Ask The Agent: Lots of Rejections From Editors... Should You Look for A New Agent? and More

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Navigating the rough terrain of today’s publishing industry shouldn’t be a solo event. This week in Ask the Agent, I’ll explore and dissect two of the industry’s mysteries, straight from the shoulder.


Question from Deb

I'm querying agents for a non-fiction book.  Some of the rejections I've gotten have come in four or five months after I submitted the query.  Does this mean I've been in the "maybe" pile and under some sort of consideration, or does it just mean that I was in the pile of  "no way, no how, get back to them when we have some slack time?"

I can't answer for every agent, but there are two common strategies to passing on a manuscript:

1. The 6-8 week rule. Now the 6-8 week rule doesn't mean that it takes us 6-8 weeks to consider your work (we can usually make a decision in a few days). What the 6-8 week rule allows for is if your manuscript is in slush and it takes a few weeks to get to it. 

2. The second strategy for passing on a manuscript is: "if you don't hear from us, assume it's a no."

So what's interesting about your situation is that neither of these two common scenarios took place. Hearing back after four or five months is rare... Unless you nudged them right before you received the pass. Did you happen to nudge them around the 4-5 month marker and then receive a pass? If that's the case, it's likely they just weren't going to respond but felt the need to after you nudged. 

Other than that, my advice is a bit slim. Most agencies follow the two scenarios I gave you, so whatever held these few agencies up is anyone's guess. 

Pro tip: Don't be afraid to nudge (depending on the "response time" agents often put on their website.) If there is no response time for that agent, feel free to nudge after about 8 weeks.

Question from Emily

After you’ve signed with an agent, how long (on average) does it take the agent to find a publisher for your book? Given that it may take a long time, how long should you let your agent try before seeking another agent or self-publishing?  What questions should you ask if you haven’t heard from your agent in a while?

I'll answer this question by question:

How long (on average) does it take the agent to find a publisher for your book?

There is ABSOLUTELY no way of telling. It could sell in a week. A month. Two years. Or never. Try not to assume your book will sell right away. You'll just be disappointed. But if it does, you'll be extra ecstatic! I'm not saying to lower your expectation. Just be realistic. 

How long should you let your agent try before seeking another agent or self-publishing?

This question concerns me a bit. Not necessarily for you, but for whatever agent signs you. I could be wrong, so please forgive me if I am, but it sounds like you are putting all the blame/responsibility on your agent for the book not selling. Thus, why you'd want to find a new agent. You have to consider that maybe your manuscript is not what editors are looking for at the moment. Or maybe it needs to be revised. But to automatically assume you should look for another agent after your book doesn't sell with your current agent is extremely disrespectful and hurtful to the agent who has worked on your project with you for the last however long. 

If your agent does everything they can do to sell your book and you really do feel like your agent is working their ass off, please give them the chance to work on your second book and so forth. 

Now there’s an exception to this rule: if you are only signed with your agent for the one project and not for a set amount of time and/or for your career, you should have an honest discussion with your agent about their submission strategy from this point on, and if they don't really have one, it might be time to split ways. Keep in mind, if you query the same manuscript to new agents, they will also have a hell of a time selling it, because it cannot be submitted anywhere it's already been submitted (assuming your first agent did a lot of submissions). So it might be best to start with a fresh manuscript. But if that's the case, you may as well stay with your first agent (unless the business relationship isn't working out).

Self-publishing is a bit different. I've had two clients whose books didn't sell, so we spoke about the pros and cons regarding self publishing and they ultimately decided to move forward with it. They are still my clients, however. And while they were self publishing, I was working on their second novel submissions. So again, this is a candid conversation you need to have with your agent. 

What questions should you ask if you haven’t heard from your agent in a while?

Ask them what's up? Ask them if they have any news on your manuscript submission. And then, if the radio silence from them starts to seem unprofessional, talk to them about it. Give them the benefit of the doubt. However, if it happens frequently, THEN you may want to look for another agent. NEVER query other agents while still signed with your first one. 

The agent client relationship is full of trust. You have to trust they are doing what's best for you and your career and they have to trust that you won't ditch them if they can't sell your book right away. This is why it's so important to research your potential agent and agency before you sign. Ask tons of questions before you sign. That way, hopefully you won't run into any unethical or unprofessional behavior on your agent’s part. 

Pro tip: Try to sign on as a "client" not as a "one book at a time" deal. You want to find an agent who is ready to foster your career. 

Thank your for all the wonderful questions this week. "Be well, do good work, and keep in touch" -Garrison Keillor


Have a question about the publishing industry? I would love to discuss the specifics of researching and querying agents, finding the right agent, proper publishing etiquette, how to go from idea to completed manuscript, marketing yourself, social media for writers, and anything else you can think of! I am now taking questions for Issue 17 of Ask the Agent. Issue 17 answers will be posted Monday, February 18th.

Bree Ogden

Column by Bree Ogden

Bree Ogden is a literary agent at Red Sofa Literary and a comics/TV columnist and reviewer at Bloody Disgusting.

When she's not agenting, compulsively watching horror films, reading comics, hiding out at her local science center, or killing off her bee colonies, she serves as the managing editor of the macabre children's magazine Underneath the Juniper Tree, which she co-founded in 2011 with artist Rebekah Joy Plett.

Bree teaches query craft and graphic novel scripting at LitReactor as well as serves as the Assistant Class Director. Unless you are an exciting new piece of taxidermy, she'll probably never let you in her room. You can find her at agentbree.wordpress.com.

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Comments

leah_beth's picture
leah_beth from New Jersey - now in Charleston, SC is reading five different books at once. February 7, 2013 - 4:07am

So...regarding the 5/6 month thing. I was querying a book last year, and I keep really good records of who I query and when. A few agents I'd written off as "no response means no," and then after five or six months, I also got rejections. I had not nudged, and wasn't expecting a response, and at that point the rejection felt a bit like lemon juice on a paper cut. 

So I guess it does happen?

That said, I say KEEP TRYING! You'll find your book a home eventually, and if you don't, you'll still learn a TON from the process! :) 

Good luck!