Agency Lessons: Professional Courtesy

Today I want to talk about manners in the publishing world. 
During the week, I spend most of my time working with my clients editing their manuscripts, sending pitches, researching editors, reviewing contracts, etc. This means I usually don't have time to read queries or submissions until the weekend. Now, I'm not complaining. If I didn't love what I do, I wouldn't do it. I bring it up to show that reading manuscripts is something I have to make time for. It's what I do instead of cleaning my house or enjoying a good book from my enormous TBR pile.

I don't read many manuscripts during the week, because it's important to me that each one gets the attention it deserves. Sending your work off into the world is a big deal and each author should be given major props for putting themselves out there. I read each one, often making notes as I go. When I respond, I try to give helpful feedback on rejections so the author has something to go on for why their project isn't right for me. All of this takes time.

So you can imagine my aggravation when I take all this time, during my weekend, to respond to manuscripts only to find out from the author that they already signed with another agent, or small press, or decided to self-publish.

Not that an author can't do this. A query isn't a contract. If you decide that you'd rather self-publish or decide to take a small press offer, then by all means, go for it. Good for you. But not letting me know is rude. Because you've just wasted my time. If I don't know you've made other plans for your manuscript, I'm still going to read it. And I'm going to send you comments. And all of this is going to take hours of my time.

I can think of two reasons why someone might decide they don't want to tell me their book is off the market.
1. They think because I haven't responded, I'm not interested.
2. They think I might still want to represent them.

Let's address these.

1. If I've requested your manuscript, I'm interested. I'm not sure how much clearer that can be made. Now, it might be a while before I get to your work. It happens. What isn't happening is that I read your submission and sit on it. I might take a day or two to think about it, but that's the limit. I would never read something, decide it's not for me, and then not respond to the author. That would be rude on my end. So if I haven't responded, and you can probably assume this across the board, I haven't read your manuscript yet.

If you need an answer, let me know. I can't promise I'll be able to rush read your manuscript and I might step aside, but at least I have the option.

2. I represent authors, but each contract is for a specific manuscript. If your manuscript is already sold to a small press or you decide to publish it on your own, I can't sign a contract for that. There isn't anything for me to do. My job is to sell your rights to publishers. No rights, no sale, no need for an agent.

Now, this is different than getting a small press offer that you'd like help with. That I can do. I can work with the publisher to make sure you get a fair deal that protects your rights and gets you the most money and help. But all of that has to be done before you sign on the dotted line. Once you sign, I can't help you.

So do me, and yourself, a favor. If your book is no longer available, let me know. I won't be mad and I won't hold it against you. I will be happy for your success and grateful that you respected my time.