by Tamela Hancock Murray
You submit a great manuscript to an agent. Then you wait. And wait. And wait.
What could she possibly be doing?
Let’s say your baby jumped most of the hurdles and is near the top of the slush pile. (See the previous post on the Mystery of the Slush Pile) Why can’t the agent make up her mind? Might I offer a few ideas:
1.) Market changes can mean a shift in priorities. An agent may receive an email at five in the afternoon on any given Friday that opens up a new market or closes an old one. The agent may need to reevaluate and reassess her strategy. This does not mean agents chase the market. What it does mean is that, for example, if markets are trending away from a certain type of novel (Remember hen lit?) the agent may realize she’d better focus on the writers she already has rather than risking taking on a new client writing that type of book, no matter how wonderful. Or if a huge market opens up, the agent might focus on that category for awhile, shunting your wonderful retelling of Genesis to the side, if only temporarily.
2.) She may have gotten surprise submissions from clients already on her roster. In my experience, it’s not uncommon for writers to explore new territory or to ramp up their speed in submitting. The agent’s obligation is to the clients already signed rather than clients as yet unsigned. She might hold on to your book while working out career options for the existing client, thereby holding up a firm decision on your work.
3.) Your work is good, but someone else’s may be just as good. The agent may delay while choosing between the two submissions.
4.) Your work is perfect for the market, but the agent is unsure if the writing sparkles enough. He might put your work aside to re-evaluate while deciding if he should proceed.
5.) The agent sees how to improve your manuscript and could market it with a few tweaks, but is unsure whether to lead you on, so to speak. Once an agent dispenses advice on how to change the manuscript, she feels a sense of obligation and partnership with you. A wise agent will think before engaging an author to this level unless she’s THIS close to offering representation.
6.) The agent may be traveling out of town to visit publishing houses so she can meet with editors as well as sales and marketing teams.
7.) The agent may be attending conferences, during which time he will learn more about the markets and other authors — and where he may also meet you in person. He may wait until after the conference to report back to you.
8.) Contracts often come in waves. The agent may be tied up in negotiations, delaying a response.
9.) The agent may be so busy with current clients, regardless of how and why, meaning responding to slush pile submissions is #56 on the To Do list.
These are just a few reasons why it may take an agent awhile to get back to you. We agents wish we could give everyone a five-day turnaround period, but my office isn’t able to respond with lightning speed unless the submission is so far out of the park we’re not able to consider it, or such a sparkling, must-have property that my assistant tells me I must pick up the phone that day to talk to the author. For everyone else, no news really is good news, or at least near-miss news.
Don’t lose heart, though. I have found many authors through the standard slush pile, and I want your submissions. Without your work, I have nothing to send editors. So thank you for submitting, and thank you for your patience.
1.) How many agents do you submit to at any given time?
2.) Do you think it’s worth waiting for your dream agent, or do you think writers are wiser to go with the first reputable agent who acts quickly?