy Chambers, go, look. I'll wait. :)

Letters like this one are amongst the reasons I occasionally find comfort in not being agented nor published. YET. Oh, I'll get there, and I will *not* look backward wistfully, but the grass-isn't-so-green moments do make this side of the fence easier, admittedly. Funny the things you can make yourself grateful for, in a pinch.

Stacy said...

Wow, thank you, DLM! That's pretty good incentive for me to continue. Been cold up here in Chicago lately and the only place to work is really in my kitchen, though, so I haven't really been doing much of that in the last month. :( But again, thank you so much!

DLM said...

The Tower and Untitled I could find about six places for in my house ... :)