Our question this week once again comes from a fan on Facebook inquiring about getting a book agent.
What would be the turnaround time between submission and evaluation?
Kathryn Johnson (author of the critically acclaimed novel The Gentleman Poet: A Novel of Love, Danger, and Shakespeare's The "Tempest", and has published 41 novels with major U.S. and international publishers) says:
Every agent works differently. Some are running a one-person office, while others have clerical support and a staff of first-readers. Because they all have active clients whose books they are continuing to pitch and whose careers they monitor (handling foreign sales, performance rights, reprints, etc.) on a daily basis, they have limited time for reading new material. Whereas one agent sets his priorities to read new submissions at the end of a busy day or week (or month), another agent may do a quick scan of all material that comes in during a given week. In the latter case, anything that appears from a glance at the first few pages to be of less interest, or unlikely to sell quickly, gets turned down with a rejection slip.
Because agents are paid only for what they can successfully sell, they must choose cautiously and take on only the best of what they receive. They may hold a proposal that appeals to them but later turn it down after weighing their chances of finding a publisher for it. It's a very subjective process.
So...because every agency works in its own way, an author may hear within days of submission, either a "yes" or a "no thanks". Or it may be months. I once received a very polite rejection from an agent, with apologies for taking so long, after seven months. I was able to respond the I understood completely how busy we all can get, but it was quite all right since I'd had an offer of representation from another agent, and we were about to sign
contract with HarperCollins/Avon!
This problem of knowing how long to wait for a response is why I always tell my students at The Writer's Center, and my private mentoring clients, to submit strong, individually designed proposals, after thoroughly researching and choosing prospective agents. And always submit to 10-12 at a time, adding more to the mix as rejections trickle in. (As they are bound to do.) Give yourself the best odds by getting your work out to as many agents as possible while keeping your pitches well targeted to the agent's individual tastes. And you do that by studying their websites.
Enjoy the excitement of submitting your work!