Monday, June 11, 2012

Is No News Good News?

I’m probably going to date myself with this introduction, but here goes.  When I was a kid, there was a show I used to watch called The Great Space Coaster.  This show was something akin to a low budget Sesame Street with its combination of live actors and puppets interacting with one another.  One of the puppet characters was a sportscaster named Gary Ganu. After every news report, Gary would sign off with: ‘Remember, folks, no g’news is good g’news.’

Don’t ask me why this has stuck with me through all these years. Little else about The Great Space Coaster has. However, every time I’m waiting to hear about something, no matter what it is, I always remember Gary’s sign off phrase.

As a writer, I’m beginning to wonder if no news really is good news. When I query an agent and ask them to look at my manuscript or at the very least look at a sample of it, the lack of response by an agent is not good news. Some agents simply don’t respond if they aren’t interested, which they attribute to the overwhelming number of submissions they receive. The same can be said of publishers when authors query them without using an agent.

What about something a little more in depth though? If an agent asks to see either a partial or full manuscript and then takes months to respond, is that good news? My instinct is to say no. If he loved the book, he’d want to hurry and snap it up, move on it before someone else does. So, what’s a writer to do in situations like this?

Some agents are helpful about this upfront. Their guidelines clearly spell out how long their response time is and what procedures writers should follow when they haven’t heard anything by the anticipated deadline. Great, but what about those agents or publishers that sit on the manuscript and fail to respond? What do we do about those? This is a tricky question to answer because response time is so subjective. From the writers’ viewpoint, waiting four months for a response feels like unnecessary agony. For the busy agent or publisher, long response times are part and parcel for the process. After all, they aren’t just trying to secure new clients. They have a list of established clients who need and deserve their attention.

Bottom line, the rules aren’t hard and fast. If the agent or publisher doesn’t have a response time posted somewhere in their guidelines, or hasn’t provided one when asking for the material, what to do next is tricky business for writers. Here are two glaring examples of how difficult it is to know the correct way to proceed.

I once had a publisher ask for a partial of my manuscript. The editor doubled as the owner of this small press. Her initial email responses were prompt and warm. I sent the full manuscript and then waited. I waited a long time with no reply, and I don’t mean I waited weeks. I waited six months with no answer. I’d pretty much given up, but I thought it wouldn’t hurt to ask if the work was still under review. The editor promptly replied with a profuse apology and explanation of why she’d fallen behind and assured me she was still interested. In the end, she passed on the work, but I finally got that definite rejection I needed to bring me closure.

Conversely, I once queried either an agent and she asked for the manuscript. Again, I waited months with no response. Before ruling it out as a rejection, I opted to send a follow up to query to ask if it was still under review. I got a pretty quick response to this query that was, I’m sad to say, rather rude and scathing. Though I don’t recall the specific content, the gist of it was that I should’ve known no response meant she wasn’t interested and shouldn’t have wasted her time with my follow up. That one stung a bit, but there was nothing I could do but move on.

What’s got me thinking of all of this now? I have two agents who asked to see my full manuscript for my latest young adult novel.  Both asked in the early part of February, and I sent it within a day of the request. It’s been four months now, and I’ve heard nothing from either of these agents. Not a yes or a no. I’d prefer an offer of representation but would be able to recover from rejection. I’ve checked both their web sites and the emails they sent me when they requested the manuscript and neither one addresses response times. So, what do I do?

Again, there are no hard and fast rules here. Once I followed up and was glad I did. Once I followed up and wished I hadn’t. I respect that agents are busy and their first priority must be to their existing clients. I’ve read many an article cautioning against being pushy and demanding of an agents time. Still, I’d like to have an answer. Yet, I’m admittedly undecided about what to do.

Even now, at the conclusion of my article, I’ve yet to reach a decision so I put it to all of you. What do you think? Should I continue to wait for a response from the agents or take matters into my own hands and ask where they are in the review process? Is no g’news good g’news? If anyone has the answers, I’d love to know what they are.

1 comment:

  1. I hate the waiting game. Just last week an agent sent me a rejection leter. Its been 14 months...

    Needless to say that rejection made me laugh.

    I think if they don't have a response time then you have every right to ask them. I would've asked last month. Maybe you will get a nasty response, maybe you might get a nice one but, they have no right to hold your writing and hopes hostage.