Publishing, querying literary agents, and trying to get published are the most frustrating things I have ever done. For me, the waiting is the hardest thing. Considering most literary agent’s response times to queries, acquiring books and publishing them, I almost think it might be easier to do business with a snail. At least it moves.
This slow pace is extremely frustrating for writers who are querying, or waiting for a publisher to read a partial or a manuscript they’ve asked to see, or biting their nails, wondering whether the “editorial and marketing team” will decide whether their book will be acquired.
How Long Do I Wait for a Literary Agent’s Response?
Worst case scenario…a long time. From what I’ve heard recently about a literary agent’s response time, a 50% response – that’s including both rejections and requests to read – rate is doing really well. Also, some agents, not to mention editors, are incredibly S-L-O-W. I’ve heard stories of those who finally received a rejection back on a query to a publisher six months after the book was on the stands after being acquired by another publisher!
If, at the end of the sixty days (plus 10 days, say, as a “cushion”) you haven’t heard anything back from the agent, it’s proper to drop them a polite email asking if they’ve had a chance to read the work. If you get no reply, then go back to querying, and chalk it up as a rejection. Agents/editors are usually quick to communicate with a writer when they’ve found a writer they want to represent. Waiting months and months on tenterhooks, without a word, figuring “no news is good news” usually means you’re kidding yourself. Go back to querying. Then if the agent or editor comes back at a later date with a positive response, you’ll be pleasantly surprised, not a raving lunatic.
What Do I Do While Waiting for a Literary Agent’s Response?
What should you do while you’re doing all this waiting? Write! Write some short stories and get them published, so you can include those credentials in your query letters. Start a new novel. Write a nonfiction book you’ve always wanted to write. Starting work on a new project will help you through those months of waiting.
Also, if you’re at the beginning stage of querying agents or editors, don’t wait. Multiple queries are not the same thing as multiple submissions, and nobody expects you to send in one query, then wait until the recipient replies before sending in another. If you can target 100 agents or editors that your manuscript would be appropriate for, then you’re free to send off 100 queries. I would suggest that you do it in batches of 10-20 at a time, and that you keep a record of it, in a notebook or, if you’re computer-savvy, in a excel file.
So…query your little hearts out, my friends, as long as you’ve targeted your book properly, and researched the agent or publisher. Remember, the time to do your research is BEFORE that query or submission goes out!
They Want To See My Manuscript… What Do I Do?
Okay, let’s assume that your query letter is terrific, a real whiz bang showstopper, and you get responses from agents asking to see the work.
If you get a response back asking to see the full manuscript, as opposed to a “partial” — usually the first three chapters and synopsis (also often called an “outline”), keep querying. The only exception to this is if the agent or editor asks for an “exclusive” on the work. That means you agree to send the manuscript only to that person exclusively for a given period of time. If an agent asks for an exclusive, 30 to 60 days is pretty typical. If the agent or editor doesn’t specify the duration of the exclusive, you should. You would say something to the effect of “(Title) is being submitted on an exclusive basis, and will remain exclusive for 60 days, until (date)” and put that into your cover letter accompanying the manuscript.
Never send work out as an open-ended exclusive. Agents may take shameful advantage of your inexperience and take six months or more to send you a form rejection. Or you may never hear back at all.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. You can leave leave a comment here…