View Full Version : Is chronic lateness a deal-breaker?

10-03-2016, 07:45 AM
Just wondering what agents and/or agented writers think about agent turnaround times on manuscript reads for clients. If an agent promises to read said manuscript and give feedback within a month but takes two to four months to deliver that feedback, is that normal and acceptable, or is that an issue to be addressed?

I can understand the long timeframe, but what's harder to understand is blowing one's own self-imposed timeline. Is it really that difficult for an agent to predict their workload within a given month? In my line of work, if I promised a client a specific deadline, I'd do everything to meet it, even if it meant pulling some late nights. And I'd expect to be fired if I failed to deliver on time.

Any and all thoughts welcome.

10-03-2016, 11:22 AM
I think it's difficult for agents to predict their workload. They don't know when they're going to get an editor offer and will have to jump into negotiations. They don't know if something's going to come up with an MS in the process of being published that will require their attention. They don't know when a querying author will write to say they have an offer a rep and the agent has a week to read the full and see if she wants to counter-offer. Etc etc...

I have a job where my workload is unpredictable and priorities are constantly shifting. It's not fun on this side, either!

For me, communication is the key. My agent was late reading my last manuscript, but she was in touch regularly to apologise and explain (another client's MS had taken priority, since that client could go on sub much sooner than me). If I hadn't heard from her, or if I'd had to chase her for updates, I would be pissed off.

10-03-2016, 11:40 AM
Hi quickbread,

My perspective comes from my dayjob, which is not publishing related. I worked as a commercial lawyer for a long time, so had a variable workload depending on whatever client crisis cropped up. Like you though, I took deadlines seriously. Sometimes you had to run late with something but basically I did whatever had to be done (including overnighters) to meet a client deadline.

It seems like publishing has a very different attitude to deadlines, and I get the impression that some agents are worse than others. My theory is that this is a cultural thing - so many of them are late so often that it becomes somehow acceptable/normal to be late, even months late. There were areas of law I worked in where lawyers couldn't control the timeline as much, and because of that everything would slip, which led to lawyers not stressing much about timelines which in turn led to more slippage and a kind of industry-wide acceptance of long, unnecessary delays. If you are on the receiving end of this of course it is totally crap. I think with agents it's the same - they are subject to delays from editors etc so because the timeline is outside their control they aren't that wedded to self-imposed deadlines. Some but not all of course.

Personally, I would find it difficult to work with someone who took three months with my MS where they have said they will take one, unless there is a good reason and they explain that to me. My own agent (I accepted an offer of rep only about 6 weeks ago) was a bit late (just over a week) getting back to me with an editorial letter, but I had no problem with that and wouldn't ever get worked up about minor delays, or longer delays where I've been led to expect them and there is good reason.

I think you have to decide what works for you. This should be a professional relationship like any other. Find your comfort zone and communicate that to your agent, bearing in mind all the circumstances. For me, if an agent said they would take a month and they took 6 - 8 weeks I could live with that without getting pissed off. If they took twelve weeks I could see myself getting frustrated unless there was a good reason.

10-03-2016, 04:23 PM
As the others have said, communication is key. Sometimes it's going to be impossible to time things precisely. Emergencies come up, things take longer than anticipated, information on another client may come in at an unexpected time and need to be dealt with immediately, etc.

Whether or not I, personally, would be bothered by a month that turned into 2-4 depends entirely on whether or not the agent let me know there was going to be a delay, and if I felt he was responding to my concerns. If I heard "I'll get back to you in four weeks" and then nothing? Well, me being me, I'd probably nudge at five weeks just to find out what was happening. But if the delay went on and I only got information when I pushed for it, I'd probably become concerned.

10-04-2016, 09:46 AM
Having had personal experience with that, repeated lateness is most definitely a deal-breaker for me. My last agents were terrible with that. They'd tell me they'll have revisions back within a month. I'd nudge after a month and they'd come up with some excuse (we had a cold!) and promise to deliver within another month. I'd nudge again and they'd come up with another excuse (so hectic!! sorry!!). Another month would go by. Another nudge.

This happened on all 3 rounds of revisions and cost me 1.5 years. When I broached the subject with them, they told me this is just how things are in the industry. I left and signed with another agent. Two months later, my MS went into subs.

I think missing a deadline or two is acceptable. But chronic lateness is just bullshit.

Old Hack
10-04-2016, 10:26 AM
I agree that agents not responding swiftly to their author-clients is a potential red flag. But agents who don't respond swiftly to submissions is not a red flag. At that point, the authors are not their clients or their priority.

10-05-2016, 04:53 PM
Thanks so much for your insights, everyone. This is all super helpful.

10-06-2016, 04:38 AM
Echoing what the others have said. This is part of the game, learning how to wait and how to be patient, and how time just seems to move differently in this field. Once you make peace with that, it gets easier. I now translate 'next week' to 'next month', 'a month' to 'three months' etc. And I've learned not to be afraid to nudge (politely and within reason) and just check in with them every now and again. Of course, I'm not represented. This is just my experience with R&Rs, where I know I'm pretty low down on the priorities ladder. I suggest trying to relax and working on something new to take your mind off the unbearable wait :)