It’s not far into childhood before we learn the “Ready, Set, Go!” game. Parents, arms extended, could simply say, “Jump!” and the toddler would happily respond. But even the rhythm and anticipation of “Ready” (not yet), “Set” (not quite), and “Go!” (YES!) makes it more than a game, and more enjoyable.
Babies who know few words understand the pattern and what it means.
In the writing world, the rhythm and anticipation are closer to “Ready, Set, Send!”
It applies to sending queries, sending proposals, contacting an agent via email or message, commenting on social media, providing the agent with an update, and when an agent determines it’s the right time to send your proposal to editors.
Not yet. Not quite. Yes.
Ready, set, send the query?
- I’m new to writing. But I have this idea. Can I query an agent? Not yet. If you were a veteran or multi-published author seeking a new agent, maybe. But not quite. The agent will want to know more than just the concept in the query, know that you’ve well researched the market, and that you’ve thought through themes, conclusions, takeaway, etc. The three-part “Are you ready? Are you set? Okay, Go!” pattern is purposeful. Many writers are far more eager for the GO! than they are for the prep, research, and thought that comes first.
Send the proposal?
- I met an agent at a conference. She said I was welcome to send her the proposal when it’s ready. I don’t want to miss the opportunity with her. I have a few more tweaks, but should probably send it now, right? Not yet. The agent will be grateful that you took the time to tweak before sending, so she sees your work at its best and most complete. I’m sending the proposal to you. Thanks for asking for it. I haven’t gotten my platform numbers or past sales numbers yet, but at least you can get started. Not quite. The platform and past sales numbers (if any) are important parts of evaluating a proposal. Far better to wait, follow through with those tasks of data collection, and then send.
Contact the agent?
- I sent my query/proposal four days ago and haven’t heard anything yet. It seems smart to contact the agent to at least see if she got the email. Not yet. A month ago? Not quite. From the writer’s perspective, after hitting SEND, their attention is on counting the minutes until the response. Checking email hourly in hopes the agent would have fallen in love with it already. From the agent’s perspective, even if she is eager to dive into the query or proposal, she’s also juggling sticky contract negotiations, titling issues for a book that’s heading for the sales conference the next day, plowing through current clients’ proposals to make sure they get a contract or another contract, Zoom and phone calls that consume large portions of the day, a dozen other proposals that arrived within minutes of yours, prep for a conference, other business travel, brainstorming client projects… And even if they’ve opened your file and have started to consider, they may have set it aside for pondering such questions as: Can I afford the time this will take to pull it up to publishable? Do I have the bandwidth to add another client right now? I need to do some investigation about other projects of a similar nature already on the market. I may be able to take this on, but not if the client with a closely tied concept has his project snatched up in this week’s pub board meeting. So many factors keep an agent from responding immediately. In fact, immediately is rarely a good sign. Most agents recommend you wait six weeks to two months before your first contact to say, “Just checking. Did you receive my query/proposal?” Wondering what to do while you’re waiting? Keep writing.
Ready, set, say it on social media?
- This might not seem like a point to consider in an author/agent blog post. Oh, but it is. If an editor at a publishing house is at all interested in your idea, one of the first things they’ll do is check your website (another place to pause before sending–is your website up, running, and up to date?) and your social media engagement. What kind of content is the author creating and how are they responding? Does it fit their brand? Does it fit the tone and point of the book? But I have to respond to the lie I saw perpetrated or the injustice of that blog post or meme! Not yet. If at all. Think. Consider. And give yourself space so your response has time to mature and you’ve had time to ensure it’s not a knee-jerk reaction. And that it is necessary. Is it necessary for YOU to say? Are you aware of how your comment may affect the perception of you as an author being considered by a publisher? Okay, I thought about it. I waited a day. I still feel compelled to speak to that topic. Good to go, right? Not quite. If you are already represented by an agent, run your response past her first. It may well be important that you speak in love, kindness, and logically to that topic. But your agent may advise that you are not the person to do so, or that the timing isn’t right for you. Your agent is not only considering how a volatile topic might affect your opportunities with a publisher but also with your potential readers.
Update your agent?
- I’m not going to make my deadline for my book. I broke both ankles and wrists in a skydiving accident and am still in casts on all four appendages. I thought I could make it, but now, I’m not sure. My deadline’s Friday. The accident was three weeks ago. But I didn’t want to bother my agent with my personal problems. Send, send, SEND your agent info like that as soon as disaster strikes! She, and the publishing house, would have much more room to work out a solution if they’d known weeks ago that your life got that crazy. Recently, one of my clients was debating whether to accept a small but interesting project offered to her. Sounded good at first glance. But then the client happened to mention that she was moving cross-country and in the middle of packing, her sister was moving in with them because she lost her house in a fire…and bringing her four toddlers and disabled husband, and she’d just landed a sweet but consuming work-from-home day job. She’d been hesitant to share what seemed like things she ought to be able to handle and didn’t want to turn down a writing opportunity. As her agent, I swiftly shifted into wisdom mode and suggested she roll the decision off her back and focus on all the non-negotiables in her life at the moment. Your agent can’t help advocate for you or offer guidance if she (or he) isn’t aware of what else you’re facing in addition to your deadlines or assignments.
- If you’re not yet agented, the agent you’re hoping to approach one of these days doesn’t need to know that you’ll be delayed until you recover from minor surgery. Just send it when you’re able…and it’s ready and set.
Ready, set, sit back and wait?
- Your agent, trust me, wants to send out your proposal. If her hand is stayed from doing so, it’s almost always because in her studied opinion and experience, and with her knowledge of the industry, the timing isn’t right. No agent will intentionally make you wait just to watch you squirm. Is your agent perfect? Without hesitation, we can say no. But especially if your agent operates not only with integrity but also faith, she or he may be waiting for God’s ready, set, SEND!
Wish I had read and assimilated this years ago, Cynthia.
There might have been a time I’d learned
that patience brings the victory,
and research paid are plaudits earned,
but I thought that I’d be ‘me’
and push ahead under God’s care
(or such I thought it at the time),
full of pride but unaware
that chutzpah bypassed not the climb
through platform building and engagement,
through hard knowledge of The Comps;
I sought respect but brought estrangement
that led to literary romps
as a commenter on blogs,
potential now gone to the dogs.
Always a thoughtful response from you.
Kim Janine Ligon
Sometimes its hard to remember that your query, manuscript, proposal, brilliant idea isn’t the only thing the receiver has to worry about. I know it’s hubris to believe you’re the most important work the other person has to consider but we all need to remember life is happening to all of us and sometimes it’s going badly. I’ve learned so much over the past several years and believe the most important gift I can exercise is patience! It has become my constant prayer.
Cynthia, I totally messed up whatever writing potential I had. I jumped to self-pub, thinking that the world would see a brilliance. I thought that the archaic adverbial style, the slow introduction, that they would find resonance.
Didn’t happen. It’s now far too late, but the folks that did read my stories seemed to like them. I am grateful for that.
And that is indeed the most important part. The readers who are moved.
I am chuckling to myself. I think what you said to me in your post mirrors what I said to my teenager this morning (in my head … of course).
“The whole universe does not revolve around you, my dear.”
Thank you so much, Cynthia. We will keep taking deep breaths … keep praying … and most importantly, keep living out the messages we are crafting with our words.
Great plan, Heidi!
Kristen Joy Wilks
This is so great, Cynthia! What great specific info on how we determine when to hit send.
I tend to have something ready to submit when I pitch … and then if it is requested, suddenly find that I need to look at it one more time, or five! However, I always find something I can improve.
The advice to think carefully about online content is so vital. Years ago, I had a passionate discussion about if the law required one to pull over on a mountain pass if five cars were delayed behind you, if you were going the speed limit and they were only delayed because they were going too fast. You can probably tell what my opinion is … but you know what? Despite the fact that I very much think I’m right, I did not need to share that opinion so publicly and hurt the feelings of a friend in the process. After my conscience required that I apologize, I have been more careful. How much better to think of others first rather than after tempers have flared.
Thank you for sharing these great tips … and please drive safely!
Will do, Kristen!
Wendy L Macdonald
Dear Cynthia, I’ve been blessed with as near-to-perfect an agent as one can get.
Love this: No agent will intentionally make you wait just to watch you squirm…But especially if your agent operates not only with integrity but also faith, she or he may be waiting for God’s ready, set, SEND!
I’m glad I have an agent who waits on God.
Blessings ~ Wendy Mac
Thank you, Wendy. You are a treasure.
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