Chip MacGregor

September 8, 2015

How long should I wait before following up on a submission?

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Someone asked, “What is an acceptable time period to wait before following up on a proposal to an agent? And how do agents feel about writers following up on a query or submission? ”

I’ve answered this question a couple of time, so let me set some ground rules. First, I’m assuming if you sent me your proposal, we met somewhere, and I asked to see it. Remember that if I didn’t actually ask for your proposal, I don’t owe you a response. (I’m sorry if that sounds rude, but look at this from my perspective: If I had to respond to every proposal that comes in cold, I’d have a full-time job just responding to proposals… and I’d never make a dime.) So if I read your query and give you a response, even if it’s a “no thanks,” I’m doing you a favor. Second, I’m going to try and get to it quickly, but there’s no guarantee it will be immediate. I have current projects and authors, that are already making me money, and those are the priority. (Again,not trying to sound hard; just offering a reality check.) I’m the type of person who hates having a bunch of stuff sitting around the desk, so I’m bound to get to the new proposals as soon as I can. But I can get busy with travel or meetings or simply working on projects for the authors I already represent — so sometimes things can slow down considerably. Third, I understand this is a business on the writing side, so if an author needs info, I want to be fair about it; if she decides she needs to go elsewhere, I’ll probably be understanding.

All right, so when an author sends me a proposal I’ve asked for at a conference or because we met through a mutual friend, I try to get back to people within four to six weeks. The fact is, I’m often much faster. I’m occasionally slower, but that depends on what my to-do list is like at the moment. And I’ll admit something: I hate having people send me short notes after three or four weeks, in order to remind me that I’ve failed them (“I sent you my proposal a month ago!”). I think perhaps they’ve forgotten that I don’t owe them a reading. If I agree to read their proposal, it’s because I choose to. Yeah, okay, I know I sound cranky, but I got one of these today, from a woman I’ve never heard of. My first reaction is to say something snarky like, “Okay, if you’re forcing me to decide, my answer is no. Now leave me alone.” (And no, I’ve never done that.) So while I realize the proposal is your baby, and I know there are websites that will encourage you to check in regularly, my preference is that you give me adequate time to get to your project.

Looked at that way, following up after several weeks in a short, polite note (maybe thanking the editor or agent for looking at it) is fine. I prefer just a quick email that reminds me I’ve got your proposal, and asking me if I need anything else. No whining, no blame, no shaming me for having to do all that crazy stuff like take care of the authors I already represent so I can pay my bills. Of course, I have heard from several authors recently about some agents who have kept things for a YEAR without a reply. I find that unconscionable. You wonder how these folks keep their jobs. Look, if the person hasn’t responded in a couple months, move on. Move on emotionally at least. If they haven’t responded in a year, I’ve got news for you: they don’t want it. Really. So stop holding out hope on that one and move on.

Most agents will tell you they try to get to your proposal within a couple of months. Let’s assume that means the norm is between 5 and 10 weeks. If you haven’t heard by that time, it’s certainly fair to check in and see where it’s at. But again, try not to sound crabby about it. Agents and editors are looking because they liked it, or they felt it sounded like it had something of value… but not because they owe it to you. So drop them a polite note, checking in, and seeing if they need anything else — a bio, or a sales history, or comparable titles. Then let them have a couple more weeks to read it and respond.

I hope that helps. This blog exists just to answer questions from writers, and I try to always be honest about the process, so if you’ve got a question about writing or publishing, feel free to send it in.

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3 Comments

  • junk says:

    Hey Chip quick question my mom Marie S Hobson wrote a book back in 1997 called the Closet Experience-ISBN 1579210139 threw winepress .. she never received everything that was due her. Is there some kind of law suit pending? And also how can my mom reproduce her book .. and take winepresses name off of her book. I have the last 50 copies thanks for your time. My email address is [email protected] thanks for your time.

  • Chip, yes you do sound cranky, but sometimes there are days like that. I don’t have a lot of experience querying agents, but when I was doing it, the “average” time for a response, even if it was “no thanks,” was supposed to be three months.

    Situations vary, schedules change, and life intervenes. I think what you were trying to say is that you try to get back to people sending requested queries within a couple of months, and it’s okay to send a nicely worded follow-up if there’s no reply by that time. But don’t hound you or act like you owe the querier anything.

    Yes, an unagented writer has to tread lightly, but since agents have become the curators of work that is submitted to traditional publishers, that’s how it goes. Fortunately, once a relationship is established, most of us relax a bit. As always, thanks for sharing your frank opinion.

  • Patricia Zell says:

    I have great appreciation for agents and for publishers, too. I don’t envy all the writing you all have to read to find those gems that can cause you to dream. Yes, it’s a tough world out there for writers, but it’s also tough for everyone involved with books. So, thank you to you, your agents, and all other laborers who work diligently to keep readers supplied with the books they crave.

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