What Is the Agent Doing While I Wait?

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.

Your turn:

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?

27 Responses to What Is the Agent Doing While I Wait?

  1. Avatar
    Kara I May 3, 2012 at 3:44 am #

    I think the most agents I’ve ever queried at once is two. Usually it’s just the one though. That’s because I’m really targeted in who I submit to. If they have a blog I have a read, if they have a website I’ll try and find out who else they represent in the genre that I write in, make sure that they are accepting submissions in my genre etc

    I know that agents already have enough on their plate, so I don’t want to send them a query unless I know I’ve done everything I can to ensure we might be a good match.

    I place the “dream agent” in the same category as the “dream guy”. I had a “dream guy” once, then my husband showed up and he totally wasn’t it! God knew what I needed far better than I and so now I figure the same applies to an agent. Having said that, I do have a list of about five agents who I would be truly honored to have the opportunity to work with.

  2. Avatar
    Lance Albury May 3, 2012 at 5:44 am #

    Like Kara, I’ll only submit to one or two at a time, even though the wait can be excruciatingly long.

    Regarding question #2, you have to go with the first reputable agent who acts quickly. I liken this to the NFL draft. Every team wants one of the top five picks, but if those players are not available, you select the player with the highest value who is.

  3. Avatar
    Melissa Jagears May 3, 2012 at 6:10 am #

    Ah! The answer to number 2 would be great to have. But the difficulty lies not so much in trying to find a “reputable” agent, but one that is good, and I’m finding that’s extremely hard to figure out, especially in Christian circles, since nobody wants to say anything negative about anybody.

    I’ve had a full manuscript in 2 agents’ slush piles for almost 2 years now. Makes me wonder if it got forgotten. One I talked with a year ago and she admitted to not having made a decision. Makes me wonder what would cause an agent to hang onto it that long. But after 2 years, my craft is much better. So maybe the next one I give them will wow them enough to snatch it up in, oh, a year maybe. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Avatar
    Patti Jo Moore May 3, 2012 at 6:45 am #

    Wow–I knew agents worked hard, but this has given me a better understanding of your endless list of tasks! Thanks, Tamela. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Avatar
    Meghan Carver May 3, 2012 at 6:47 am #

    Your inclusion of the word reputable makes that decision difficult. If you had just asked about the first agent, I might have said no, wait for a better one. But can a writer go wrong with a reputable agent? Since I’ve never signed with an agent (yet!), it’s all speculation. But what if the agent is reputable but not really a good fit for any number of reasons, such as personality differences? Is it ethical to sign, just to get a foot in the door, and then hope to attract another agent later? I don’t know how often writers change agents. Thanks for the informative post and the thought-provoking question.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray May 3, 2012 at 10:07 am #

      Meghan, thank you for such excellent questions — ones I am sure other authors ponder. I think you answered your own question as to whether you can go wrong signing with a reputable agent. I wouldn’t recommend signing with an agent you aren’t happy with from the outset, because if you enter the agreement feeling you aren’t a good match, the working relationship is, to use a cliche, doomed from the start. I think both the agent and the author should be thrilled to be working together. As for ethics, enter into the agreement with a mind to success, cultivate that relationship, and let the Lord guide you both concerning your careers.

      • Avatar
        Heather Day Gilbert May 3, 2012 at 11:21 am #

        Excellent advice, Tamela. I’ve had two agents, and I will say that a feeling of rapport right from the get-go is a great sign. You need an agent you can talk to about things that keep you up worrying at night, and if the agent is slow to communicate, that’s a bad sign. Also, as I read recently, it’s nicer to have an agent who signs up to represent WHATever you write, not just a one-book (six-month?) gig–shows they believe in promoting your career long-term.

  6. Avatar
    Cindy R. Wilson May 3, 2012 at 7:00 am #

    The more I hear about all the work agents do, the more respect I have for them. Thanks for giving as a deeper look at what goes on in an agents office–it kind of makes waiting easier ๐Ÿ™‚

    I sent out four queries at once this last round, definitely expanding my horizons. I think it’s a great idea to have a dream agent but also keep our minds open to other agents as well. Who knows–the more you learn about another agent, maybe even have the chance to speak to them, the more you might like them as well and feel they’re the best fit for you and your work.

  7. Avatar
    Lindsay Harrel May 3, 2012 at 7:49 am #

    This is great information to have as I wait. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Avatar
    Jeanne May 3, 2012 at 7:52 am #

    I have a greater appreciation as I read of all that agents do, and all the elements they must consider before offering representation.

    I have not submitted to any agents yet, but I hope to be ready to do so later this year. My plan is to research agents, and target 2-3 I think I might be a good fit with.

    As for your second question, that’s not an easy answer. As someone mentioned above, a number of factors need to be considered. I don’t think I’d sign with an agent simply to have representation, but if an agent I hadn’t targeted offered to represent me, I’d pray and seek counsel from author friends before committing. My hope is that, when I sign with an agent, it will be for the long term. So I’d enter into that decision with muh care.

  9. Avatar
    JennyM May 3, 2012 at 8:05 am #

    I’ve sent out two queries, now I’m exhausted from the emotional turmoil of being picked for the lunch hour soccer game. The angst about the third query is enough to have me go out and by a defibrillator. I have a healthy idea of all the different things that agents do and fought the temptation to slip a 50$ into my query. What? Like no one else thought of a nice lunch? (“Nice lunch” is from the early Greek word for “bribe”.)

    I’m hoping to woe my dream agent, actually there are four. Only two of them haven’t been queried yet (see above comment about soccer). Having done alot of research, I know who I want and I’ll wait patiently. Patiently-ish.

  10. Avatar
    Sybil Bates McCormack May 3, 2012 at 10:49 am #

    Thanks for your post today, Tamela. I have a quick question. I read at another site that a well-known firm had just hired a new agent (and, by new, I mean BRAND NEW). If an unpublished author signs with a “green” agent, for lack of a better word, does the reputation of the firm that employs the agent dictate how seriously editors/publishers will take his/her submissions? Or, must the new agent build a reputation independent of the firm–thereby placing the unpublished authors the new agent is trying to sell at a slight disadvantage?

    • Avatar
      JennyM May 3, 2012 at 10:59 am #

      You’ve asked a very important question. I was wondering the same thing.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray May 3, 2012 at 1:06 pm #

      Sybil: Great question! I would trust the Agency President to have oversight of his or her new agent and would rely on that guidance. If you find a new agent who’s a good fit for you, I wouldn’t hesitate to sign with the agent when he or she is part of a stellar agency.

      • Avatar
        Sybil Bates McCormack May 3, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

        I appreciate your reply, Tamela. It’s been a long day, and I’ve only just gotten around to reading this. I’m currently awaiting a reply from my dream agent. If she declines,I will probably revise and resubmit before moving on to anyone else. I’m a little stubborn (and relentless) that way. ๐Ÿ˜€ Blessings!

  11. Avatar
    Rachel Wilder May 3, 2012 at 11:25 am #

    I had my manuscript with three agents for a grand total of two weeks. The third one was totally a God-thing based on a friend’s recommendation. She was not the agent for me but I learned a lot from the experience and discovered we’d be a very bad fit.

    Right now only one agent has it, and if that one says no too I already know who’s next in line.

    I think it’s worth waiting for. The only thing worse than no agent is the wrong agent. I’ve seen that play out with both of my CP’s.

  12. Avatar
    Debra May 3, 2012 at 5:23 pm #

    I submitted to three agents within three days and then sat by the phone, waiting.

    Well, the websites said, ‘if you don’t hear from us in blah blah weeks, then….’ and when those weeks passed I thought ‘so much for that’. Wiser friends said not to give up yet and they were right. I heard back from one agent 8-9 weeks later. It might be three months, five months or more.

    Um, yeah, while we’re on the line…

    Tamela, your post confirmed everything I’ve been hearing. It’s all about timing and time is a a strange and wonderful mystery.

  13. Avatar
    TC Avey May 4, 2012 at 5:06 am #

    I sent out 5 queries three months ago and will probably start sending another round out next month. In the past I have sent out too many and had trouble keeping track- lesson learned for me!

    9 Months ago I had an agent ask for my MS, but I haven’t heard anything since. Regardless, I’m in this for the long haul!

  14. Avatar
    Karen Duvall May 4, 2012 at 6:38 am #

    I’ve had my agent for 4 years now and I can attest to how busy an agent can be. They do an incredible amount of work for their clients and many, like mine, are always on the look out for new talent to represent. One of the most amazing things a good agent does is to make you feel like you’re their only client by responding quickly and always making time to answer questions and discuss concerns. They really are remarkable career counselors, too. I consider myself blessed and wish the same to happen to other writers looking for a good agent. It’s so worth it!

  15. Avatar
    Susan Karsten November 21, 2012 at 9:04 am #

    Such a fascinating blog post. I was imagining some of this while I am in the waiting phase. “Patience is a virtue every writer should possess, For it is the key to facing trials with success.” (A little rewording of a children’s song.) Thanks for sharing in such detail. It is helpful.

  16. Avatar
    Cynthia Mahoney / aka Claire O'Sullivan May 6, 2017 at 11:46 am #


    Such good information, and responses. My manuscript has gone through a million edits and several titles… I started this behemoth in 2012.

    Yikes. Not long after, I submitted to a publishing house. Good words: ‘Never submit anything to this publishing house (PH) again. Ever.’

    LOL. However, I went back to my monster and rewrote. About a year later sent to 1 or 2 agents/PH. ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ Again, good responses.

    My next — a new name to the crocodile. Changed the fMC. Reading the manuscript, I groaned, and reworked. Again.

    After that, sent 3 chapters to another 3-4 agents/PH. One agent was wonderful in her rejection. Sent me a note and a few suggestions. I took heart and ran with those words since the others sent ‘not for us,’ ‘good luck,’ or nothing.

    I reworked it again. Tweaked the title name- because you can judge a book by its cover.

    Another year passed, slashing scenes, unnecessary words. Sent to an agent and after about six months (I reworked it again, thinking it was dropped) I received an email and brought out my smelling salts, having been asked to send on the entire work. To me, that is the highest praise yet. From ‘never send again’ to ‘please send the whole thing’, I figure I’ve grown in my writing a bit.

    The BEST part of all the attempts are the rejections. Whether or not the agent writes back, something has to change. It means, I am not up to snuff. I have work to do, and am always (always) open to the edit process, the grammar, style, the plot ‘icks,’ or the iffy sections that really need to disappear.

    So this is a very timely article. I wondered, now how long after sending the baby? Gives me the perfect answer. Could be a lot longer than three months. This article answers my worried, anxious soul and saves a lot of fingernail gnawing. I had ‘in mind,’ three months, and figured no news is good news.

    Writing as a novice is hard work, and as I can now patiently (mostly) wait on my first, I am working on number 2 and 3.

  17. Avatar
    cindy mahoney June 23, 2017 at 5:27 pm #


    Sorry for misspelling your name by a mile! yeesh.

  18. Avatar
    OLUSOLA SOPHIA ANYANWU May 23, 2020 at 1:07 am #

    Thanks for this post Tamela.

    I have three questions:

    1. How does I get to know what the current market wants in terms of my chosen genre?

    2. From your number one comment on this post, what is the current novel trend in the market?

    3. Does it matter if an agent is ‘green’ like someone referred above to a new agent in the business?

    Thanks so much again for having the time to read and respond to these posts in spite of your very , very, very….. tight schedule!!

  19. Avatar
    OLUSOLA SOPHIA ANYANWU May 23, 2020 at 1:10 am #

    Sorry Tamela about the very obvious grammatical error in my first question – 1.’How do I….?’


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