status queries: when and how to do it

So things haven’t gone as you’d hoped. Your manuscript went off months ago, and your phone didn’t ring off the hook with five editors or agents vying for your awesome book.
You find yourself wondering – what are they doing with my manuscript?

Did it get lost in the mail?
Did my dog Rufus eat my rejection letter?
Did I even include my manuscript in the submission?!

Status queries is a touchy subject where people will have different opinions. Especially about:

  1. When to query for status
  2. How to query for status

I’ll give you my take on status queries.
I don’t status query.* (See below for one exception.)

Q: Gasp! Why?

A: I view status queries as a waste of time for both you and the editor or agent. You can also be an annoyance if:

  1. You’ve status-queried too soon from the editor’s or agent’s point of view.
  2. You’ve somehow given the editor or agent the impression that you can’t trust her to get to it when she gets to it.

You will never be able to control how an editor or agent will interpret your status query. While it is doubtful that editor or agent will reject your submission simply because you queried for status, it’s not exactly a positive interaction to have with him or her. At best, it is a neutral or a negative one. But more importantly, this is about you and your anxiety over something that is beyond your control.
Trust the system.

Q: But how do you get your questions about the status of your manuscript answered?
A: I make logical assumptions.

  1. If my book had sold or if the agent had wanted to rep me, he would find a way to reach me via email or phone. (The magazine market is a bit different though. I’m only going to speak to the fiction book market). Therefore, if the person had responded by mail, and I didn’t get it somehow, it was probably a rejection one way or another.
  2. If I never hear from them, no biggie. There are plenty of agents or editors in the sea. And there is nothing that precludes me from sending a different book to them – into the black hole – if I so wish. Getting no response has only happened to me once. I learned from Blue Board that other people never heard from this editor either.
  3. This brings me to a relevant point: there is a trend with many publishing houses and literary agencies where editors and agents will not respond unless they are interested.
  4. Finally, there’s one more conclusion I can draw. The editor or agent hasn’t gotten to it yet. Bingo!

Please note: If you simply must, must, must have closure, do what you need to do. Sometimes things do get lost in the shuffle, but always make sure you check the publisher’s guidelines and wait beyond the expected response time before querying.

* There is one case when I do a status query:
The editor or agent has specified that she would like me to do so if a certain amount of time has passed (not too common). She wants me to nudge. I will perform the status query as the editor or agent requests, either by phone (yes, they sometimes ask for a call), by email, or by letter.

Q: But what if my manuscript is on an exclusive and they’ve had it forever?
A: Perhaps you haven’t read this post, Exclusive Submission or Simultaneous Submission?. If you had, you would have known to set an expiration date on your exclusive. This date either matches what the submission guidelines were for the recipient. Or it was a date established by you if there were no guidelines and you had to grant an exclusive because of certain circumstances.
Setting an expiration date eliminates the need to let the editor know that the exclusive no longer applies. There is also no need to nudge or status query.
If you did give an exclusive and you’d like to set an expiration date with the editor or agent, then you need to give the person a status update. Read my related post, Status Updates: When and How to Do It. This article covers the cases in which you should contact the editor or agent post-submission.

Return to step nine – wait if you are taking the crash course.

7 thoughts on “status queries: when and how to do it

  1. Suppose one has sent work to an agent who said, “I will read this by the end of X month.” With a month and a half to go before that deadline, a published illustrator/author in one of one’s writing groups looks at something written since the Agential Sub and says, “This would really be fun to illustrate. Would you mind if I sent it to [Editor’s Name Withheld]?” and you say, “Mind? By no means! I’d be indebted!” or words to that effect.

    Would a note mentioning this be a reasonable status update?

  2. Well, first, you have a really nice friend in your writing group. Second, this is a very good question. You might want to to let your friend know it’s already been sent to an agent and whether or not you plan to work with an agent, in general, in the event the work is sold. Just so the editor at the other end is not surprised later.

    Now back to the agent. If the agent has the work on an exclusive basis, then yes, it could warrant a contact by just saying your work has been referred to an editor by a published author and you wanted to let them know you are sending it on. You hope the agent understands and you will keep them posted as necessary.

    However, if it’s a simultaneous submission, you may simply decide to not mention anything and see what happens with the editor before acting. There’s a good chance nothing will come of it, as any manuscript has a terrific chance of being rejected. Sorry to say this, but it is the truth, yes? If the editor does want to buy the manuscript, then you can contact the agent and let them know X editor would like to buy your work and you are interested in knowing if the agent would like to continue to consider you as a client. That will usually get you a very quick response.

    Anyway, it all boils down to what you’re comfortable with. And are you prepared for the potential outcomes? To status update or not to status update? The choice is yours.

    If this were Snoop and the sub was simultaneous, he probably wouldn’t say anything at all unless someone showed him the money.

    Hope that helps.

  3. Wow! I certainly didn’t expect an answer so quickly! Thanks!

    Believe me, I know what a lovely offer it is to send someone else’s ms to an editor, and that there’s no guarantee of anything.

    If the work were one that I’d sent to Courted Agent, I think I might’ve sent a note already. Thing is, it’s one that didn’t exist when I sent the submissions. As in, submissions November, new piece last week. So she not only hasn’t seen it (she likely hasn’t looked at the rest; she’d said a while before Christmas that she’d do that whenever she got caught up, probably this month maybe next); she has no idea it exists. (And I also greatly appreciate the fact that she gave me an idea of when not to go nuts yet. )

    Thanks for the dithering space, and the help! 😀

  4. Cynthea,

    You’re correct. If they want to buy the book, they find me. You’ve encouraged me to no longer send status queries unless asked by an editor to do so. I had a pb out for over a year at one publisher and had chalked it up as lost. Without sending a sq, I received a nice personal saying it had been on their “we like this” stack for too long. If I had sent a status query, might they have just sent a form back? Who knows? I’ve got enough pbs making the rounds that I can just chill out and not worry about those who take an extraordinary amount of time to reply.

    Thanks for the advice,
    Brian Humek

    (P.S. My last comment seemed to vanish, if you have two from me, I apologize)

  5. Hi Brian, thanks for the comment. I don’t know if they would have formed you, but you definitely saved yourself some time and postage. I myself had some nice results from submissions that took a while! And I really believe it’s important to trust the system. Very little actually does get lost and if it does, by then you probably have a new version of your manuscript anyway. hahaha! Why not spend more time focusing on writing your next masterpiece than stressing about something that isn’t really under your control? That’s what I ask my readers to think about.

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