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Why Do Agents Take So Long?

I am not here to tell you that agents take too long to respond to submissions. You already know that. In fact, I can personally confess to a six month back-up (although we are working hard to clear that up).

So, if we’re so desperate to get authors to send us material quickly why then do we sit on it for an eternity? Time my friends. Time.

When you get to a certain point in your agenting career, hunting for new clients is sort of a bonus. My focus is on what I need to do today to grow my business and to grow my clients’ careers. That focus means I’m tracking royalties, writing checks, editing client material, calling editors, emailing editors, nagging editors, bonding with editors. It means I’m reviewing contracts, writing pitch letters and plotting out a marketing plan or two.

When I have time to sit down and read a submission it’s usually when all of the rest of those things are handled. I do desperately try to get through my piles faster, but there are times when I falter. And yes, there are times when a market change means that I’ve missed out on something or feel that the thing I requested isn’t as exciting as it was when I first requested it. There are also times when I request something because of a love for that idea/genre/hook even when I know that market is tough, but by the time I read it the market has turned around in the favor of that author.

And of course there are times when I just take a day out of my schedule to read through submissions and I don’t read chronologically. I read by what grabs me in that moment.

It’s one of the many reasons why I encourage authors to send out multiple submissions and keep submitting. Make a plan of attack and keep it up. Every month you should be sending out new queries. You never know when you’ll hit just the right agent at the right time and then you are the one in charge, pushing all those other agents to read faster with your offer.

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9 comments

  1. Thank you for the insight into your day-to-day priorities. It makes sense that agents must focus on their current clients, even if it’s a tough pill to swallow for those of us who are un-agented authors, sending out queries and waiting for responses.

    I’m reminded of another recent post of yours, emphasizing the importance of patience. Not always easy, but good advice nonetheless!

  2. I find this post especially interesting, given my experience in submitting to you. You were absolutely the fastest of anyone I’ve experienced, all the way around, and though this one didn’t work out, the rejection you sent was personalized and offered insight into the manuscript. If this isn’t the definition of class act, I don’t know what is. I didn’t get a chance to send you a thank you via email, but I had to post a comment here, given the nature of this blog post.

  3. Dear Jessica, this post is once again an inspiration for me. You mention marketing, which is quite a lot the minds of us authors. Do you think you could sometime do a post for us with marketing tips? Traditionally published or not, I know we authors should keep working on promoting our work, and effective marketing is a rather elusive thing. There is a lot of info out there, but much of it – to be completely honest – is gibberish. I’m sure your experience has taught you to filter out the gems.

  4. It’s like dating – if you go around asking people out, and then never get around to actually making a date, maybe it’s time to, you know, stop asking people out for awhile and concentrate on actually going on a date with the people you’ve already asked. Yes, that means you might miss on on something new and shiny and even better – but without actually delving into that material you found new and shiny at one point, you never get anywhere. That said, you were also my fastest responder – within 4 weeks – so surprised to hear you’ve got a six month wait now. I got lucky!

  5. Have you ever rejected anyone and then the MS stayed in your mind long past what you were expecting or the market changed and you reconsidered and offered rep?

    1. I have definitely rejected things that stayed in mind. I don’t know that I reconsidered later, not without revisions.

  6. I needed to read this today! Thanks for offering some insight and explanation. No doubt it’ll come full circle… one day we’ll be grateful to be on top of an agent’s priority list, and happy to have survived the slush piles through the patience and persistence you talked about.

  7. All I can say is that I hope any agent reading my submission is doing so from a relaxed mindset, ready and eager to immerse herself in my world. I’d rather wait for a response than have an agent rushing to get through her inbox as fast as possible.

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