a gentle suggestion for literary agents

Photo by Vicky Lorencen Painting  by Sir James Jebusa Shannon, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Photo by Vicky Lorencen
Painting by Sir James Jebusa Shannon, Metropolitan Museum of Art

I’d like to ever-so-gently suggest a best practice for agents to consider. Writer friends, see what you think of this.

In case you’re not familiar, a best practice is a method or technique that has consistently shown superior results. This method can then be used to create a standard way of doing things. Best practices are identified in manufacturing, health care, agriculture and laboratory science, so why not literary representation? I mean, really, why the heck not?

I’m in the midst of my first full-on agent search and I’m experiencing a fairly new practice agents have adopted regarding query responses. In lieu a personal email or even a form rejection, agents specify the number of weeks a query will be under consideration. If no response is received in that time, the author should consider the query declined. I can understand this practice. Really, I can. Like editors, agents are incredibly busy people who need to make the most efficient use of their time. Devoting fewer hours to follow-up on queries that hold no interest equates to more time to devote to clients, networking, considering queries (and hopefully dining, showering and sleeping).

But here’s where I think this no reply practice can be refined into a best practice–I would love to see it become an industry standard to provide an automated confirmation of receipt to all email queries. Receiving this kind of response would let someone like me know, okay, the meter’s running now. She really got my query. I’ll wait six weeks per her guidelines. If there’s no reply, I’ll move on. Without such a receipt, it leaves room for nagging, festering, niggling doubt–what if she never got my email and that’s why she’s not responding. Should I check in even though she says not to? Of course, some authors do, and that just adds to the agent’s Mt. Everest of emails.

To their credit, a number of the agents I’ve queried have provided an automated response. I offer my wholehearted thanks to those agents for practicing what I hope will become a best practice.

To be fair, we writers must do our part to uphold our best practices too, such as:

  • Following an agent’s submission guidelines like we were assembling a nuclear warhead. No fudging on the details.
  • Always, always, always being polite, kind and respectful at all points of contact with an agent. Just like proper spelling and punctuation, professionalism matters.
  • Abiding by the agent’s follow-up rules—if he says to check in after 8 weeks, then do it. If he says no word from me in 6 weeks equals a pass, then it’s a pass. Don’t stand there fogging up the glass. Git along little dogie.

So, that’s it. That’s what I want to suggest–oh so gently–to agents. Thank you again to the best practice practitioners. You are appreciated.

And as for my writer friends, just because you’re cute as a button on a ladybug’s vest, I want to give you this. Go ahead. Open it. It’s helpful.

You’re welcome.

I wish to be cremated. One-tenth of my ashes shall be given to my agent, as written in our contract. ~ Groucho Marx


5 responses »

  1. Some of them do that already (receipt of email), but not all. And here’s the kicker: I submitted an email query to an agent that had that whole after 6 weeks consider it a pass, and now almost seven months later, I receive an email (I received it yesterday), that basically said: “I’m sorry this is so late, but if your manuscript is still available, I’d love to read it and consider it.”
    Moral of the story, no rules really apply! LOL 🙂


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