A young writer on one of the loops I belong to posted a question this week. She said that an agent had requested her proposal and had now had it for "almost two weeks." She was asking if she should email or call to follow up.
I posted a reply, telling her to cool her jets.
This is an issue with which all newbie writers have to contend: learning patience.
Writing is such a lonely profession. You spend hours alone in front of a computer or at a table with a pen and pad. Then, after your manuscript is complete, you send out query letters.
Of course, you're anxious. After long months of work, you want some validation. The urge to pick up the phone or to email and ask, "Have you read my manuscript or proposal yet?" is enormous.
DO NOT DO IT. Exercise, talk to your critique partners, begin writing your next book, work on your website, do ANYTHING but call and irritate the agent.
Why? I'll explain.
When an agent receives a query, the evaluation process begins. Is it well written? What's the market for this genre? Do I know an editor who might like this plot? How much experience does the writer have? What will it be like to work with this writer?
The sheer numbers are staggering. Agent Kirsten Nelson reported the following statistics for her agency in 2006 back on December 14th here:
- 20,800 (Estimated number of queries read and responded to in 2006)
- 54 (Number of full manuscripts requested and read)
- 8 (Number of new clients taken on this year)
As I reported on December 28, 2006, this means that Kirsten reads 400 query letters and slightly more than one full manuscript each and every week of the year. AND she does all this with the knowledge that she will reject 99.9% of all the queries she reads. Those numbers almost define a thankless task.
Any writer who advances beyond the query stage should be celebrating. He's achieved something 99.9% of his peers have not. This is so not the point in life at which a writer should shoot himself in the foot.
Reading Miss Snark's blog taught me that it's not just the writing that matters. While great writing trumps all, agents still need to evaluate how the writer is likely to behave as a client. Needy, impatient clients can be a royal pain. Agents seek mature clients who are reasonable in their expectations.
If I had to read 400 letters a week (that's 57 letters each and every day, including weekends, by the way) and do so with the knowledge that I would have to read an average of 385 letters before finding a possibility from whom I would request a full, I'd be cranky.
Wait! Who am I kidding? I'd be downright grouchy. Because I would know that, despite my reading a manuscript each and every week, I would only find eight clients for all my efforts over a year.
And this is one one small (not high priority) part of an agent's job. The really important parts are querying editors and finding homes for the clients' books. That involves lots of phone calls, lots of notes, lots of juggling. The last thing an agent wants is to find a newbie on the other end of a call saying, "I sent you my proposal ten days ago. Have you read it yet?"
I NEVER contacted an agent beyond my query letters. Not once. If I didn't hear back, I assumed a rejection. If I did hear back, I was grateful--even when it was a rejection.
Patience related to queries is just the start. Even when you have an agent, you'll need patience. Then, you'll have to stop yourself from calling to ask, "Have you heard back from that editor yet?"
When you have an agent and a book contract, you'll need patience to stop yourself from calling to ask, "Have you received our first advance yet?"
Learn to accept the delays and the long waits with grace. Put the time to good use. WRITE.
"Patience is the companion of wisdom." (Saint Augustine)