Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Why Does It Take So Long?

The months which pass between submission and response can seem terribly long and I’ve heard all sorts of desperate reasons offered for that long delay. Some writers insist that agents don’t bother to pay attention to the slush pile because they hold all writers in contempt unless they’re top-selling celebrity types: that’s a great slur on agents who are, on the whole, committed, passionate professionals with great talent, scope and flair. One particularly embittered individual insisted that submissions were purposely not returned for several months in order to give the impression that the agents were busier than they really were: the logic of that one, coupled with my own experiences of slush, left me reeling.

The best editors and agents tend to be very overworked. Both jobs require a lot of reading, which is very time-consuming; and they have to prioritise clients and books which are already under contract and which they depend on to earn their livings. Reading through slush is purely speculative and very unlikely to earn them anything at all and consequently, it can’t be given priority.

Here’s an excellent account of how much effort one particular agent makes to clear her slush pile, from Rachel Vater from Folio Literary Management: she’s an established, successful agent, and describes the problems far better than I can.

13 comments:

Sally Zigmond said...

Thank you for highlighting a wonderful essay on an agent's daily life. It should be tattooed on the forehead of any writer who expects a personal reply to his (it's usually a his) 400 page epic within 2 days.

Daniel said...

Worth flagging up what Carole Blake says in "From Pitch To Publication". I always mention this one to my students because it really helps them to get things in perspective. She basically says agents have four broad levels of priority regarding MSs. The first three concern writers who are already clients:
1) Delivered work, by clients already commissioned/ contracted.
2) Speculative, by published clients.
3) Speculative, by as-yet unpublished clients.

And then, finally, at the bottom of the pile - because that's just the way it has to be in a busy office:
4) Unsolicited material from writers who want to join them (both previously published and unpublished).

Jane Smith said...

Daniel, that's a great book. It should be required reading on writing courses, and I'm sad it's now out of print. And thanks for providing us with that precis--very useful.

Daniel said...

Shame it's out of print - I didn't know that. I'll have to mention one which I hope is still in print - Jane Wenham-Jones's "Wannabe A Writer", which is funny and chatty and has a good section first on how she found an agent and then on "the right way" to do it!

Despite all of these efforts by writers and agents to be open, the conspiracy theories still persist!

Sally Zigmond said...

Small world, Daniel. Jane W J's book is both hilarious and helpful--well I would say that, wouldn't I, as she quotes me in it!

Jane Smith said...

I've exchanged a few emails with Jane W-J and she's a hoot: I can imagine getting your money's worth out of her at a party. The only thing I don't like about her is that in all her photos she looks all lean and svelte and funky, and it's not fair because I don't.

Next time you see her, Sally, tell her to fatten up and age a bit, and then I can be her friend too.

Daniel said...

Sally - me too!
She is great fun, as indeed her launch party was. "Wannabe" is a great 'tell it like it is' how-to book - not an instruction manual, rather more like giving a writer several glasses of wine and pumping them for all the information you can think of over a six-hour period...

john white said...

Hi Jane,
I was going to have a pretty sober Christmas, but after reading that I'm going to sink a few --- dozen. haha!
Excellent read - thank you for highlighting it.
Happy Christmas to you and yours.

Jane Smith said...

John, I never have a fully-sober Christmas, so don't expect me to make much sense for the rest of the year.

Merry Christmas to you, too. Now go and write something!

john white said...

I am trying to write something, Jane. I'm trying to write a sequel. It's driving me to drink - and having the CIA banging on my door at two o'clock in the morning doesn't help. I told them to join the queue behind the FBI, Department 23, MI5 and the listeners from Menwith Hill. You think I'm joking? I've had a black van parked next to my garden wall for two weeks. I think it's Santa Claus. Roll on new year.

Jane Smith said...

You had the CIA at your door? Oo-er. Mind you, it could have been worse--it could have been me!

I do like the holidays but I'm already looking forward to the end of them, when my children go back to school and I can get back to work. Bah humbug and all that.

john white said...

You'd be welcome at the door ... providing you didn't have a fully loaded automatic in a shoulder holster. You don't, do you? lol.

Jane Smith said...

Apologies for the comment-spam which appeared here just now: I've deleted it, and have switched on the comment moderation feature in an attempt to stop it happening again.