Friday, September 04, 2015

At what point does expecting someone to be patient become rude?

CarolynnWith2Ns asked this in the comment trail of the blog post about timing:

At what point does expecting someone to be patient become rude? 

That's a really good question.

I saw the comment 34 minutes after hanging up from a telephone call with a client; a phone call that was about a proposal we've been working on for more than a year, and has had some serious setbacks in terms of my available time.

I'm very fortunate to have clients who have not lost patience with me.
On the other hand I've have more than a few former clients because they DID lose patience with me.

Patience is an individual sensibility.
[Just like eating peas with honey is a gross breach of table manners to some, and the only way to keep peas on a knife, thus practical, to others.]

I try to set realistic expectations for people who query and people who are waiting for me to read full manuscripts.  I tell them how long it should take, and say it's ok to touch base with me if they get worried, and certainly if they haven't heard from me in the time frame I've set.

That has helped diminish the level of writer anxiety in the prospect pool a lot.

Expecing someone to be endlessly patient without paremeters or permission to be in touch is rude.

I try to communicate with clients in a timely manner. Most of the time it works. Some times I fall VERY short. When that happens, the client moves to the top of the priority list. (In the prioritizaion on Tuesday's blog post, they become important AND urgent.)

We set a time for a telephone call and get caught up.

Expecting someone to wait patiently with no end in sight is rude.

In the normal woop and warf of client communication, appointments for phone calls are made, deadlines agreed to and expectations that To Do will Get  Done are set.

A LOT of times, those things get pushed back. A phone call needs to be rescheduled, a project doesn't get finished, a deadline gets missed.

I think a general rule of thumb here is that you can push/move/change an agreement three time before it's rude.

Absent some life changing situation three times is about the max.

If there is a life changing situation, then all bets are off, and you wait it out.

I've had colleagues lose clients when they've been upfront about personal situations they've had to deal with.  One in particular sent out an email that said she'd be dealing with a personal family emergency and was fired in a return email by a client who said s/he really wanted an agent who was available. (I had to be physically restrained from visiting that former client's place of abode. Fortunately we all realized that any client with that atttitude was better off being a former client and as soon as humanly possible, so bullet dodged, thank you.)


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Often I'm peeking up from a crack I have been told I have fallen between. I guess life happens, even to agents.
Thanks for the timely response to my question.

Hey reiders, hope you all have a great last-gasp summer weekend.

Marc P said...

I tend to hide the chase up call with a new time sensitive query that isn't really important and when I am talking casually drop the ... 'Oh and by the way, re... blah blah blah' into the mix.

I have probably been rumbled more than once but it gets us both out without egg on our faces.

Egg should of course be kept on the toast where it belongs!

PS What no FF Friday! Lol. I actually have to do work!

Laura Mary said...

I honestly think the key factor here in not p*ssing people off is just good old fashioned manners. If a phone call/deadline/meeting is delayed, apologise and rearrange, and give notice where you can.
I don't mind hearing the details on 'why' but I don't always need an explanation - 'life happened' will usually cover it.

What does start to become unforgivable, is being ignored or forgotten - 'oh yeah I forgot we had a meeting, I was out at lunch!' or auto-cancellations in my calendar with no further information.

Kindness and good manners will get you far in life.

Kitty said...

2Ns, this reider will be sweatin' out the heat wave. Fall can't come too soon for me!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Off to Carkoon and kale plants for the former client who foolishly ... Well we know what he did. I wish all agents were as gracious as Janet. There seems to be a growing trend that the cone of silence means rejection. At least with query letters. Is that the case with partials as well? Anyhow I am learning this is a long and slow process. Any decent agent is going to be busy and worth the patience. Hopefully, if the writer nudges the agent after a reasonable amount of time, no offense is taken. There should be an nudge the agent app...

Lizzie said...

Is it possible that a lot of agents have no intentions of ever reading your full and just request to have an opportunity to weigh in if you get an offer?

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Hmm, that client who fired their agent dealing with a personal family emergency. I'm trying to imagine their query letter as they search for another agent. And what kind of reputation among the agents s/he collected with this behavior.

Though I'm not even close to querying yet, so haven't encountered the need for this type of patience, it seems common-sense to treat agents as people and allow for leeway. Civility and courtesy go a lot further than self-righteous self-centeredness.

Lesson for the day: the world isn't all about me.

oh. sad.

But great turn of phrasing, 2Ns. And helpful ponderings here.

Anonymous said...

Boy howdy. We were just discussing this in a writer's group. A lady said she had sent an email to an agent asking if there was any interest in her query because if there wasn't she wished to query another agent at the agency. I'm going to wager she will either get a no response or feel free to query the other agent. Regardless, I asked when she sent the follow up email.

Two days ago.

"Criminy. He probably hasn't even read it yet. Be patient."

Go work on a new book. Read a book. Take up flamingo dancing. Stop driving yourself nuts.

I am link challenged with videos as usual.

Janet Reid said...

Holy moly. I was all set to be hilarious about flamingo/flamenco but that really IS a dancing flamingo.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Janet and the others, flabbergasted that the agent's former client could be so rude and callus. The agent is better off without that lovely client.

As for what I'll be doing this weekend--

Trying to convince Gage the Wonder Dog he really won't die if he eats out of his new dog dish.

Deciding if I'm going to SIWC or not.

Cleaning house.

Possibly drinking a Shiner Bock.

nightsmusic said...

LOVE the flamingo! I have two friends of 40+ years and our 'tacky gift' is finding the tackiest flamingo and presenting it for birthdays, Christmas, summer, whenever we find one. We each have a huge collection of them now.

I try to be courteous, but sometimes, things happen. I was let go/resigned (it ended up being mutual) from a job when my father died because I couldn't be there to teach class during his funeral. They had no patience for life, I guess. Other people aren't there for our beck and call 24/7. Life just doesn't work that way though I fear we are creating a generation of instant gratification, but that would be another post...

HAH! No cabbages again! This time, it was drinks, but alas, not a Macallan in the bunch :(

Unknown said...


I can tell you with complete confidence that this is not the case. But for the sake of argument, let's do some Brian math -

Last year I read 37 books. I felt like I was traveling at breakneck speeds but I know my meager 37 is quite low compared to many other writers I know. I'm trying to make my way to 52, a number that seems remarkable in my mind but is chickenshit compared to the average agent buttonweezer.

So consider this. If we want to say each agent requests %1 of manuscripts, and I'd say it's pretty accurate to think an average agent open to queries gets 100 per 24 hours, that means on average they are requesting 365 books a year. What the hell, let's call it one half of one percent and say they request around 177 books a year.

Then again, agents can't just read manuscripts. They have to know what's good and what's selling and why. and what's new is constantly changing, say with one new book per month perhaps nudging the envelope further. So that's 12 books a year in one genre that are probably worth reading. And let's say our agent buttonweezer only reps Dino porn and historical time-traveling fiction. So that's 24 books a year they should probably have their nose in.

Oh, and clients. They have to sell client books. So let's say they have 12 clients to make this agents life easy and let's say only 1/3 of these clients are releasing books this year. But they'll have to read at least a few revisions and maybe even re read revisions. So being quite conservative, that's 10 client manuscript reads and re-reads.

So between client books and just "staying in the know" books, we've already surpassed my yearly reading total. But there's still 176 manuscripts to read on top of that. Plus meetings with editors, selling foreign rights, dealing with crisis, attending conferences, speaking at conferences, following up on emails sent and never replied, those things called queries that keep pouring in...

I think FOMO is certainly real, the fear of missing out, but agents have every intention of reading every manuscript they get. Sometimes other agents just get there first.

DLM said...

Julie - aww, Gage. C'mon boy! It's yummy! Also - "bless her heart" to your writing group lady. That's almost cute.

Love what Laura Mary says about manners (SO TRUE) and Lisa B - oh so yes.

nighmusic, that is literally inhuman. I can scarcely comprehend.

One of the most recent themes I was noodling with on the WIP is the way life suspends time at deeply important moments, how at births and deaths and profound illness or fear we enter sacred time and there is a silent yet bustling strangeness around all activity.

Colin Smith said...

I was about to linkify Julie's flamingo link, when QOTKU beat me to it! I suppose that's her prerogative, being QOTKU and all... :)

It seems to me that the key to good manners in most situations is COMMUNICATION. This is why many of us in this little neck of the woods think the "no response means no" policy is just bad manners. Yes, communicating to someone that their query didn't cut it may take all of 15 seconds, which may mean, overall, you only get to half the queries you intended to. But isn't that worth the reputation of being responsive and courteous to anyone who gives of their time to query you?

Likewise here. We on this side of the forest need to be aware of the demands upon an agent's time, and not be unreasonable in our expectations. On the agent's side, clearly posted guidelines ("Thank you for your submission. Due to the volume of reading I have every day, please don't expect a response for six weeks. After that time, feel free to nudge.") help a lot--and I know most agents do this. But then, after that time, when the fretful creature emails saying, "Ummm... I really don't want to bother you, but I was wondering if maybe perhaps you know my manuscript... oh, don't worry I know you're busy... forget I said anything..." Agent responds ASAP with a word of assurance. "My apologies, furry friend. I'm reading it now" or "I'll get to it ASAP. Check back with me in a week." Or something like that.

It takes time to communicate, which is why we often don't. But it's time well spent. Few things make another human being happier than the knowledge that another human being cared enough to spare a moment to communicate.

That's my 2c on the topic. Or at least in the topic's neighborhood.

Craig F said...

Long ago I accepted that I am capable of becoming a beast. In fact I would rather become a beast than go meekly into the darkness.

I am not, however, a patient beast. I have watched patient beasts and that is something strange and terrible to me in its beauty. I realize that there are many well written manuscripts that have questionable marketability. What I am working on is a thriller, a modern western, and the market is waiting for something like it.

If an Agent keeps putting me off it might cause my inner beast to raise its head. I can live with life changing situations only if I know of them. Some Agents don't seem to feel that I should be told such things. To counteract that I will keep querying until I find an Agent really looking for what I will be offering soon. Even if our Queen has a few things that are tough to find homes for I will still query her.

I have doubts that she will take me. That is not because of what I will query for but because these thrillers are basically prequels to the sci-fi I will get to. Besides, if I don't query her I fill not feel right about sending her ARCs and hoping for a flash fiction contest about it.

Colin Smith said...

Marc P: I don't know how long you've been around here, but my observation is that the Flash Contest season is mainly during the summer. Her Mighty and Blessed Sharkiness will throw the occasional one in other times of the year, to celebrate a birthday, for instance (I'm still dead chuffed about that, BTW--and that was back in March!), so don't expect one every week. As nice and fun as that would be, QOTKU can't always be spending her weekends reading contest entries and picking winners.

nightsmusic said...


Yes, in my long and eclectic life, I thought I'd seen/heard pretty much all there was but losing one's job due to their father's funeral sort of took the cake for me.

Laura Mary said...

DLM - "the way life suspends time at deeply important moments, how at births and deaths and profound illness or fear we enter sacred time and there is a silent yet bustling strangeness around all activity."

So beautifully put (better than my usual 'wibbly wobbly timey wimey' response)

I've felt that a few too many times, it's baffling how the world carries on around you, do they not know that you are the centre of the universe and it's time for everything to stop spinning for a while, while you readjust?

I had to make my way across London on my own for a funeral earlier this year, and the whole way there everything around me just seemed grossly inappropriate. How dare people be barging past on the tube, how dare there be traffic, how dare that person sit next to me and start eating a big mac. Do they not know???? No of course they don't. Life carries on.

Sorry, that's a bit deep for a Friday afternoon. More flamingos anyone?

Jenz said...

E.M. Goldsmith asked: "There seems to be a growing trend that the cone of silence means rejection. At least with query letters. Is that the case with partials as well?"

I know of someone who finally closed out a full request after getting no response to nudges. And that's not even the first time I've heard of that happening. So not only have we moved to many agents not responding to queries, some of them won't respond to partials or even fulls.

Marc P said...

@Colin I have not been around these parts much more than a month podna! So that's cool - and quite right too. Thanks for the fins up!

It's just I have a novel to finish in less than three weeks now so I need all the creative distractions I can find. :) I don't want to do any more housework!

Unknown said...

Bagpipes? The poor flamingo wasn't dancing, he was trying to escape. Couldn't figure out where the noise was coming from.

Bagpipes should only be played outdoors, in a glen.

DLM said...

Why thank you, Laura Mary! I could have used a comma before that last clause, but I'm pleased it's clear anyway. It's been interesting writing; I go *into* those same sacred-twilight feelings myself as I explore.

When my

nightmusic, I'm not angry or on fire, yet the word that came to my mind was "outrage" - even without chasing down your ex employers with torches, there is an impropriety and disproportion there that beggars common decency.

On "no response means no" - I have gotten that on both fulls and partials.

Dena Pawling said...

I agree with Colin – communication. In this age of internet, social media, smart phones, etc, we may have reached communication-overload. We tweet or facebook our status and daily minutiae for the world to see, but we fail to engage in basic manners with individual people.

On that note - this weekend we're going cabin camping in the mountains with NO WIFI AND NO INTERNET! I'm alternately glad for the break and wondering how I'll survive. So y'all won't see me here on the blog until Monday, altho you can be sure I'll be checking the weekend blog posts when I get back.

And, I LOVE AUTUMN! My favorite season. November thru March is my favorite time of year. Of course this is probably because I live in SoCal where the summers are HOT and the only snow we have in winter is in the mountains.

For those who read about my “fun with books” several weeks ago, I have a full book review/recommendation for both books linked on that site page now [spoiler alert – I liked both of them]

Have a wonderful weekend to all.

nightsmusic said...


Thank you! At the time it happened, I was too numb to really take up arms but once things settled down and life tried to get back to some kind of normal, I was very angry in the way the whole thing was handled. I called to tell them my father died and the director of the school said 'don't come back if you can't be here to teach when the schedule dictates.' I agreed, their philosophy and mine differed quite a bit, but geez, they could have waited until the end of the school year!

@Dena Pawling

The best time I can remember in the past however many years was in 2003 when the entire east coast to Illinois and beyond in some cases was without electricity. I loved it! No phone, no internet, no planes flying overhead, no incessant, underlying electric hum that we don't even pay attention to anymore because we hear it constantly. I thought it was wonderful! So when I go on vacation, I'm very happy to unplug for a few days. But that's me.

Anonymous said...

I, for one, am neither shocked nor outraged about that 'former client'. There are ... let's just say 'idiots', to be kind... of all kinds out there. And as Janet said, the agent is better off without that client.

And that means: there's more room for those of us who have a heart!

My plans for the weekend:

- go for supper with friends tonight, then meet up with one or two writer friends online afterwards and talk about the conferences I went to this summer

- on Sunday, watch the Labour Day Classic (Canadian Football - our team always plays our arch-rival from Manitoba at the Labour Day Classic) with my parents and other family members. I'll probably be watching the family more than the game, and if it gets good, I just might start live-tweeting their reactions... My parents already have a couple of online supporters they may never meet, because these fans completely agree with my parents' over-the-top comments.

- Otherwise, just surviving the weekend. Maybe giving the dog a trim.

- Oh, and writing. I've got short stories to work on, the beginning of my novel to rewrite, and submissions to make.

Thank goodness the weather has calmed down here. Oh, it's still changeable, but it's cooler now. It won't even make it all the way up to room temperature for a good part of the next week. (Which is good news for the dog, who really really really needs a haircut, and will probably have to put up with my clumsy efforts instead of a professional's skill.)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I have heard that too. I have 7 partials out (5 requested at Writer's Conference) and 2 requested from queries so it is hard to know when to nudge and when to scratch that agent off the list. I am constantly querying as Janet advises. It is maddening. But I get it. I read about 250 books a year. I imagine that is a weekly load for an agent and some of it not quite polished I imagine. I am terribly shy so following up seems intimidating to me. I am now certain that super secret agent blacklist exists and that nameless former client is on it. I don't want to end up there too.

Anonymous said...

EM: The nameless former client fired their agent. Nudging politeley on a partial or full will not put you in anyone's bad books.

To get on the super secret agent blacklist, I'm pretty sure you have to:

- be egotistical and arrogant ("My work is perfect. I don't need an editor. You should be happy I chose you. If you change one word of my work, I'm finding another agent. If you can't sell my work for a million bucks by Tuesday, I'm going elsewhere.");
- be abusive - name calling, threatening, insulting;
- be scary (for example, physically stalk an agent; delve into their most private lives; again, threatening); or
- steal their booze (although you don't want to steal their desserts, either, there is at least one person who has done so and has survived with at least one arm intact)

I doubt woodland creatures ever make it onto that list, simply because they're afraid of winding up there. Wooand creatures can't be arrogant - it goes against their anxious little souls. And woodland creatures would rarely scare an agent, simply because the woodland creature is too scared itself.

A nudge here and there isn't going to put you on any list. Wait a couple weeks or a month past the date they say, then nudge. Wait two or four weeks or months, then nudge again. I'd nudge twice - three times if you're sure you should have received a response and are worried you might have missed it. After that, it's time to move on.

It sounds like you're doing everything you need to do to find an agent and get published!

CynthiaMc said...

Writers have vivid imaginations. No response invites a nervous breakdown "Is the agent not responding because she's in the Himalayas with no cell phone service or because she thinks I'm the worst writer ever and not worth responding to?"

I'm Southern, so no response means no strikes me as lazy or rude. I understand busy. We're all busy. Just a quick or no lets everyone know where they stand.

This weekend I'm working on my screenplay, the house, the garden, spending cuddle time with Hubby and the pups (and the cat who is terrified of the storm we're having right now) and starting rehearsals for my new show. It's a great day to learn lines. Happy weekend, y'all!

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

I'm on my way to Carkoon with this one. I think a 'T' is missing in: Expecing someone to be endlessly patient...

If you eat peas with a knife you may cut yourself. A knife can be sharp or dull and some have a point. Most cultures think licking a knife is bad manners. That client was an ass and deserved a licking. In Italian they say two things: La mamma del cretino รจ sempre incinta = the idiot's mother is always expecting and meglio solo che in cattiva compagnia = better off alone than in bad company.

Anonymous said...

Wait. There are agents who have a stated policy of "no response means no" on a requested FULL?! WTAF? How incredibly rude. I can understand that it will take a while, maybe a long while. But no reply, ever? On a full? No. That's unacceptable.

I haven't queried anyone yet, but when I do those agents won't even make it on the tail end of my list. How helpful of them to narrow it down for me.

I'm just going to pretend I didn't see the allusion to peas being edible. Under any circumstances.

I'll be writing all weekend. And ignoring further calls from my daughter, apparently, who just called to taunt me with the cool fall weather in Boston by saying she wore a long-sleeved shirt today.

Megan V said...

I think impatient writers fit into one of three categories—whiners, whyners, and winers.

Whiner: Checks their e-mail and, upon finding nothing, complains about how its been one week since Agent Awesome received their full and they haven't heard ANYTHING.

Whyners: Checks their e-mail and, upon finding nothing, asks themselves why their query and/or pages aren't generating interest, why they haven't heard anything back. Curious, they will research and/or twitter stalk Agent Awesome a bit more, maybe nudge them, and then spend a few more hours worrying before editing their current MS and query for the 50th time.

Winers: Checks their email and upon seeing nothing, pours themselves another glass of wine and writes something else. Agent Awesome will get back to them when AA gets back to them.

In short, writers have different expectations of agents.
Agents have different expectations of writers.
Agents have the ability to make their expectations clear from the get go. Writers don't.
Writers should adhere to Agent's expectations if they plan on querying said agent.
Writers should make their expectations clear to agents before entering agent/author relationship.
And unreasonable expectations should be tossed out the window ASAP.
Otherwise rudeness is probably inevitable.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

It's been a long day, I've jumped on a few times, read, skimmed and I want to add one thing. Knowing what I know, I cannot imagine a writer being so stupidly uniformed as to hold against Janet, the need to wait. If you know anything about agents than you know the ones who are on our side.
My nose is not brown. Respect is golden. It works both ways you know.

Theresa said...

Kindness and good manners, as Laura Mary said, go a long way in professional interactions. And between texting and email, it takes very little time and effort to pass along necessary information.

Anonymous said...

I think an intelligent author needs to be a "whyner". Not that you need to check your email every 15 minutes, but if you've received 25 rejections, it might be time to question why and do some adjusting.

It's like target practice. You have to make adjustments and hone in. You adjust your query, your opening, your first fifty, the whole story at times. I didn't want to completely gut my story twice and rewrite it, but it's a far better work now. We have to continually ask how we can improve and that comes from asking why something doesn't work.

AJ Blythe said...

Wowzers. I guess that client has lived a blessed life if they can't understand life happens! Communication is the key (as everyone has said). Even a fragile woodland creature like myself can have my nerves steadied if I'm given timeframes, or an update or the like.

2Ns, it's the fifth day of spring here. Trees are flowering, magpies are dive bombing and it's getting *warm*. =)

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Megan V said...

Julie Weathers:

I agree. Wholeheartedly.

DLM said...

Do I smell spam ... ?

kdjames, I haven't seen a stated *policy* before that "no response means no" on a full, but I've had two that never responded and I wrote them off after six months regardless of their policy. MY time is worth more than that sort of rudeness/poor organization.

DLM said...

Oh, and - Janet, that poem was in my fifth grade English book. I have never forgotten it.

Also, I've never used the methodology. :) Though I will employ a spoon if one's handy!

nightsmusic said...


Sadly, you really do smell spam. And it stinks!!

reCAPTCHA: Since when are pistachios and cashews, peanuts???

Deb Vlock said...

Janet: <3