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Is Waiting a Bad Sign?

This clever question comes from rifferaff, in the comments:

I have a theory, based on the many writer blogs and forums I read, that when agents offer representation, they usually do so quickly, usually within two weeks, but often days. Is there any truth to this? Would you hold onto a full for 2 to 3 months and still offer representation? Or if you’re offering representation do you usually do it as soon as possible?

I can see why a lot of writers would think this. Blogs and forums are full of sexy stories: “My agent offered representation the same day!” or “An editor read it overnight and pre-empted with a huge deal!” It’s a little less exciting to get on your blog or a public forum and be like “I heard absolutely nothing for six weeks, turned myself into a basket case, and then my agent offered representation, but by that point I was locked away in the attic, murmuring to myself, and my husband had to coax me out with a bottle of wine!”

I’m exaggerating, of course, but there’s a reason why the stories shouted the loudest on the Internet are some of the more impressive ones. A long wait and lots of daunting silence — which is often what happens with writers who end up with representation — just doesn’t make a good headline.

While it’s true that agents who spot a really hot premise or really great writing in their submissions pile will be compelled to read quickly, and those really big-sounding projects will most likely have multiple offers of representation, also quickly, that’s not the only way that writers get representation. (I’ve noticed a lot more of this happening recently, with everyone pouncing on the most commercial projects, and wrote about it here.)

It’s not like we “hold onto” a project for two or three months, actively considering it. Sometimes forces outside our control or an overwhelming submissions pile keep us from reading full requests that we’re genuinely excited about. Sometimes a writer will get another offer, which usually shoots that manuscript to the top of my To Read pile. Sometimes, though, nobody else has expressed interest and the manuscript just waits in line until I can read it and give it the consideration it deserves. Unfortunately, it could be months before this happens.

When offering representation, I’ve gotten my clients by offering the next day, by winning contests where a lot of agents were interested, and also by offering in a few weeks or a few months after the initial submission. I’ve also offered representation and gotten a client whose previous manuscript I’d rejected, and then had them come to me with a new, stronger project.

Every writer will have a different experience. If you have a knockout commercial idea–and you’ll usually know it–expect things to happen quickly. But don’t despair if they don’t. It is perfectly fine, and more common, in fact, to wait. The worst thing you can possibly do when you’re out on submission to agents — and I tell this to my clients who are out on submission to editors — is to start reading into every little thing. Sometimes, wait times and rejection letters and communications with agents or editors are laden with meaning. Other times, they’re just a natural part of the process.

While out on submission, I would highly encourage you to start working on your next project, even if it’s just an idea brainstorm or an outline. This will be a much better use of your time. And I can only hope that you don’t have long to wait, but if you do, that’s fine, too.

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  1. Thomas’s avatar

    I think a long delay is more likely to be a good sign with an editor than with an agent. I have several times given up a proposal for dead, only to have the editor finally get in touch to say they ‘love it’, etc. that ‘love’ takes a lot of meetings and checking up to confirm, it seems:)

  2. Carmella Van Vleet’s avatar

    Thanks, Mary. Having one foot on those proverbial attic stairs, I found this post comforting. I think you’re right about us writers reading something into every little thing. (Like, for instance, an agent telling you they’re enjoying your submission and then hearing nothing for the following month. 😉 ) It’s so easy to get lured by those sexy I-got-my-agent-in-an-hour stories. And everyone wants to feel like they’re the exception to the rule. I guess it’s kind of like what I tell my daughter about models – they’re thin and gorgeous and all but most of the population doesn’t look that way in real life. But that doesn’t mean you’re not beautiful, too.

  3. Alison Stevens’s avatar

    Thanks for this post, Mary. I plan to start querying soon, and I appreciate having some idea what to expect.

  4. Lydia Sharp’s avatar

    I really needed to see this today. Thanks!

  5. Traci’s avatar

    Wonderful post! Very reassuring. I think waiting is probably the most excruciating part of the process, even above researching agents, polishing the novel, etc. The best advice I heard was (as you say) to write, write, write during those waiting periods – to make myself productive. In fact, I’ve written a couple of entire novels during some of those waiting periods, and I’m so glad I took that advice!

    Best of luck to all the writers out there, still waiting!

  6. KDuBayGillis’s avatar

    I’ll just say that if I hadn’t been writing while querying agents, the manuscript that finally helped me land representation with my AWESOME agent wouldn’t have existed. So, it pays to keep writing while querying. The process can be long and that time is full of opportunity to continue writing and polishing. In my case, time was on my side!!

  7. Franziska Green’s avatar

    Grrrrr to waiting. I’m rubbish at it. NaNoWriMo and NaPiBoIdMo have proven to be the very best cure for my inability to wait. There’s no time for finger tapping when you’ve got to churn stuff out day-in day-out!

    Good post, but grrrr to waiting nonetheless!

  8. Emily Hainsworth’s avatar

    I know people who have had everything come to them super-quickly. So when they finally do end up in a position where they have to wait (which is inevitable in publishing), it’s nothing but whining and temper tantrums. I’m not saying it’s wonderful to bite your nails forever, but…what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? :)

  9. Franziska Green’s avatar

    PS I’ve also read some GREAT stories about writers suddenly receiving a publishing offer a year after submitting and hearing nothing, or discovering (after status querying) that their query had gotten lost, then getting an immediate offer. THOSE are the stories I like best. Like there’s a always a possibility of a golden nugget landing on my head at any time… A slim possibility, but a possibility nonetheless!

  10. Krista V.’s avatar

    Good reminder, Mary. Thanks for this post.

  11. Creepy Query Girl’s avatar

    Thank you for this Mary. Seriously, I really really needed to hear this right now. It’s true that those hot stories out there do make you feel like if it doesn’t happen fast, it isn’t gonna happen. It’s good to know that’s not true:)

  12. Kathryn Roberts’s avatar

    Thanks Mary. I always love to hear what goes on ‘on the other side’ of things.

  13. Ishta’s avatar

    Thanks for this post. It is so tempting to overanalyze everything, but that’s really just a waste of energy, isn’t it? It’s a much better use of energy and time to write something new or revise a different project while we wait to hear from agents and editors.

  14. Mindy’s avatar

    What would you say to writers who feel that the window of opportunity for their genre is closing? YA Urban Fantasy for example, is not getting the response it used to in the query process. Are we better served to submit to mid level presses while there’s still a decent market, or should we wait it out in our search for an agent?

    I know there’s no golden bullet, and that everything depends on the strength of the writing. Let’s suppose for the sake of the argument that the writing is in fact, strong :)

  15. Tracy Clark’s avatar

    You are absolutely right! The need for patience applies equally well to the wait for editors to respond when you are out on submission. Everyone’s experience seeking and/or obtaining representation is different. It’s not easy, but try to trust that your journey will unfold as it’s supposed to. As Mary said, start that next project! Nothing takes your mind off the wait better than immersing yourself in your next shiny new idea. AND ~ when that call does come, you’ll be able to say, “Look at what else I have up my sleeve.” :)

  16. Sophie’s avatar

    It only took ten days for my agent to offer representation. I know that I’m lucky, and that’s a lot faster than the norm.
    Now that my manuscript is out to pubs., I think I might need to wait a while to hear anything so that the universe can balance out my submission karma. :)

  17. mary’s avatar

    Yes, thanks for this! I am going slightly crazy waiting right now, and am brand new at all of this. So I found this post very encouraging.

    But – when is it appropriate to follow up with an agent? I have been waiting for a bit over two months now, and their website says they will get back to authors within three or four months. Ought I to wait another two months before following up, do you think?

  18. June’s avatar

    Whether the response is fast or slow, the best response is “you’ve got a book deal–and it’s a big one!… LOL….

  19. MaryWitzl’s avatar

    Personally, I prefer the stories about manuscripts held on to for months, followed by offers of representation. The other stories are so far-fetched that I can hardly believe them.

  20. Leona Broberg’s avatar

    This is exactly what I needed to hear this week. Thanks for the reality check, Mary. Things can always happen on either side of the norm. Although, I suppose the WAITING is the same until the outcome. Off to work on my WIP!

  21. Buffy Andrews’s avatar

    Good advice, Mary. I wanted to thank you for your thoughtful blog posts. You’ve done a great job with this platform since starting. I know keeping up a blog is a ton of work and, well, I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate all of your hard work. Have a fab day, and I hope things are going well for you with your new home and career. Blessings, Buffy

  22.’s avatar

    Thanks for this. New to the world of publishing, the publishing house I have my foot in the door to says they reply in 21 days. I imagine they can’t possibly mean that exactly. So to tell me to wait is wonderful news. I am so glad I found this blog.

  23. Katharina Gerlach’s avatar

    Sometimes, waiting can feel endless. The best thing to do is getting started on a new project.

  24. Terri Nixon’s avatar

    Waiting is tough, for sure. But what’s worse is when you’re waiting because you’ve submitted to an agent who specifies in their guidelines that they want to be the only ones to see a manuscript.

    The MS I’m currently querying was stuck in that situation, and the thing that has added to the frustration is that I began querying at the exact time that a TV series with strong similarities has just completed its first series to massive acclaim (and has just been commisioned for a second). This means that whereas my submission would have been timely before, it now runs the risk of appearing derivative instead. Why do agents say they don’t want anyone else looking, if they’re then going to take 3 months to get back to us?

    But – sorry, great post, and full of good advice. Thanks!

  25. Victoria Dixon’s avatar

    Attic? What attic? I’m digging a wine cellar. LOL Thanks for this. It does help to know I’m not completely out of luck if they haven’t responded by the following morning. ;D

  26. Linda’s avatar

    Waited for months to hear back on a full; gave up after hearing nothing for 8 or 9 months; wrote other manuscripts in the meantime; decided to ask agent for feedback on the manuscript after nearly a year; agent said manuscript was never received; requested permission to resubmit; got the okay and told the agent about other manuscripts that had been worked on over the year; agent asked to see everything I’d been working on; NEVER had the opportunity to submit five manuscripts at one time before! Hopefully the waiting and the follow-up paid off.

  27. Jean Ann Williams’s avatar

    Thanks for the encouraging and honest words, Mary. I have learned over the years to work as a I wait. And isn’t that the truth about all those flashy stories about hearing back in a freight train second after subbing? Those indeed are not the norm.

    Nice day to ya!

  28. Blanche Baxter’s avatar

    Thank you for this post Mary. It helps to hear an agent’s perspective on this issue.
    It’s true, any kind of waiting is hard, especially when it’s for something so important. You’re right though, it definitely helps to keep moving and writing…writing new works, revising other projects, and my current favorite, running till I’m too tired to think about it anymore!
    I guess we just have to remember that the right match is out there, and just allow the wait to be part of the process. So, thanks for the reminder and for setting our minds at ease. (And pulling us down from the rafters!)

  29. Margo Kelly’s avatar

    Oh. My. Gosh.

    Did you write this for me? THANKS! I was/am murmuring in the attic of my impatient brain… Feeling a little crazier each day.

    This post was very helpful… almost like a slap-in-the-face-but-holding-your-hand-at-the-same-time kind of way. (I’m picturing a scene from… what was that movie? I think 27 Dresses?)

    Right. Thanks. I needed that.

  30. Franziska Green’s avatar

    Maaaa-aaaa-reeee! Where are you? Are you ill? Are you in the air? (Flying, I mean.)

    Missing your posts. Keep checking to see if there’s a new one. Keep getting disappointed. Want me to write one for you? I could write a really good post about procrastination. Mine, specifically. I’m doing it right now!

  31. Angela F. Parkhurst’s avatar

    Best quote ever:
    “I heard absolutely nothing for six weeks, turned myself into a basket case, and then my agent offered representation, but by that point I was locked away in the attic, murmuring to myself, and my husband had to coax me out with a bottle of wine!”


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