Querying and Agents: Now I’m Confused

While I consider myself rather well-versed with the querying writer’s life and expectations, I recently ran across something new and worrying.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, literary agents are well-read people, familiar with the industry, who are versed in contract law and help writers find a publishing house. While you can go it alone, the larger publishing houses often do not even accept submissions from un-agented writers. Querying is the process by which we entice the agent with the characters and stakes of our story, let them know where our story fits in the market, and include any relevant biographical information. It’s a one page letter that works almost like a job application — only, if the agent selects us (with that lovely external validation) — they’re working for us, to promote our writing.

Back toward the end of October, I was gearing up for NaNoWriMo, waiting to hear that I did NOT make the cut (again) for PitchWars, when someone in my Middle Grade Waves PitchWars support group (middle grade is what comes before YA books, but after chapter books) mentioned that they’d queried an agent… and the agent had:

a – gone on twitter to complain about someone querying outside of business hours
and
b – rejected them promptly

Wait. WHAT?

First of all, email is asynchronous communication.

Secondly? Queries are business emails. No querying writer should ever expect a response at 2 am on a Saturday night. But, that might be the time of day that the house is quiet and they can put their thoughts together and work up the nerve to send the email.

We should never expect a response at 2 am on a Saturday night. In fact, most of us expect our query letters to be filtered into a ‘queries’ folder and only looked at when the agent has finished dealing with their pre-existing clients. Maybe just before lunch on Wednesday, or Friday evening before they head out for the weekend. Sometimes, we suspect agents just set aside a day, maybe not even once a month, where they go through and clear out the queries that are pushing ‘past due’.

An immediate response was never an expectation most of us even thought could be a possibility.

So. Now I’m not just worried that my story isn’t ready, or that my query needs work, or that the market is oversaturated, no matter how good my story and query are. Now I get to obsess over timing of my email!

I’m already factoring holidays, school schedules, and elections into the mix. I usually hold off if there was just a pitch contest on twitter, because I know agents usually bump those to the top of their queue because they seem a bit more time sensitive.

How do I handle this?

Was this just one agent? Do I just assume an agent who dislikes this is not the match for me? Or is this more a common pet peeve?

Maybe I’ll start prepping my query letters and schedule them to submit on Tuesday mornings. Not Monday, because they’ll have all the weekend backlog, but not so close to lunch that they’re hungry and distracted…


Agents — is this a common practice?
Do you feel frustrated when you get emails outside of regular business hours?

Querying writers — what else have I missed about properly timing my query letters?
Anything else I should be stressing about?

20 thoughts on “Querying and Agents: Now I’m Confused

  1. Did they say how they had queried the agent? If it was by email, then this is amazingly unprofessional of the agent, and someone I’d put on my “nope” list.

    About what an agent is, let me expand on what Morgan says, above. One reason I have no intention of self-pubbing is, among other things, I know a little of IP – intellectual property – law, but not anywhere near enough (I am not a lawyer). Agents have that knowledge, and/or IP lawyers that they work with. This is important, because the big companies are bad enough at trying to screw you[1], but there are more out there – and, yes, shady agents – who will basically make money off you, while you get enough change for the bus. [2]

    You also need to pay attention to the agent’s specialty. You should not query, say, an author whose specialty is YA for something you’ve written that’s erotica. I have heard many editors say that they can just toss somewhere between 40% and 60% of the submissions they get because a) they’re not in standard manuscript form, and/or b) they are completely inappropriate for what they publish, such as someone sending a romance novel set in the 1920s to an editor who published high fantasy.

    Finally, a good agent will, in fact, read your work and critique it. PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT THEY SAY!!! Remember, this is also a business, and they know what they can sell, and what they can’t. If they decide to take your novel on, LISTEN TO THEM, because they want the best story it can be, so they can sell it, and get more money for it.

    Surely you’ve read of musicians who sold a song for $50, that became covered by 400 people, and made the record company millions… while the songwriter/musician couldn’t afford more than one meatball….
    READ THE CONTRACT with the agent, too. There needs to be conditions that give you back ownership/sales rights, and they don’t get 80%. I attended a presentation, and spoken with, one of the top agents in SF&F, and he said that when he negotiates a contract, meaning he takes the publisher’s std. boilerplate, and demands changes, sometimes he “only” has to ask for 50 or so items changes, but more often, it’s 75 or 80 items (foreign language translation rights? audiobook rights? republication?). He also told me that if I were to get an acceptance from a major publisher, he’d be happy for me to turn to him to ask him to represent me. “It might not make you any more money, but your IP rights will be a lot better.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I would consider than an isolated incident. I have tended to query during business hours, just because that works best for me but I can’t see any rational agent rejecting someone for sending an email whenever they can. A lot of writers have day jobs and can’t attend to writing matters until after or before working hours haha

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You and the stuff you share are one of the things I sincerely miss since I have extremely reduced the time I spend on Facebook and the Internet. Lucky for me I get your emails so I can still enjoy some of the wisdom you share. Happy holidays Morgan

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Do you read Janet Reid’s blog? You really should. She is a well-respected agent who does a lot to help writers understand the process of getting an agent, as well as things to look for, avoid, etc. she would have some choice words about the actions of the agent you mentioned. Totally unprofessional and unacceptable response by that agent!

    Like

    • Oh yes, I am a full proponent of the query shark and her more agently blog.

      I was just checking that it was not underlying frustration that was more common across agents, rather than a one-off thing that the agent shortly regretted and deleted the post.

      With all of the comments above, you can see that clearly that this was the second.

      Like

  5. Please pardon the late response and thank you for sharing this. I’m SO tired of this shell game. Please believe me, my statement is neither sour grapes, nor an over generalization. Publishing is in flux. No one has a budget. Simon and Schuster are up for acquisition, so the big five look to soon be the big four. And rather than simply shoot straight with authors, that few are taking on new clients and none are taking ANY risks, some agents are playing this game of asinine rejections.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s so frustrating.

      But thanks for saying this. Because my last round of queries netted me some requests, but this year, all I got were rejections. And I wasn’t sure if it was timing, the particular agents, or if my revision took my story in the wrong direction.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I can relate. This year made me do some serious self-assessment. According to NPR, men account for about 20% of fiction sales. To give you an idea of how male-centric my book is, 40 years ago, it would’ve been sold on a spinner rack at a truck stop. There’s only one publisher that embraces what I do, Hardcase Crime and they primarily do reissues of out-of-print pulps with sprinklings of new stuff by guys like Stephen King and Max Allen Collins. I’ve collected three-dozen rejections from agents with two near-misses—and those two finally had to tell me they couldn’t sell my work to a publisher—for a simple reason. My work is too specialized for the bigs and probably for the smalls, too.

        Don’t lose heart. The sun will shine again and people will be looking for your story. You’re too good and thoughtful a writer not to find your audience.

        Liked by 1 person

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  9. My understanding was that it was actually an editor complaining about a poorly timed agent submission, and that the author wasn’t even involved with it. Apparently, there’s a difference between what we do and what they do. I ran into a thread from Bobby O’Neil (Literary Agent) that was clarifying it, and that was my takeaway, anyhow.

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