Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Waiting Game

I apologize if I don't seem to be answering old emails in the order they were received while I was busy editing my third book. If you sent me a question within the last three months, you will probably get an answer. If it's been more than three months, you can just resend it.

Dear Rejector:

Two agents have requested to see my novel manuscript. One of them asked for a partial -- in this case 100 pages (i.e., half the 100,000-word manuscript). A junior agent at a prestigious NYC house, this individual requires with the initial query letter the first five pages only -- no synopsis. He still asks that no synopsis be sent with the partial. It took him one month to answer my inital query. Querytracker contributors who've dealt with this agent state that he usually takes 2-3 months to respond to manuscript requests. This agent, who is very polite, strikes me as inefficient: by the time he gets around to possibly asking for a complete manuscript (3-4 months?), he may have lost potential clients; furthermore, he's wasted his own time by reading copius partials -- what's the point of asking for 100 pages? One might as well then ask for the full manuscript. Finally, how many agents don't bother with a synopsis, especially if s/he's asked to see 100 pages? Anyway, am I dealing with someone competent in your estimation, or a beginner who is just flopping around?

100 pages is half of a 100k word manuscript? Are you single-spacing and double-siding your manuscript? Because you shouldn't be doing that. It should be on one side and double or 1.5-spaced.

Again, I'll take apart your questions.

(1) Agents ask for what they prefer to read. Some agents don't care about a synopsis and don't ask for one. Some prefer 50 pages. Some 100. Some have to deal with so many submissions they just take the first 5 pages and a summary first. It's all in what their reading preference is. It doesn't make one agent less professional than the other.

(2) As to his answering your initial query, that's about right. Its' hard to go a lot faster than that in the mail, especially if there's some pile-up from the holidays or some emergency in the agent's life or whatever.

(3) In terms of him taking 2-3 months to answer a partial: Also not unusual. No, it doesn't take him that long to read it, just to get to it, and he may spend some time debating about it before responding. Like any normal human being, he may procrastinate on making a decision by putting it back in the pile, and quite a little "need to make a decision" pile builds up. You have no idea what's going on in his end. He hasn't been on vacation (or maybe he has) but an agent's life is not spent just lying around, watching TV and not looking at submissions unless the agent landed Stephen King and doesn't NEED new submissions - in which case, said agent doesn't have a website accepting submissions. Agents have a lot of work: editing the manuscripts they're preparing to send to publishers, working with authors about those edits, contract negotiations, chasing down royalty checks for the author, making sure the press coverage that was promised by the publishing company happens, going to meetings with the other agents and publishers (networking is VERY important in this industry), reading industry news that will determine where they send manuscripts, and reviewing submissions. Then there's the low-level stuff, liking going to Staples for more supplies, stuffing SASEs, photocopying, making sure there are enough copies of the contract for everyone involved (which may be several foreign agencies), sending ARC copies around, and assorted trips to the post office. Potential authors haven't earned them any money yet, so they can't spend much time on them when there's work to be done for their actual clients. In fact, the time spent on submissions is massive considering how many new clients they may actually take on that year (it could be as low as 1 new client or no new clients). In other words, be patient.

Also, if the agent is a member of the AAR, they are not a newbie doofus. You have to be in the industry for 5 years as an active agent to even begin to qualify for it, and then you have to pay a steep fee to be in it, so it's sort of the seal of quality. New agents often work in groups with older agents who are AAR people until they earn their wings, so-to-speak. My agent (my agent, not my boss who is an agent) is not a member of the AAR, or she wasn't when she took me on. She is, however, a member of an agency run by a man with 30 years experience in publishing and AAR membership, so I had no real worries about her inexperience, as she could always go to him if she needed to.


James Bruno said...

Excellent insights. Thanks!

Elissa M said...

I got hung up on the 100 pages is half a 100K manuscript, too. My math has it at 25,000 words (assuming the standard 250 words per page).

Glad you're answering mail again. Your posts are always terrifically informative.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I sort of have to laugh and cry at this observation:

"... This agent, who is very polite, strikes me as inefficient..."

There's quite a lot about this business that is inefficient:

*Agents asking for partials and NEVER getting back to you, even with a form reject.

*Agents asking for revisions and then deciding not to sign you.

*Agents asking for revisions that you then have to "undo" for the editor that buys the ms.

*Editors asking for rewrites and then deciding not to buy the book.

*An agent dropping you as a client when your book doesn't sell -- though, when they signed you, they said they "had to have" your book, and that your voice was "fresh and exciting."

ALL of these things have happened to me. Delvelop a thick skin. You're in this because you love it and you have something to say. Trying to figure out the bizarre crap in this business will only get you down. Concentrate on what you can control -- your writing.

Good luck to you! Hell, good luck to us all.

Anonymous said...

Also, no one in this business is worried about "losing potential clients" by having slow response times.

It's simple supply and demand: the "supply" of writers "demanding" agents far, far exceeds agents in need of writers.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

I love hearing the agents perspective. we writers can forget that when we sit inside our small world. Thanks :)

Tazzy said...

"Anyway, am I dealing with someone competent in your estimation, or a beginner who is just flopping around?"

I wonder if s/he were asking whether they were dealing with an incompetent someone or perhaps were they referring to themself as 'a beginner who is just flopping around'?...

Inkpot said...

It made me laugh when you mentioned that agents had other things to do than watch tv. Reading that made me think of an agent lying on the sofa watching Dr Phil until a package pinged through the letter box with 'next big thing' printed on the envelope. :)