Friday, April 15, 2011

It's all in the timing

I have a query about how to address an issue with my (UK based) agent. He approached 5 publishers for my sci-fi novel seven weeks ago. So far, 3 rejections.
I'd like him to now move on and send out the next round of submissions, but he doesn't want to do that until the remaining two respond. I understand that he needs to maintain good relationships with the publishers, and part of that means being open with them about simultaneous submissions. I also know that 7 weeks is not really very long for a publisher to respond. But I am concerned that this process could be unnecessarily delayed by waiting for publishers that might be slow to respond.
Is there a reason why he might want to wait that I'm not seeing? How long should we reasonably wait before moving on? And would it be appropriate for me to raise this concern with him? I don't want to appear too pushy.

Your question is a good one, because it raises the issue of how agents submit to publishers and the delicate dance therein. When I'm submitting I send out the manuscript to the publishers I think are most likely to be interested and also the ones I would most like to take the manuscript - this is round one. Of course, I always hope that I only need one round. Round two publishers are the ones I originally deemed less likely to want the manuscript and also the ones I thought may like but whom I thought may not be a good fit with the author, for whatever reason. I will usually wait to exhaust round one before moving to round two, simply because I think the round one publishers are more appropriate for the author and/or their book.

That doesn't mean that I haven't been pleasantly surprised by a round two publisher - I have. But it doesn't happen often. And, truthfully, the Australian market is so small that usually I only have one round anyway. The UK is different, even when you're writing sci fi (which isn't published by everyone). Your agent would have more choices and is, no doubt, hoping to get one of his first choices before moving to his second choices.

Thus the reason he might want to wait (and I'll say 'might', because I don't know for sure) is that he really wants one of the two remaining publishers to take it and he wants to wait and see if one or both are interested before going further. Also because, for an agent sending out sci fi (or most fiction), seven weeks is not that long to wait, so as far as he's concerned there's no urgency. (Of course, we know that authors feel differently but we exist in our own time frame. Time not being linear etc etc.)

Having said all of that, you are the client and it is your manuscript. You should be able to raise this with your agent and feel comfortable about doing so. A simple, 'Hi, I'm just curious - how long do we wait before moving to the second round of submissions?' would do it. You don't need to explain your reasons for knowing - you are entitled to know. And the agent should explain his process, and give you the opportunity to discuss it. It's not as though we're all working on the Large Hadron Collider, after all - there are no mysteries here. But things can sometimes seem more fraught with meaning and intent than they really are, so just keep it light and friendly, and feel free to tell me what he says if you need some interpretation.


Anonymous said...

It's worth knowing that a friend of mine had an offer from Harper Collins after waiting nine months. That was through an agent. Harper Collins is definitely worth waiting for.

My own experience is that the publishers everyone wants usually take six months for each phase (or as little as one month if they hate it). One of the big six has had a book of mine two years, but that's clearly not the norm (and I'm certain it wouldn't happen if I was submitting through an agent).

This is all within Australia.

Louise Curtis

Theresa said...

You're hilarious AS - the large Hadron Collider? Yes, that's definitely the first thing I think of when considering the process of submissions - bigger than life itself & capable of blowing everything. Pretty much it, really. We, arty types love a bit of drama.