Reading Requested Materials
As the end of 2019 approached, I returned to my December “workout” of reading every single query and requested manuscript by the week of Christmas. In publishing, there’s a good chance many people are out of the office over the holidays and generally get some much-needed time off from the busy pace of seeing books to publication. And we all love a clean slate on our tablets and inboxes in the new year.
It doesn’t matter how much preparation I personally do, inevitably the reading will back up during the fall. There are conferences to attend and classes to teach, and I’m pitching my authors’ books to editors. Once these things are taken care of, I know I’m generally in a better state of mind to read new ideas—versus considering them while operating on little sleep or little free time. Plus, it’s to any author’s advantage that the agent(s) considering their book is able to read the idea without feeling stretched for time and/or attention.
A few things to remember when sending your book out:
When querying agents, it’s important your idea is in the best shape it can be. If it’s a work of fiction, it needs to be done—and not in the early drafts of completion. For nonfiction, the book proposal needs to be fully completed as well as sample chapters. I know immediately an idea is not ready when someone sends me further requested materials and keeps sending updated versions of the same materials. If a writer sends a query letter and materials are requested, it’s going to be assumed the idea is ready for consideration. It can get confusing if new versions keep getting sent, as some agents read materials in chronological order of receipt (I know I do). It’s best to wait and send your book when it’s fully ready.
It can take a while. Ideally we want to read your book idea in one to two months, but the reality is that it’ll take longer. It’s not a judgement of the book or the author; the overall process of reading new ideas simply takes time—lots of it. In the bigger picture, our authors will take precedence over the query pile, and the same goes for reading new ideas. Just when I start receiving queries, inevitably several of my authors will send their newest ideas. I will always read these first, because I want to ensure my authors are prioritized at our agency.
Never take any rejections for your book personally. Once an agent reads your requested materials, a decision will be sent. Sometimes there may be little reason provided, while other times they’ll break down why they didn’t connect with the idea. If you keep track of these responses, it’s a helpful guide to figuring out what types of revisions are needed in the future or if the book needs to be temporarily shelved and a new idea developed. We can’t provide a full critique for everyone, as writing a personal rejection letter on what worked (and didn’t work) takes time.
This past year, I decided to keep a journal of my responses for every book idea requested. And it was eye opening. Just like any agent, I’m always looking at the pacing, the premise of the story, and if the stakes are clear. Some people pulled me into their ideas quickly, but many stories lost steam before the end. While reading is a very subjective experience, it’s important that any agent who considers your idea is able to engage with the story from the beginning to the end. If I can finish a manuscript and it stays with me well beyond the pages, that means the author has struck a note—and I’m more than likely going to want to have the Call with them.
Agents are waiting for your best idea, and there’s nothing wrong with taking your time to ensure the necessary time is given, however long it may take, in ensuring the best version of your book reaches our inboxes. I can’t wait to see those new ideas in 2020.
Dawn Michelle Frederick is the owner of and literary agent at Red Sofa Literary, established in 2008. She brings a broad knowledge of the book business to the table, bringing multiple years of experience as a bookseller in independent, chain, and specialty stores; sales and marketing; and book development. She was previously a literary agent at Sebastian Literary Agency, and she has a BS in human ecology and an MS in information sciences. Dawn cofounded the MN Publishing Tweet Up and is the current president of the Twin Cities Advisory Council for MPR, a member of the BOD for Loft Literary, and a teaching artist at Loft Literary. You can find her on Twitter at @redsofaliterary.