blogger: Cynthia Ruchti
When an agent doesn’t reply to your query, proposal, burning question, or manuscript submission, is it because she/he doesn’t care?
Admittedly, sometimes writers–whether aspiring or veteran–choose the default answer, “Yes! That must be it! I’m not important enough to her. My work isn’t worth five minutes of her time.”
I’m waiting for a new mattress. My back needs it. My sleep patterns will benefit from replacing the sway-backed horse of a mattress that has long passed its life expectancy. The anticipated delivery date whizzed by weeks ago. So I called the company and was given a new anticipated delivery date. That too has come and gone. “We’ll call you when it’s in the store,” they keep saying. No call. Periodically, I call them. Same answer. But I need that mattress. Apparently, need isn’t the only consideration here. The chain of reasons stretches from the store to the factory to the delivery system to the pandemic, I assume.
But my impatience about the mattress seems a fitting analogy to a writer’s need to hear from the agent. Genuine need. What’s going on in an agent’s mind/life/office/soul when she doesn’t respond in a timely (as defined by the eager writer) manner?
Pop quiz. See how many you answer correctly, or if you gain perspective.
Why isn’t it standard practice for an agent to at least acknowledge she received my query or proposal?
a. Agents are heartless beasts.
b. Agents are curious, and if they open the email, they may get sucked into a vortex that distracts them from the twelve other essential tasks awaiting their attention at that moment.
c. Agents may well want to shoot off a quick email to say they received the project, but would need a personal assistant to handle that task alone because of the volume of incoming.
I sent my query three months ago. I don’t understand why I haven’t heard from the agent yet. She seemed so interested when we met at the virtual conference. Is it because:
a. She doesn’t really care?
b. Her first obligation is to her current clients and their needs, which are many?
c. She opened the email and was intrigued by the query but needs time to ponder its viability in the market?
d. She opened the document and is in the process of researching other books on the topic, evaluating the level of work it will take to make it marketable, or studying your presence and engagement on social media, your website, and considering?
e. She’s waiting for mental elbow-room so she can devote herself to your proposal rather than rushing through a quicker response?
When an agent doesn’t reply, the truth is:
a. She must hate it.
b. She is intrigued, but it’s not quite there yet, and she wants to give a thoughtful reply that will be meaningful for my next steps in my writing journey.
c. She’s as inundated as every other agent, and working her way through in as timely a manner as she can.
d. She doesn’t like the delay any more than I do.
e. A delay is sometimes providential. It’s not always a death knell for a project.
How did you do? Did you get an A on the quiz about what to think when an agent doesn’t reply? If you answered (a.) to any of the above, then you did not pass. The only possible wrong answers were the (a.) answers.
Waiting is hard. No one’s arguing that. If you haven’t heard from an agent in six to eight weeks (some say three months), feel free to send a quick note to ask if your query or proposal arrived. Agents are imperfect (shocker!) and sometimes do overlook a message. Cyberspace is also imperfect (another shocker!). It’s okay to check in. But just as those experienced in remodeling projects create a budget but mentally double it to account for reality, mentally double the time you think it should take for an agent to respond to you. Then do a little happy dance if the answer comes in “under budget.”
Ask any agent if they’d like to attend to every email immediately so nothing piles up and they don’t miss out on any compelling opportunities, and they’re likely to respond that it’s an undercurrent of longing. But it’s a dream that leans toward fairytale status. Real life, including negotiating powerhouse deals and negotiating power outages, the need to stay abreast of royalty statements for their clients and the necessity of pondering when considering a new client get in the way. Every day.
You can let go of the (a.) answers. We do care. And we’re working hard to give careful consideration to every person whose work enters our inboxes. All three trillion of them. (Hyperbole is allowed in this case.)
Kristen Joy Wilks
Ha ha! I did fine on your quiz, but yeah, the waiting is so hard. I send a “Hi, just checking in” email every three months if I’m awaiting news. I hope that your mattress arrives soon! We did the same thing recently with our new oven, and since our current stove only got to 200 F degrees, we really needed the new one! It didn’t make things go any faster when the supply chain was messed up though. We waited a month. Thankfully, we live at a Bible camp and I was able to run over to the main lodge and pop in our food when we didn’t eat stir fry or scrambled eggs and toast! I did learn some great new stove top recipes though, Brazilian Beans and Rice, yum!!!
So, Kristen, you do know you need to share the recipe for Brazilian beans and rice, don’t you? 🙂
Kristen Joy Wilks
Sure! It is delicious!
For the Rice, 4 C. dry rice, 1Tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp salt, 1tsp garlic, 1Tbsp mint tea or African Summer Tea. Put all this in a pot and stir, then add 6 cups of water, boil with lid for 15 minutes, let sit with lid on but no heat for five minutes.
For the beans, saute an onion, 1 red bell pepper, 1 yellow pepper, and 1 green or orange pepper in olive oil. Add 4 cans of black beans. Season with 1 glug (that is a precise measurement didn’t you know?) of red wine, 2 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. garlic, 2 tsp. Italian seasoning, 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil and stir until liquid is gone, then add water scraping the bottom of the pan, boil until moisture is gone, then add water scraping the bottom of the pan … until it looks right. Serve over the rice!
Have you truly quite forgotten
the proposal sent to you?
You’ve got me feeling kind of rotten
and I’m fifteen shades of blue,
My work, really, it is stunning,
a grand literary feast,
but with success are you becoming
something of a heartless beast,
arbitrary and imperious,
casting off with flick of hand
something Shakespeare would take serious,
or do you just not understand
that I burn to hear what you will say,
for it’s been with you since yesterday!
Loved the punchline, Andrew!
So glad you enjoyed it, Cynthia. Writing a sonnet as a kind of joke in verse is a lot of fun…when it works!
I submitted a proposal in November of 2019 that an editor requested. This week the reply came. She apologized, it was buried somewhere and resubmit in 8 months. That’s real life. Hope this will help someone.
Submitting something is a little like being at home and the power goes out. You immediately start to worry how long it will be and what will happen to the hundreds of dollars of food you out away this morning in the freezer. When you pick up the phone and call the power company and they say “we show the power is out at your location” you feel a little relief, at least they know about it. An even better response is we know it’s out and expect to have it back on by 9 tomorrow morning or in five hours or whatever. That means they not only know it’s out but why. And they always overestimate how long by at least double. They’d rather come back on under the estimate too! Waiting is hard. Sitting in the dark knowing nothing is harder. When I confirm the message was received, then I think positively that the delay is because the agent is saving it for some intense scrutiny with their full attention !
This was a great word picture, Kim!
Jean E Jones
A nice laugh to begin the morning! And a useful look into the life of an agent.
Thank you, Jean.
Thank you for this timely and insightful post, Cynthia 😉 From an author’s point of view, I believe prayer is vital during the waiting process — not only for my submitted proposal and anxious heart, but more importantly, for the agent who is doing their best to discern God’s will with this project. Remembering that each of us, above all things, desire God’s will in our work and ministry helps to keep me grounded … and sane.
Great thoughts, Nan.
You could at least set up the auto response on your email client to let people know you got it and it might take six weeks to hear back. That’s pretty easy with most email systems.
Would you explain how that would work to ONLY auto respond to submissions? They’re not all formatted the same way in their subject lines.
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