Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Question: How long does it all take?

How long should it take from "we'd like to offer you representation" to "we're pitching your proposal"?

The most significant factor affecting the time it takes to pitch a proposal after an offer of representation is made by an agent is the proposal itself. I don't think I've ever signed up a client without having at least a few editorial suggestions. In extreme cases its taken six months or more to get the proposal ready, and at other times it's only taken a few weeks. Sometimes the delay is a result of something out of our control - perhaps you need an interview from someone for the sample chapter but they're out of town for a few months. Other times it's simply because the author has yet to really nail it.

It's a different story if the agent is the cause of the delay - whether by not getting back to you quickly enough with edits or simply not submitting. We're busy people, but truthfully our clients come before anything else we have going on, so an extended delay is really not acceptable. Before reacting too hastily though, make sure to bring up the issue with your agent and get their response. In any situation there can be unforeseen and unusual problems that can cause a delay that might be excusable. And even if there's nothing like that going on, a bit of leeway is fair. But if your agent (or their assistant) can't get back to you within a week or so - even if it's to say I'm still working on getting you an answer - than I think you should be concerned.

Another possibility is that the agent proscribes to the dead summer theory - i.e. not submitting in July and August because lots of editors are on vacation. I personally don't follow this rule and have sold plenty of books in those months, but I know quite a few good agents who do.


luv2write said...


I came across your blog and couldn't help but comment on this...My question: Exactly, what is acceptable and what isn't when it comes to submissions? It seems this business is so incredibly subjective there is a different answer from anyone you ask. You see, I recently parted ways with my "uber-high-profiled" agent after only 7 submissions. It took 5 months to submit the first and, ultimately, no real follow-ups were done. Now, looking for another agent, I'm extremely "gun shy" dealing with the bigger agencies for fear of a repeat. I'm sure not all, large, well-known agents lose new authors in the mix but it's hard not to form that opinion. As for phone calls, I never spoke with my agent on the phone one time...he only did business by e-mail. Again, I'm at a standstill of who to approach from here. Would a smaller agency benefit me more? Any advice would be greatly appreciated...

Liz said...

Do you foresee any market pressures shortening the time it takes for a book to make it from the agent to the store? With our ever increasing 'need for speed' will publishing respond or start to lose market share to products a reader can access in a compressed time frame?

Jonathan Lyons said...

What do you mean by no "real follow-ups were done"? How do you know this?

Sadly, new authors can get lost in the mix at agencies both big and small, and with both high profiled agents and those with a smaller profile.

Sometimes it can be a trade-off; you may not be in touch with your agent and they may take a while to submit your work, but if they eventually sell it does it really matter?

In your case, I'd probably suggest looking for a younger, aggressive agent who has a good, if limited, track record. Shoot for ambitious and hungry...

Jonathan Lyons said...

Liz - This already happens all the time. In fact, this is the job description for editors like Lisa Sharkey at HarperCollins - acquire of-the-moment books and turn them around quickly.

Publishers want to sell books. If it will sell more books to rush a book to publication, then they will. I just think that more often than not they conclude that their is no substantive gain to doing so.