Monday, June 01, 2009

Timing Is Everything

Question of the day: What time of year is the best time to contact an agent? From what I read and understand, the entire publishing industry goes to the Hamptons for the month of August. So, I'm wondering if there's a more opportune time to start down this publishing road of acquiring an agent who will submit it to an editor who will work with their publishing house.

The best time to contact an agent, hands down, is when your manuscript is as perfect as you can possibly get it. I know, I know, this isn't the answer you wanted, but it's the truth. In my opinion, far too many aspiring authors send out a manuscript before it is ready...they're just too antsy and want instant gratification. I'm not just talking about typos, though they're those too. I'm talking about first or second drafts that simply aren't major league ready, and sending out before you are in top form can really impede you in the process. Once an agent passes, he or she is unlikely to take a second look, even if you've majorly revised. (Yes, very occasionally he or she will, but why take that risk?)

So how do you know if you're in game day form? That's the million dollar question, of course. As I've said here, find trusted readers, listen with open ears and no ego to criticism, go through and delete, delete, delete extra exposition and scenes that don't propel the plot forward. Most importantly, I think, is to sit on it for a while. A few extra weeks won't kill you. Take a step away from it and then reread it and see if you still think it's just as genius as before. Try to remember that agents see SO MUCH STUFF that if yours isn't the cream of the crop, they'll likely pass without a second thought, and you'll be shooting yourself in the foot by sending it before it's at its very best.

Now, to answer your question, yes, August is a slow time in the industry. I'm not sure that I'd submit then, nor would I submit over the December holidays BUT, I'm also not sure that I wouldn't. (Gee, helpful, right?) Plenty of agents are still working in August (though yes, the last week is really, really dead, so I'd skip those already clogged inboxes), and things might be slow enough that you might grab their attention. I'm certain that there are writers, perhaps even who read this blog (chime in!), who garnered attention during this so-called slow time.

So again, the best thing I can tell you is sure, to perhaps be wary during August, but just to make sure that your ms is in kick-ass shape and send it in THEN. And good luck!

Readers, what say you? Better or worse times for submission?


Therese Walsh said...

I agree with what you said, Allison. December and August not so good, but also not completely dead months, either. I've heard that anytime there's a feeling of hitting the re-set button (January, spring, back-to-school in Sept), that enthusiasm for taking on new clients and making sales might be enhanced. But planning submissions based on that sort of thing is pretty superstitious. Better to present a kick-ass manuscript, anytime of year. said...

Therese said just what I was thinking. I love September and January for starting new endeavors, but that's purely based on superstition.

In which case, so maybe the counter-intuitive approach of sending on off months would work as well.

Bottom line, I'll bet it really does come down to quality.

Anonymous said...

When I was searching for an agent a few years ago, I kept hearing, "Don't query around the holidays." But my book was polished and ready to go November 1, so I queried anyway. I got requests for partials and fulls throughout November and December. One agent even requested my full the week of Christmas. And in early January I got an offer. (The book never sold, but that's a story for another time.)

Agents attend conferences, get sick, go on vacation, etc.--all of which affect their schedule. So I'm not sure there really is a "best" or "worst" time. Well, maybe the worst would be January, when agents get totally with queries from writers who want to fulfill their New Years' resolutions. I don't know . . .

sarah pekkanen said...

I wouldn't submit in August. I think you run the risk of having your project languish on editors' desks/in-boxes, and having it viewed, however unfairly, as possibly stale when editors finally get around to looking at it. It's kind of like listing a house for sale - you want a lot of people clustered around, checking it out, to build buzz and interest. You wouldn't hold an open house at 6 a.m. on a weekend, right? Publishing is tough enough. Give yourself breaks when you can and avoid submitting in August and December... just my two cents!