“Why Don’t Agents Give Feedback?”


I follow agent Jessica Sinsheimer on Twitter and she offered this great behind-the-agent- curtain look at why (most) agents don’t give feedback (very often). (Parentheses are my own. Some agents do give feedback and some give it occasionally, but I certainly understand the spirit of Jessica’s thread.) 

Disclaimers: Settle in. This will take a bit to read but it’s important to understanding the industry so it’s worth it. And, forgive the wonky formatting. 
Jessica Sinsheimer @jsinsheim Ravenous reader, lazy gourmet, literary agent + cheese-obsessed human. Co-creator of #PubTalkTV#MSWL, Manuscript Wish List® + http://ManuscriptAcademy.com/welcome 
New York, NY
Joined April 2011
 Jessica Sinsheimer‏ @jsinsheim

So it’s very common for writers to ask why agents don’t give feedback. The answer, usually, is that we’re busy–but that’s hard to grasp on a concrete level. Today, the lovely and talented @BenFaulknerEd mentioned reading tons, and out of curiosity, I did the math to compare.

    • Jessica Sinsheimer‏ @jsinsheim Feb 6
      So we get (I did the math awhile ago) an average of 39.98 queries a workday times 5 days = 2,158 pages/month from queries. I probably read an average of 2/10 of the included pages, so that’s 1 query + 2 pages times 2,158 = 6,474 pages/month.
    • With a 7.5% request rate (2.99/day times 5 (M-F) times 4 (weeks in month) = 59.97 manuscripts. If I read 20 pages each on average (keep in mind many are picture books), that’s 1,199.4 pages of requested material/month + 6,474 unrequested = 7,673.4 pages a month of submissions.
    • Now, I strongly suspect the 7.5 percent is high (this was calculated maybe two years ago?). But even say it’s 3 percent now, that’s 1.1994 requests a day, times 5 (M-F), times 4 (weeks) times 20 (average pages read) = 479.76 requested pages read/month.
    • So, yes, we are busy. No, we are not sitting here cackling like “Haha, I know exactly how to fix her manuscript, and I’m not telling her! Why? Because! Bwahahahaa!” Much as I receive a lot of correspondence to this effect.
    • I suspect a lot of agents have similar inboxes (I’ve heard everywhere from 10-50 average queries a day). Many probably have lower request rates (perhaps closer to 1-2%). Many have assistants, interns, teams. However, I suspect that 0% of agents enjoy making writers wait.

      Keep in mind that I don’t get all day to read submissions. I actually spend more time on clients, meetings, my own submissions, contracts, and the like. I’m pretty much reading during downtime–evenings, weekends, subway, train trips, plane trips, waiting in line.

      Things I could do to be faster (of course I’ve considered them!): 1) Not respond to queries. This would save about 30 seconds from each, times 39.98 times 5 (M-F) times 4 (weeks) divided by 60 (convert to minutes) = 399.8 minutes a month, or 6.6633 hours.

      2) Let readers make all of the query requesting decisions for me. Now, if you know me at all, you know I am waaaaayyyyyy too much of a control freak to let that happen. I read all queries myself.

      3) Manuscripts–same. 

      4) Drink more coffee, sleep less. I’m up to two coffees a day, one tea. Just tried the Starbucks app for the first time today (it was weird–too easy). I think that’s enough. Otherwise I’ll just run around all day. And bad things happen fast if I don’t sleep.

      5) Give Up Everything Fun And Just Be An Efficient Human, Dammit: Believe me, I’ve tried. Strangely, this makes me miserable and worse at my job. I do need some degree of happiness in my life to be able to function as a creative person–which an agent is. Always. So. That’s out. 

      So, that’s where I’m at. Do I still expect lots of “Agents are so mean because they don’t give feedback” emails? Yes. And the check-ins at three weeks? And the “I am so tired of agents being SO UNPROFESSIONAL and NOT GIVING ANY FEEDBACK” tweets? Yes. 

      And there’s one now. Cool.

      You may be asking, “Jessica! Why in the world are you doing side projects when you have all of this happening?” The answer is that, for me, it’s easier to keep moving. A change, for me, even if just a setting (office vs coworking space vs home) is more restorative than a rest.

      And I get genuine energy and pleasure out of connecting people. I think all agents do. Makes me feel like what I do is meaningful. And that means so much more than numbers could. 

      Keep in mind that there are a LOT of “Dear Sirs” and “I have published the next bestseller please take it on or else here’s my number” queries. At time of tweeting, I have 6 “Dear Sir/Madam,” 2 “Next bestseller,” and 1 “Next JK Rowling” queries waiting. Do I try to keep up? Yes! Do I achieve inbox zero? No! Inbox 100? No. Do I try to keep in touch about delays? Yes! Do I always manage to check in with everyone when things take a long time? Sadly, no. Am I constantly feeling guilt about making so many people wait? Yes. Yes, I am. 

    • Do I suspect some agents just manage to be faster through…magic? Better systems? Better coffee? Not sleeping? Working harder? Being better at life? Yes. Definitely. This is just where I’m at, now. Catch me in a few years, and things may be very different.
  1. New conversation
    • Replying to @jsinsheim @BenFaulknerEd Wonderful thread. I’ve however had only 1 unanswered question about all this. Perhaps cause I’ve hardly ever asked! And it’s this: with soooo much reading, doesn’t reading fatigue set in badly enough to color your judgement? Do you then respond well mostly to formulaic writing

      Jessica Sinsheimer‏ @jsinsheim Feb 6 The opposite, actually. I feel like I’m reading for voice, energy. A lot of things–unusual things, specific things too–make me go “Oh, I’ve seen five of those this month already.” But a query that feels like it’s alive on the page? Shockingly rare, and I love it.