I have sent my first novel to four publishers, and had encouraging feedback from all of them, but not to the extent that they want to publish my book! So I was advised to try to get an agent. A published writer friend sent a very nice introductory letter about me to a well-known Sydney agency (several chapters of the novel have won prizes in short story competitions, and one has been published in Island) but three weeks later we have had no response at all. Is this normal? Do you have any recommendations/suggestions/advice on how I might proceed? (The novel is not a collection of short stories as such, but the story/chapters are closely linked, and there is an overall narrative.)
Three weeks! This is but a nanosecond in reading-manuscript time. Well, a bit more than a nanosecond. But definitely not a minute. In order for a well-known agency to read a submission in three weeks, they would had to have lost 75% of their clients and all other submissions. There's a sort of formula for reading manuscripts that has as its result that the number of clients an agent has is in inverse proportion to the amount of time they have available to read submissions. As mentioned elsewhere in this blog, it's not because we don't want to read submissions, but it has to be done around our existing business. If the agency got back to you within three weeks, you should be worrying about how successful they really are. And I'm sorry to so that a letter of recommendation from a published writer won't speed things up - if they're a client of the agency it will get you read faster than other submissions, but it won't mean they drop everything to read it.
Three months is actually more feasible, and that's the point at which you can drop them a line and enquire about what's going on. If you feel that's too long, send out the submission to other agents - but let the first agency know that you're doing it. Email this information to them, rather than calling. And whatever you do, if it's before the three-month mark don't ask if they've read it yet.