Thursday, January 27, 2011

Nancy Drew and The Case of the Guilty Silence

Q: I queried an agent back in June, and she requested a full MS of my YA novel. I sent it along. When I hadn't heard from her four months later, I emailed and gave her a polite nudge. She wrote right back and said she was still interested in reading it but hadn't gotten there yet, and she asked me to nudge her again in a month if she hadn't contacted me. A month later, I nudged her again, and she didn't respond. She still hasn't gotten back to me, and she's had the MS for seven months now. Should I give up on her and consider myself rejected, or should I keep emailing? At what point does it stop being reasonable and start being annoying? (I have, of course, been submitting elsewhere in the mean time.)

This is a tough one. On the one hand, maybe she has lost your manuscript in the shuffle, maybe you should give her the benefit of the doubt. On the other, if she isn't responding to your emails, maybe she isn't worth your time worrying about. And I hate to even say this, but...

...I totally have manuscripts that I've had since over the summer. 

Am I proud of this? NO! It is, in fact, a constant source of worry and stress for me. Seriously. But reading non-client manuscripts isn't my job. It is not even in my job description. My job is to take care of my existing clients - searching for new ones is cool, but it is the last thing on my plate, and it will get shoved off the plate entirely if there are client issues taking up all the room. 

The amount that I have to read varies a lot from week to week, but what doesn't vary is, I only really have time to read during non-work hours. As of right now I've read about 1,000 pages this week. At the moment I have about 4,000 more pages of manuscripts that I absolutely MUST read before I tackle anything else. That is several client manuscripts, that I have to not only read, but think about, and give detailed feedback on. Also a couple of non-client manuscripts where I know the author in some capacity so I can't keep them waiting too long. A couple of non-client who have revised for me. And something where I know the author has other offers, so I am going to read as quickly as I can.

That is not counting the 30 or so regular fulls that I have waiting for me, all of which I do read a great deal of, if not all of, and most of which I also give notes on (so hopefully it is worth the long wait.) These fulls have to come after everything else. That doesn't mean I am not interested in them - obviously I saw something there if I requested the full. It just means, you know, I'm busy.  I try to read these fulls in order. Though again, if I am really fascinated by the premise, or you have another offer, or I know you, you'll get bumped up in line. It's triage.

When you status query me, I'll say something like "Still haven't gotten to it, sorry" -- but honestly, if I had gotten to it, wouldn't you know? Now maybe I read it and just am still thinking about it, or whatever, but if I'd made a decision about it, you'd be the first to know.  If you keep status querying me... I am probably going to stop answering, because there is only so many times I can say "still haven't gotten to it, sorry" without feeling like a jerk. It won't make me move any faster, it will just pour salt in the wound of how jerky I feel.

Does that mean you should assume that I passed?  Well... kinda. 

Other agents may disagree, but here's what I'd suggest. If it has been more than three or four months, DO send a polite and friendly status query. After all, things do get lost. Then by all means nudge every 4-6 weeks.  But if you aren't getting any response, DO treat it like a rejection. DO sub elsewhere. DO work on the next stuff. DO move on with your life.* Then when the agent writes to you, because they've finally gotten around to reading your book and they love it, they will have to grovel.

*That said, even if you are "treating it as a rejection", please do let the agent know if you get another offer in the meantime, or if you've decided to withdraw the manuscript for whatever reason. That way they can either read quickly, or take the manuscript out of the pile.