Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Author In Distress

STATUS: Well, today couldn’t be nearly as exciting as yesterday. I mean I can’t expect an offer every single day.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MISUNDERSTANDING by Genesis

An author I have known for several years (because we’ve worked together at a couple of recent conferences) called today in obvious distress because her agent had had her proposal for three weeks now without response. What does it mean and what should she do?

Well first, I think she should take a big deep breath and a take a moment to examine her thinking. My guess is that the author has been playing a greatest hits record of all the worst-case scenarios and therefore can only imagine the worst possible outcome (and once in that mind set, it shapes all other thoughts from that moment on!).

It might be as simple as the agent not having had enough time to turn-around the proposal in a timely fashion.

Of course that’s never happened to me (ahem, coughs loudly).

So what does it mean? Possibly nothing and the agent has been time-crunched. Now it could also mean the proposal stinks, the agent now hates you, and is planning to drop you faster than a hot potato.

But I kind of doubt that.

So what should she do? Take a deep breath and then write a straight-forward and professional email that says something along the lines that she is very excited about the proposal and would like to simply check in on the status, make sure it was received, and when does the agent think he/she will be able to respond.

Then start a new project or go walk the dog or in some other way embrace life.

Now if the agent doesn’t respond to that email in 3 weeks, that might be cause to start worrying. The agent should at least reply to a status inquiry email.

37 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    I agree. It sounds like much ado about nothing.

    Although, why someone should be asking outside of their relationship about what to do when it’s obvious simple communication is involved sends an alarm off in my head. Sounds like she’s not really too happy with this agent, and is possibly setting the groundwork for a parting of ways.

  2. James Goodman said:

    Definately too soon to worry as you say, but then do we know how long it normally takes the agent to respond?

    If she usually gets some sort of response (even if it’s just to say, “I have it, will get to it soon”) within a week, then there may be cause to worry. Otherwise, three weeks doesn’t sound unreasonable at all, especially if the agent has a gaggle of other clients to contend with between pitching projects.

  3. Mags said:

    Silence is hard! It’s good that she called you so that she could avoid calling her agent.

    I blog, I go play with the nice people in the AW message board, I annoy the blogs of agents I’m not on submission to–I do what it takes to distract myself and keep the crazy away from the people that I want to appear cool and professional in front of.

    I think most of us (writers) feel this way. A good client irritates other people!

  4. ~paulette said:

    All hopes to the agent just being busy. Personally, I end up working with clients all the time who get really edgy themselves. Three weeks into contract and they’re wondering why the pool isn’t done yet! The worse thing they can do is get in my face about it and make a fuss. The work still gets done in the same time-frame, but now I don’t go out of my way to impress them with their project. I can only imagine it might be the same with agents… so, a big breath and a bit of distraction will do loads.

  5. Anonymous said:

    Dear Kristin.
    Thankyou so much for this post. The author you are talking about may be over-reacting, I agree, but what is too long a time? I sent my manuscript in to my agent in July and nothing much has been done with it yet. I am as yet unpublished but have another manuscript that has been going the rounds for three years. Because I am an unpublished newbie (one of that small percent that was taken on by that agency in 2004) I don’t really know what the procedure is about moving agencies or even if I should. Any ideas anyone?
    Congratulations by the way on the film offer.

  6. The Home Office said:

    What would worry me more than anything is that the writer isn’t querying the agent; they are, apparently, already agent and client. I would think an agent, no matter how busy, could find thirty seconds to dash off a quick “I got it, I’m swamped, I’ll get back to you” for someone they already had a relationship with.

  7. Anonymous said:

    I agree with home office – my agent almost always gets back to me within hours and, at the most, a day (even if it’s just a one liner)…and my first book never even sold after two rounds of submitting….second book is making its first round now…

  8. April said:

    Thank you for your thoughts…and I thank all the other comments as well. Being very new to all this – I do not yet have an agent, though I am querying madly – I am just trying to absorb as much information and as many opinions as I can.

  9. Anonymous said:

    I’m constantly shocked by this industry, and I think so many problems are caused by fear and lack of communication. First, I agree with everyone else that this author should be talking to their own agent, not going behind their back. This makes me wonder if the author has been up front with her agent about expectations. Does the agent even know that the author thinks it is taking too long? Is the agent’s response time par for the course? I see absolutely no reason to NOT ask for a status check, just to make sure they’re both on the same page.

    Second, what really kills me is Kristin saying “if the agent doesn’t respond to that email in 3 weeks, that might be cause to start worrying.” I’d bump that time frame up to a few days, maybe a week. The agent might be swamped and can’t get to the proposal, but to not even respond to a client email in three weeks?! What kind of industry thinks this is ok? I’m an attorney by trade, and if a client emailed me for a status check, they’d get a response that day. They may not get the work that day, but it’s my job to respond to them.

    How high on a pedestal must we authors place agents — the people we pay and partner with — that we can’t expect the courtesy of a response to a status check within a few days? This is a business people!!!

  10. Anonymous said:

    I agree with annon 7:15… I recently decided to leave my agent (although I am still unpublished) after almost a year of dealing with this dropping off the face of the earth for weeks thing. In my business, if a client email went unresponded to after a day, I’d be looking at a reprimand. Once you are a client, and that relationship has been established, one would think that respectful responses would be a given. As said before, even if that means acknowledging receipt instead of blatant ignoring. It’s just rude. The last straw for me was a six week period where four different emails went unacknowledged and unanswered. While the excuse was an overload of work, it takes five seconds to click reply and type a sentence.

    Okay, I’m done venting now.

  11. Anonymous said:

    My agent made it very clear after this issue (first book hadn’t sold, I wanted her to evaluate second in anticipation of submission) arose that she was hugely busy during the time, with the paying customers. She had to do contracts, or read an option manuscript, or was in negotiations or was talking to the west coast, or was busy with her european agents. In other words, I was way, way, way down the list on her important things to do. She did communicate. I would get a one-line e-mail that she was tied up with any one of the above. It made me feel like something you scrape off the bottom of your shoe.
    I understood that she had to make a living, and currently I wasn’t contributing. After six months of this, I sent the letter.
    I’ve got the new manuscript out, and hope my next round is better. The moral of the story is don’t wait as long as I did. If you’re not a priority for your agent, you’re with the wrong agent.

  12. ~Nancy said:

    Anon 6:06,

    This sounds screwy to me, but maybe I’m reading your post wrong.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think what you’re saying is that you have an agent, but said agent hasn’t done anything with the ms. that snagged that agent for you.

    I could understand if your agent told your plot is complex and needs to be edited big time. But 3 years? 3 years? I would think after a few months that your agent would be saying, “You need to cut this, this, and that. You need to bridge that, change a couple names.” And then she would have it ready to send out to publishers (which might take a couple of months to maybe a year, depending on the types and amount of edits).

    But I keep going back to that 3 year thing. Has your agent done anything with your ms? Suggested edits? Told you the publishers she sent it to? Told you what publishers thought of your story?

    Sounds to me like there’s not only communication trouble here, but that your agent has lost sight of you. Maybe her other clients are keeping her busy beyond belief, but why’d she take you on if that’s the case?

    Or maybe I’m missing something.

    I think I’d write an email asking her about where the ms. has been shopped (if it’s been shopped). If it hasn’t been shopped, maybe ask why.

    My gut reaction – and take this with a grain of salt, as I don’t have an agent – is to find another one. If you’ve waited 3 whole years, that’s 3 years you could’ve had your ms. shopped around and published! (Or maybe another ms., if the first one didn’t sell.) Send a polite, certified letter to your agent, telling her you don’t think it’s working out, and that you’d like to sever the relationship.

    Depending on your contract (from what I’ve read), it’ll take 30-90 days for the severance.

    Yeah, I know it’s a hassle to put together a query and do the waiting game again, but if sounds to me as if you’re already losing time and energy. Time to cut your losses.

    Good luck!


  13. Janny said:

    The first thing this author should do is not “take a deep breath” and try to calm herself down…and then give the agent more time yet to respond. (!) The first thing this author should do is take that deep breath WHILE she’s dialing the telephone to call her agent and ask what happened.

    If she feels too uncomfortable to call for a simple status check to someone with whom she supposedly already has a working relationship…ya gotta wonder what mind games this industry, and this agent, is playing with/on the author’s ego!

    Why call rather than e-mail? Simple. Nowadays, if someone’s out of communication, it’s more more often than not a computer glitch. Ergo, if you send an e-mail, you haven’t solved a thing; she still can’t hear from you, nor you from her. Seems to me this is prime time, then, for her to get off the phone with Kristin and get ON the phone with her actual agent!

    Three weeks of no communication, in any sense, is nonsense. This is a business relationship, and you don’t let your business relationships languish like that if you want to keep them long.

    My take,

  14. Poor Struggler said:

    I can understand how Anon 8:24 feels, but I think all agents would treat any client they took on (for whom they haven’t yet sold anything) the same way. Until we make them some money, we are just going to be very low on their list of priorities. It’s frustrating as hell, but I don’t think any agent would act differently unfortunately, unless perhaps he is a brand new agent without many clients yet.

  15. Anonymous said:

    It just makes me nuts to hear these stories, and to hear that we’re supposed to “get” that agents are busy. I’m busy, too, trying to work, raise kids, and write. I make my self-imposed deadlines, and follow the rules.
    Obviously, this writer did as well. She has an agent, who obviously cared enough or thought this writer was going to succeed in order to take her on as a client. But when that didn’t happen immediately, she’s disappeared. Why doesn’t the agent say sayonara? Or isn’t that done? What’s the point of having an agent who won’t speak with you? Seriously. Being unagented isn’t the kiss of death. And it’s certainly better than being treated shabbily. Seriously.

  16. Janet said:

    I have to admit, I am appalled that agents think it normal procedure to not acknowledge reception of communication from clients. It’s hard to see how that squares with professional behaviour. One can only hope that the email was not received. I know that when it comes to finding a good fit for me in agents, prompt communication will be high on my list of essential characteristics. Not necessarily frequent, but prompt. I can wait very patiently when I know what the situation is, but I detest being ignored. That is the height of contempt.

    I can, on the other hand, understand why an agent would start ignoring a high-maintenance, clinging vine type of client, but still, sending in a proposal is not exactly overly-demanding, unreasonable behaviour.

    I think it’s time to have a talk with the agent.

  17. Thandiwe said:

    I agree with most of the posters here. At the very least, agents should acknowledge receipt of the manuscript of a client. But even with that acknowledgment, it still floors me that an agent would hold onto a client’s manuscript for months without letting her know if she even wants to take it on. I could see if it was an unsolicited manuscript, but a client?! Even if the agent in question hadn’t sold anything for the client, it still can’t take that long to say “Yes,” “Maybe,” or “Hell, no.”

  18. Anonymous said:

    Perfect example of what you don’t know, can’t find out, in advance of a relationship.
    And what other clients have to say makes no difference, because every relationship is different.

  19. anon 6:06 said:

    “But I keep going back to that 3 year thing. Has your agent done anything with your ms? Suggested edits? Told you the publishers she sent it to? Told you what publishers thought of your story?”

    Thanks for your post and your suggestions, Nancy. In that 3 years I have had meetings with my agent at conferences and out of many single submissions to editors of my book we have had positive feedback but it is always something like ‘engaging story, this author has promise but the ms isn’t for us.’ My agent has said, “Wait and this will sell. The idea and the story are just too good to change. Write other books and when those sell big this will sell.” Seemed like good advice to me but I’m now getting very concerned, though still writing furiously to take my mind off the waiting. Really beginning to think I should have queried Kristin three years ago. Hmmm.

  20. Anonymous said:

    It annoys me to no end that clients are expected to read tea leaves when it comes to the people who are supposed to be representing them in a business relationship. Failing to return emails and follow up on projects in a timely manner is rude and unprofessional, yet writer accept this treatment because they know there are more authors out there than there are agents.

    And then, when your emails have gone unanswered for umpteen days, you are forced to wonder whether the agent has “fallen out of love” with you. Ye Gods.

    As a poster above stated, we are ALL busy. For many of us, writing books is not our day jobs. But for agents, being an agent is. Take care of your clients, please. At least acknowledge receipt of emails .

  21. Patrick McNamara said:

    Three weeks is a bit of a short time to hear back. A follow-up letter might be in order but not until at least a month has gone by.

    I’m inclined to phrase it something like:
    “On (date) I sent you (proposal name) and I just wish to confirm that you recieved it. If you have not please let me know and I can send it again.”

    I have had a situation where the publisher appearently didn’t get the first submission.

  22. Anonymous said:

    I agree with all the comments — this is a business relationship. And there’s another consideration here: this author is curious about the status of a proposal. Presumably, this means that she’s saying “this is where I want to go next with my writing career, what do you think?” To wait 6 weeks for a “receipt of material” email and perhaps longer for a “thumbs up/thumbs down” means that that writer has lost valuable time in their career.

    On the one hand, I do understand Kristin suggesting that the author work on another project. But what if the proposal is a go? Then you drop the new project and it’s just a waste?

    Once I turn in a manuscript, I understand the adage that I need to start on the next project. But once I start on that project, I want to know in a timely manner if it’s worth pursuing (hence sending the proposal to the agent). Because if I want to write at least 2 books a year, every month counts.

  23. Anonymous said:

    I agree with what Anon 11:07 has to say–

    Non-writer’s or people in other businesses can always say, “How can you put up with this?” Or, “You mean you STILL haven’t heard from your agent about such and such…?”

    But when supply (writer’s, manuscripts making submission rounds) outweighs demand to the degree it does in this business, writers get treated like crap because unless they are a best-seller, who cares?

    A always laugh at agent websites that say they want to “help build your career” Uh huh. While I’m happy with the agent I’ve got, it isn’t my first agent and I know SO many writers that hate their agents for exactly the reasons listed in all the above comments.

    How are you going to “build” a career when you can’t get a damn email returned?

  24. Anonymous said:

    With my first and former and so-far only agent, 3 weeks WAS a long time for her not to get back to me on a submission. I would usually at least hear within a week that she had received the sub. So, yes, the first time 3 weeks passed without her getting back to me, I got The Funny Feeling that Something Was Wrong. I wrote a very nice email checking to see if the submission made it to her (this was snail mail and crossing borders). Well, my funny feeling was right. Something *was* wrong. And that something was that the agent didn’t want to represent the project, didn’t even want to discuss potential markets as it was in a genre I can only guess from our later conversations made her uncomfortable, and I wondered later how long I would have been left wondering what had happened to my submission if I hadn’t emailed and asked. Long story short, I left and sold the project myself. It just took a lot longer to sell on my own, because submission times at some publishers can take a year or more without an agent.

  25. Katie said:

    Where is this whole “3 years” thing coming from? Some of you guys are freeking out over 3 years, and it’s three WEEKS, not 3 years! Please read accurately!

  26. Nephele Tempest said:

    Wow. This is rather a harsh crowd. First of all, did the author in question send off the proposal and not hear back at all? Or did they receive a quick “got it” e-mail, and has simply not heard what the author thinks? If they have not heard at all, and this is uncharacteristic of their agent, my advice would definitely be to send off a quick e-mail or call to double check that the proposal even arrived. Everyone is busy tarring and feathering this agent for lack of response, when they may not even have anything in hand.

    E-mail is a terrific business tool. We all love its speed and ease of use. But it’s not by any means a perfect way to communicate, and things do go missing. I recently ran a contest of sorts where half a dozen of my responses to queries went missing in writers’ spam folders, but when they went looking for them, it was clear I had responded. Technology just got in the way. And as an agent, I’ve had similar problems with editors in the other direction, where e-mails go unanswered and I’ve had to call the editor and find out if they ever received my note. Nine times out of ten it never got to them, and that last time it’s generally a case of five hundred other e-mails arriving in the meantime and burying it.

    Three weeks isn’t a very long time if you’re querying an agent looking for representation. However, if it’s your own agent, with whom you have a relationship that has been good until now, I’d assume a tech glitch or some other issue before I’d assume the agent suddenly wants to severe that tie.

  27. Deb said:

    Poor Struggler, you’re probably right that we unsold (or undersold) are not high on the priority stack because we haven’t made any money for the agency as yet.

    However–and this is a big however–how are we supposed to become money makers if the agents aren’t sending our stuff to editors? Hmm? It’s the agent’s side of the business to do this work–that’s how they earn their percentage. Think what would happen if we let them pay attention only to their bestseller-writing-authors. Someday those authors may get sick, or have a life intrustion, become confused or too senile to write, or break all their fingers. It’s absurd to think of the rest of us waiting patiently in the wings for a little attention once the bestseller-writers have moved on.

    I for one do not plan to go there. Janny’s right: a “status” phone call is not only professional, but required.


  28. Impy said:

    Nephele and other agents reading this, I think the point these authors are trying to make is that three weeks may be the standard (or better) in publishing, but it still is a ridiculously long time by the standards of most other professionals on this planet.

    A common theme in agent and publisher blogs is to point out that publishing can’t happen overnight, that everything takes time, that everyone is overworked, and that the standards of the publishing industry include long waiting times. This is all well and good, and I believe that most authors understand that this is the reality. They just can’t accept that it’s a reality which should be left alone.

    What publishers and agents aren’t understanding here is that the rest of the world has significantly higher standards for basic communication than they do, and that authors who primarily dwell in the rest of the world find it enormously difficult to accept it when their agents don’t measure up to what is common and expected in every other professional relationship. There is simply too big a gap between the standards for publishing professionals and the standards of everybody else.

    I might even go so far as to speculate that in today’s world, what has been the industry standard for decades is rapidly reaching the point where it could potentially be HARMING the publishing industry. The end buyers of books don’t read all these blogs, they don’t keep up with publishing as an industry at all, and they don’t realize that publishers haven’t chosen to keep up with the basic communication and business practices of the rest of the world. Those buyers expect instant gratification, and get it almost everywhere else, so if it takes longer than a year to get the sequel to a book out, they don’t understand that it’s just because publishing takes time… they blame the author and stop buying their work. This crowd isn’t harsh because they’re unaware of the reality of publishing practice, they’re harsh because they see that the standard practices of the publishing industry have started costing authors time and money, and potentially their careers. They have a right to be angered by that, and frankly I’m surprised that more advocates for authors AREN’T angered by it.

    The choice agents and publishers now face is whether to defend the system, or evolve it. Continuing to work only with authors who accept it unconditionally is not really an option… the world has changed enough now so that eventually, that will lead to stagnation and kill the business. The slower practice may be working okay still for right now, but eventually it is going to have to change. You’re in a great position to help determine HOW it changes.

  29. Anonymous said:

    A proposal is under 100 pages, correct? That said, if the agent definitely has it, then it’s pathetic that there has been no feedback yet. Ridiculous and rude and I don’t care how busy the agent is. It takes an hour or two tops to read 100 pages…3 if you’re super slow or interrupted.

    An email is in order, with a response back indicating when the agent will get to this.

    What writers put up with amazes me.

  30. ~Nancy said:


    Where is this whole “3 years” thing coming from? Some of you guys are freeking out over 3 years, and it’s three WEEKS, not 3 years! Please read accurately!

    I was referring to Anon 6:06. And Anon 6:06 did indeed say 3 years.

    From Anon 6:06’s post:

    “I am as yet unpublished but have another manuscript that has been going the rounds for three years.”

    Anon 6:06 replied back that she’d had meetings with said agent and had responses back from publishers.

    Sounds like the agent is now waiting for the writer to come up with “the next big thing” so that the earlier ms. will sell.

    I really don’t know what to think about that.

    Anon 6:06, I wish you well, whatever you decide to do.


  31. anon 6:06 said:

    Thanks Jerseygirl. The fact that we authors and writers (and I include agents and editors because many of them are also authors and writers and do know what we are dealing with) can blog and stick together and, yes, fingers crossed care if we each make it in this business…this is a big thing and it makes us stronger and clears up dilemmas.

  32. Kim Stagliano said:

    I heart my agent. He’s waiting for my revisions and still emails me with a “want to chat to catch up?” He doesn’t have a syllable to sell from me and he still communicates quickly. I really really heart my agent. If you don’t already have a wonderful agent then I’ll tell you what I read on the license plate of Rolls Royce many years ago: IWSH14U.

    Happy Friday!


  33. Anonymous said:

    My agent sometimes takes weeks to respond to questions (longer for submissions) via e-mails. And yes, it sucks to wait but I try to understand that she’s very busy and has tons of clients. I don’t know how agents get all of the work they have to do done!

  34. Anonymous said:

    to Anon 10:19

    Find another agent, you deserve better. Taking weeks to respond to an email question? That is ridiculous. I don’t care how busy you are, it’s just common courtesy.

    Everyone is busy. Agents are not the only people with busy jobs. In the corporate, professional world people are expected to respond to emails in a timely manner, same day preferably, a few days tops, and that’s only if the person is away for some reason.

    If an agent can’t take the time to reply to a simple email question, how effective do you think they are in getting other things done?

    Think of all the time you are losing with this agent.

  35. g_whizz said:

    You have the most awesome playlist on your iPod! Every time I think of getting one, I then think, “what would I put on it?” Now I think I’ll just scroll through your blog. 🙂

Denver Skyline Photo © Nathan Forget [Creative Commons] | Site built by Todd Jackson