literary agent

Why Do Literary Agents Take So Long to Respond?

“The agent requested my proposal right away after I sent my pitch. But it’s been two weeks, and I haven’t heard a word. Is that good or bad? When should I follow up?” That’s the most frequent question from my book coaching clients.

The question about when to follow up after a query is much easier.  If the agent loves your query, they’ll get back to you typically in a day or two.  (And considering that an agent frequently gets 50-100 email pitches a day, that’s fast!) And what if the agent doesn’t love your brief query? It’s becoming more and more common for agents just not to respond at all. End of story—with that particular agent.

The harder question:  When to follow up after the agent responds to your query, expresses interest in the book project, and requests your proposal? That answer is more complex.

Before understanding when to follow up after sending your full proposal, you’ll need to consider exactly what’s going on behind the scenes in the typical agent’s review and sales process.

I’ve learned of their process (and the variations) from working with 7 agents during my own 48-book writing career (plus hearing tales from author colleagues and book-writing clients).  You may be asking, “Seven agents? Why so many?”

Answer: Agents retire.  They go out of business. They change specialties and no longer work in the same genre as you write. Consequently, a change of agents is in order.


Behind the Scenes at Your Literary Agency

So back to what’s going on behind the scenes before the agent responds to your proposal:

  1. The agent typically has two or three other readers to review the proposal, weed out the garbage, and give their opinions on the salability of those proposals with potential. (So let’s say those two or three readers take a couple of weeks to review the proposal. After all, they have a pile of others proposals on their desk.)
  2. If the first readers like the proposal and pass it on with a move-ahead recommendation, then the agent reads the proposal. That’s going to happen over their next free weekend or late evening after hours. (During the day, they’re pitching, selling, negotiating contracts, or networking with editors.)
  3. Let’s say the agent loves your idea, but needs more assurance they can sell it. So as they find time, they’ll check out your profile on various social media sites to see what kind of presence you have there. What do you post? How many followers do you have? How engaged are your followers? Then if you’ve written other books, they’ll check your track record on BookScan. They may also research how well competing books have sold.


(The agent MAY or MAY NOT get back to the author at this point to say, “Let’s work together; here’s my contract for signature.”)

  1. If all is still a “go” at this point, the agent will put together a list of ideal editors for your project (based on their notes from prior conversations with those editors or by checking their upcoming lists).
  2. Then they’ll often make a phone call to each of those ideal, top-tier editors and ask if they’d like to see the proposal. Once all seven or eight of their editors return their phone call and the agent has a “yes” from some or all of them, the agent will email your proposal so all the editors get it at the same time. (This simultaneous “send” often generates a bidding situation among the editors, which is great news for you, the author!)
  3. The “yes, interested” editors need to review your proposal. Once again, they may not find time until the weekend or in the evening after work hours.
  4. The agent tries to wait until all interested editors have reviewed the proposal and responded with a “yes” or “no.” He or she is hoping to receive several positive responses so they can play these editors against each other in a bidding situation.
  5. Let’s say that two of the first eight editors get back to your agent with a “We love this book” email or phone call. They tell your agent that they’re “taking it to committee for a final decision.”


(The agent MAY or MAY NOT get back to the author at this point to say, “I have two interested parties taking your book to committee on X and Y dates. Did I ever send you my agency agreement to sign? Here’s another copy—I need you to sign it and get it back to me right away.”)

  1. The interested editors send your proposal around to their colleagues so that all are prepared to discuss it at the next editorial meeting. That publisher may have a weekly editorial meeting—or a monthly editorial meeting. So another time lag happens here—depending on how long until the publisher’s next scheduled meeting.
  2. After their editorial meeting, potentially both editors call your agent and say, “Everybody here loves your proposal. I’ve got approval. . . . Here’s our offer….”
  3. The agent gets back to YOU when the two offers for consideration. You decide which offer sounds best. Then your agent and that editor negotiate other terms and details.


The Answer as to When to Follow Up With Your Literary Agent?

This blow-by-blow activity list gives you some idea of what typically goes on behind the scenes at your literary agent’s office.

So when to follow up during the process? That depends on two things:  1) Your agent’s working style and habits in keeping authors informed along the way and 2) Your patience.

You can also see how crucial a great proposal is.  It has to pass through a lot of hands before you get that contract and advance check!  And speaking of great proposals…..  Go to to check out the date for the next Booher Book Camp!


Learn more about publishing in my next Booher Book Camp at


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