And You Think Agents Are Slow

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Mar 04 2009

If you’ve ever read Editorial Ass, you know the key to getting an editor to read your work is to check in. Editorial Ass has admitted numerous times on her blog that she rarely reads anything unless an agent calls to give her a nudge. Which is why I spend so much time calling and emailing editors just to kindly nudge.

However, no manner of nudging will help get through to those editors who have been unfortunate enough to be assigned offices in a black hole. It’s a freak of nature, I tell you. Each and every publisher has one, an office that somehow sucks things in, never to spit them out again. No matter how frequently you call or how many henchmen you send, that submission will just not be responded to.

As an editor I was also very familiar with those offices and remember cleaning them out on occasion. The unwritten rule at those times was that if a submission was more than two years old it was simply recycled.

Well, just the other day I was in the fortunate situation to have something come flying out of one of those black holes. Luckily for me, I ducked before it whacked me in the head. A submission I had sent out three years and nine months ago appeared. The editor informed me they were passing.


44 responses to “And You Think Agents Are Slow”

  1. Avatar April Brown says:

    That begs the question, as an agent, how long do you wait before you send a submission on to another publisher or editor? Or are you able to submit to more than one?

    I am working on a few good stories (my readers keep begging for more), yet I doubt any will be above the 30,000 word mark. Those will be really hard to place, maybe I can place them all together.

  2. Avatar Candi says:

    OMG! And thus the question becomes –
    How long is long enough (without contact of course) to give an editor time to consider your work? Agented or otherwise?

  3. LMAO! I usually give it a year. Just recently, though, I had a book that I decided to pull after only seven months in the Query Go Round. After some heart searching, I came to the conclusion that, in this economic climate, the book was too quirky, too odd, for a New York publisher or editor. I got a contract at an epublisher instead. I find they’re a little more willing to take a risk.
    My fellow authors always remind me that months to me is minutes to an editor. Time is, in the publishing world, relative.

  4. Avatar Anonymous says:

    This is why I left my last agent…she never, ever nudged. I would have to nudge her to follow up with editors we hadn’t heard from…and this is a big name agent. It made me feel like she was too busy to stay on top of my submissions.

  5. I hope you were able to respond, *with a reasonable amount of smugness* “This was your loss sir/madam, because this manuscript found an editor three years and eight months ago.” Wow

  6. Avatar The Rat says:

    That’s hilarious. Of course, it’s also very sad and disheartening. But overall, pretty funny. 🙂

  7. Avatar terri says:

    That is actually quite sad. That book may have been cutting edge and timely, four years ago . . .

    Could you tell us if that manuscript had found a home with another publisher?

    verify word: cosup

  8. Avatar Liz says:

    This is a good demonstration why I’m excited about ebooks. Publishers are so swamped, so overrun, so up past their eyeballs in submissions that there’s no way everything of value is getting out there. It puts a much higher burden on the author for editing and marketing, but if you’ve got the moxie to do all of these things yourself and do them well (I know, rare combination), why wouldn’t you just convert the file to ebook format and sell directly online? (There’s already a site up that supports this –

  9. Avatar Fawn Neun says:

    I recently received a pass from a small agency more than a year after the query email. I wondered why they had bothered.

    I’m also pretty excited about ePublishing, and edit a literary journal that is online/download only. It STILL takes ages to get through the slush pile, and these are only short stories. So they have my sympathy.

    However, I do take much less than a whole year, and I myself always bother to respond, whether it’s pro or con.

    I have to admit that I nudge less often than I probably should, convinced that becoming a nuisance is not the best way to find an agent.

  10. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Dear God! And why do we write? Or why do we even think that the Earth is round?

  11. Avatar Mark Terry says:

    So it’s not just me!

    Okay, true story. A couple years ago I met a friend of mine at an SF conference that was being held locally. I was just meeting him for lunch, not attending the conference. He was coming in from another state.

    We were chatting before heading for lunch when an editor from his publishing house swung by and invited us both to lunch. We’re talking and at the end of the meal the editor handed me a card and said, “Send me your best manuscript.”

    Well, why not? So I had my agent send him the manuscript. Now remember: I DID NOT SOLICIT THIS. He asked me. I was already being published, but of course I had a manuscript or two around that would work.

    My agent said, “Why not,” but cautioned me that this particular publisher was notoriously slow in responding.

    No kidding.

    It was well over a year before he rejected that manuscript.

    I mean, honestly, why ask if you’re not interested?

    The mills of the publishing industry grind slowly.

  12. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I’ve been the victim of three, yes three black-hole editors. It disgusts me, to put it mildly. But what disgusts me more is that agents continue to send to these editors.

    Why, why, why reward someone for bad behavior?

    And as much as I love Editorial Ass, it seems an odd thing to be proud of — never reading something until an agent has to remind you to. Do you need someone to tell you to pick your clothes off the floor too? Brush your teeth before you leave the house? Tie your shoes?

    Who wants an editor that they feel they have to nag?

    I know, everyone is busy, but the industry seems to use that as an excuse quite a lot. Can you imagine a writer using this excuse when they have a book deal? Yeah, I was gonna do those revisions but I’m busy, so I think I’ll wait two or twenty more months. I’ll get to you when I can…

    (Also I agree and sympathize with Anon 8:44 — I’ve had a big agent that never nudged — certain agents just don’t. Then you are SOL)

  13. Avatar Anonymous says:

    My mss is lanquishing in some black holes right now, so I’m one of those who doesn’t find this post very comical. Epublishing may restore the balance of power between writers and agents/editors. Right now, your whole career can be brought to a halt by a lousy agent who doesn’t truly believe in you (but initially thought she could make some money off of you, till she got the first few rejections) and who doesn’t follow up w/ editors because she’s already on to the next thing. I’ve also been an editor and understand the frustratingly long list of chores and deadlines that go into producing multiple books. Ultimately the fault for these snags lies with the publishing management, who do not care about writers, only their star authors and high-level manager/editors, and who do not hire enough staff to assist the editors in the trenches. This is no way to treat writers.

  14. Avatar Kim Kasch says:

    3 years and 9 months it sounds like one of those letters that has been lost in the mail 4ever.

    And, I know some (wo)men, you don’t need henchmen – how ’bout some henchwomen?… ;p

  15. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    I used to wonder about those black holes, until I visited my editor in NY a couple of years ago. Her office was literally piled thigh-high in manuscripts–she seemed to know what each one was and wasn’t at all dismayed by the stacks, but the shear number of pages would have sent me screaming out of the room in terror…

  16. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Anonymous writer and former editor (above) wishes to report she notices a typo in her reply! Please change “q” to “g” for “languishing.”

  17. It’s certainly not funny if the MSS in the hole is yours. I’ve waited ages for a reply for some short stories and ended up resubmitting elsewhere after allowing three months on a ‘guaranteed’ 40 day reply.

    The only questions that come to mind in this situation are:

    – How long should you leave it until you resubmit elsewhere

    – What would happen if the MSS is accepted by another editor after two years?

  18. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Fortunately, I’ve never been a victim of this “black hole.” I’ve always received timely response to queries and even fulls. I figured this only happened with unagented, unsolicited submissions. Live and learn.

  19. Avatar jfaust says:

    Let me clarify that I never wait until resubmitting elsewhere. In many cases when manuscripts languish for a long time like that it’s for one or two reasons 1) the book sold and the black hole with the manuscript still hasn’t gotten their act together or didn’t remember or 2) the book was rejected by every other possible publisher and the author has moved on to her next project which we certainly did not submit to black hole.

    In all cases though, if a manuscript sits that long you can guarantee that’s not the right house for it.


  20. Avatar tryonwri says:

    *curls into a ball and weeps*

  21. Avatar Anonymous says:

    And if that doesn’t add insult to injury, most of the rejections that they write are mostly incoherent. It’s baffling to me that some of these editors are put in charge of acquiring books.

  22. Avatar Lady Glamis says:

    Wow! That black hole IS slow…

  23. Avatar Paty Jager says:

    I had a requested manuscript return after three years. I’d written it off as they only sent you news if they liked it. Which they said they did like it, it just wasn’t what they wanted at the time, well yeah, after three years what they were looking for probably had changed!

  24. Avatar Anonymous says:

    This is such a valuable post. When I signed with my now-former agent a few years ago, I assumed because of her reputation and high profile (and heck, because she was an AGENT), that we’d hear back from editors in, like, weeks. Nope. One editor whom she does a lot of deals with and who expressed a lot of interest in my ms took four months to respond. (A request for revisions–neither an offer nor a rejection.) One house took almost a year to respond. One never replied.

    And although some of the rejection letters kindly explained why the editor was passing, a few sounded suspiciously like form rejection letters.

  25. Some editors really have to learn to make use of those fancy Excel applications on their computers. Sheesh.

    When I was submitting I nudged, telling agents I was doing some housecleaning and wanted to clear my files. Hopefully it gave them the impression that I wasn’t being anxious, just efficient.

  26. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Book auctiuons sound better and better to me now…
    Q: What’s the criteria for a book auction and why can’t agents utilize them more often?
    Do novels have to be “hot” to warrant a bidding war? Maybe the auction format makes a book hot…After all, it works on ebay! LOL

    Have you ever told an editor that if she doesn’t reply by a certain date, you’ll consider it rejected and move on? As a freelancer, I’ve tried that (politely) and believe me, deadlines get editors’ attention–and I usually get an assignment.

    I’d hope that my agent knew the bad habits of these SLOW editors and refused to submit there, but tried the fast responders first. It’s not fair to anyone involved. Any ideas or suggestions on how to speed up these slowpokes?

  27. Avatar Anonymous says:

    it sucks to hear all these stories of top notch agents writing their authors off and these black holes on the publishing side. authors are the money-makers, where’s the love?

  28. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Anon 12:14,

    Are you saying they should write their own books. 😉

  29. Avatar Sooki Scott says:

    I’ve a submission out to Grand Central Publishing. I figured it was lining someone’s birdcage. Good to know it’s in a black hole instead. Those at least have slow leaks. While a bird, well, not much leaks slowly out of them.

    Confucius say; man who jump off cliff, jump to conclusion.

  30. Avatar Diana says:

    I have a manuscript in a black hole, too! An editor requested my MS through a contest, and naturally I sent it in right away. I touched base at the six-month and one-year mile markers, and the answer was the same…”I’ve been busy and haven’t touched it yet.”

  31. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I thought Editorial Ass said she didn’t call an agent to pass on a submission that she *had* read and wasn’t interested in acquiring, but would instead wait until said agent nudged, not that she barely read a anything until nudged. Eep. I must be recalling wrong.

  32. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Good post. I’d like a further follow up from Jessica regarding what was said over at the Dystel blog recently–about editors are not actually READING submissions. Do you find this happening also?

    Now that is scary.

  33. Avatar jnantz says:

    Yep, laughed right out loud on that one. Thank God it’s not my submission…geez.

  34. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Anon 12:07 asks…

    “… Book auctiuons sound better and better to me now…
    Q: What’s the criteria for a book auction and why can’t agents utilize them more often?
    Do novels have to be “hot” to warrant a bidding war?…”

    Um, yes books have to be “hot” to warrant a bidding war. Why would editors bid on a book that none of them wanted?

    You don’t set up a bidding war, my dear, if it were that easy they’d all sell that way. 🙂

    Usually an agent submits a ms to 5-8 houses at once. If two or more of them decide they want it, an auction can take place. Usually, this doesn’t happen. With any given book you sometimes don’t get an single editor interested, and it’s on to another round of editor submissions. If the second round doesn’t pan out, either, many agents give up trying to sell your book.

    If no one wants it (maybe it’s not being targeted well? maybe the agent doens’t have the correct connections, maybe the market isn’t hot for monkey mysteries, whatever) and your agent loses interest in making an additional round of submissions (this is often the case)then you are out of luck.

  35. Avatar Anonymous says:

    If other businesses took that long to respond, they might not stay in business long enough to give an answer.

    Part of publishing’s problem?

  36. That long? Wow. o-o

    I’m not a publisher/editor/agent/ninja, buuut I have my fair share of black holes.
    Including on my computer.
    Seriously, I wonder where some of my files /go/ after I save them. xD

  37. Avatar Elissa M says:

    Most of the comments here assume there are specific “black hole” editors. That may be the case, but I’ll bet sometimes a black hole occurs in a normally efficient (but overworked) editor’s office. The manuscript gets buried, the agent doesn’t nudge, and there you have it, black holesville.

    Getting published is not an endeavor for impatient people.

  38. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Yes, my dear Anon 3:55, I know you can’t have a bidding war if no one wants to buy a book…I was being rather tongue-in-cheek.
    But refer to the rest of my post:

    “Do novels have to be “hot” to warrant a bidding war? Maybe the auction format makes a book hot…After all, it works on ebay! LOL”

    Wouldn’t auctioning off MOST books make it much more efficient and lucrative for everyone involved? Wishful thinking, perhaps, but why not find a new, improved way of selling mss?

  39. Avatar Anonymous says:

    This is interesting, because I just read on another industry blog about editors wondering why people weren't responding to requests. They should come here and read this thread.

    Yeah, one of my manuscripts is sitting in a blackhole right now – I can see it frozen in time, locked in the event horizon of that publisher's email inbox – where I wish to $@&k I'd never sent it in the first place.

    The thing is, months ago, I sent a brief but kind email asking about the status of my submission. If Harlequin can respond to a status check, so can a small publisher's inhouse editor.

    No response on that email, and still no word about my manuscript. Needless to say, I'm not impressed. I will never again NOT simultanously submit a story.

  40. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Anon 6:40 –Okay, NOW I get it! LOL.

    Depends, would this be like a car auction in Detroit where you don’t get to peek under the hood or go for a test drive?

    I could see a lot of books selling this way for their hot concept, but then there’s the point of execution. Lots of people have great sounding books, but the writing doesn’t hold up.

    Editors would still have to read the book. Abandoning all other aspects of their job to read something within a day wouldn’t make it very realistic way of doing business.

  41. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Hi Anon–it’s me again! Of course they’d have to read the book! But if the agent submits the book to say, 8 or 10 editors at once, and tell them there’ll be a book auction a month or two later, then they have a deadline to meet and the anticipation of competing for a book.

    Natually the book has to be GOOD and timely if they want anyone to show up and to warrant a bidding war…But why not try a different approach if the current one isn’t working, esp in this fast-paced world? Sounds good to me…

  42. Avatar moonrat says:

    that’s… reeeally funny.

    i saw an agent today (by coincidence–she was at the same bar i was meeting another agent at) who sent me a proposal more than a year ago. she’d never followed up, so although (shockingly) i’d actually read the thing, i’d never bothered to bring it up at ed meeting or pass or anything–i assumed she must have sold it elsewhere because she’d never followed up. it turns out she hasn’t sold it. that was awkward. what do you say at that point? “oh that… yes, perhaps i’ll get to that soon…”

    (i’m a personal black hole, for real.)

  43. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Anon, it’s me, Anon again 🙂

    But what you’re talking about already exists. An agent sends a MS to five editors. One editor reads it, loves it, and tells the agent they want it. The agent then gives a heads up to the four other editors (that may not have had time to read it) and says we have an offer.

    The agent gives those editors a week or so to respond. If they read it and want it as well, an auction takes place. No one is going to wait for 2 months to bid on a book — in two months they may have found something else they want more.

  44. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Hi again Anon–I know it exists but maybe it should be the norm, not the exception? OK, how about giving editors one-two weeks to respond? Whatever works!
    Maybe we can revamp this whole industry? LOL Any agents/editor listening out there?