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Agent/Author Communications (Breakdown)

Re-posted from my journal, blackaire at the suggestion of mdhenry and stacia_kane.

In an effort to save everyone some sanity, time and fingernails (because manicures ain’t cheap, yo) I’m going to talk about something that doesn’t really get enough coverage in “advice” posts:

Agent/author communications.  I’m not talking about query letters, or query etiquette, or query-anything, here.  At least not in a practical sense…I’m speaking of what happens outside the lines of email and letters, the raging paranoia and hope and disappointment that authors endure, and the mental fatigue that agents go through trying to keep up with author’s mood swings.

Because there’s really no reason for it.  As my mantra runs, publishing is a business.  It runs from 8-5 East Coast time from Monday-Friday with time off for conventions, parties, the holidays and the months of June-August.  If you send an agent a note at midnight on Saturday, don’t expect a reply until Monday.  Or beyond, if she’s just been to a convention and requested a lot of material, or NaNo just finished and her slush pile has swelled with the 50,000-word opuses of n00bs.   If you have your very own agent and she just took on three new clients, who all got deals, cut her a little slack until the contracts are signed.  Everybody still loves you.  Except when they don’t, and that’s another post.

Example #1: The Query Follow-Up

Scenario: You have a full with an agent.  The allotted response time has passed and you send a status query.  The agent doesn’t respond immediately.  Woe, woe is you.  She must hate your work.  You’ve pushed too hard.  You’ve branded yourself an obnoxious potential client.

Author response: I SUCK.

Likely real-world situation: Your agent is busy.  Give her a reasonable amount of time (definitions vary based on stated agent response times) to write back and give you a status update.  I guarantee she hasn’t read the manuscript yet.  As long as you’re not typing in ALL CAPS and don’t swear at the agent, you won’t come off as pushy or a psycho.

Example #2: The Requested Material

Scenario: Joy!  An agent has requested your partial/full after a conference.  You send it off and wait and wait.  Nothing comes back from the agent.

Author response: I SUCK.  Also, I totally rewrote the first 50 pages following workshop feedback and now the agent has the old partial.  I SUCK.

Likely situation: Requested material carries a little weight, but if the agent just got back from a conference she’s covered in it.  Look up stated response times on the agent’s web site or AgentQuery.  If the time hasn’t passed, chill the eff out and go have a cocktail.  If it has, give her another week because we’re assuming she’s swamped and then status query.  You do not suck.  In your status query, ask politely if she’d like to look at the revised partial.  If she rejects you, do not.  Not even with big puppy eyes.  No.

Example #3: The Dual-Agent Dance of Representation

Scenario:  Holy crap.  You have an offer of representation.  You also have your full with 5 other agents who have expressed interest.  What to do???

Author response: Accept the agency agreement while fainting from joy and totally blow off those other losers who totally did not see my genius.  Obviously they don’t care about me and my baby–er–book as much as the Golden Agent.

Likely situation: You piss a lot of people off doing the above and gain a reputation as an unprofessional wanker.  Thank Golden Agent profusely and ask for 24 hours to contact the remaining readers.  Contact them by email or make a polite phone call if they haven’t joined the 21st century.  Give 24 hours for a response, or to Monday if you’re doing this on Friday.  They may all say “thanks, but no thanks” and then hurray, you’re agented.  One or two may offer representation.  Now you have a choice to make.   Who’s your dream agent?  Who meshes with you?  Pick them, and send a POLITE email to the losers that says nothing about your genius.  Thanks, but no thanks.  Now is not the time to gloat.  Once you sign your AA agreement, then you can.

Example #4: The Editor

Scenario: Screw those agents, they’re leeches who don’t recognize my genius.  I’m going to submit to editors.  And one recognizes, and sends back a letter with suggested edits and a tentative and/or official offer.

Author response: SQUEE.

Likely situation: You get screwed by locking into a boilerplate contract for a low advance and a shitty subsidiary rights clause.  Write to the editor and thank them for their offer, but do not accept.  Say that you feel at this stage, you need a professional rep.  Go get an agent and if your representative agrees it’s a sound offer, let them begin negotiations.   Editors don’t always like this, but they understand because publishing is a business.  Would you rather have a reputation as a gullible chump, or a hard-ass?

Example #5: Your Very Own Agent

Scenario: You have an agent, she’s done a deal, and everything is hunky-dory.  Except you sent her an email about something FOREVER ago and she hasn’t written back.

Author response: Ohdeargod, I’m one of Them.  Those authors who’s agents passive-aggressively break up with them.  Why can’t I be loved?  I’ll dump that bitch first and show her the meaning of pain!

Likely situation: She’s busy.  Is it just before the holidays or the close of the fiscal year?  Has she been attending conferences?  Taken on new clients?  Moved agencies?  Then she’s busy.  Send her another note (a CALM one with only APPROPRIATE CAPITALIZATION) and then have a pill and relax.  You’re earning for her.  She loves you.  You’re a special snowflake.  BUT.  If your letter has gone unanswered for more than a week, and your agent isn’t on vacation in remote Afghanistan, and she ignores pertinent questions about stuff like royalties, and she never takes your calls…that’s a different story.  Time for a frank talk.  But if you send a “Hi how are ya” email and it takes her a few days to respond…cut her a break.  Agents have a largely thankless job and you going all neurotic on her ass isn’t helping.

Writing is lonely and based almost entirely on outside validation.  So when our letters go unanswered and our partials languish for months, it sucks and it can send you down a paranoia spiral like cheap weed.  But publishing is a business.  Nobody out there is cackling as they shove your manuscript to the bottom of the pile.  They’re overworked and barely have time to eat.  Their assistants are MFA students who hate life and don’t understand why their novel about a man finding himself in post-industrial Manchester wasn’t picked up, and some bitch’s werewolf erotica was.  Neither of them have the inclination or the time to spite you.  Very little in publishing is personal, unless you’re that editor who bought If I Did It.

So relax, already.  Be professional and you’re already ahead of the game.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 12th, 2007 11:50 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this summary! This is a great series of advice to lodge in the back of my head for future dealings. I have had good practice with my small press, Sofawolf, who are very professional, and I hope that serves me well in the future. "Be professional" sounds like such common sense, but I hear it repeated over and over again, so it must be the case that many people don't know or understand it.

Can I add one thing, not from any experience with an agent but from my small press world? Say 'thank you.' Publishing and editing (and, I'm sure, agenting) is a tiring, busy job. If your agent has landed you a nice deal, be sure to remember to thank her or him appropriately. Appreciation goes a long way.

(And, from reading Miss Snark, the key word there is "appropriately"--e.g. no huge bouquets of roses or singing telegrams. It all comes back to "be professional.")
Nov. 13th, 2007 12:39 am (UTC)
Great point. Appropriate non-stalker thanks are always good.
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 13th, 2007 01:17 am (UTC)
Groan. I had one of those a few years ago. Blech. Not ever making that mistake again.
Nov. 18th, 2007 09:59 pm (UTC)

Yeah, I was in situation #5. Sent my agent an update on rewrites and got no reply. I figured... busy, give her some space. My next email to her? Bounced. I got in contact with the agency and they replied that she was no longer with them.

I think that falls under the bad agent category, no?
Nov. 13th, 2007 12:45 am (UTC)
I found this as amusing as it was helpful. Thank you for this. :)
Nov. 13th, 2007 01:36 am (UTC)
brilliant. and too true. :)
Nov. 13th, 2007 02:21 am (UTC)
I agree on the pre-contract points almost completely, but I'm going to add/disagree on a couple pts.

RE: "ask for 24 hours to contact the remaining readers. Contact them by email or make a polite phone call if they haven’t joined the 21st century. Give 24 hours for a response"

IMHO, 24 hrs is not enough time. The world isn't going to end if you tell the offering agent that you need a week to consider the situation. In truth, I think this is good even if there isn't a chance of another agent offering. Take a few days to consider your response to the agent during the initial off call & weigh the answers s/he gave to your list of questions. I almost made a bad choice in representation by wanting to jump too fast. The agent I almost signed with is a perfectly fine agent, but we weren't a match.

Agents (ideally) should be long term partners. Taking a few days to decide is perfectly cool. Assessing the viability of the working relationship as you go is also wise.

RE: "She’s busy. Is it just before the holidays or the close of the fiscal year? Has she been attending conferences? Taken on new clients? Moved agencies? Then she’s busy. Send her another note (a CALM one with only APPROPRIATE CAPITALIZATION) and then have a pill and relax. . . BUT. If your letter has gone unanswered for more than a week . . . and she ignores pertinent questions about stuff like royalties, and she never takes your calls…that’s a different story. Time for a frank talk.

I think this varies by agent & client relationship. I know authors whose agents gets back to them in 24-48 hours without fail. There are others who call their agents rather than email. There are those who only hear from the agent during deal negotiation, whereas some have monthly updates. The key is clarity in the expectations that you've established in your working relationship.

As to the agent's schedule . . . Hmm. I'll agree that busy matters. If my agent is doing X things for her clients and my note isn't pressing, mine can obviously wait. If it's going to be a longer than usual reply time, a quick email to say "got it & will reply Y" is a good solution. It take less than 2 minutes to send.

OTOH, while I think conferences are all well & good, prompt communication btw agent & client over BUSINESS MATTERS (the source of an agent's income) should take priority over conferences. Likewise, new clients are an equal priority to the existing list, not a higher priority.

Next point-- Define "forever." Is this a normal delay? Is this sort of delay acceptable to you? Is it a new pattern?

Next point--What's the nature of the email? Some issues demand quicker replies. Frex, I gave Rachel a manuscript that I didn't need a quick reply to. I noted as much, & therefore had no expectation of a prompt reply. OTOH I've had numerous business matters that simply require a 48 hr or less reply. If she couldn't do that, we'd have a problem.

I think most of these are matters that can be sorted out early on in the relationship, but as in any professional relationship, changes should be noted & addressed. Establish early on what the expected response time will be. Establish what sort of variables there are in reply time. That was one of my top questions when I was deciding btw agents. Going outside the expected reply window periodically or for special circumstances is one thing, but repeated times . . . well, there's more than one reason to move to that frank talk thing.

Not every agent's style will fit every client. Some agents are more prompt; some agents offer great editorial notes; some are plugged in to opportunities. What you need as an author and what that agent's strengths are will help you determine your match.

[semi-tangent: This is why pre-query research is so critical. Don't research just on the agent's deals, but their personalities & business practices. Ask their authors. I've answered questions for some of Rachel's potential clients.]

I'm not voting for neurotic meltdowns, but I think it's good to remember that the "it is a business" statement is applicable in more than one way. :) Professional courtesy goes both ways between authors & agents (and btw editors & agents).

Melissa Marr
Nov. 13th, 2007 06:35 am (UTC)
Good points all! I was trying to be as general as possible (and probably a little too tongue-in-cheek, as is my wont), but yes...absolutely, all of this is situational and dependent on the type/context of the communication.

One response, re the 24 hours...that's what I was always taught, but I would totally agree that anywhere from a day to a week is appropriate.

Thanks for chiming in, M!
Nov. 13th, 2007 01:22 pm (UTC)
RE: "One response, re the 24 hours...that's what I was always taught, but I would totally agree that anywhere from a day to a week is appropriate."

I use the week b/c when I had an offer & talked to other interested parties (including Rachel), a "few days" or "the week" is what they needed to look at the text. If you say 24 hrs, I suspect the work load most agents have will necessitate them saying "no" by default. DATAPOINT: It took Rachel 3 days to go from my initial contact that another agent had offered to her asking me to wait to her calling & offering, so when I think of the 24hr thing it makes me think I wouldn't have had the chance to sign with her if I said "24 hrs"--which, yanno, would've really sucked :)

Nov. 13th, 2007 12:48 pm (UTC)
This is a great and timely post for me--though I had totally forgotten to fret about the upcoming NaNo flood.

What's helped me maintain my sanity during the querying process has been sharing rejections and successes with other writers who are querying--and remembering agents are as human as I am.
Nov. 13th, 2007 06:32 pm (UTC)
Great post! I'm with Melissa on the one-week versus 24 hours thing. I was in the same situation and most agents got back to me within a few days of hearing I had an offer on the table, but some needed that week (the main thing for me was giving them a weekend).

I think the crux of the agent/author relationship is communication. Ask your agent what their general response time frame is. When you have an urgent question, make note in the email that you're looking for a quick response or that you want them to email you just to make sure they got your email. But make sure you're not always asking for urgent responses. I send emails with generic questions to my agent and say "this is not urgent, take your time" because I know he's got other clients and not a ton of time.

Remember, neither you nor your agent are mindreaders. They won't know how you feel or what your expectations are if you don't communicate them. I'm not saying you should pull out the tears and the "you don't love me any more speech," but if you feel like you're not getting what you need, then find a professional way to express that. Agents and authors are a team and there's no need for the parties to turn against each other because of hurt feelings or miscommunications.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )


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