June 8th, 2006

books

time passing and submissions

I see a lot online about agents and response times. When I was chatting with another agent recently, we were discussing another catch-22. If you respond too quickly, the writer doesn't think you gave their submission close enough attention. If you respond too slowly, that can make an author cranky too. So there's a sweet spot apparently. I'll probably never get it right exactly. I just read and respond as fast as I can, which can really vary depending on some factors. In any case, it's not hard to find a rant about this subject. Recently, though, as I was attempting to find more room in my filing cabinet, I ended up thinking about the flip-side of this situation.

There's a file I have where I keep all the outstanding queries. When I request materials, I make a notation on the query and it goes into that file in chronological order. When the submission arrives, I pair them back up so I can refer to it as needed. The question is, though, how long should one keep one of these? Assuming one has finite filing space (getting more finite all the time it appears), over the course of many months (or years) this can become an issue when writers never respond at all. That's right. Not a peep. I sometimes wonder if they weren't actually ready to submit and are feverishly attempting to revise. They sent the letter expecting a no and were shocked and surprised when they get a request. Or, it could be that they signed with another agency. And never wrote to let the other agents who requested material know that they had done so. Occasionally, a submission will show up months after it was requested. Sometimes the author explains (family illness, revisions, etc.); sometimes they don't refer to the passage of time at all. I've been hanging on to a few of these for quite a long time -- the earliest ones date from four years ago. A lot can change in four years.