Monday, June 18, 2012

Ask and You Might Receive

Last week, I discussed the topic how long is too long when waiting to hear from a literary agent or publisher.  The discussion was with specific regard to agents or publishers that ask for your work. How long after sending requested materials should a writer wait before sending a follow up?

As I mentioned last week, there’s no hard and fast rule so the question doesn’t have an answer that can be applied across the board. The answer depends on the agent or publisher. I can say that as writers it’s drilled in to our heads not to alienate prospective agents or publishers. One definite way to do that is for an over anxious writer to demand answers. I use the word demand loosely, but it’s easy to understand why it would be viewed as a demand by a haired literary agent.

Most agents are quick to tell you they’re inundated with submissions. Sadly, not all of these submissions are up to par for an aspiring professional writer. Side note to my fellow authors, it’s not a good idea to submit something to an agent that’s rife with grammar, spelling or punctuation errors. Even the best of books might get scrapped for this. However, I digress. Back to the agents.

Not only are they overwhelmed with submissions from eager writers, but they already represent a number of clients who deserve their time and attention. To me, a contracted author is more deserving of an agent’s time. In addition to that, many agents speak at writers' conferences and attend work shops and book fairs and the like in an effort to not only meet potential clients but to generate business contacts to further existing or even future relationships. Moral of the story? There’s more to an agents time than writers can comprehend, especially us greenies. 

So, for those of us who recognize the value of an agent’s time and don’t want to offend or alienate by being over anxious, what do we do? How do we satisfy our need to know without overstepping any bounds? I was led to contemplate these questions after waiting four months to hear from two literary agents who’d asked to see my latest young adult novel. While I can’t answer the questions for everyone else, I wanted to update you as to my story.

After discussing with some of my fellow authors last week, I made the decision to send a follow up inquiry. With shaking hands, I composed what I hoped was a message with a humble tone to ask two questions: was the novel still under review and when could I anticipate a response so that I didn’t need to impose upon their time again? Within a day, one agent replied to ask me to send the manuscript, which I did the following day. Only a few days after that, she emailed to let me know she liked my novel and would review for possible editing and reply to me within a week. I immediately emailed back to thank her for the time to update me and then waited. Let me tell you what, the wait wasn’t long. One day later, today as a matter of fact, the senior agent called to tell me he liked the novel and wanted to work with me and asked if I’d be agreeable to having him send the contracts electronically! The agent then made a point to apologize for having taken so long to reply and to assure me that’s not his standard business practice. I can’t tell you how flattered I am. First, he wants to work with me and second, he took the time to apologize which I didn’t think was necessary at all. I simply wanted an answer as to whether or not the novel was still under review. Well, I got one and then some and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Last week, I wondered whether or not I should follow up. I went ahead and took the plunge and decided to ask. This week, I’m glad I did. My advice to anyone who asks me the same question will be: ask and you might receive. This strategy might not work for everyone, but it can’t always hurt.

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