But, I said pretty please…

Yup, that's shit all right...

“One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.”  ~Chinua Achebe

I’m good at offending folks. No, it’s quite all right. I have come to accept that trait like one would a tarnished piece of silver. You keep it around because you can’t bear to part with it, it belonged to your grandmother, it has her initials engraved on it…

Humor me, this hypothetical situation if you will:

You are unemployed. You go to a temp agency to be placed with a company that may or may not keep you on past the trial period. You buy your best suit to wear to the interview. You spend weeks preparing to answer any and all questions. You arrive early (not too early though). You wait with everyone else in a ridiculously large waiting room. Several hours later the interviewer emerges, shakes the candidate’s hand who has emerged with her, then—the moment the candidate leaves—the interviewer turns to those waiting still and makes light of how awful the interview went. Pokes fun at it.  Reads aloud some of what the candidate said because it was “atrocious.”

When everyone has stopped their guffaws, she asks a few questions surrounding if her ‘ass looks big in this‘ (to which of course everyone in the room jumps to slather the interviewer with compliments and adoration). Then, after pausing long enough for dramatic effect, you’re called to return to the interview room with her. Everyone gives you piranha eyes as you clumsily gather your belongings. Once you’re in the stifled, legendary space, you stand before her desk and deliver flawlessly your thirty-second introduction as to what you are looking for in a company and why you are the best candidate for the job. The interviewer looks at your resume and then, without word one, hands you a slip of paper and ushers you out of the door.

The paper reads: Dear Candidate, thank you for your time. You’re one of the lucky ones! You got the green letter!! We’re going to look over your resume in more detail. However, this will take 3 to 6 months. You are, of course, expected not to interview with other temp agencies and certainly not to look for a job on your own.

And so, being a ‘professional’ candidate, you agree and you wait. You don’t look for another job. You don’t interview with other temp agencies. Then, one day, 6 months later, you receive this letter in the mail: Dear candidate, thank you for interviewing with us and allowing us the opportunity to look over your work history and references. While you show merit, we feel that we would be unable to place you in this market. This is subjective, so feel free to continue interviewing with other agencies. Best of luck!

You dry clean your suit and start all over again. Sound ridiculous? Does it sound absurd that you would be expected to sit on your rear end while the TEMP agency decides whether or not it can even try to place you? Really? What do you think you’re doing every time you agree to that same request from a literary agency?

But that’s different…

How? You’re unemployed or not employed in the field you want. Be honest for once in your life and answer truthfully if you’d really do that if the situation were literal. Would you really sit there, waiting on a form letter, from a TEMP agency? I don’t think so. Why? Because it’s unrealistic. It would take YEARS to find a job. Yet, someone said the fated words…if you’re a professional you’ll agree to this…and like magic, it became unwritten law.

For shame. No wonder we spend so much time picking on each other…we’re sitting on our hands by agreeing to this load of horse manure. This is our fault, as authors, because we’re the ones who let it get this far. No, not all agencies ask this…but the great majority do. The wise ones know what it’s like on our end and allow multiple submissions. The bottom line is that if you haven’t even been hired, then you’re under no obligations of any kind…to anyone.

These agencies need to learn that losing out is part of the game. If they don’t read fast enough, tough luck. Why should writers always get the shaft? Before anyone even goes there, yes, I think there are rules of etiquette. Those rules don’t include lying down as a doormat. They include saying please and thank you. They include being grateful when things go your way and gracious when they don’t. They include a great many things, but under no circumstances should we have handed over the reins like this…not even when they said pretty please.

So, yeah..I’m fairly sure this will piss someone off. Maybe they got the red letter instead…

21 responses

  1. I thought that it was just kind of understood that everyone multi-submits. I certainly do. I roll my eyes at that ridiculous request (that they have no way of even verifying) and send my work (that I own) to whom I please. I dance with the one that says “You’re hired!”, if I like what else they have to say.

    I honestly didn’t think anyone actually submitted to only one publisher or agent at a time, or that if they claimed to, it was with a knowing wink.

    And publishers pull this B.S., too. It’s The Industry Standard.

  2. I know folks who get seriously fired up about this subject, defending it like it’s a lost art…plus, most authors who have “fulls” requested will absolutely wait 3-6 months to hear back from an agent.

    Publishers deserve time…but agents? No way in hell. Not unless an author is a signed client should they be required to dedicate that kind of time to an agency’s whims. If a partial or full is requested by an agent, I say you got a month tops (two if you personally email for an extension). This 3-6 month business for partials and fulls is arrogant at best, and unbelievably inconsiderate to the author who by then has already spent months or years working for nothing (monetarily speaking). If agents don’t like it then I’d suggest they learn to read a little quicker.

    • Do publishers deserve the time? In what comparable industry does a seller only market a product to one potential buyer at a time? When I sell my house, I don’t take it off the market every time someone wants to stroll through it unless they give me some earnest money. And then, if they don’t buy my house, I keep that money as compensation for my time and exclusivity.

      Even if a full is requested, giving and exclusive read is a courtesy by choice, and nothing more. They aren’t legally entitled to it, and it hurts my prospects in the process.

      Having said that, and dismissing the notion of exclusivity for nothing with a laugh, however, I think it’s unfair to presume that agents (or anyone else) take so long on account of arrogance. That would needlessly hurt their business. Take the outrageous number of submissions that virtually every solicitor receives (and, let’s face it, the vast majority of these aren’t useful), divide by the too-small review staff, and you will arrive at Y, where Y is the absurd length of time it takes to process, read and consider a submission. There simply aren’t enough eyeballs and enough hours in the day.

      I take no issue with the matter of processing time. If you want to blame anyone for that, blame the bajillions of people who want to “compete” professionally without the slightest regard for their craft.

      The real issue here, to me, is not the necessity, usefulness (or lack thereof) of agency, but this kind of absurdly self-indulgent (foundless) expectation of entitlement to a piece that has yet to even be seriously considered.

      I might be shooting myself in the foot by saying so, publicly at that, but I will *never* abide that expectation unless I just so happened to find it important on an individual basis. Certainly not out of principle, and I will not be asked to honor a legally non-existent treatise to my disadvantage just because I’m asked to.

  3. When I was looking for agents last year, I never once came across this. However, I am in the UK and was only looking at UK agencies, so maybe it’s more prevalent on t’other side of the pond.

    If I had come across it, would I have obeyed? Like hell I would. My covering letter would have clearly stated that my work was “under consideration elsewhere”, and if they didn’t like that, tough. Agents work for authors, not the other way round.

  4. There’s one agency out there whom I might give an exclusive 8 weeks to for a partial, maybe a little more time for full, but only because to sign with these agents is practically a sell to the publisher of my choice. In such a case, I would wait, and give them the time they need. However, I’m lucky because the head of the agency has been in the game long enough that they don’t ask for that time exclusively… but if they did, I would jump through that hoop in hopes of signing with them. However, the others who can’t give me that aren’t going to get me to wait. From my view point, it depends on what those people can offer me and if I feel the wait is worth wild. Two agents have made me feel I would want them that badly… both are from the same agency, and both, in my opinion are worth the wait. Umm, I think I would act much like Jinx the rest of the time. Smile, nod, and slip another envelope into the mail box.

  5. Are you a mind reader? This is exactly my trouble. I’ve given my novel to a small press and they will take months to get back to me. I’ve been thinking of given it to someone else, but the other presses don’t take multiple submissions. However, if the alternate press rejects me so why? If they accept me, great. The first small press does accept multiple submissions. I don’t think I can lose here.

    Any thoughts on this?

  6. Jinx, the arrogance that I’m talking about is exactly what you stated. Their sense of entitlement to a piece they’ve yet to sign, thereby taking (in some cases) nearly half a year to evaluate it. They can be understaffed all day long, but to expect me to make concessions because of it, is arrogant. This is a business and that’s their ‘risk’ model, not mine.

    Rich–how many months are they asking for? If they’ve asked for 3-6 (or more), then I’d submit elsewhere. If they’ve asked for 2 months then humor them. I honestly think publishers deserve a little more respect in this sense than in literary agencies. Why? Because. That’s why. If they’re reasonable, which I think 2 months is, why not? Past that…they’re begging you to send multiple submissions.

    • Yes, if the time for a turnaround was 30 to 60 days, I’d wait it out, but they say their turnaround is 3 to 6 months.

      I think I’m going to go to other press that promises a 30 turnaround and see if I can get a nimble.

  7. I’ve never submitted my novel to an agent on an exclusive basis. And I am a Query Machine(TM). From a house keeping standpoint, I’m not even too sure how it would work.

  8. Most esteemed bloggess,
    Your post is right on. These publishers and agents have desperate new authors in mercy and can do almost anything with the. We all have our different value systems and while I find lying reprehensible, I have never acceded to these outlandish demands. I have chosen to ignore it rather than confront it.

  9. Linton, I like the way you think…I agree.

    Ant….the ™ has me in stitches still…

  10. Hahaha. Well, I think you’re stretching the premise a little for the sake of hating on agency: Yes, agents *and* publishers are arrogant and silly for demanding exclusivity for nothing in return when:

    They take months and months and months to respond.

    But this is not a cause and effect relationship. They don’t demand exclusivity *because* they take forever, and they don’t take forever on purpose.

    Furthermore, I think that any professional is in a position to have to earn respect. That’s what professionals do. I don’t care if J.Q. Christ esq. strode down from Publisher Olympus with a ledger in one hand and an advance check in the other, I’d measure him on my terms and decide whether or not I liked him enough to let him camp my work for free.

    There are great agents and crappy publishers and vice versa. I’ve found that institutional respect-lending is a dangerous practice.

  11. For the record, I don’t believe it is a cause/effect relationship, and I couldn’t care less why some agencies take so long. That wasn’t the point. I think you’re reading way too much into this. I didn’t say anything deep, or intelligent enough, to warrant evaluation to this extent. Though, I appreciate the dialog. As always.

    Me…stretch a premise…pssssh. Hate agencies? Well…I don’t hate agencies so much as I give them equal consideration. They bitch about authors. They bitch about queries. This makes them fair game for my “premise stretching” whims. I believe someone also told me recently that doing what I just did wasn’t “professional” either.

    It doesn’t appear that I give a damn…

    I didn’t give a damn before I had a book deal and I definitely don’t give a damn now. In fact, few sentences have really encompassed my thoughts on this quite as well as what Jinx said last, “I’ve found that institutional respect-lending is a dangerous practice.”


    Luckily, for me, I’ve found institutions that have earned that respect and then some. Thus, I feel compelled to urge my fellow authors not to settle for less than.

    That was the point.

    I wasn’t asking or musing the reasons for institutional retardation. Too many would-be authors feel like breathing a word against current industry standard is taboo, if not dangerous. I’m merely taking the wind out of those sails.

  12. Boy, does that sound familiar. Main reason I don’t send out exclusive queries. Might be partly from being a reporter, where words equal money, but I don’t buy into the arrogance of some agents in requiring they be the only one to look at your manuscript this year. As was said, it would take forever to sell a book in this manner. Agents, publishers and editors also need to realaize that print books are not the only game out there anymore. Not only are there plenty of websites, there are a growing number of e-publishers. Catch up to the real world people or get left behind.

  13. Oh my goodness, I’ve had this opinion for quite awhile but I’ve been too chicken to say it out loud. All I can say is YES, I think you’re right. I’ve had friends deal with this, and it sucks. If I decide to go the traditional route, I won’t be stick it out with an agency that requests exclusives on partials, that’s for dang sure. Or on fulls unless they’re guaranteeing me a quick turnaround time.

  14. J.S., it seems I misconstrued your original meaning. It seemed that you were linking the two seperate issues in a conspiratorial way. I see now that you were not.

    I should also clarify that while I may seem gleefully obstinate toward these institutions, it’s more that I don’t simply bow and scrape as a matter of course. I can – and have – given exclusive reads, to my disadvantage, willingly and accepted the risks when it’s been important to me to do so.

    As reluctant as I am to endorse any senseless acquiescence, I also don’t condone needless belligerence. My humble opinion is that whether or not to abide exclusivity should be decided on an individual basis by authors, rather than as a matter of policy.

    And what was it that you did that was “unprofessional”? Blogging your thoughts, on your blog where you blog your thoughts? You anarchist.

  15. I always figured that if I had a novel accepted by two places at once, that would be a good problem to have.

    When I was looking for interviews I just sent out a mass email to like 200 sources. One of them wrote me back some snitty “holier than thou” mail about how they didn’t even DO reviews and that I’d have better luck with my queries if I read their submissions page and blah…blah…blah…

    I don’t know why they bothered since a simple non reply would have accomplished the same thing.

    Not needing a lecture, I simply pressed “delete” 🙂

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