On Agent Responses

December 2, 2009

So agent Rachelle Gardner put a post up on her blog the other day about writers griping about agent response times. It’s definitely worth a read, especially the comments. You can find it the post here.

Here’s the thing.

I’m not going to talk about how busy agents are, or if they should be responding to every query, or if two months is way too long to hold on to someone’s full manuscript. Really, it’s kind of not important. And when I say kind of, I mean, you know, not at all, if we’re talking about importance as it relates to the end goal of getting published.

I mean, I don’t understand why we’re wasting our time worrying about some agent we probably have never met, who’s never promised us anything, who’s not responding to an email we sent. It’s like sending your profile out to someone on a dating site, and then being like, WHY IS THAT PERSON NOT RESPONDING? THAT PERSON IS THE REASON I WILL NEVER BE MARRIED, THEY COULD AT LEAST RESPOND!!!! ALL MEN ARE HORRIBLE AND NOW I WILL THROW MYSELF OFF THIS CLIFF!

Newsflash: Agents not responding to your email is not the reason you are not getting published.

Also? Honestly, you might need to get a thicker skin.

If you’re going to get upset about an agent not responding to your query letter, if that is going to ruin your day, your life, your week, then ohhhh boyyy are you not ready to deal with the realities of being a working writer.

How are you going to deal with it when you finally do get an agent, and you spend months revising with said agent only to have that agent leave the agency the day before your book is about to go out on submission? What are you going to do when you finally sell a book, spend months and months revising it, only then it doesn’t sell so well, and so your publisher doesn’t push the second book on your contract, and doesn’t pick up your option, leaving you in the same boat you were BEFORE you sold, only now with bad sales numbers? What if your editor leaves, and your new editor convinces you everything will be fine, but then she leaves too, and your book gets cancelled? What if you sell a new multi-book deal to your long time publisher, only to have it cancelled? What if you’re told by a publisher that an offer is forthcoming, only to wait months to have it fall through?

All of these things have happened to me or someone I know. And I haven’t even been around that long.

Look, this is a hard business. Hard, hard, hard.

And honestly, there are really only two things you can do to make it easier.

Number one, (this is something I’ve heard Jenny Crusie say, and it’s helped me a lot) is to SEPARATE THE WRITING FROM THE PUBLISHING. Writing is so personal to us. We spend months, sometimes years, countless hours away from our families and friends, early mornings and late nights writing and pouring our hearts and souls into our books. But once you make the decision to try to make money from your writing, once you start querying agents, you’re talking about publishing. Which is a business. A business that will break your heart five million trillion times for five million trillion different reasons.

If you’re not ready for this kind of heartbreak, don’t send your stuff out. Keep it on your hard drive, or sell it on lulu.com.

Number two, if you want to get the best chance of getting a response from agents, the best chance of getting your book published?

Write a great book. Write a great query. Keep sending stuff out. And keep working on the next thing while you’re doing it. Agents not responding is NOT the thing that is keeping you from getting published.

YOU are, by spending your time worrying about agents and not focusing on the thing you CAN control. Which is the writing.

Write, write, write, write, write. Keep writing. Get better. Make every book you write better than the last. That is the only thing you can control about the business. And that goes for when you’re published, unpublished, any time. Focus on the writing, and try to let go of the things you can’t control. (Like, um, agent response times.)

This doesn’t mean don’t vent. Publishing is FRUSTRATING. It will make you cry. A lot sometimes. But vent to your friends. Drink a hot chocolate and eat a cupcake. And then brush yourself off and KEEP WRITING.

I know what you’re thinking. Easy for YOU to say, don’t you have a bunch of books coming out next year? Don’t you love your agent? Well, yes and yes. BUT. Once, I was querying. Once, I was getting no responses. Even AFTER I was published and looking for a new agent, some agents didn’t respond to my query.

Once, I had an agent in NYC leave my requested full IN A HAIR SALON. You know how I know? Not because I ever heard from her again, but because the hair salon called me to tell me they had my manuscript. It had my contact info on the title page, and they assumed that I was the one who had left it. Upsetting? Yes. (Especially since she seemed really excited to read the full and also because when that 212 area code from the hair salon popped up, I got kind of excited.)

But that agent leaving my book there was not the reason that book didn’t get published. The reason that book didn’t get published is because it wasn’t ready.

I wrote another book. One that WAS ready.

Please, focus on what you can REALLY do to give yourself the best chance. And that is not blaming agents, or debating whether it’s wrong that they don’t respond to every query or if they should be at home answering emails instead of twittering about how they went out for pizza.

Keep writing. Keep sending your stuff out. Revise. Write a new, better book. Learn. Don’t give up.

Focus on what you can control, and do your best to let go of the rest…

Happy writing!

More later,

Posted by Lauren @ 8:31 am  

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  1. Anna says:

    Excellent advice! You’re absolutely right that writing is the only thing we can control and it’s what we should be focusing on.

  2. Barbara Dee says:

    Lauren, this is a TERRIFIC post.

    Sometimes it’s sooo hard to SEPARATE THE WRITING FROM THE PUBLISHING. But I totally agree–it’s the only way for an author to stay focused. And productive. And sane.

    Getting the right agent is half the battle–but then you still have to deal with the other half of the battle–i.e.,getting the right publisher and staying published. The whole business can break your heart over and over,but if you’re a writer, you will write. Because you have to.

    And the thing is, the writing part is fun.

  3. Jennifer says:

    A-freakin-men, girl. πŸ™‚

  4. Lauren says:

    Yes, the writing part IS fun πŸ™‚ It’s the publishing part that can make you crazy πŸ™‚

  5. Lauren says:

    Thanks Jennifer πŸ™‚

  6. Lauren says:

    πŸ™‚ Totally! And it is hard to focus on that sometimes, I get that..But it really is the only thing we can do…

  7. Rachel S says:

    First off, I CAN SEE YOUR WEBSITE!! Huzzah!!!!

    I think this is excellent advice and I just remember our first lunch together (lol hopefully there will be a second one in the next year or two), and how you gave me the full story and I sat there wide-eyed because I had no idea that could actually happen. (I have had way too many Happily Ever After stories in my childhood.) πŸ™‚ The point is–this advice rings true and I feel like a lot of people forget that along the path to publication or sometimes people forget that when they’re already published. People just assume things and that’s never good. Nothing is as it seems!

    LOL my silly question is-do you think the hair salon read your full? hehe! πŸ˜‰ Just kidding.

  8. Keri Mikulski says:

    Yay!!! *stands up cheering*

    Fabulous advice, Lauren.. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ So true. So true. The business is rough, full of ups and downs.. But, those ups (like amazing reader letters) are worth it. πŸ™‚ I just saw Jennifer Crusie in October – good stuff. πŸ™‚

    Thanks for always being so honest.. Hugs. πŸ™‚

  9. Lilliam Rivera says:

    All I can say is, “Word!!” Just like there is no crying in baseball, there should be no crying when it comes to agent responses, or lack thereof.

  10. Paul says:

    Excellent advice. I pretty much stayed in my writers cave. First book and Second book, some interest. Told myself to keep writing. Then got several offers of representation on book number three. Now my YA novel is on submission. No guarantees. Yeah, remembering what you do and don’t have control over–that is the key. The writing is what you have control over. Thanks for this post. A good reminder.

  11. Clara Rose says:

    I love your site, it’s fun and fresh! I agree with your article… business is business. Start treating your writing like a business – not a hobby.

  12. Christina says:


    What an inspiring post! I loved it! I never published anything, but from what different authors write on their blogs, I can tell it’s pretty tough. The publishing part, I mean. And I want to write. Maybe a book. Maybe not. I’m still young and not sure, but I love to write. I’m in this writing group with my school and I January we go out of town to compete! So exciting! Okay, getting of topic here. Anyway, I love to write and if I do write something that’s long enough to be a book, I’ll focus on the writing. Mostly because that’s the best part, right? Well, in my opinion it is. Like you said, publishing is frustrating. And even though I’ve never gone through that, I can tell it is. But for now, I’m just gonna write and live in the moment πŸ™‚


    P.S. I just finished Four Truths and a Lie! Seriously, I finished it like ten minutes ago. I loved it! I love Scarlett almost as much as I love Devon. Four Truths and a Lie was honestly one of the best books I have ever read. You’re an amazing author. Keep up the great work!:D Now, I’m going to start Devon Delaney Should Totally Know Better! YAY!

  13. Jay Sengstock says:

    What is also a whole lot of fun is the first response from an agent that is positive and even promising, but not yet committed. Makes me feel like I’m my awkward self back in high school and out of nowhere some cute girl suddenly appears interested in me. “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God… How should I respond? How should I react? Am I coming off as desperate? Am I coming off as needy? Don’t blow it. Don’t blow it. DON’T BLOW IT!”

    Unfortunately, I always either misread her intentions or I blew it. Here’s hoping that the agent thing is not as complicated, or that I’ve grown up at least a little.


  14. Ned Barnett says:

    This is great and wonderful advice.

    I had nine books published. Led me to open a literary agency, since I’d self-agented all those books and felt that I knew how to sell books to publishers. That diverted me from writing for too damned long. Then I came back, but to screenwriting (a different set of horrors). Now I’m back to writing novels (thank whatever deities you honor) and just today I have been seduced back into agenting again by an old client also just returned to writing. But it’s just for him, just for now.

    I’ve been on every side of the equation (having also worked for/with five publishers), and I don’t believe that I have read an assessment that is more on-target. Writers should write. Finding an agent or a publisher is a necessary evil, like cleaning the toilet or emptying the litterbox – only not as much fun.

    Treat that as a business – like dry cleaning or plumbing – something you do for money, not for fun. Do it with minimal emotional investment, and reward yourself by WRITING – maybe two hours of writing for every hour of “business.”

    One final note. One disaster noted in the blog is poor sales leading to canceled contracts. Poor sales often results from poor (or no) self-promotion. Do NOT trust your publisher to promote you – they reserve that for Clancy and Evanovich and writers who don’t need it. Figure out how to promote yourself once your book is published – that, while more of the toilet-cleaning kind of “fun,” at least pays off in sales and new contracts.

    I used to do that, too, for a living – and wrote a few blogs on how authors can do it for themselves. I no longer do this professionally (authors are SO hard to work with ), but the advice is sound. And FREE, and worth every penny you’ll ever pay for it. See it at: http://barnettonpublishing.blogspot.com/

    And keep on writing …

    Ned Barnett
    Former agent
    Former publicist
    Current (again, thank GOD) author

  15. the rejectionist says:


  16. Virginia says:

    Excellent advice – if only ever writer searching for an agent would read it! You will eliminate a lot of the “crazies” if you focus on writing while still sending stuff out. Waiting on an agent WILL make you crazy if you let it. Do what you’re supposed to do, and let them do what they’re supposed to do.

  17. Lyn Miller-Lachmann says:

    Enjoyed your comments, Christina. The important thing is that you have fun with your writing. I think a lot of people think too much–and too soon–about the publishing part, and it takes the joy out of it. For young people, it’s often the the same with sports, music, art–anything you like to do. Keep on doing what you like to do, because there will always be an opportunity out there.

  18. emptyrefrigerator says:

    At first, I hated you.


  19. Megan says:

    hey i just finished two way street and i loved ittt! I was just wondering if u wrote any other books like that? or knew any books like that:)

  20. Caroline says:

    OMG i just finish the secret of Devon Delaney and it is like flippin amazing!!! i mean like how do u come up with such awesome ideas??? I cant wait to start your sequel! And Devon and Luke make such a cute couple!!!

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