status updates: when and how to do it

Do you know the difference between a status query and a status update? It goes something like this:

  • status query: you are asking about the status of your manuscript. You hope information will come back.
  • status update: you are notifying someone about the status of your manuscript. You do not require information to come back.

If you want to learn more about status queries and how I feel about them,  read post, status queries: when and how to do it.

So you want to do a status update? Let’s make sure any one of these situations apply.

  • You failed to set an expiration date on your exclusive to a publisher or agent. Too much time has passed and you want to remove the exclusive, or at the very least, get them going.
  • Your manuscript is being considered by an agent and you’ve gotten word another agent is seriously interested or offering representation
  • Your manuscript is under consideration by an agent and you’ve received word an editor wants to a) see the whole book based on a decent sized-sample she’s already read b) take it to acquisitions, or c) buy it.
  • Your manuscript is being considered by an editor and you’ve gotten word another editor wants to a) take it to acquisitions. Or b) buy it.
  • Your manuscript is with an editor who wants to a) take it acquisitions or b) buy it. You’ve just acquired an agent or want to acquire one.
  • You wish to withdraw a manuscript from consideration.

Alright. So you’re in one of these situations. We can do a status update.

Remove exclusive/or extend exclusive

  • If you’ve had email contact with the agent or editor before, you may send this update via this channel unless the recipient told you never to email them again. In general, they’ll want to know this information in a timely manner so they don’t let the manuscript sit there forever thinking it’s protected when it’s not anymore. If you’ve never emailed them before, then do it by letter. Read post, anatomy of a cover letter if you’ve forgotten what a business letter looks like. In the body of your cover letter or email, you’ll want to be BRIEF AND POLITE. I’ll say it again. BRIEF AND POLITE.
      • Likely outcome: The agent or editor will zip you an email (if you include this on your cover letter) and ask you for more time. Or the agent will put you up faster on her reading list since the manuscript is no longer exclusive. Either way, you win. BUT DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, do a status update like this if you haven’t let a reasonable chunk of time elapse. For agents, this is usually one to two months, UNLESS you already know they will take longer. (If the recipient asks for something like three months–after you’ve sent off your work–at that point, you can let them know you can’t grant the exclusive for that long and he’ll probably still try to read your manuscript in less time. Use your judgment though. If this is the number one agent on your list, you might allow them more time. But no matter what, don’t be a pushover and give them something like six months or a year to look at your work, okay? Demand some respect. And if the agent can’t respect your time as much as you do his, maybe he’s not the agent for you. As for editors, you should give them more leeway before you remove an exclusive, I’d say two months minimum before you remove an exclusive (unless you already know it takes them longer to review exclusives).
      • Your other option: give the agent or editor another couple of weeks and let them know the exclusivity ends then. Like so…
      • When I say interest, I do not mean another agent requested your manuscript off a query letter. You don’t want to ping agents every time your ms is requested. Why? Chances are if one agent requested it, so did many more. Agents already know that.
      • When I say interest, I mean an agent is seriously thinking about representing you. The agent might have emailed you asking for a phone meeting. Or she might have said, “OH, I like this – let me share it with my boss for an approval.” Or she might have said, “I want to rep you.”
      • This is when you let the other agents know an agent is seriously interested. WHAT? you say. You mean I don’t accept the offer on the spot? Yes, that’s what I mean. Read post, how to submit your work to editors or agents for the reason why. Now…you want to make an informed business decision. So you give yourself the right to choose your agent. You status update the others. Try not to send the update by mail. This stuff is time-sensitive! If you can’t find the agent’s email address, resort to the letter and get it out quickly. But in almost all cases, you should be able to get an email address for an agent. I don’t know a children’s agent who is that firmly ensconced in the dark ages.
      • This also assumes the agents you are contacting have already received your query at the least. It’s too late now to bring new agents into the picture. If you find yourself wanting to do that, you didn’t do your agent search in the right order, now did you? Cynthea will not advise you to start cold calling or randomly emailing your number one agent because you thought you’d query your least favorite agent first. [Read post, how to submit your work to agents->how to submit your work to editors or agents] on the importance of prioritizing your agent list.
      • Your email will need to be extremely polite and again BRIEF. You’re interrupting his or her work day, remember?
      • Likely outcome: The agent will respond very quickly and let you know they’ve bumped you up on the reading list. Or the agent will ask for your work ASAP (if they don’t already have it). Or the agent doesn’t respond. (This didn’t happen to me, but I’m sure if the agent was in Tahiti those weeks, it could). No matter what, you win all around by speeding up the entire process and getting answers quickly. The agents win too because you’ve helped them point out there could be a salable work in that giant slush pile of theirs. Great agents will recognize this benefit instantly and won’t fault you for the nudge. And if they do, their bad. Not yours.
      • Warning: If you choose to follow this advice, you must be prepared to handle all the possible consequences and what-ifs. What if your #3 agent wants to rep you and you never hear from agent #1 after the nudge? OR what if the agents you nudged decide it’s too late for them and forget all about you? Can you live with that? The C LIU take? Don’t sweat it. This is all part of the process. It’s not your fault an agent dropped the ball on you. Decided they didn’t want to get back to you. Or failed to see how brilliant your work was. Sign with the agent who’s enthusiastic about your work, has the track record and the experience in your genre. Don’t worry about trying to get as many offers as you can. That is not the object of the game. The object is to find the best agent for your work.
      • So you might ask: How on earth does this happen? Wouldn’t the agent know of an editor’s interest? Let me explain. Remember how long it takes for editors to get to that slush pile? Sometimes, you might decide you’re ready for an agent when you’ve already got your manuscript out there.
      • Say you query a few agents. All of them are sitting on your manuscript right now (or at different stages of the query process). Then you get an email from an editor asking for a small revision request before they take it to acquisitions. Maybe the editor says, I want to buy it. Do you notify the agents this happened?
      • Cynthea says, yes. Why? Help the agent out by letting them know your work is drawing significant interest. If your story is their cup of tea, they’ll move you up in the reading pile. Most agents like information that lets them know they might have a hot one on their hands. They’ll dig up the query letter they haven’t read yet or take a peek at your mansucript (if they have it) to see if they agree.
      • Example (if email, title it something like…Status update for YA MS TITLE)

        Dear Ms. Agent:

        I wanted to let you know an editor from [insert house] has expressed interest in buying my novel MS TITLE. At your request, I have already sent the manucript to you in August and would love to secure representation. If you need more information, please let me know.

        Thank you for your time and consideration.

        Sincerely,

        YOU

      • Paste in a copy of your query letter below this so the agent can refresh her memory on what your story is about. Don’t make her search if she doesn’t have to.
      • Please don’t take this to imply I want you to run an auction on your own. But it could make sense for you to let an editor know (who already has your book) that another editor wants to a) take your book to acquisitions. Or b) buy it. NOTE: If you have an agent, the agent will do this for you.
      • If you don’t have an agent already, a situation like this might also be a great time to step up your search for an agent. [Read post, how to find a great agent->how to find a great agent]. If you go this route, you’ll want the acquiring editor to know you plan on securing one if things are a go. Read the next section for an example of this type of notification.
      • Say you don’t want an agent. You are capable of representing yourself. Then you need to put on your agent hat and act like one. If you get serious interest for a manuscript, you have to decide if you should let other contending editors know what is going on or not. Sometimes letting other editors know of another editor’s interest can backfire. Some editors don’t want to compete or know they can’t compete so they give up. Others will fight to the finish for your work (depending on how good it is). You have to be your own strategist. I can’t tell you what your strategy should be. (I have my own agent and let her decide that for me.) You have to figure that out for yourself. And what you tell those editors is completely up to you. My gut impression is, if you decide to notify other editors, you should be pretty sure a deal is going to happen AND you should be polite, professional, unassuming, truthful, and brief.
      • If you find yourself scrambling for an agent because an editor wants to extend an offer on your book, you’ll want to let the editor know this is your plan. Please don’t communicate this in a snotty way as if the deal has already been inked. Communicate this professionally and politely.
      • This information is relevant to the acquiring editor. And it’s also your right to have an agent or literary attorney present to represent you if you’re not comfortable with legal talk and money talk should things go that way. IDEALLY THOUGH, you get an agent first and you never end up in this situation where your dropping bombs on people last minute.
      • Did you hear me? If you want an agent, YOU GET AN AGENT FIRST BEFORE YOU SUB YOUR WORK TO EDITORS. No one likes surprises or dealing with sometimes sticky situations.
      • Some people may forget about this one after a contract has been signed. They’re too busy partying it up to remember their manners. BUT PLEASE, do this. You don’t want an editor all gung-ho about your work only to discover it sold two months ago. The same is true for agents. Use email if you already have an email relationship. A letter if you don’t.
      • NOTE: Do not withdraw manuscripts before you have a signed contract. You never know if a deal will fall through last minute. Also, there are some other situations which might require a manuscript withdrawal. Say, if your book has rotted with the publisher for over eight months, and now the manuscript is twenty-thousand words longer and features a bunny as an MC versus a car. Let your own judgment be your guide on when to withdraw. You don’t want to ping people like crazy because you repeatedly send out your manuscripts before they’re really done. Not good.
    • If email, give it a fairly useful title like Status update for MS TITLE

      Dear Ms. Editor:

      I want to thank you for considering my middle grade novel INSERT TITLE which I sent in August. However, now that a month has passed (or X months), I am afraid I must remove the exclusive soon. It will expire on X date (allow a couple of days for mail time and add two weeks). You are welcome to keep the manuscript under consideration as long as you wish. I will update you should another editor express serious interest in the work.

      All best,

      You

      Inform an agent of another agent’s interest

      Example

      Title the email with something useful. Like…Status update for ms TITLE

      Dear Ms. Agent:

      I wanted to let you know another agent has expressed serious interest in my book INSERT TITLE. (Details like “She wants to schedule a call for tomorrow” will help support your claim. DO NOT LIE THOUGH. If the agent has already offered representation, then say another agent has offered representation.”) However, I would still like you to consider my work. (read between the lines: I want to give you a fair shake at winning my business.) I have let the agent know I am taking a couple of weeks to make my decision.

      Sincerely,

      YOU

      Inform an agent of an editor’s interest

      Inform an editor of another editor’s interest

      Inform an editor you have (or will have) an agent

      Example:

      Dear Mr. Editor:

      I am so pleased you will be taking the manuscript to acquisitions. If you will be able to extend an offer, I want to let you know I intend to secure an agent. I didn’t want you to be surprised with this information later.

      Thanks again for championing my work. I look forward to hearing from you.

      Sincerely,

      YOU

      Withdraw the manuscript from consideration

      If email…title it something like: Withdrawing mg novel TITLE from consideration

      Dear Ms. Agent (or editor):

      Thank you for considering my novel X TITLE which I sent to you in September. I am writing to let you know I have secured representation for my work (or the book has been sold).

      Sincerely,

      YOU

  • Example:

    Dear Mr. Agent (or Editor):


    I want to thank you for considering my middle grade novel INSERT TITLE which I sent in August. However, now that a month has passed
    (or X months), I am afraid I must remove the exclusive. You are welcome to keep the manuscript under consideration and I will update you should another agent (or editor) express serious interest in the work.

    All best,

    You

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    • Happy “status updating,”

      Cynthea

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