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  1. Steve Coombes

    Steve Coombes Member

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    Do Agents take the piss?

    Discussion in 'Publisher Discussion' started by Steve Coombes, Feb 8, 2019.

    Hi
    I am new to all this. I have completed my novel and am starting to look for an agent. I have sent out a couple of queries and had automated replies saying in effect 'wait 3 months and we might get back to you.' One even said: 'If any other agents look interested in your work please contact us imediately.'
    I couldn't believe it. They wanted 3 months but asked me to act within 24 hours!!

    I don't understand why they need so long. If they have so many queries why not get more staff or close the unsolicited submission option.

    It seems to me a cut throat biz. I have read elsewhere that it is not good form to send out dozens of queries at the same time. Why is that? If agents are going to take so long to look at your work why not mail 100 at a time. Personalize each one of course but why hold back?

    Would appreciate some more experiences writers views and advice on what best to do.
     
  2. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I think the warning about not sending out 100 queries at the same time is related to strategy more than etiquette. If you find you're not getting good responses to your queries, you may want to re-write/re-shape your query, your first pages, or whatever. If you've already sent your query to all the reputable agents in your genre, you don't really have the opportunity to make those changes and fine tune things for a better acceptance rate.

    In general, I wouldn't say that publishing is especially cut-throat, but it IS really, really, REALLY slow. Frustrating, I know. I think it's just a total buyers' market - so many people want to write, and not nearly that many can make a living with agenting or publishing.
     
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  3. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    They need so long because they aren't paid for reading slush, so they do it in their spare time. My agent is currently negotiating a contract for me - do you think she should put that to one side and read the hundreds of queries in her inbox? She only gets paid when her client gets paid. Her clients come first.

    They don't hire more staff because those staff are either exploited (unpaid interns) or need to be paid. 99% of manuscripts she - and any other agent - receives are unpublishable. Would you hire an employee who spent 99% of their time writing emails saying "no thanks"?

    They don't close to unsolicited submissions because they want to find new, brilliant authors, and that one-in-a-hundred manuscript is sitting there somewhere. But that author's going to have to wait to find out.

    If you can't handle this, you won't be able to handle publishing. You think getting an agent is the biggest wait? Nah mate. You get an agent and then you wait while your manuscript is edited to be the best it can be. Then you wait for her to find the right time to send it out (e.g. not when she has another one in the same genre going out, and not during book fair time). It's usually months between signing and going on submission. Then you wait for the publishers to reply and ask to see the manuscript. Then you wait for them to read the manuscript. This usually takes several months, too. If you get an offer then you wait while the main terms are negotiated and agreed. Then you wait for the contract to come through - this took about six weeks for me, and was relatively fast. Then you wait for the contract to be negotiated. That can take months. Then the contract is signed and you wait for your slot in the editing schedule. Then you wait months and months while the publisher does all its invisible marketing. If you find a print publisher it will be 12-24 months until your book is on the shelves. E-only publishers usually take 4-6.

    I started seriously trying to be published in spring 2016. My first print book will be on shelves in 2020. I got there faster than most of the writers I talk to.

    If you want to be a published author, learn to be patient. There's a lot of waiting in your future.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2019
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  4. Nariac

    Nariac Contributor Contributor

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    I liked the part of @Tenderiser 's post that contained wisdom!

    I liked all of it.
     
  5. Steve Coombes

    Steve Coombes Member

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    Thanks for the detailed explanation. I still think it is an imbalanced system. I guess I need to speed up my writing so maybe have loads of books out there on query. Seems a shame that it all comes down to the usual numbers game.
     
  6. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    It's hugely imbalanced. Top agents get around 50,000 queries a year. Top agents generally have 30-60 clients because that's as many as they can represent well with the time they have. There are maybe 50-150 worthwhile agents in any given genre.

    But it's not JUST a numbers game. Around 1 in 4,000 queried manuscripts gets representation, according to the most accurate analysis I could find. But that doesn't mean yours has odds of 1 in 4,000. If you can't write then your odds are precisely zero. If you've written a publishable manuscript then your odds skyrocket - and this is where the element of luck comes in. It's good to be realistic that it's very tough to be published well (really easy to be badly published, by the way) but it does us, as authors, a disservice to say it's all down to numbers.
     
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  7. graveleye

    graveleye Senior Member

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    Still, if you don't find it at least a little frustrating, then you're not human.
    Just be glad you're not a songwriter or musician or in a band trying to get signed. The odds are hopeless, and not only is your work judged, so are you. Your appearance, sex appeal, personality, smile, hair, tattoos, and ability to schmooze are all more important than your actual talent (listen to the radio and you'll see exactly what I mean.)

    I did that for years and years and it's the mother of soul-crushing, frustrating, humiliation.

    That's why with the whole query process, I'm like "hey, this is easy" <reject> "your loss" <reject> "your loss" ...
    And I don't have to get on stage in front of a bunch of drunks and shake my ass just right. (although I did enjoy doing it)
     
  8. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    You can improve the odds by making sure your ms is as polished as possible. That means getting good feedback from beta readers or critique partners. And, for first-timers like us, it probably is a good idea to have a professional look at it. But be aware that even then, there's no guarantee.

    I would strongly advise against sending out massive amounts of queries at once. Your queries should be focused. You should make sure that the agents you query are looking for the kind of story you're selling. Manuscriptwishlist.com is a good tool, and if you're on Twitter, augment that with periodic searches of #MSWL. Writer's conferences are good, too, especially if you know in advance which agents are going to be there. Target the ones who are likely to be interested in your work and talk to them. Or, if there are pitch sessions, utilize them. Then, when you query them, mention your contact with them. You want something to pick you out of the crowd. Twitter pitch sessions like #Pitmad are also a good way to reach younger agents.

    Yes, most replies you get will be boilerplate. But if you get any with specific content, LISTEN. I recently had an agent who had asked for a full send me a couple of comments, and they revealed a weakness I hadn't realized was there. So, I stopped querying and am now revising. Since I went slow with my queries, I haven't exhausted the pool. Good luck.
     
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  9. Steve Coombes

    Steve Coombes Member

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    I can understand what you are saying. I had a good friend who was a brilliant musician but never made it. He earned ok money as a session musician playing what the frontmen couldn't.
     
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  10. Steve Coombes

    Steve Coombes Member

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    I like your quotes :) I wouldn't worry about exhausting the pool though. Get a new email address and change the title then requery. From what I understand here no agent will remember you.
     
  11. Harmonices

    Harmonices Senior Member

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    I temped as a 'reader' for a literary agent once. Had heap loads of submissions to plough through. Be patient.
     
  12. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    I had a very small taste of slush reading once. The moment it was over I emailed my agent and asked how the heck she does it day after day.

    I do kind of want to do it again though, just for the sheer amazement...
     
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  13. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think I'd be a horrible reader. I pretty much ditch a piece of work within the first 3 lines, first few paragraphs max. I get impatient too quickly often.
     
  14. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    You HAVE to do that. There literally aren't enough hours in the day for slush readers to read every word!
     
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  15. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    Then perhaps I'd be the perfect slush reader :superthink::supergrin:I admit, it would be kinda cool to try. I enjoy the power... Unlimited POWER! *cackles madly*:fight:
     
  16. Nariac

    Nariac Contributor Contributor

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    Just makes our "Post your first three sentences" thread even MORE useful!
     
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  17. Steve Coombes

    Steve Coombes Member

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    I saw a talk on youtube with three agents and they all agreed that they knew from the first page of a submission if they were going to reject it or not.
    Get that right and you might stand a chance.
    I am nowgoing to rewrite my first page! :)
     
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  18. Harmonices

    Harmonices Senior Member

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    Tru dat.
     
  19. Harmonices

    Harmonices Senior Member

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    Yep. It's like this forum in reverse.
     
  20. Steve Coombes

    Steve Coombes Member

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    If you want a fast reply then try:- Eve White Lterary Agency
    They read submissions as they arrive and get back to you with 7 days!!
    It shows it is possible to do.
     
  21. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I wonder if agents who have been around a long time ...say 30-40 years or so ...can pinpoint when this whole system went bonkers, and their submission numbers became so huge they struggle to deal with them. Was it the advent of wordprocessing? Email? E-books? Amazon? Just curious.

    The number of physical bookstores has actually fallen over the years, and bookstores are no more stocked than they used to be. By that, I mean, the ones that survive are still in the same kinds of premises as they were before. So when did this submission rate change?

    I suppose, in the old days, when MS submissions were always on paper, the percentage of people willing to spend the money to print and post their stories would have been far FAR less than today. Some people I know remember the days when an author only had one copy (plus a duplicate for reference) and that one copy made the rounds of various agents ...getting more dog-eared and messy each time. They had to send money along with the MS in order to get it returned. Talk about patience!

    Interesting, too, that if an agent received an entire MS on paper, they could easily page ahead and read from the middle of the book, etc. Not only that, because they would be dealing with far fewer submissions, they might be inclined to keep reading a story a while longer than they do now...despite the fact that perhaps the first page wasn't perfect. I reckon it was a different world.

    For me, my ability to write coincided with the advent of wordprocessing. Before that, it was just too hard to physically write (for me.) Every correction, every story change, required a new handwritten or typed page. Aargh. I'm peripatetic with my writing, and I'm basically a pantser. I couldn't work without making umpteen changes. Wordprocessing=magic!

    It's SO much easier to write and submit these days. I just wonder if agents noticed a turning point when technology changed.
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2019
  22. Steve Coombes

    Steve Coombes Member

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    For me the maths don't work. If agents are truly reading all submissions then it shouldn't make any difference whether they read them within a week or 3 months.
    If they are getting more than the can cope with then the waiting time should be getting longer and longer but the same agents have been quoting the same waiting time for years.
    If they weren't keeping pace waiting times would be in the years by now. If they are keeping pace then they should be able to clear the backlog once and for all and give a faster waiting time.
    I suspect a lot of submissions are not looked at unless the author contacts them to inform them of another agents interest. This is something they all ask us to to do.
    It may be worth testing. Perhaps mail your outstanding submissions pretending one agent is interested and see what happens/
     
  23. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Well, as I understand it, they're not reading all submissions. They're culling them. Doing triage. And I would bet that triage can be accelerated as the workload increases. Something that might get its first page or even its first chapter read if the workload were light could, I'm guessing, get tossed out for failing to fulfill basic cover page formatting requirements when the workload is crazy.

    And I believe that agents sometimes put a hold on accepting new submissions.

    And I'm also guessing that the resource used to cull the junk submissions is totally different from the resource that actually seriously considers the tiny, tiny population of worthwhile submissions. Slush is probably read by interns and other employees, while those final decisions are probably made by the agent themselves.

    I wouldn't be surprised if the final decisions have to wait for plane rides, vacations, unexpectedly cancelled meetings, and the like. And they might also have to wait for other work to move aside--for a client to quit, another client's book to be sold, and so on.

    That sounds like a way to ensure that an agent will never have anything to do with you again.
     
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  24. Steve Coombes

    Steve Coombes Member

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    That sounds like a way to ensure that an agent will never have anything to do with you again.[/QUOTE]

    You are probably right but you only need one agent and there are loads out there. It wasn't a serious suggestion but I have heard of it being done.
    Being a victim of triage can be tough but it sounds as though we are.
    For myself I have sent out a few submissions but am now going over my work again making improvements after which I will consider it an asset to be submitted occasionally to more agents while getting on with a new project. I like writing for its own sake so if I ever do get published that will be a bonus.
     
  25. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    When you tell agents you have an offer, they ask who from. It's a small world, and they will soon be speaking to that other agent.

    It's not a good move to lie.
     

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