Friday, February 21, 2014

Respecting Agents' Time … and Our Own

by R.C. Lewis

When it comes to agent-hunting, there are a lot of Do-and-Don't lists out there. Do your research. Don't use rhetorical questions in your query.

Well, here's another one. Most of us are busy people, but let's focus on agents for a minute. If you keep an eye on a few over social media, you get a sense of how hyper-busy they are. One particular agent seems to single-handedly keep the turkey-jerky industry rolling by rarely stopping for a real lunch. My own agent insists she does sleep, but I'm not sure I'm convinced.

So let's talk about how we can respect their time and ours.

DON'T: Give Them a Call

Like, ever. There's just no reason to call an agent on the phone. You don't need to ask permission to query. You don't need to call to get submission guidelines. (It's really easy to find that information. If you can't find submission guidelines for an agent, they probably don't want to be found.) I'm signed with an agent and I would only call her if I absolutely had to talk to her right this second. Email is awesome.

Disrespecting Their Time: The thing about phone calls is they have to be real-time by their nature. A caller is interrupting their work needlessly.

Disrespecting Our Time: It's truly wasting time. It's not endearing us to the agent. It's not giving us a leg up. Plus, every workday minute of an agent that we waste is a minute they could've been working for their clients—our fellow writers.

DON'T: Respond to Form Rejections

So many reasons not to do this. Have we all heard the horror stories about irate writers lambasting agents for their form responses? Don't Be That Person. But some writers have politely responded asking for more specific feedback—and gotten it! I still say don't do it. Here's why.

Disrespecting Their Time: Can you imagine if all writers asked for feedback on form rejections? Heck, even ten percent? Even if the agent just ignores such requests (the most efficient choice), clearing them out of their inbox could take a significant chunk of time. Time they're not being paid for, because they work for their clients.

Disrespecting Our Time (and Energy): Maybe it's a waste because we get nothing. Maybe it's a waste because the only response we get is no more specific or helpful than the form rejection was. Maybe it's a waste because it sends us in a very wrong direction. Maybe we luck out and things happen … but assuming we're the exception just isn't a good idea.

DO: Take Revision Seriously (pre-query or R&R)

Sending in a manuscript that needs an inordinate amount of work? Not good. Sending one in on a R&R (Revise & Resubmit) after a week? Also not good.

Disrespecting Their Time: In the former case, straight up waste of time to clutter the agent's inbox with something that isn't remotely ready. In the latter, the agent has already taken the time to read our manuscript and respond thoughtfully with ideas for revision, sometimes including extensive notes. To breeze through rather than digging in is a disrespect of that time and of the time they'll waste reading again only to discover it's not there.

Disrespecting Our Time: This may seem counterintuitive because we might be hurrying in an effort to be efficient with our time. But if we don't take the time to do it well and do it right, it's wasted.

DO: Know When to Pull the Trigger

On the other end of the spectrum, we might work and fix and fuss forever. And ever. And never send it out there at all.

Disrespecting Their Time: Wait, we're not wasting the agent's time because they don't know we exist, right? Pretty much, except if our project is awesome, we're wasting time the agent could've spent submitting and selling that manuscript.

Disrespecting Our Time: Seems to me that fussing endlessly does one of two things. (1) It keeps an awesome manuscript from ever getting out there. (2) It keeps us from letting go of a not-quite-awesome manuscript and moving on to develop our awesomeness level on something new.

Any other thoughts on (dis)respecting agents' time as well as our own? Any traps you've either avoided or fallen into?

R.C. Lewis teaches math to teenagers—sometimes in sign language, sometimes not—so whether she's a science geek or a bookworm depends on when you look. Her debut novel Stitching Snow is coming from Hyperion October 14, 2014. You can find R.C. on Twitter (@RC_Lewis) and at her website.

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