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    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Either We Lovin’ Or I’ll See You Tomorrow

Dear Betsy Lerner:
I have three short questions:
#1.  If I have sent my entire manuscript, or the required excerpts–Chapter 1, etc., to an agent via email, per his or her request, and I haven’t heard back yet…how long should I wait before sending a followup?
#2.  If I receive a positive rejection via email from an agent who has read my work, should I send them a thank you for having read it?  It feels like that’s just good manners.
#3.  If I sent an email query to my absolute number 1 choice for an agent following his/her instructions to a T, and didn’t hear back, even automatically, should I try again?
Dear Three Questions:  These aren’t really questions so much as matters to midrash as great biblical scholars have done for years not unlike: Can I wear white after Labor Day and if so under what circumstances? If I bring a baby gift to a shower, do I need to send another when the baby is born?  Do I tip the hairdresser if she owns the shop? In other words, these are questions of protocol and what makes them interesting is that they can be endlessly debated. All writers sweat submission protocol as they should–it’s that fraught moment when you are testing your work against the market, albeit the agent market. And unless you’ve been writing for magazines, you are probably new and terrified.  It’s like being fourteen and wondering if you’ll know how to kiss right. Obviously, there are no hard and fast rules,  But since you asked:
1. I would follow up in three weeks.
2. I’m always in favor of good manners, especially if the agent has given you real feedback.
3. Yes, try again. Always try for for what you want.
Your thoughts, advice, experiences??

26 Responses

  1. Good questions, good answers for newbies like me. Thankyamuch!

  2. P.S. See what kinda haircut you get the next time if you *don’t* tip the salon owner…

  3. Betsy, you’re always a delight and congrats on your ann. Follow-ups have saved my life, but I never heard as early as 3 weeks…a new strategy…I love it. And here’s a corollary question: when do you follow-up to a famous author who requested the book for a possible blurb? I think these guys are even busier than you guys. I tried it at the 3 1/2 month period, and it seemed cool with him. I’ll consult the Talmud now in case I don’t hear from you.

  4. As usual your advice is pertinent and thoughtful. Surprisingly free of explicit language though. What the fuck?

  5. After attending a critique seminar, I collected business cards from all the panelists who reviewed my work and wrote them each a note thanking them for their comments. One publisher contacted me with further encouragement and a warmly worded remark that I was the first person from that seminar to get a TY to her. That not-so-subtle hint certainly reinforced my belief that good business manners are not a waste of time.

  6. I just found out my moon is in scorpio. Maybe that’s why I have such a hard time with these kinds of questions.

  7. I always thank, when the thanks are appropriate. I believe this is very important. It’s both professional and decent.

    I also believe it’s professional and decent for any agent (or editor) who solicits queries and/or submissions to stay on top of their business well enough to respond in a timely fashion, particularly if they have specifically requested material from me. If they can’t, I have doubts about doing business with them. I may be just another writer, but I make my deadlines and I keep my commitments and I don’t keep people waiting because I can’t get my act together. I expect no less from editors and agents.

  8. Thanks for answering these, Betsy.

    The only answer I knew for sure was #3, in theory, anyway.

  9. I never thought about sending a thank you card after being rejected. On one hand I find that very classy. On the other, it feels so wrong.

  10. Good manners never go out of style, and I believe everyone appreciates acknowledgement for efforts made, so yes, I do generally send a brief thank you for a personal rejection. The form letter kind of rejection? Nah.

  11. I love well mannered people. It seems to unfashionable these days to show courtesy, so when someone goes the extra mile, it really stands out. From shopping to restaurants to beauty therapists, I expect top notch manners, so I try to follow my own advice.
    I have thanked agents for their rejections of my masterpiece–it kind of rounds things off a little and hopefully puts me in a favourable light. Even form rejections. When La Senza so beautifully gift wrapped a couple of pairs of knickers I bought the other day, even though they weren’t, y’know, ‘the special ones’, I was bowled over. The assistant was so thoughtful and polite. It made my day.

  12. Yes, I think good manners are chic and good karma. Please, thank you and sorry, the third being the big one to use when necessary.

    I always say thank you to rejections, I used to be a fine secretary.

    • Just in case I wasn’t clear, only thank agents and editors who have gone out of their way to say something specific about your work. DO NOT THANK PEOPLE FOR FORM OR PERFUNCTORY REJECTIONS. Betsy

  13. Thank you for this post. I’ve always appreciated it when I’ve received a thoughtful response to a query, even if it is just a nice rejection (some are better than others). I’ve sent thank you notes and have received some positive, or at least constructive, feedback in response. Sometimes it’s what keeps me going.

  14. Do I tip the hairdresser if she owns the shop?


    It’s sad I know more about this than publishing, but friends, this is what I can offer you.

  15. Three weeks sure sounds early to check in — I thought three months was the norm. But I’m willing to stand corrected.

    I usually write back with a quick thanks when I get a personal rejection, but not always…sometimes I just don’t want to clutter the person’s inbox even more. But I should probably make it a more consistent habit.

  16. I’m a compulsive thank-you-note writer. I send them after someone takes me out to dinner or invites me to their home for dinner; I send them for gifts received; and I always send one to an agent who has responded to a query of mine even if the response is lukewarm at best.

    I figure the publishing world is a tough enough place. A little civility is a nice thing.

    Great advice, Betsy! Thank you. 🙂

  17. how many phone calls in a row is considered obsessive?
    what if you hang up as soon as they answer, does that count?
    can your thank-you note be pieced together with a hundreds of different letters cut from pages of books they’ve represented?
    (and if so, should you tell them which books you’ve used or ask them to tell you?)
    is it a good idea to add the agents you are pitching to your email forward list so that they receive all the anti-government and jesus-love emails your uncle sends you? (you know, as a way to stay on their radar while you wait to hear how much they loved the 1200 page manuscript you sent in 14-point font.)

  18. Two thirds of the answers, to me, are weird.

    1. Not weird.

    2. This depends HUGELY on whether or not it is a form rejection or not. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re a newbie. If it DEFINITELY, HANDS DOWN is a personal comment, sure. Otherwise DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES RESPOND.

    3. This depends HUGELY on the agent’s/agency’s policy. It is almost always mentioned on the website. If there is no such information, sure, try again. But be SURE you just haven’t overlooked it.

    • #2. Will the world implode if someone accidently sends a thank you to a form rejection? I once had a doc tell me it was probable I had a tumor that kills people in a nasty way. A unwanted letter is not a big deal and if someone thinks it is I wouldn’t consider them a good business partner anyway.

      #3. As with anything, I think it’s how you approach it. Hey, I didn’t receive a confirmation that you received my query. I’m sending it again just in case. If this is a duplicate please disregard it. I’d probably write it more formally, but that would be my gist.

  19. this is so helpful!

  20. Thanks as always for the advice, Betsy. Always appreciated.

  21. Wow. Excellent advice. I have to admit that the 3 week followup startled me, but I guess it makes sense since the agent has already agreed to read the material. Thanks, Betsy.

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