Long Agent Response Times

Wendy Lawton

Blogger:  Wendy Lawton

Before I address our subject today, let me give you a little update about our Books & Such main office and about three of our colleagues.

The massive fires in Santa Rosa have caused the evacuation of the Books & Such office as well as evacuating Janet, Rachel and Michelle and their families from their homes. As of this writing, some 1500 homes and businesses have been lost but we believe Janet’s, Michelle’s and Rachel’s structures are standing and our three colleagues are waiting it out with grace.  These fires are unprecedented in Northern California as far as structure loss and the tragic loss of life. Santa Rosa is in a beautiful valley filled with the finest vineyards in the world. The Napa-Sonoma valleys may never be the same in our lifetime. We ask for your continued prayers. Special prayers for Rachel’s husband, Andrew, a firefighter. He’s the hero in the photo to the right.


One of the questions I’m often asked: If an agent asks to see the author’s book proposal but then never gives any response or feedback, is it proper etiquette to email the agent and ask about its status? If so, how long should the author wait before inquiring?


Here’s where I get a huge AgentFail. A number of times I’ve been impressed by an author and intrigued by his or her concept. I’ve asked the author to send the proposal. I receive it and put it in a folder on my computer. And in that folder it sits. And sits. And sits. Every time I look at that folder I cringe, but I’m caught between putting out a fire and reading a contract. Or one of my clients has a cover issue that simply cannot wait. Truth-telling is important, but I can’t bear to tell you how long some of those proposals have been waiting. I blush just thinking about it.

Of course the “no thanks” answers are easy and they come fast.

I never request a proposal unless I am interested. That makes it hard to dismiss requested material out of hand. I am also aware that I ignore these at my peril. I still see writers at conferences whose work I love and yet lost out to another agent because they were quicker than me.

To answer the question: Give the agent a couple of months, and then, yes, you have every right to inquire about a response. Be personable. It gives us another pleasant point of contact. Some of the fun of early agent-client-relationship building has happened in those email back-and-forth nudges. And don’t feel uncomfortable nudging over and over every couple of months.

We agents know we are in an untenable time situation, and we put writers in an uncomfortable situation because of delayed response. Were an agent to write you off because you asked for a reasonable update, that’s not an agent you’d want representing you. This is #AgentFail, pure and simple, and when it happens it actually subtly shifts the power since those of us who are people pleasers know we have failed. Use it! 😉

And for those of you waiting on me, feel free to nudge. The good news? I only have one trip between now and next spring– the next six months are my first uninterrupted office time in a very long time.

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  1. I’m reading about the fires now. It’s heart-rendering, the magnitude of damages. Prayers for the agency and for everyone affected. Amen. May the God of comfort shower His presence on all residents of Northern California. Amen.
    P.S: For writers, this is not a good time to open a novel with a scene where fire burns some structure or where a firefighter breathes his last.

  2. Waiting while flames threaten your home, or waiting for an agent to read my proposal. That puts it in perspective, Wendy.
    * Lord, put a hedge of protection around our Books & Such friends’ properties. And more importantly, Lord, surround Andrew and his fellow fire-fighters with the same protection you gave Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego–not a hair on their heads singed, their clothing not scorched, not even the smell of smoke clinging to them. Amen.

  3. Jeff Miller says:

    Thank you for being honest. It’s something I have wondered myself, and have avoided nudging because I had not wanted to come across as being impatient or unprofessional.

  4. Daphne Woodall says:

    I was more focused on those in the fire zone. Prayers for them and firefighters in harms way. I’ve only been to California once and that included a trip to Napa Valley. It was a beautiful area.

    Thanks for clarification and honesty on proposal time frames.

  5. Wendy, first let me thank you for the update on the fires in your area and their effect on agents with Books & Such.

    There’s no question that agents owe their first allegiance to their clients, yet not-yet-contracted authors agonize every day as they await a requested manuscript. Short of cloning yourself, how do agents walk that tightrope? I’d be interested in hearing more about your approach to that problem.

    As always, thanks for sharing.

  6. Thank you, Wendy. Prayers for all.

  7. The speed with which these fires erupted has been astonishing. It is as though the countryside has been doused with gasoline. For several months we were surrounded by fires in Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia, but they did not expand at the rate the Northern California fires have spread, and at last report, because of the winds, they remain almost entirely uncontained. I am and will continue to be in prayer for all of you in California.

  8. Wendy, my heart is breaking over the fires. I prayed through the night last night. So much heartache around the world. We so need relief. Natural disasters are hard enough, but when people purposely inflict pain and suffering … why? I pray that Janet, Michelle, and Rachel do not lose their homes. I so appreciate all the updates, and the faith displayed is beautiful. *And I can’t imagine the pressure of your job. I’ve always loved your honesty about all aspects of your work. You live a fascinating life. Thank you for always giving us a glimpse into your life and work. And thank you all for the work that you do, because you have given me some great novels to read and to tuck into my heart, and every beloved author becomes like a treasured friend to me. I love seeing all of your names included in their acknowledgements.

  9. Bryan Fagan says:

    Excellent article and on most days my comments would key on the subject at hand but my opinions take a back seat to what is happening in your area. I hope everyone is safe. Homes can be rebuilt. Items can be replaced. I know I speak for everyone when I pass along my blessings. Please give us updates.

  10. Wendy, I’ve been praying for Michelle, Janet, and Rachel. Scary stuff. I’m so sorry about the severity of the fires. it keeps me thinking about the fires we had here in Colorado Springs, and I’m PRAYING.
    *Great post. I was talking with someone at ACFW who wasn’t sure if they should nudge an agent they’d sent a proposal to awhile back. After reading your time line, I’m glad to know I gave said writer wise advice (If it’s been more than a couple months, it’s okay to check in . . . ).
    *The longer I read this blog, the more I realize how very busy agents are. You ladies at Books and Such do an amazing job for your clients and in encouraging this community. Thank you for that!

  11. Carol Ashby says:

    Andrew isn’t here because he’s having a horrible day. Prayers much appreciated.
    *I’ve watched a forest fire light up the smoke after dark. Over a hundred feet high with brilliant shades of orange and yellow about five miles from my house. Made me think of the pillar of fire by night. Not something you want to see twice! I’m praying for the B&S folks and all caught up in this fire!

    • Carol, please let Andrew know I have placed his and Barb’s names on my prayer battle board right next to Chris and Jessica who are also dealing with pancreatic cancer. Please let him know, I will continue to cover them in prayer. Remind him from me, I know he had to do lots of tough things to save others in very dangerous places, and God knows it too. This is the time to let the God Shepherd pick him up and place him across the Shepherds shoulders and know he, dear Andrew in in the forever sheep fold, and Jesus is not taking His eyes off of him, and underneath Andrew and Barb are the everlasting arms. Thank you Carol.

      • Carol Ashby says:


      • Sharon Carpenter says:

        I love the term “prayer battle board!” It is so accurate. We have a nuclear weapon in prayer, and so often we battle the Prince of this earth weaponless – or at least with less effective weapons. Let’s wield our weapons, Christians! We are at war!

      • Sharon, I made the term Battle Board up after seeing the movie, “War Room.” My husband and I had to move in 2014 to a small town home. Other than our entry way coat closet we have two closets, one in each bedroom, and neither is a walk in. I liked the way she could post her prayers and see them. My prayer lists were in a journal or on pieces of note papers stuffed in my Bible or in a devotional. I really understood we were and are in a war that has eternal outcomes. I was Praying for our only child, my only son who was being preyed on by the enemy, and who was not listening to us at the time. I determined I would not sit back, and just let thi vs happen and wait for years to go by until “maybe” he made his way back to Jesus. I went out and bought the large size cardboard presentation board and posted scriptures, prayers, the Lord’s Prayer, the names of God, a heart either the names of him, his girlfriend, my family, my husband’s family and some friends in that heart. Also those who I am Momma B to in our church family, and those I mentor. I also have 12 foundational scripture truths, and specific battle scriptures to overcome Satan, and all the evil . Luke 10:19 for one example. AND I DO BATTLE. I FAST AND DO BATTLE. I DON’T PLAY. Tuesday is my fasting day, and I start out with reading Isaiah 58, and move on from there. My son committed his live to the Lord on my husband’s birthday in March 2015. After years of praying, and a year of intense fasting and prayer I sat at the table with our pastor as he talked with our son Gabe and led him in prayer. It was surreal to me. My husband put his face in his hands and wept. This was the only child we could have due to my endometriosis. He was our only child…our only son. You can imagine our relief, our overwhelming joy. I cannot share on this blog all we suffered with him prior to this, but not all was from his choices but others’ choices.

        That battle board has been a God ordained tool and I have seen lives changed for the better, and what people thought impossible happen because of fasting and focused prayer. It takes discipline and not easy BUT it is always worth it. Ok, I’m stepping down off my soapbox. Although, there is nothing I like better than talking about the One I love, and how to obtain the relationship with Him that is all it can be.

  12. Kari Trumbo says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about the fires and I pray for those in your office and for those in your neighborhood. Such a terrible and terrifying situation.

    As to your #agentfail…we are all human, Wendy. I hope you allow yourself a full measure of grace.

  13. I’m praying. Blessings.

  14. Praying for you all. And thank you so much for this reminder, Wendy. It’s hard to wait for an agent to respond, but it’s good to remember what things are like on their end, too. Thanks for sharing with us.

  15. Penelope Childers says:

    Thank you. Praying for safety. Praying for no more homes are businesses to be lost.

  16. Rachelle Gardner says:

    I’m guilty of #AgentFail too, Wendy, many times over. 🙁

  17. Wendy, thank you so much for the information in this blog, and the instructions on nudging. I love people, and so I hate to be a pest to anyone, especially when I believe that person is worth waiting for, and they have been very busy.So, I appreciate you taking the time to let us know, especially when Books and Such is facing these fires.By the way, I have been praying, and the Lord even woke me during the night. I have been covering you all, your offices and homes and families with prayer, as I am sure so many are doing.

  18. Susan Sage says:

    I’m so sorry about all of the fires raging in California right now. I hope and pray for those waiting for news, I know how tenuous that is, and for those fighting the fires.
    Thank you for your honest response about the question of whether to ask an agent those difficult questions. But, it’s also good to remember an agent has more than one responsibility and more than one client.
    This was a good read.

  19. Thank you for the update, Wendy. So glad to know Janet, Rachel, and Michelle are okay!
    Also, thanks for the guidance here on the waiting game.

  20. elaine faber says:

    Though I now live in the Sacramento area, I was born and raised in Santa Rosa. It is impossible to wrap my head around the disaster that has come to my home town. I have prayed for rain! Perhaps not likely, but wouldn’t that be a great way for God to answer our prayers for this community? Blessings to you and your staff to remain safe from the fires.

    • Susan Sage says:

      I’m sorry Elaine. I’m sure it will be difficult for you to see it the next time you are able. Praying for all there and those who will return to who knows what.

    • Elaine I’m praying for rain too. I don’t care if the meteorologists say there isn’t any in sight; I’m still going to pray for the wi d’s to quiet and be still and water to come.

  21. David Todd says:

    Praying for the safety from the fires of all associated with Books & Such agency.
    I appreciate your honesty, Wendy. I must also say that this one practice by agents, more than anything else, is what drove me away from trade publishing toward self-publishing. A better practice might be to not promise or even request things that you know will over-load you. Short of that, a conference statement such as “Send me your proposal, but don’t look for an answer in less than 6-8 months” would help the writer understand the situation.

  22. Thank you, Wendy.
    And Lord, please, bring the rain.

  23. There are fires near me in the Sierra foothills, too. I understand about 15 fires happened in California today. Many are probably caused by the strong winds knocking down power lines. Please pray for all of us, especially those who lost their homes and the families of those who lost their lives. The firefighters are stretched thin, so please pray for them, too..

  24. Angela Arndt says:

    *Praying for everyone in the path of the fires and all of you who are worried about your friends and co-workers.
    *Thanks so much for the explanation. I cannot imagine being under a blizzard of proposals, queries, full and partial manuscripts and having to make a decision about each. I heard one agent at a conference say that he receives around 2,000 queries a year. Whoa, Nelly!
    *When I get antsy about situations like that (usually a day after clicking Send), I try to remember that God is in control of every situation, even this one.

  25. Oh, no! I’ll be praying for you and the many others facing these fires. We have regular wildfires in our area and they are so powerful and scary!

  26. Linda Strawn says:

    I grew up north of Santa Rosa and moved from there in 2003. I’m four hours away now and feeling helpless. Landmarks I’ve taken for granted are gone, long-time friends have lost everything. I live in an area known for wildfires. It’s a given someplace nearby will go up in flames between June and until the rains start. But Santa Rosa? Never thought something like this would ever happen. Thanks, Wendy, for adding the plea for prayer to this post.

  27. My prayers go out to you.