Friday, July 18, 2008

"No New Messages"

John La Farge (1836-1910)
watercolor on paper.

We know that writing is not an occupation for the impatient. Like the military, the order of business is HUAP -- hurry up and wait.

Nevertheless, seems writers on submission fall into two groups: those who fire and forget, and those who obsessively click their e-mail every five minutes (or watch the clock and twitch their drapes waiting for their postal person to come whistling up the sidewalk.)

Am still exploring the Absolute Write boards and forums for the good intelligence that may be found therein and have noticed discussions concerning nudges and nags: ie. how long after sending a query/partial/ full without response is it culturni to politely inquire about the status of a submission.
The time issue (the suggested period is after three months without response) is complicated by anecdotes of queries, etc. lost in aggressive spam filters, of recalcitrant computers or of transient agents, and confused by those agencies for whom, due to the staggering number of submissions, have decided to only respond if interested.

Some writers report that a gentle whatsup inevitably results in an immediate rejection -- leading one to believe it's better simply to contemplate the abyss into which some submissions, whether by snail or e-mail, sometimes fall, and to strike that agency and continue down the list.

However, if the submission is a query plus chapters, a partial or full and there is other interest, a writer may be understandably reluctant to be quite so cavalier.

I have to wonder though -- considering, for example, how some sneaky writers scrawl "requested material" on submissions when they are decidedly not -- that some busy agents (are there any who are not busy?) may automatically consider such inquiries as crude manipulation and thus reflexively reject.

Some rocks and hard places along the writer's way.


writtenwyrdd said...

I have to agree that unless you have submitted a requested partial, you are likely to get what seems like an immediate rejection. But what I think happens is that they only responded with a negative because you asked, and they had already rejected you. Silence, generally, seems to mean rejection--unless it is requested material.

Of course, you really won't know if they never received it or spam filters/confusion/SNAFUs kept your work from their attention.

Robyn said...

One way to stop all that bother right up front- agents/editors can simply send an automated message or a plain postcard acknowledging receipt, with a "Don't call us, we'll call you" caveat.

Bernita said...

"Of course, you really won't know if they never received it or spam filters/confusion/SNAFUs kept your work from their attention."

There's the rub, Written, which leads to much angst.

Robyn, I think the automated reply is efficient, but apparently some writers do not check their spam.

laughingwolf said...

no easy answers, since each house is different, with folk moving around

Bernita said...

Even consistent "rules of thumb" are hard to come by, Laughingwolf.

Gabriele C. said...

Go and write the next book. :)

I know it sounds easier than it may be, not having been in your situation yet, but it might help over the waiting game to look into the future - and not that of the darling you sent out into the world to find a home. It will eventually call and give you its new address. :)

cindy said...

i was so impatient at first, and would status query within four weeks. which always resulted in a 24 hour R. this happened with both partial requests and queries.

BUT i have also read people getting a "will get to it" or "never received". it's the luck of the draw.

there's little rhyme or reason to the process, it seems. and all the info out there makes us believe we can make some sense out of it--but nope. 'tis not so.

/bootay shake! good luck, b!!

raine said...

It's hard to judge, isn't it?

Most agency/publishing sites tell you how long the wait is on a query, how long on a partial or full, etc. If you nudge before then, you're begging for the backhand. If that time has passed, of course, you're being perfectly reasonable to check status (politely).
An agent/editor who would reject you because you queried status after their own recommended waiting period is unprofessional, and would perhaps behave the same toward their own clients.
A pubbed friend of mine suggested that, unless otherwise informed, waiting 3 months, nudging, waiting another 3-4 weeks, nudging again, and perhaps once more if there's been no response is reasonable for an agent. Publishers often take longer.

I've found most of them to be pretty good about being contacted, and if the waiting period will be extensive, they'll let you know.
There are the horror stories, of course.
I know one editor who kept an author on hold, assuring her that her ms was 'under consideration'--for nearly two years, before finally admitting she'd never even seen it, and it must have been lost.
But the author was invited to their slush pile.

BernardL said...

Great post, Bernita, and it brings to mind my own funny system of checks. I have a list of three agents, who reject my stuff before I can hit send on my e-mail query. With five manuscripts out in the void, whenever I start wondering about whether my e-mails are reaching the targets, I query one of my trio of 'Instants'. When the laser fast reject from one of the three rockets into my e-mail box, I know my e-mail system is working. :)

Charles Gramlich said...

For short stories and poetry, I've "always" found that a polite nudge after three months is taken just fine. It doesn't lead to automatic rejection. A nudge after three days might. These days, with most of the stuff being subbed by internet, I think a month or a month and a half would be a good time to wait before a nudge. Books and book proposals and partials are something else. I'd be cautious about a nudge there until at "least" three months or more have passed.

Vesper said...

I used to be part of the second group but now I'm definitely a proud member of the first... :-)
It's true I'm only sending out short stories - after a while you get used to this...

Good luck, Bernita!

Bernita said...

Of course, one should begin the next book, Gabriele, it's the ideal distraction for the curtain twitchers with the mouse-calloused fingers.
The comments at AW make interesting reading though.

Thank you, Cindy.It's natural to look for patterns, isn't it - that glimmer in the abyss.But really, I expect to eventually chalk up a 100% rejection rate.

Charles, I think a non-fiction proposal should be treated a little differently than straight fiction. It's funny, but I tend to think e-queries are more likely to reach their intended targets than snail ( but maybe I've read too many horror stories about the worker w/ five years of mail in his basement) - on "the more hands needed to process it the more chance of screw-up" principle!

That pattern sounds resonable, Raine, though I'd be too timid to institute it over anything but a full.
That edior's actions are disgusting.

Thank you, Bernard. That's cute!

Vesper, thank you.I'm inclined to file and forget as well and am astonished at a quick response of any kind.

MissWrite said...

Lots of rocks and hard places. LOL

I simply do not bother with manipulative attempts such as 'requested content' when it isn't. Maybe it would fool a harried agent, more likely it just will look bad. You have to be good at that sort of thing anyway, especially if confronted on it. I'm not.

Patient, I'm not either, however. I can now (after years of practice) manage to wait the requisite 3 months, but after that, if no response, it's going somewhere else. Better yet, find enough 'somewhere elses' in the first place that do not require exclusive submissions, at least not on queries or partials--that's just insane all things considered.

Sam said...

I just sent out a second 'gentle nudge'. I don't shoot off queries and forget, but I am very patient. However, 6 months is long enough, I think.
(And being a slushpile reader has made me even more patient - it really is time-consuming, and when the submissions are good, it makes it even harder to decide!)

Bernita said...

Right, Tami, querying one house at a time is not very efficient.One might find representation about the year 2013.
Writing "requested" when it's not is dishonest as far as I'm concerned. And silly. I don't think most agents/editors are so disorganized they don't know what they've requested.

Bernita said...

Sam, I certainly agree that six months is long enough!

laughingwolf said...

so true, bernita....

Steve Malley said...

I am by nature a compulsive checker. Now?


How bout now?

Fortunately, the publishing world has worn away that impatient edge.

Suzanne Perazzini said...

Like Steve, I no longer worry too much after sending off submissions. I had the impatient edge worn off me some time ago. I certainly check each day but every now and then I send out something else until I am too confused about what's out there to know what to check for.
What will be, will be.

Bernita said...

LW, Steve and Suzanne, one soon becomes sensible - if not cynical - about these things.

laughingwolf said...

'weirdly' arrived yesterday, at long last... 'stone child' was all i read... love it, and lillie! :)

thx for a great read, bernita!

Bernita said...

Laughingwolf, that makes me so happy! Thank you!

laughingwolf said...

the pleasure's all mine, bernita... can't wait to read more of her adventures :)

Bernita said...

Lw, you are a sweetheart.

laughingwolf said...

aww shucks, only stating the truth

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I think what's important to remember is that they (we--if we're talking editors, here) are people. Stressed, busy people, but people. My feeling is that if I've waited awhile and send a note asking about a partial (which I've done and always got immediate responses too, and not immediate rejections) then if they're someone who holds onto something four months and can't handle a polite query as to progress, then I don't want to work with them anyway.

Shauna Roberts said...

Can't believe that no one commented on the beautiful picture you chose to illustrate today's post. I loved it, and I appreciate the work you do to find beautiful pictures for us to look at.

With short story submissions, I'm usually of the "drop it in the mailbox and be surprised when I get a response" school. When I was looking for an agent, though, I constantly checked my email and started checking the mailbox early in the day.

I've worked in the magazine world for years, both on staff and as a freelancer, and thought I understood the publishing world. When I started investigating how to sell a book, though, I was shocked at all the stories of rudeness I heard and all the advice I got about not doing this, that, or some other thing because it will mean an automatic rejection. What's considered good business manners in other industries is uncommon in book publishing, it seems.

Bernita said...

"if they're someone who holds onto something four months and can't handle a polite query as to progress, then I don't want to work with them anyway."
A very good point, SS.

Thank you, Shauna.
Have always thought watercolour a more difficult technique than oil.
Must say I'm rather shocked at the rudeness I read about myself. Slow I can understand. Presupposing rudeness, I don't.

Chumplet said...

If a gentle nudge results in a rejection, you didn't want that agent anyway.

Bernita said...

Quite, Sandra. It suggests an automatic formula on the agent's part.