Sunday, July 25, 2010

“Should my agent let me know which publishers/editors have read my work, and provide me with copies of the rejection letters?”

“Is any agent, by the rules of the profession, obliged to inform you specifically of where your work has been submitted and give you copies of responses?”


This is an excellent question, and one which speaks to many issues.

First of all, you must realize that there are no firm and solid “rules” that all agents unanimously adhere to; every agent operates differently. Some agents will provide their authors a detailed rundown of the name of every editor and publisher that he’s submitting their work to, along with copies of rejection letters, while other agents will not provide any such information to an author, at any point.

For those authors who are kept in the dark, it can certainly be quite frustrating. After years of working hard on your manuscript, after finally landing an agent, after knowing your work is being actively submitted, suddenly, you receive nothing but silence. As months pass, this silence can become ever more frustrating. If your agent is not letting you know how many publisher he’s sent it to, which publishers he’s targeted, when he’s sent it out, or how many rejections have come in, you may naturally wonder how hard the agent is working on your book (or if at all), or if the agent is even doing his job effectively. It can also be frustrating for authors to only hear back from their agent that X number of publishers have passed, without being provided with copies of the rejection letters, or hearing any of the reasons why, or without having any idea of how many publishers still have it, or what the strategy is.

From an agent’s perspective, however, providing an author with this information is not always such a simple matter. Some authors, if provided with this information upfront, can try to micromanage the agent, and tell him where to submit (or not to submit). Some authors can monitor the list too carefully, asking for too-frequent updates regarding who has rejected their work. Some authors, if kept in the loop and updated as rejections come in, may become extremely anxious when they hear about the rejections, and thus cause the agent anxiety (which the agent must be free of if he is to stay positive and do his job well). Some authors may, as a result of hearing of the rejections, second guess the agent’s submission choices; others may insist on revising their work mid submission based on a particular rejection letter. Some authors may even try to bypass the agent and contact the editor directly, either to try to desperately convince the editor, or to attempt to cut out the agent (this can be of particular concern if the author and agent have a falling out along the way). Other authors can become so upset at being rejected that, if they have a list of who has rejected their work, they may send vindictive letters to the editors (and/or call them), which in turn reflects poorly on the agent. Thus, agents have some cause to be wary in doling out too much information (at least upfront).

That said, this is still no excuse for an agent to keep an author in the dark. While a book is actively on submission, authors have the right to at least know when the agent is initiating the submission, how many publishers he will be submitting to, whether he plans additional rounds of submissions if the first round fails, approximately when that will take place, what is the ultimate number of publishers he will approach, and how long he estimates the entire submission will take. Authors also have a right to know whether their agent is approaching large or small publishers, and how many of each. Agents can provide all of this without releasing the names of the particular editors upfront , and there is no reason they should not.

Ultimately, if every publisher has passed, then when the submission is over, you absolutely have a right to ask the agent to supply you with the submission list, which should include the names of the publishers and the particular editors. This is crucial for you to have, since it will both allow you to evaluate if your agent did a thorough job, and, if you need to switch agents, it will allow your future agent to evaluate whether there are any stones left unturned that he can submit to. Your agent should also provide you with copies of the rejection letters from editors. It will be especially helpful for a future agent to know if you have any editor fans out there that should be included in your next submission.

In the big picture, this problem can be averted if you spend more time thoroughly researching potential agents upfront. If your research demonstrates that an agent has recently sold many books by high profile authors to major houses, then there is not as much to worry about, even if he’s not as in touch with you as you would hope. On the other hand, if research shows that he represents few authors, and has made few sales and to only smaller houses (and a long time ago), then there is more cause for concern. So (as I discuss at length in my books) be very thorough in your research, and choose carefully. If you make the right choice, then issues like submission lists will not be a major cause for concern.