What’s the Story about Late Responses?

I often get feedback from new writers who lament the long response time (or no response at all) to their requested queries/proposals/fulls to agents and editors. I empathize with them, but I also try to help them understand the daily story of an industry professional’s life.

I have yet to sit on the other side of the desk as an acquisitions editor, nor have I been an agent, but I have many editor and agent friends. I’ve come to empathize with both sides of the story—for those submitting and those receiving.

Here’s a peek into the publishing side.

Agents’ Stories

Agents receive hundreds (sometimes thousands) of queries a week. They (and if they’re lucky, their assistants) must sort through each one, decide if they’d like to see more or not. Imagine what your life would be like if you had to field 100 one-page single-spaced emails a day.

After agents express interest, they often (as in the case of novels) receive “the full.” This is the entire manuscript. Or if they’re looking at a nonfiction project, they ask for a proposal, which is three chapters plus a proposal. This usually ends up being between 50-75 pages.

If this is all an agent did, he/she could possibly keep up with follow-up emails, but agents also:

  • Negotiate deals.
  • Manage a business, along with accounting and tax issues.
  • Cultivate long-term relationships with industry professionals.
  • Attend conferences to teach and take appointments.
  • Shape their existing author’s proposals and/or novels, and provide visionary support.
  • Step in between disputes with authors and publishers.
  • Read, manage, and execute contracts.
  • Research, learn, and grow so they’re savvy about what will sell.

 Editors’ Stories

Editors receive queries from agents in similar proportions, including unsolicited queries. After attending a conference, editors face a flooded inbox. Add to this their other jobs:

  • Edit existing manuscripts.
  • Prepare for pub board meetings where they have to “sell” their pet projects (AKA your book) to the committee.
  • Attend other publishing, editorial and sales meetings.
  • Manage book projects from acquisition to publication.
  • Keep in contact with authors, answering questions, putting out fires.
  • Attend conferences. Often, they will teach. And then sit through 100 15-minute meetings.
  • Do all this within the parameters of their publisher’s goals, strategies, and vision.
  • Bear the blame if a book doesn’t succeed.

 Your Story

So you can see both agents and editors are living busy stories.

But you may say, “Hey, I have a lot on my plate too, but I return emails.” True, but you cannot control someone else’s response time. With that in mind, here’s my advice for those who have submitted something but not heard back:

  • Take the editor or agent at his or her word. Wait the four months. Don’t pester prior.
  • It’s okay in this day of email to simultaneously submit your query. (Simply write that this is a simultaneous submission somewhere on the query).
  • Once a deadline has passed, send a professional email. “Dear Editor, when we met at ____ conference, you mentioned you’d get back to me in four months. Since the deadline has passed, I wanted to inquire about the status of my manuscript.”
  • If an agent or editor does not respond to that quick email in a timely manner, consider the project an unwanted one. Look at rejection as a badge of writer honor. Move beyond it by submitting again.
  • Courtesy stays in people’s minds. If you’ve met with a professional at a conference, send a handwritten thank you note.
  • Remember that an industry professional doesn’t hold your future. They won’t validate your life. This is your journey, and you have the choice to let discouragement bury you or ignite you to keep trying.

This comes back to the story you tell yourself, which is powerful and important. Don’t let your frustrations about the publishing process embitter you into stagnation. The reality is that sometimes emails get lost. Or a query isn’t answered. What story you tell yourself in the aftermath of inevitable disappointment shows how plucky you are as an author. Remember that nearly every published author has a story of hardened perseverance. Dare to tell that story. And if you step over to the other side of the desk, remember what it’s like to wait-wait-wait. And answer those queries.

About Mary DeMuth 1 Article
Mary DeMuth is the author of over 30 nonfiction books and novels, including the Jesus Every Day devotional. She’s spoken around the world about God’s power to restore any life, particularly broken ones. She mentors writers at booklaunchmentor.com.


  1. And those poor agents/editors get inundated at conferences as well. I remember having a meeting with my agent during a writer’s conference and having people interrupt to try and get a moment of his time! The poor man didn’t get a moment to himself the whole weekend. This is a good reminder to be patient. 🙂

  2. Mary,

    I’m sure we writers try editors’ patience, too.

    It’s seemed to me that a simple solution to delays is to hire more people to handle the load. I’ve always assumed it’s a matter of money, but after reading your blog, I wonder if qualified people would want to take on the responsibility.

    I’ve also wondered if delays/no responses haven’t contributed to the growth and popularity of self-publishing. You may have addressed that issue at Mt. Hermon, but I couldn’t attend your class because of a time conflict.

    I did hear your prayer, though, and regretted there wasn’t more opportunity to learn from you personally. Perhaps your blog is an opportunity to do just that. Signing up!

  3. Thanks for this helpful advice. I’ll be attending the Oregon Christian Writers Conference in two weeks, pitching my memoir to agents and editors, and this reminder was timely (no pun intended). I will especially keep tabs on the story I tell myself when I don’t hear back right away.

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