From former literary agent Nathan Bransford:
Contrary to popular belief among some fearful authors, literary agents will not be scared off and disappear into an angry puff of smoke the moment you send them a follow-up email.
An agent’s inbox looks like the electronic equivalent of Niagara Falls, and at any given time they will have literally thousands of pages in their to-be-read pile.
As a result, most agents will appreciate a timely and extremely polite nudge. (And if they would get annoyed by one, would you really want to work with them anyway?)
But when do you follow up with an agent and how often? In this post I’ll give you some guidelines on when and when not to follow up with an agent based on different stages in the publishing process.
Bear in mind that the below are just rules of thumb and different agents are always going to feel differently. And an individual agent’s stated preferences always wins for that agent.
. . . .
Unless otherwise specified by the agent, it’s not customary to follow up on query letters. Many agents have “no reply means no” policies and they will get annoyed pretty fast if you start chasing after a query that they didn’t reply to.
Yes, I know, it’s really scary to think your query got lost in the ether and was never seen by your dream agent, but that’s the way the e-cookie crumbles.
The only exception to this is if the agent specifically requested a query letter from you, as in a referral situation or where there’s some sort of a personal connection. In that case, I’d wait a few weeks and check again.
. . . .
If an agent requests a partial or full manuscript from you, they will expect you to follow up at some point if they haven’t gotten back to you in a timely fashion.
So how long do you wait? I’ve seen everything from a month to two and a half months recommended, but I personally would split the difference and follow-up once after six weeks and thereafter once a month until you get tired of following up.
. . . .
If you receive an offer of representation, it’s customary to then follow up with all of the agents who are currently considering your manuscript, whether a partial or a full. Give them a reasonable timeframe (7-14 days) to get back to you so you don’t leave the agent who offered you representation hanging.
Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford
PG has seen prior posts from Nathan (who is now an author) and he seems like an intelligent and pleasant individual.
While PG has no doubt that the recommendations in the OP accurately reflect the world of agents and their expectations, while he was reading them, he was reminded of the rules of court (not the legal types of courts, although they can also be a bit strange, but the rules of royal courts).
As illustrations, here are some Rules of Etiquette as followed at Versailles:
Those wanting to speak to the king were not to knock on his door. Instead, using the left little finger, they had to gently scratch on the door until they were granted the permission to enter the room. Many courtiers grew that fingernail longer than the others for that purpose.
Continuing the rules of court.
. . . .
During the 17th century, in France, manners became a political issue. King Louis XIV and his predecessors, in collecting together the nobility of France to live with the sovereign at Versailles, instituted a sort of school of manners. At the palace, the courtiers lived under the despotic surveillance of the king, and upon their good behavior, their deference, and their observance of etiquette their whole careers depended. If you displeased a Louis, he would simply “not see you” the following day; his gaze would pass over you as he surveyed the people before him. And not being “seen” by the king was tantamount to ceasing to count, at Versailles.
A whole timetable of ceremonies was followed, much of it revolving around the King’s own person. Intimacy with Louis meant power, and power was symbolically expressed in attending to certain of the king’s most private and physical needs: handing him his stockings to put on in the morning, being present as he used to chaise percée, rushing when the signal sounded to be present as he got ready for bed. It mattered desperately what closeness the king allowed you – whether he spoke to you, in front of whom, and for how long.
The point about Versailles was that there was no escape: the courtiers had to “make it” where they were. The stage was Louis’s, and the roles that could be played were designed by him. It was up to each courtier to fit him- or herself into one of the slots provided. The leaders of all the other towns and villages of France were made, largely through the use of etiquette, and more specifically through rudeness and judicious slighting by the tax-collecting intendants, to feel their subordination, the distance from the court.
. . . .
The French court imposed elaborate codes of etiquette on the aristocracy, among them the way to use a napkin, when to use it, and how far to unfold it in the lap. A French treatise dating from 1729 stated that “It is ungentlemanly to use a napkin for wiping the face or scraping the teeth, and a most vulgar error to wipe one’s nose with it.” And a rule of decorum from the same year laid out the protocol:
“The person of highest rank in the company should unfold his napkin first, all others waiting till he has done so before they unfold theirs. When all of those present are social equals, all unfold together, with no ceremony.”
Fashionable men of the time wore stiffly starched ruffled collars, a style protected while dining with a napkin tied around the neck. Hence the expression “to make ends meet.” When shirts with lace fronts came into vogue, napkins were tucked into the neck or buttonhole or were attached with a pin. In 1774, a French treatise declared, “the napkin covered the front of the body down to the knees, starting from below the collar and not tucked into said collar.”
Link to the rest at Etiquipedia
PG (sort of) remembers a saying to the effect that officials with the least power require the most punctilious respect for their position.
What is the position of a literary agent in 2018? Will that position change by 2028?
Traditionally, agents provided a valuable service for publishers. They strained away the worst of manuscripts thereby saving the employees of publishers untold hours of work wading through large stacks of paper to find the occasional pearl.
And, even better, agents were paid for their services by authors, not publishers.
An agent’s life is easier if all manuscripts must pass through his/her hands.
Let’s assume, for discussion purposes, that one in one thousand random manuscripts that a literary agency receives will interest a publisher. Expanding the pool of manuscripts should be good news for the agent. 5,000 manuscripts equals 5 published books, 10,000 manuscripts equals 10 published books, etc.
Yes, there’s more work involved if more manuscripts come into an agency, but a skilled agent (or a less-skilled intern) can usually discern within a few paragraphs that the author has not submitted a commercially viable manuscript. Dealing with a large number of incoming manuscripts is generally more efficient if the losers are rapidly culled. If an agent finds one reason to reject a manuscript she/he should probably not continue reading to discover whether there may be other reasons to reject the manuscript. Better to start on a fresh manuscript that may not include a reason to reject.
However, if a disturbance in the Force reduces the number of manuscripts coming in the door, that’s bad news for the agent. If one in one thousand manuscripts is going to be published and the monthly flow drops from 1,000 to 500, the agent’s income is cut in half.
Since not all manuscripts are created equal, even worse news arrives if the creators of publishable manuscripts begin to do something else with their manuscripts instead of submitting them to agents. If the ratio of publishable to received manuscripts changes from one in 1,000 to one in 2,000, the agent’s income is again cut in half.
PG is over-simplifying the situation, but the bottom line for agents is that every successful indie author represents a loss of potential income for agents as a group and one agency in particular. And it’s likely not just a loss of a single book. While some successful indie authors do go into traditional publishing exclusively or on a hybrid basis, most don’t, so an indie author with the talent to support a successful career takes many books out of an agent’s pile of money-makers.
PG suspects that documents like the OP will seem very strange to authors in future years.