How Long Should a Writer Wait for an Answer?

The “Your Questions Answered” Series

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How long should a writer wait after sending an agent a query email, bio, and book synopsis? Two weeks ago I sent these to an agent who was recommended to me. So how long do I wait and/or what should I do next?

First, look on the agent’s website for guidelines. If the agency includes guidance regarding response times, they’ll run the gamut from something like “It takes us two months” to “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Well, not really; but they’ll say that they’ll contact you if they are interested. For an applicable, cool video and music earwig, press here.  You’re welcome.

If the agency offers no response as a rejection, which I refer to as a passive no, then there’s not much you can do except to accept their lack of a reaction as a decline. I’d give them at least two months to fish or cut bait.

As for agents who try to respond to all queries, which we attempt to do here at our agency, please give us a month before following up. I started to say, “six weeks to two months”; but that’s a long time to wait if your submission simply got lost in cyberspace. And sometimes that does happen. If then we respond to ask for more time, the clock does not start ticking again. In other words, asking us doesn’t put you at the bottom of the pile, where you will have to wait another two months. I try to get back quickly to authors who send me a nudge. I wish I could say, “Within 48 hours,” or some such magical number.

However, sometimes I’ll hold onto a submission I like while I study how the market is moving at that particular point in time. The study can take time. But as an author, you have a right to sign with an agent who moves faster. If you want to work with us, however, we’d appreciate a heads up before you sign on the dotted line with someone else. When another agent moves faster than I do, I make a point of getting back to the author within a few days since another agent is waiting.

Your turn:

What is the longest time you’ve waited to hear from an agent or editor? The shortest?

What words of encouragement can you offer to authors who are waiting?

For the entire series click here: “Your Questions Answered”

17 Responses to How Long Should a Writer Wait for an Answer?

  1. Avatar
    Melissa Henderson July 9, 2020 at 5:09 am #

    Waiting is hard. We submit our writing and hope for a quick “yes”. I have learned that sometimes waiting gives time for more blessings to be found. God’s timing is always best.

  2. Avatar
    Les July 9, 2020 at 5:15 am #

    I’m in this position right now, so thank you for this post. A publisher requested the proposal after an editor read my manuscript. I submitted it about a week ago. Tom Petty was correct when he sang that “The waiting is the hardest part.”

  3. Avatar
    Loretta Eidson July 9, 2020 at 6:28 am #

    I’ve learned to move on after submitting a manuscript. Waiting is the worst. If I zero in on the wait and the what-ifs, I become a nervous wreck. But, if I busy myself with another writing project, I’m less likely to dwell on what may or may not happen.

  4. Avatar
    Damon J. Gray July 9, 2020 at 6:29 am #

    The majority (overwhelming majority) of answers were the passive no. I did have one amazing response from an agent that came about three weeks after sending the proposal. It was three pages, single-spaced, filled with complimentary feedback, and a detailed explanation of why she was going to decline. It was the coolest “No” I ever received.

    • Avatar
      claire o'sullivan July 9, 2020 at 11:15 am #

      Same! I received the best. rejection. letter. ever. I wrote that to the agent who wrote back, and said, “Whew!” He felt bad that he had to write that letter, but I wanted to print it up and put it on my wall.

  5. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. July 9, 2020 at 6:47 am #

    HI Tamela:
    The short answer is “I’m still waiting.” The longer one is that some folks do take months to get back to a writer, which is difficult because my baby….I mean, my book….is hanging out there in cyber limbo. There have been times when, meeting an agent at a conference, the receiver never got my email. My follow up was very necessary.

    In my workplace, we are required to respond to a student’s email within 36 hours. With your work pace, that is probably unreasonable, but our replies are allowed to be “I got your email and I am looking into it.” This lets the students know that we really are looking into the situation but need an answer from someone else. That person has 36 hours to reply to us, so we have only bought ourselves another 36 hours to reply to the original email. Food for thought.

    Best,
    Sheri

  6. Avatar
    Martha Rogers July 9, 2020 at 6:58 am #

    Waiting for anything is hard but especially so with queries to an agent or editor. I don’t even remember now how long I had to wait to hear from you, but I’m so glad I did.

    It’s so important to keep up with what’s going on in the publishing world because sometimes things that are happening there will affect your submission.

    Don’t give up and keep submitting despite rejections. No matter how long it takes, the end result of acceptance is more than worth it. My big break didn’t come until I was in my 60’s and signed with Tamela and in my 70’s when my first contract arrived.

  7. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser July 9, 2020 at 6:59 am #

    How long must I wait, O, Lord,
    this wears my gentle heart!
    How much more can I afford?
    Will You, can You, take my part
    send message bright and clear,
    a-sail upon the lit-world air
    to sneak up, yes, from the rear,
    a tack on agent’s chair?
    Or perhaps, digital halts
    from CPU to screen
    and by Your heavenly defaults,
    my work is all she’s seein’?
    Please do this, Lord, You’ll gain my praise,
    for I have waited three whole days.

    • Avatar
      claire osullivan July 9, 2020 at 11:17 am #

      Andrew, I love it, and the last line! I was thankful I didn’t have a mouthful of coffee…

      Prayers, brother.

  8. Avatar
    KyLee Woodley July 9, 2020 at 10:30 am #

    The shortest time I have waited to hear back from an agent was 6 hours, which completely surprised me. Within a couple days she had read my proposal and rejected it is, yeah, IDK. 🤷‍♀️

    The longest would be a recent three months. A hard wait, but I’d rather wait than push for an answer.

    Thanks for sharing, Tamela. 🙂

  9. Avatar
    Kristen Joy Wilks July 9, 2020 at 10:46 am #

    I send a nudge every three months for a year, then I give up and move on.

  10. Avatar
    claire o'sullivan July 9, 2020 at 11:13 am #

    Six months, but it had been lost in the shuffle and I resubmitted it, waiting another six months. That being said, just as I was about to give up and look for another agent, I received an email to please send the rest. That. Was. Awesome. Eventually, it was rejected, but all the same, it took time. The agency has a process. It sits in the queue for a few to three months, then it goes to a pre-reader, who determines if the synopsis, first three chapters, cover letter, etc., meet the standards. Then it goes onto an editor for content, then onto, another editor, then again, if the content meets the standard, it goes to an agent. My best guess.

    I have found the quicker the response, more than likely it is 1. so fantastic they want it asap or yesterday, or 2. It is not up to standards and if they are able to send a rejection email, they will. Some will even give out serious advice. Never reject, be patient! I have learned to send it to the 4 corners of the earth (well, at least, the nation). I accepted a publisher after one month’s of their read, went again to their website, and combed over the contract. I received the same from another well-known agent in the UK, but 6 months later.

  11. Avatar
    Christine L Henderson July 9, 2020 at 2:12 pm #

    A two-week turnaround would be fantastic! I’ve only had that kind of turnaround when it part of an already established line of communication. Some time ago, I sent in a story to Guideposts. Two years later, I received an email asking if the story was still available and if so, they wanted to run it. I had forgotten I had even sent it and was happy to see it published!

  12. Avatar
    doreenb8@verizon.net July 10, 2020 at 9:59 am #

    I actually had an agent call me a year later and ask me if I ever found a home for my book. She apologized and said she loved the story but didn’t think at the time she could find a home for it. It was a book on homelessness and a year later there were movies and it was a national topic of conversation. II published the book six months earlier and I was sad, because she was my dream agent:( I wish she would have at least told me she loved the story, I may have waited longer.

  13. Avatar
    Laurie Winslow Sargent July 13, 2020 at 1:14 pm #

    The funniest delayed response I ever received was a “yes, please send more!” two years after the book had already been sold and published. Thinking that agent’s work pile must have been a little too deep!

    • Avatar
      Laurie Winslow Sargent July 13, 2020 at 1:18 pm #

      BTW, that video you linked to in your post was perfect. Clever & funny! Now to go watch it again…

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    […] For those of us in the query trenches, Tamela Hancock Murray tackles the question: how long should writers wait for an answer? […]

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