Thursday, March 5, 2009

The follow-up

After inviting me to send in my novel, it has been sitting with the same agent for almost a year. When I last heard from the agent in the middle of last year, she gave me permission to follow up if I'd not heard after a month or two. I have followed up with a couple of emails but had no response. What do you advise?

It's possible that the agent is feeling overwhelmed by the amount of reading she has; it's also possible that she's overwhelmed by the amount of email she has. Quite often I want to curl up in a ball and weep silently because I just can't get through the amount of reading I have and I feel guilty about letting people down. Agenting is often a mix of wanting to help out writers and then resenting the helpful impulse. Quite often I wonder why on earth I agreed to read those fifty manuscripts when I really just don't have the time - and the only answer is that I thought they'd be worth reading and I hoped the authors would understand if I ran a bit past the estimated time frame.

However, you've done all the right things in terms of following up - you've allowed a bit of time, you've followed up within the time frame suggested. It's possible the agent isn't getting back to you because she still hasn't read your manuscript, or she's read it and liked it but isn't sure whether she can take it on, so she's stalling you while she decides. But you don't know because you're not being told, so I'd suggest you send one last email, politely saying that as you haven't heard, you presume that the agent isn't interested in the manuscript and you're withdrawing it from consideration. Unless, of course, you really want to hang in there, in which case write the same email but end it with, 'If you'd still like to consider my manuscript but haven't had a chance to read it yet, it would be great if you could let me know how much longer you think you may need.' This may sound like sucking up, but you want something from her, right?

Many is the author I've rejected just because they didn't give me enough time or wouldn't understand if I was running late - and I've also taken on authors who were understanding about the fact that I was going as fast as I could, even if that was a glacial pace. Sometimes they have been authors of equal talent and the difference has been the attitude. I can only take on so many clients, and it doesn't take much to tip me either way. I'm sure I've said it before, but politeness is really underrated in all business relationships, not just between authors and agents. I respect the fact that it takes authors months and years to write manuscripts; I like it when they respect the fact that it takes me weeks and months to read their manuscripts. I wouldn't expect an author to churn out a novel in two weeks just because I'm waiting for them - that would be rude. So I do get annoyed when an author sends a full manuscript and gets huffy two months later when I haven't read it. I'm doing the best I can. Most agents are. The agent you've been dealing with is probably doing the best she can - but, having said that, you have been more than respectful of her time and you need to now do what you want to do with your manuscript.

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