Posts Tagged agents

It’s A Two-Way Street

I’ve been submitting queries about my trilogy of science-fiction novels to agents and a few editors for about fifteen years now (possibly more), and I would say that probably around half of those agents and editors now have a regular policy of not responding to an unsolicited query if they don’t intend to pursue it further.  Some don’t even bother to respond to submissions that they actively solicit (!)  (That is, if they asked for it at a meeting.)  This refusal to respond is a big part of the publishing world now, and I don’t see it changing any time soon.  It may even get worse, and most, if not all agents and publishers may eventually decide to stop responding to unsolicited queries.  I hope not for reasons I express below.

The usual reason given for the decision not to respond is the large number of queries agents and editors receive.  “A thousand a month,” is a typical measuring point.  Sometimes it’s even more.  I can certainly understand their reasoning and ultimate decision to forego a response.  Were I in their shoes and subject to all the submissions they get, I suspect I would at least give it serious consideration.

But for those of us who submit to hundreds of different agents and a fewer number of editors, not receiving a response can be frustrating.  I know in my own case—and I’m speaking only for myself at this point—it is somewhat, though I try to accept it knowing that they are very busy handling the inundation of emails/letters/other stuff they regularly get, along with their other duties.  But I want to make it clear to all those editors and agents that their decision has repercussions beyond the simple decision not to respond.  Many agents say that if the submitter doesn’t hear back within a certain amount of time, they should either contact them or query again because the submission may have gotten lost in the mail or within the email server.  Now we have to contact the agent or whoever a second time just to find out that the query has been rejected.  Time consuming and, really, unnecessary.

But my most vehement concern about agents and editors who don’t respond comes from something else that agents and editors emphasize when writers communicate with them.  We submitters must always act “professional” they say.  We must always come across as someone who knows the rules of the business of writing and publishing, and act in a manner consistent with that knowledge.  Follow the rules of each individual agency, they say; don’t be “cute” in your submission; don’t send flowers or candy with your submission; know the agent’s name and how to spell it; don’t send a letter with the salutation “Dear Agent;” don’t tell them your mother-in-law liked your book; don’t send blanket queries to a hundred agents; and so on and so forth.  Always good advice, certainly.

But it seems to me that while we submitters are always supposed to always be “professional” in our dealings with those who hold the keys to our publishing success, the reverse is also true: agents and editors must always be professional in their dealings with the writers they represent and publish.  And ensconced firmly within that requirement is a response to any and all communications.  A negative response doesn’t have to be much, just a note telling the writer they have decided not to further pursue publication.  Any query, and this applies especially to one that was actively solicited by a publishing professional, deserves a response.  That’s only professional.  After all, if publishing people don’t want to work with unprofessional writers, then those publishing professionals must realize that writers sure as hell don’t want to work with unprofessional agents and editors either.  It’s a two-way street.

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It’s Got To Be “Right”

Over the past several years, beginning in late 2011, I’ve been sending out queries to literary agents around the country, trying to persuade one of them to take on my first novel and sell it to a publisher.  (This is what most people refer to as the “traditional” method of getting published.)  So far I’ve been singularly unsuccessful in my efforts.  Rejections nowadays come in two forms.  Some agents still actually reply to a letter, invariably by email anymore.  But some agents have decided they have just too little time to send out rejection replies, and the only way you know if you’ve been rejected is to check their website and note their usual response time.  If that amount of time, or more, has passed since you sent in your query letter and you haven’t heard from them, you can assume the agent won’t be taking you on as a client.  Sadly, that second method of query rejection is becoming more and more common.

But what I want to focus on for this blog post is the general response from those who still do reply in one form or another.  Replies are invariably short and sweet, usually one or two sentences, although I have had a few rejections that took up to three paragraphs and went into exquisite detail about how busy they are and how they can take on only a few clients at a time, and so on and so forth.  That may be important to them, but it’s hardly a prospective client.  What has become interesting to me is the use of the word “right” in so many of the rejections I’ve actually gotten.  Boiling rejections down into the few significant and concise words that actually convey a message, the word “right” occurs frequently.  The agent will say, referring to the manuscript, “It’s not right for me,” or “It’s not right for our agency at this time.”  Or, “We’re not the right agency for this project.”  Or, “This particular work is just not right for me.”  Or other variations on the concept.

I’m not sure exactly what to make of that type of response.  Of the 50 rejections I’ve received so far (that’s out of over a hundred sent out), 21 have used the word “right” in one context or another.  That’s 42 percent.  (The rest have not responded at all.)  None of these have told me anything as to what the agent thought of the manuscript, so I can’t really draw any significant conclusions from their statements.  Granted, these responses are designed to be wholly and uniformly generic and serve as a rejection for any type of manuscript that crosses their computer screen.  But it would be nice to be able to conclude something from all these rejections and revise the manuscript to reflect what people are saying.

Ah, the caprices of being a writer.

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