The relativity of time — writer/agent/publisher

What is a long time for a writer? Agent? Publisher?

On a writing forum I recently replied to a post about response time from an agent. You could almost hear the hopeful, pleading tone in the message, asking if anyone, anyone had ever signed with an agent after taking “ages” to respond.

My response was “define ages.”

I was recently called out by an agent for “unprofessional” behavior for having submitted to a single publisher after hearing nothing — nada — after five months of an exclusive submission. This including a nice nudge letter two months in, letting the agent know that I’d received a contract for another novel aimed at the same audience. This agent swore he was about to read my full manuscript that very week. He went on and on about how egregious my behavior was. And here I was hoping he’d ask me sign on since I’ve got other projects and could use the help with any contract that should arrive. Not after that blow up.

Today I got an email from a small press editor who had requested a full manuscript from me in April. In her original request she’d said to expect a response in May. I shot  her an email this week –six months after subbing, assuming that the book had been long forgotten. Instead the editor asked if I’d be willing wait another month. Or so. I said sure.

The book I did sell, IN REAL LIFE, is scheduled to come out from Tuttle Publishing in the Fall of 2014. It’s a young adult novel about a computer gaming prodigy. I originally submitted my proposal to Tuttle in April of 2012. If it comes out on schedule, that means it will be two-and-a-half years from sub to pub.

So what is a long time for a writer? Weeks. For an agent? More than six months, from my experience. Publisher? Hope it encompasses your natural lifespan. And be careful about including too many pop culture or high tech references. By the time they appear in print, they’ll be so yesterday.



By Lawrence Tabak

Lawrence Tabak is a widely published magazine writer who is currently focused on writing fiction for young adults. He is the father of two boys. He has worked as a tennis teaching professional, a executive at the United States Tennis Association, and in corporate communications postions in the financial services industry. His essays and feature stories have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers, including the in-flight magazines for TWA, United, American and Continental; Fast Company, Tennis Magazine,, and The Atlantic Monthly.

4 replies on “The relativity of time — writer/agent/publisher”

“He went on and on about how egregious my behavior was. ”

Some unpleasantness is, in actuality, a fortunate thing. Imagine having a contract with this agent…. Imagine this agent representing you and your work, being your-face-to-the-business. Oy.

Good post.

I agree with Mirka. No agent should expect an exclusive for five months or more. If a writer does grant an exclusive, it should be for a short time with a defined or implied end date. I’m glad it worked out so well for you. Congrats!

I know this post was from a while back, but I don’t think it’s ever in a writer’s best interest to grant an agent an exclusive. If it’s your dream agent, maybe…MAYBE I’d go with a 2 week exclusive, but never more than that. The thing is, agents can read quickly when they need to. I know they’re often busy people with a backlog of queries, but in a world where self-publishing if faster and can be more profitable, agents need to be more nimble.

Shaun — thanks for stopping by and making this excellent point. I suppose I was guilty of some hyperbole since the “exclusive” was merely a happenstance — I had met the agent at a conference, passed along the full, and become tied up with other projects. He was the only one with the complete manuscript, but not by agreement or requirement, and only months later did I begin to circulate the query. Still.

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