Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

How Often Should You Follow Up With a Prospective Agent?

For the three of you who want to hear about how the episode of The Hills was last night, let me tell you: it was amazing. Exceeded my expectations. First of all, Heidi walked home and Spencer was overseeing the installation of a piece of furniture that looked like an old armoire, and they proceeded to have this conversation:

Heidi - What is that?
Spencer - It's a jellyfish tank.
Heidi - Oh. So anyway, here's what happened today.

The things I love about this: 1) Spencer has a jellyfish tank. 2) The fact that Spencer just purchased a jellyfish tank appears to be the least interesting thing he did that day and 3) Heidi just got engaged to someone who buys jellyfish tanks and it is so unsurprising that a jellyfish tank is being installed in her apartment that she does not even raise an eyebrow.

Later on in the episode, Heidi comes home and Spencer has apparently let the guy who airbrushes t-shirts on the Santa Monica pier into their home to graffiti the word "Hollywood" and a bunch of dollar signs on their living room wall. That at least got Heidi to raise her eyebrows.

But to me, it was Audrina and her new boyfriend who stole the show. Yes, Audrina is dating someone who calls himself alternately Justin or Bobby (but don't ask him if you can call him Justin Bobby, that's a sore spot), who looks like Anthony Kiedis from the Red Hot Chili Peppers upon graduating from pirate school, and who apparently once abandoned Audrina in Las Vegas (but other than that he's great... at being borderline hostile). That relationship is one to keep an eye on.

And.... well, I will restrain myself from going more in depth lest you think you stumbled upon the official blog for Us Magazine.

In other news, as previously mentioned it's August in publishing, which is a notorious slow month. Yes, work gets done and no, I am not writing this from the Hamptons, but things do tend to slow down due to the number of people on vacation and due to the fact that if you work in New York the heat is inducing you into a coma and if you work in San Francisco it is so cold your teeth are chattering as you wonder aloud why you are wearing sweaters in August and are STILL COLD.

So, this brings us to another oft-asked question: how often should you follow up with that prospective agent who has been sitting on your manuscript for what seems like several eternities?

Over in the Absolute Write forum, I am often asked this very question. And in general (and in my sole and humble opinion), when an agent has your manuscript, here's the general rule: After you submit, wait 60-90 days (opinions vary among agents on this - for me personally, 30 days is okay). Then follow up once a month, exceedingly politely, via e-mail, until 1) you hear back or 2) you get tired of asking. Include every e-mail you have exchanged with the agent in the body of the e-mail so the agent can easily refresh their memory about who you are.

The exceedingly polite thing is key - agents do not mean to sit on your manuscript, they do not enjoy making you wait and turning you into a nervous wreck, and always remember that you have one manuscript to worry about while an agent has dozens of clients and even more prospective clients to juggle. Waiting can turn people hostile, and it's not fair to the agent -- we're not lazy or mean, we're just busy. I've also had situations where a poor author waited three or four months to check in with me and I had never received the manuscript. That was unfortunate. So mistakes also happen, and a responsible and timely follow-up can eliminate those errors.

Now, should you follow up on unsolicited queries? For me -- yes, please do follow up if you haven't heard in a month (via e-mail, politely), because if you haven't heard from me in a month it means something went wrong somewhere along the way. However, in general I don't know if it is that wise to follow up. Whatever its merits or demerits, many agents follow the "I'll respond if I'm interested" policy, and if you continue to follow up you may only aggravate said agent, and that isn't productive.

If, however, you have received a request for a partial or full, then it's ok to follow the once-a-month rule, unless the agent has a policy or tells you specifically that they will get back to you within X months (in which case you should follow up in X months -- ha! Good luck marking THAT on a calendar).

So there you have it. And if anyone asks you what they should get me for Christmas, I'm just saying...






35 comments:

Tom Burchfield said...

Good advice. Thank you!

Janet said...

Well, I don't know, Nathan. Have you done the research on jellyfish and their requirements?

Be that as it may, I am willing to make this solemn and public commitment. Once I've finished my first chef-d'oeuvre, and you've sold it for a nice six-figure advance, I PROMISE I'll buy you a jelliquarium...

Deal?

A Paperback Writer said...

Wait. You're saying it's CHILLY in Frisco? Oh my heck. I so need to be there. It's so bloody hot in Utah right now that you can break a sweat walking up one flight of stairs or stepping onto the porch to get the mail.
I can't wait until sweater weather.
sigh.

Stuart said...

X months?

Do agents really still work in Roman numerals?

:)

Anonymous said...

Nathan -
I was at Libba Bray's blog earlier this morning, and she's talking about a school library in Oklahoma that's banning a book from the library because a parent had complained that teens shouldn't be able to read it unless their parents gave them explicit permission. It's unrelated to the post today, but I was wondering, as you clearly work for the publishing industry, what your opinion on this matter would be. Miss Bray is a very passionate writer on the topic, and if you get a moment, I would strongly recommend taking a look at her post from Monday.

Nathan Bransford said...

a paperback writer-

It's not chilly, it's COLD, or at least it has been the last week.

And no, I'm not complaining. I'll take 60 degrees in August any day.

green ray said...

Hi Nathan. I usually do the once-a-month thing, but after an initial 3 to 4 months on a full. I recently did 6 follow-ups, heard from 4 of them, but the two that have had the full over six months, still no answer. Do you think this lack of communication is a bad indication of future communication, should we be working together? Or do you think that their policy changes with actual clients? My first agent took 4 months for every step, before and after we were signed. But in some ways, our communication was better before we were signed, hence we are now "un-signed." What do you think of the ones who don't respond?

Nathan Bransford said...

Anon-

I'm never in favor of censorship of any kind, that type of thing makes my blood boil.

Nathan Bransford said...

green ray-

If your agent isn't responding to you, that's a problem. Now, they might not get back to you in five minutes, but I don't see how you could really have a working relationship with someone if you only hear back from them once every couple of months.

As far as prospective agents, though, they're just busy, or maybe it's lost, or maybe they aren't organized. It's tough to say, so I wouldn't read too much into a long lack of a response.

A Paperback Writer said...

Nathan,
I am soooooo jealous. I'd be over to visit you, but I doubt your girlfriend would approve.

Anonymous said...

Justin-Bobby made me laugh so hard! I was like, "Are you SERIOUS? You take yourself SERIOUSLY?"

Good stuff. I'd keep coming back anyway, but if I weren't the type to come back, I would - just for Justin-Bobby.

Dave said...

How does one cuddle up to a jellyfish?
I mean, poodles, schnauzers and chihuahuas are one thing (kitty cats aside)... but Jellyfish?

Topaz said...

Ack! I haven't caught the Hills yet (waiting for one of the many reshowings to work with my schedule.) A jellyfish aquarium? I think about how much our 125 gallon saltwater reef tank cost and its upkeep and can only shudder at what it would cost to keep jellyfish alive. That said... it would be super cool and I want one too. I think I'll make due with the stuffed one I got at the aquarium a few weeks ago though.

mkcbunny said...

Hi Nathan,

Thanks for the always entertaining and informative blog. I have a question about timing.

As August is such a slow month in publishing, is it a particularly bad or good time to query? I can see one's query landing in an ever-growing pile of unopened mail while Dream Agent is vacationing somewhere pleasant (say, San Francisco).

On the other hand, if the industry is generally slow, would non-vacationing agents have a pinch more time to consider and read what they receive?

Should we target when our queries land and avoid vacation and/or holiday seasons, or just send 'em when we're ready and not think about this kind of thing?

Thank you ever so.

ian said...

Thanks, Nathan! I was just wondering this about a submission to another agent. As usual, your blog post timing is excellent. Not that I'm buttering up to you or anything - really - at the moment I have nothing to submit to you that you haven't seen.

But wait...

Ian

Nathan Bransford said...

mkcbunny-

I'd avoid the weeks around major holidays, but the summer can actually be a time when agents catch up on their reading and therefore are reading queries. Other than around the big holidays, I don't think there's a bad time to query.

Chumplet said...

Hang on. Cold? COLD? Omigosh, I'm swimming in glorious sweat right now because all too soon it'll be minus 100 (okay, I exaggerate) and I have no insulation to speak of. In my attic, not my body...

Katrina said...

If you're ever my agent, I hope you will accept a jellyfish tank as a Christmas present. I have no idea how you'll manage to get the jellyfish, but at least you'd have somewhere to keep it...

And now a hypothetical question:
My manuscript is at 76,000 words. I said so in my query and send it off to an agent. I realize a week later that one part in my manuscript doesn't work, so I cut it out and it's now at 72000 words. If the agents wants to see a partial/full, do I mention the change, or is it even going to matter?

Thanks for the amazing blog. I'm addicted. :)

Katrina

Kristen said...

Nathan -

This has nothing to do with your blog, but everything to do with you being an agent.

News today: Beaufort Books publishing O.J.'s "If I Did It."

What do you think your reaction would have been upon receiving his ms when he was (or his people were) approaching agents?

arjaymg said...

Sounds to me like The Hills ranks right up there with an OK query,but not great.

Nathan Bransford said...

Kristen-

I've been approached several times by people who wanted to write very unsavory things a la IF I DID IT (although not, obviously, of that magnitude), and I always feel like it's just not worth it. Someone might make money off of it, but it doesn't need to be me.

Anonymous said...

Nathan,

Where followup is concerned, what do you do if while you're waiting to hear back from an agent you get a nibble from a publisher? Do you tell the agent who has your book or does it not really matter to the agent?

I'm afraid if I say nothing I'm withholding in a way, but then I'm afraid if I say something the agent will think I'm trying to pressure them into taking me on, or something.

Nathan Bransford said...

Anon-

A nibble, no. A bite, yes. If you receive an offer from a publisher or an offer for representation from another agent you should let the agent know (the agent should also know that you are submitting to publishers, which they would probably encourage you to stop doing).

Anonymous said...

Nathan -

I'm in a situation where an agent has hold of half my work; he got back to me after a long 5 month wait, apoligising about it. I thought it was nice he apoligised and he promised to call me about changes I could make. Then nothing for 3 months. I'm sent 2 polite nudge emails. Nothing.

At what point am I ok to resubmit to other agents. Fact is he poached me after reading one of my short stories. I've never even shown my full length MSS to anyone else. I understand it takes a while; but I can't wait forever!

Is there a polite and professional way I can free myself (although we never signed anything) say if he doesn't respond in the next two months?

Or am I letting a good thing go?

Thanks,

Highlytense

pixy said...

Anon~

I would think that unless you gave him an exclusive, you have every right to query other agents.

Just send him a polite email/letter: thanking him for his time and inform him that you'll now be sending it out to other agents now. If he has interest he'll get back to you.

Jellyfish? I've gotta watch this show. There's this really amazing jellyfish display at the Monterey Aquarium. Now that would be awesome to have in your house. A whole wall of jellyfish. :D

Just gotta figure out how to pay the cleaning bill...

Nathan Bransford said...

Anon-

I agree with what Pixi said, and I'd even go a step further and say that even if you did grant the agent an exclusive they couldn't possibly expect to hold you to that for five months. So I'd feel free to continue querying at this point (as long as you're clear with the agent that you're doing so).

Jen A. said...

I'm supposed to be coming here for the pearls of industry wisdom, but instead I find myself hoping you've blogged about The Hills!!

No one gets my Hills addiction and I have no one to gossip with about it.

I must have missed the jellyfish tank! I think I came into the show five minutes after it started.

Justin-Bobby, to me, is a Johnny Depp-Colin Farrel cross breed. I can see the attraction, but dude left Audrina in Las Vegas? I would have to say that falls neatly under the What-the-heck-are-you-thinking-Audrina?! category.

Alyssa said...

(Totally late to this entry but.."

"..if you work in San Francisco it is so cold your teeth are chattering as you wonder aloud why you are wearing sweaters in August and are STILL COLD."

Yes. THIS. GAH! I hate summers in San Francisco. If you work near Ocean Beach (like I do) then not only is it cold, but you risk life and limb on the highway to get to work because of the damned FOG.

It's like they say, you can always pick out the tourists, because they're the ones shivering in their shorts. I watch them come to visit the beach with their swim suits on and shake my head sadly.

Rachel Hamm said...

I've been reading through your blog for a good three hours and the beginning of this was absolutely the funniest thing on your site. And I've laughed at several things. And the fact that you actually included a link to the jellyquariam- priceless!

Oh, and I shouldn't forget to mention- what an informative post and overall blog you have. It doesn't appear that you represent my genre, but I'm learning a lot from you nonetheless!

The Lemonade Stand said...

I'm not sure if this question will get answered or not. I can't seem to find any answer for it though. Once you've received a rejection, is writing the agent back to say 'thank you again for your time,' unnecessary or appreciated by the agent? I feel like I want to thank them for taking time out of their schedule to read my email, but don't want to be a burden.

Lisa said...

When you say "query widely" how many queries are realistic to send out without being too many? Is it ok to send out 25 queries? Then what do you do (if you are so lucky...) if and when you start getting multiple offers for representation? How do you tell the agents you have other offers without burning bridges?

Love the site! So much great info!! Thank you!!

Nathan Bransford said...

Lisa-

This post should help.

writersobsession said...

I read this blog and have seen this advice from many other agents. But what is the rules with editors at publishing companies? Do you even nudge them at all, and if so, when?

Marjorie Brimer said...

Should I respond to the initial email from the agent which gives a time frame that they will need to look at the full manuscript and a request to contact them if I am approached by another agent - Can I/ Should I respond by saying that I will be happy to keep in touch and thank her for her interest in the manuscript or just wait for the 8 weeks to pass until making further contact?

Nathan Bransford said...

Marjorie-

Don't overthink it! Either way is fine.

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