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.
But here’s what I would do:
How often to follow up on query letters
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.
How often to follow up on partial and full manuscript requests
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.
Unless, that is, you receive an offer of representation from an agent. In which case…
How to follow up when you receive an offer of representation
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.
Opinions vary somewhat on whether to follow up with agents who just have your query letter, but if you have a dream agent on your list it’s not going to kill your chances to follow up with them. (I wouldn’t advise sending out new queries though).
Here’s more on how to handle an offer of representation from a literary agent.
How to follow up when an agent is representing you
Communication frequency is something that you should try to discuss with your agent at the outset. And remember agent Jessica Faust’s reminder that communication is a two-way street and you owe your agent good communication as much as they owe to you.
Bear in mind that things tend to move pretty slowly in the publishing industry. It’s not like other industries where swift communication is the norm.
Therefore, barring something really pressing or timely, plan to wait to follow up after a few weeks for normal communications and a month if they’re reading a manuscript or proposal.
When you send follow ups, remember: agents are busy
You have one manuscript to worry about. Agents are juggling dozens. Try to remember that the nature of the job is hectic and don’t let your impatience get the best of you.
Whenever you follow up with an agent:
- Always be exceedingly polite
- Double-check their guidelines before following up
- Reply to your existing thread of conversation with the agent so they can easily see your previous correspondence.
- Give them all the context they need to easily respond to your message (e.g. if you’re following up on a manuscript, re-attach the manuscript).
Have a scenario I haven’t covered? Disagree with any of the timelines? Let me know in the comments!
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Art: Der Brief by Eduard Ender