Not too long ago Moonrat did a post on waiting to hear back from your agent on submissions. In her post she asked any agents who might be reading to jump in and give their own advice or opinions. Of course I did. But the post also got me thinking about this particular situation.
The reader in question asked Moonrat how she should handle an agent who doesn’t seem to be nagging editors the way her agented friends claim he should be. The original letter to Moonrat can be found here. In this case the project had been on submission for roughly three months with only one response. And as far as I’m concerned that’s at least five responses too few. After three months, in my opinion, you should have heard back from all but one or two editors. I think Moonrat’s advice was spot-on. She suggests first a gentle nudge and later a polite phone conversation. Very civil of you, Moonrat. Well done. The unfortunate part of this is that it’s not an easy situation for an author to handle. How do you confront your agent and question her business practices, which is essentially what you’re doing? This is just one of the many reasons why it’s so important to have an agent you feel you can really communicate with and an agent you trust.
A huge part of my job is to be a pest. I nag editors for answers to submissions, for contracts, for checks. . . . I hound them for better covers, more publicity, and a stronger contract. In other words, I should have been someone’s little sister, because like a little sister I don’t leave those editors alone. When you’re first talking to a potential agent I think it’s very fair to ask what their expectations are for the sale of your book. Not necessarily how much money you’ll make, but how quickly they think it might sell and how they usually approach the selling process. How many submissions do they send out at once? At what point do they start following up with editors, and at what point do they just give up with editors? I also think it’s worthwhile to ask what their relationship is like with editors or at certain houses. I know for a fact that I get very quick reads with a number of editors only because we have the same sensibility and they want to get a jump on any project I send over. I also know there are editors who don’t or won’t read anything until they’ve been nagged, and then there are those who don’t bother reading anything until you have an offer in hand. I know who they are, though, and I use all of that to my advantage.
Most important, though, I think you need to know how you’ll handle a situation like this, and there’s no easy answer. In my case all it takes is a simple phone call from a client checking on the status herself. Usually I follow up every few weeks with editors, but those phone calls always spur me to check my list and make sure it’s only been a few weeks since I last followed up. Each agent is different, though. Some don’t like to be reminded to do their jobs and will need to be handled more carefully, while others need more than a subtle hint and could probably use a cattle prod. I guess the bigger question here is how do you feel about that agent? Is she someone you still feel you can trust to handle your work, and her response to your prod might give you that answer. Remember, the agent works for you and there is absolutely no harm in calling your agent and asking point-blank if she would check with editors because you’re getting antsy. Don’t be afraid to be direct. What’s the worst thing that can happen? The agent gets mad at you and I suppose she could fire you, but in all honesty if she fires you over something like this she has lost interest in your work anyway.
Good luck! I’m off to bug a few editors.