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.