Why do agents hold onto manuscripts so long? If you're too busy, pass and let the wrter move on. A month, sure. Two months, three, okay. But seven months? That's terrible.
There aren't too many industries where this is acceptable, and it's only given a pass in publishing because writers are desperate for the attention of editors. But just because an agent can get away with it doesn't mean that they should.
My initial reaction was "authors would rather wait than have me pass just cause I haven't gotten to it yet" but then I realized I did NOT know that for a fact.
So, I decided to ask. I emailed six writers who had heard back from me (yea or nay) on their requested fulls, and six others who were still waiting. Most had been waiting more than the 90 days I ask for in my initial reply to them.
If you had a choice between hearing back soon and an agent saying no simply due to a lack of reading time, would that be preferable to waiting for many (many!) months?
There's no downside to brutal honesty here. I'm genuinely curious.
Here's what I heard:
Janet, you are absolutely correct . . . well at least from my POV. I would rather wait for you (especially you) than receive a blanket “I’m too busy to read your ms” form rejection email. I don’t see the downside of waiting.
If you’re the only agent that has requested my ms, why would I pull it? And if several agents have requested it, again, why would I pull it? If one of the other agents who has my ms says yes, then I’m in the catbird seat and can write the email every debut author dreams of sending. And, if they all reject it, then again, I still have one more bullet in the chamber. So again, why would I pull it?
Agents are not trying to “get away” with anything. Quite the contrary. You want my book to be as good as I think my book is. And nothing would make you happier than finding your next best-seller blockbuster. Not only is it your job but, from the agents I’ve met, you love discovering new writers. So if that takes an extra month or three, I’m willing to wait.
Janet, I hope this helps.
In the meantime, I look forward to hearing from you, um, whenever.
I really don’t care how long it takes someone to come back to me on my query, especially if they seem to be genuinely interested. My theory is that it’s all about timing. If the agent is busy and has a lot of clients, you probably will either not hear back or will get that short “not for me but hang in there” response. If the agent has a little time, recently lost some clients, decided to ramp things up for whatever reason, you might get a real response.
Speaking for myself, I much prefer waiting for rejection than being rejected immediately. But waiting doesn't mean the writer should hover around their computer waiting for THE e-mail. There are always more novels to write. In fact, by the time the agent rejects one novel, a writer might have finished another and feel even more confident that this is the novel that will definitely SELL! Thus, a writer need never feel depressed.
At the same time, I imagine most agents would feel a bit depressed if they learned that the manuscript that had been yellowing on their desk for the last six months was scooped up by a competitor and sold for a six-figure advance. Plus, a bidding war ensued for the film rights. .
Don't think the above hasn't happened. And recently.
I might have a little more perspective on this than most since I have worked in the book biz for some years now, and I have seen how slowly the sausage gets made, but here are my thoughts.
First off, this person just sounds scared to me. They can’t take the waiting so they would rather you just say “No" so they can check it off the list and move on. I don’t know in what industry, or world, that kind of impatient thinking would yield a better result. I think a lot of people assume that writing the book is the longest part of the process, but it clearly is not.
Second, even if it is a “No” or “Pass" after you read the manuscript the feedback is worth the wait. I got a few polite boilerplate rejections that offered no feedback, but the stuff you pointed out about the first 50 pages having to much backstory and not having any plot, really stuck with me. It has caused me to really rethink how the story needs to be told. I think it is going to make me a better writer. I am all ears if you ever want to talk in more details about the story, characters, or anything else.
So in answer to your original question, YES I would rather wait six (or more) months to hear back from you either way with some feedback than to have you say “No" just because you are too busy to read it right away. I think most writers would be with me on that. By the way, you were great about getting back to me when I reached out to follow up, and you even let me know when you were moving agencies - that feels like a fair deal to me. Bottom line your opinion matters and I know you have a lot to read so I’m not going to rush you.
It's a really interesting question. Personally, I would hate to think my book got passed over due to a lack of time to read it. I'd rather wait those seven, or eight, or nine months (or more) to know the book was read, even if it ends in a rejection. Otherwise, there would always be that what if in the back of my mind. That would drive me insane. You also did a good job of keeping in contact with me and responding right away whenever I sent a follow up. I think if you hadn't have done that it would have been a bit more painful to wait.
That being said, I do have more a laid back personality and I think that has a lot to do with it as well. I have a friend I would keep updated about the progress, and she would get irritated on my behalf. But she is a very precise, strict deadline kind of person (she's an attorney).
I'm sorry, I don't know if any of this was helpful or not. Personally, I didn't mind the wait. I'm fully aware that my book isn't the only one you'd be reading, and that you would probably have about a bajillion other things on your plate at the same time. You spend a very long time writing a book, what's another seven months wait in the long run? It's like a hiccup.
I would always prefer to wait over getting a "no" due to mere lack of time.
But on the other hand, if I had sent out a dozen queries on the book and nine agents responded positively, that changes things quite a bit!
Then there's the question: Does the agent have an exclusive requirement in order to read a full? I don't know the general practice on this, but I would hope that the exclusivity requirement would come with a promise to read/respond by a certain date.
Also, updates from the slow agent would go a long way towards building trust. "Hi, I haven't gotten to your MS yet, but don't give up on me. There are 3 (9) MSS ahead of you, so please be patient a little longer."
Yes, exclusives (which stink and also smell) should have a SHORT time limit.
With absolute certainty, I would rather wait extra [fill in the blank up to 12] months before asking an agent to pass on it due to a lack of reading time. I suppose there is some number of months where you'll begin to think that an agent doesn't have time for you on their roster if it takes them too long to respond. Off the top of my head, I'd say that number is between 7 and 12 months. However, that doesn't translate to "time to pass because it's taken so long." Rather, that translates more closely to "time to nudge and find out WHY it's taking so long."
If I nudge after 7 to 12 months, and an agent doesn't respond to my email, that's telling. (As in, telling me to search elsewhere because they don't have time or me.) However, if I nudge and an agent says something akin to "You again? Remember I said patience is a virtue. I'm popular, what can I say. My stack of requested fulls is getting shorter, and yours is getting eerily closer to the top. Hang with me another couple months." Well, then I'm right back to saying I'll give them more time to read rather then pulling my ms back because it's been too long. Just show me you still have interest, and I'll show you respect by granting the time.
Writer Eight (who has experienced many months waiting not just once, not just twice but THREE times with me)
Though everyone would like to hear as soon as possible, I can't imagine they'd rather receive a quick turn-down than a reply after an agent has had an opportunity to take a good look at the work. We struggle mightily just to get our manuscripts in someone's hands who will give us an objective evaluation. If that requires a longer than normal wait I guess it's just one of the things we have to put up with.
Bottom line: No one in my requested fulls list simply wanted me to pass after 8 weeks so they could move on.
I know waiting sucks.
I also know it's simply part of general trade publishing.
If you just can't tolerate waiting, there's a perfect alternative available now: self publishing electronically. You can write something and publish it the same day.
Or you could work for a daily newspaper and see your work in print the very next day.
Or you can write a blog and not only see your work the next minute, you can voice your opinion on all matter of things. Like those dastardly slacker agents who are lollygagging about.
Thanks to all of the writers who helped out on this blog post.
(I'm sure they all would rather I was reading their manuscript!)