A thousand eyes are blinking to drown a tiny speck of dust…

Yesterday morning I wrote responses to 14 e-queries. I got three replies. Two of them were short and kind thank-you notes for taking the time to answer. Very nice. *applause to those two authors for professional and considerate behavior*

The third, well, it was a rant. And it’s not that I don’t appreciate the frustration of seeking publication. Just see my post that was on RTB recently (reposted recently on my own LJ for your edification). As much as anyone, I know that it is hard to get published. I also realize how difficult it is to get a good agent. Honestly, I do. I see the evidence constantly. I don’t need it explained to me, especially in language which seems to imply that all agents just might be utter blind fools. Perhaps I’m reading in, but it sure didn’t make me feel good – the seemingly backhanded thanks for replying at the end didn’t help either. And I certainly cannot post it here for more objective opinions, because it was private email, but I think I can talk about the general issue that it raises.

Dear writer who has worked very hard: it’s not our fault we can’t read samples of every book that is out there being written. There are just too many. Let’s suppose I had responded to all 14 of these queries (and that wasn’t all the electronic ones either; I also got about 70 of them in snailmail this week, too) and requested 14 novels to read. How long would it take you to read 14 books? And how much time would you have left to do things like, oh, review and negotiate contracts, pay clients their monies received, read current client submissions, followup on your submissions on behalf of clients, get copies of books off to associate agents overseas, answer emails from clients, find time to post rants to LJ, etc…. (and eat lunch, pay your bills, sleep(?) — does this make me sound too mundane?). The reality of the situation is that agents have to pick and choose what they chase. And while your book just may be utterly brilliant, it is desperately necessary that we try to find some way to streamline the process. Please also consider the possiblity that if no one will take a look at your work, it’s entirely possible that your query is horrifically flawed or what you’ve written hasn’t yet reached publishable quality.

And I apologize for sounding so annoyed about this but it really seems as if there are many who don’t stop to think about this aspect of the business. There’s a certain level of competition and a finite number of agents and publication spots available. In my case, there are probably around 100 people a week who want me to read something they’ve written. There’s no way to soft-pedal that. Which doesn’t mean that you have to knock down everyone else to get what you want. I hate that attitude when I see it. You can be supportive of your fellow writers and celebrate their successes. Someday they may return the sentiment. Be happy for them. Rejoice because they are proof that it can be done.

I’m not going to reply to this individual and explain to them the odds of getting published. I don’t think it would help. I’m not going to try and elaborate on the idea that a novel needs to be well-written — and so does your query! Or that the idea needs to be marketable and accessible in order for it to get published, no matter how well-written it is (unless you’re either a celebrity, or that prose is so to-die-for that a person won’t care what you’re writing about). I’m also not going to point out that once an author enters the arena of seeking professional publication, they need to act as if they are aware this is a business, which, to my mind, includes acting in a courteous fashion that wins friends and influences people. (It also means not showing up at your author/agent appointment at the conference wearing a sweat suit, but that’s another rant). It’s really a very basic concept that seems to be missing so often lately: respect given will often generate respect returned.

In response to a couple comments about the job post for DMLA, I was going to ask what people had to lose by re-querying either a different agent at the same agency or an agent who had moved to a new company. And I realize that the above instance answers that question. Perhaps that rejection would be the straw that sent the writer over the edge. It takes a lot of fortitude to stay in the publishing game. There’s a lot of turnover at the assistant level in both agencies and publishing companies. And there are a lot of authors out there who will work at it for years before they are published. And very likely not with their first novel either. Be assured it doesn’t stop there. First publication may seem like the Holy Grail when one hasn’t had it yet. Go ’round and read the blogs of published writers like matociquala or Charlie Stross and see what comes after. Then ask yourself if you are willing to work that hard, to be that persistent, to challenge yourself that much. Because, dear writer, that is what it will take to get in and stay in, whether you are a writer or an agent.

I hope this person feels better for having vented their spleen in my general direction. I’d probably take it more personally if it didn’t happen several times per year. Suffice to say, it is certainly not the sort of thing that would ever convince me to change my mind and reconsider.

(And, wow, this is one excessively ranty post!)

40 responses to “A thousand eyes are blinking to drown a tiny speck of dust…

  1. You seem to have a lot of patience in dealing with this kind of person.
    I hope today finds you dealing with more pleasant individuals.

    • You are really so very kind. I don’t feel that I’m patient with this sort of thing at all! *wry look* And thank you for somehow reminding me, of course, that by and large there are certainly people like the other two authors who only got one bare line at the beginning of this rant than the latter who got more attention (but certainly not the good kind). I shall endeavor to work on an essay praising the good things I encounter next week while working with writers.

  2. How you manage to stay level-headed while dealing with people like this is beyond me. Are you a saint?
    Also, if you’re looking for an example of just how hard it is to stay in the game, and just how much work it takes, Holly Lisle’s blog is, I think, the best rude awakening a writer can ever get. I’ve been reading it for about three years now, and I swear I’m a better person because of it.

  3. It’s a question of facing reality, isn’t it, and there are a lot of people out there who can’t bear to do that: they’d rather believe that the universe is out to get them/it’s all one big conspiracy to prevent them from being published/aliens stole their publishing contract – I don’t know what else.
    What else can you tell people, really, except that it’s a tough industry and you’ve got to keep trying and develop a very thick skin in the process…

  4. Rant away, if that puts you in a better mood to deal with your next clients…
    I, for one, appreciate the time and honesty you invest in helping us to become better (and hopefully published) writers. Even if you never see my query (you might yet). Even if you reject it wholesale – I appreciate your professionalism, and the challenge to become more professional myself.

  5. Just think: by showing his/her stripes at this stage of the game, they’ve saved you the pain of dealing with a difficult writer later on. 😉

    • You know… I did think that…

      • And if they come back, you know to have the hammer ready.

        • Or even my crossbow. It’s a pistol-grip, very lightweight. And yet, small and light, it says “go away at once and don’t come back until you learn some manners, yo” really, really effectively. Jenn, happy to lend it to you if you need it, especially since I’ll be back east for a week starting next Thursday.
          Seriously, I do wonder if it even occurs to people who write that sort of response that, should you allow yourself to get as wicked pissy as they’ve got with you, their name might be mud in the agents’ universe….?

  6. Out of curiosity (I ask a lot of these questions, don’t I?), what genre is most highly represented in the query letters you receive? Is there anything you get too much of, or wish you got more of?

    • You do ask a lot of these sorts of questions, and I welcome them. Though I was thinking next week of doing another q&a and forbidding the topic of queries. I feel like it’s all I talk about these days and I know I have more interaction with non-client-writers than that!
      In any case…. I would say that I get quite a lot of sf/f/horror and romance/women’s. I’m trying to expand in the mystery and thriller categories. Really, though, I don’t especially keep track of that. So, this is just a general impression. I read, both professionally and for pleasure, across a wide variety of genres and really I just want good books in all of them so I can dominate the entire best-seller list. That fantasy is my contribution to not believing in reality. Heh.

  7. Re: Love this journal!
    Thanks for saying such nice things about this blog.
    The best way to see what we handle as an agency is to go to our official website at http://www.maassagency.com/ or you can check out my personal webpage (which is still in need of serious updating but the client list is current) at http://www.jenniferjackson.org/

  8. I think it’s great you actually respond to e-queries. I remember that the majority of agents I sent e-missives to generally ignored them. For the most part, all I asked was whether they would like to see my manuscript, so I thought I would be saving myself postage and them time by giving them a choice. In the end, I never sent it out.
    I’m also curious, about an unrelated question – not sure if you covered this before, and if you had my apologies for asking. But I remember reading that a writer who has recently sold their work unagented would have no problem finding an agent to handle the contractual negotiations. However, from experience, I found this to be totally untrue. I just wanted to know why this seemed to have entered into the novice-writing-canon.

    • I actually only began responding to e-queries within the last couple months. Until then I was in the category of those agents who simply deleted them. As our web page says, we will only respond if interested. Experiences like that above are one of the reasons why I didn’t want to accept them. I realize they are less expensive and supposedly more efficient, but they are still not my preference. And, in my ever-so-highly-regarded personal opinion (heh), I don’t think a couple of stamps are too much of an investment to make after spending all the time and effort of actually finishing a manuscript.
      As for your question… a deal on the table is always a welcome thing to see, but there are some caveats. I, for one (though I know not all agents are created equal), will still not take the author on as a client if I’m not enthusiastic about the book itself. And, then, it also might depend on the deal and the publisher, too.

      • I suppose I took the quiet from agents as an indicator that the manuscript would not interest anyone. So mailing seems like a waste (I still think no one would have taken it or me on).
        Thanks, for your answer. It makes a great deal of sense.

      • I don’t think a couple of stamps are too much of an investment to make after spending all the time and effort of actually finishing a manuscript.
        It’s not the stamps (although they add up, as do the printing costs), it’s the return envelopes – I’m outside the US, and getting US stamps of the correct postage is a major undertaking.

  9. Add me to the list of people over in the Aspiring Writer Camp who certainly do not mind seeing you rant! Especially when you’ve got extremely valuable advice like this to convey with it. It keeps us grounded, and reminds us that it takes many more people than just a writer to publish a book.
    Queries really are rather like writing a cover letter for a job, with your book as your resume, and that’s something every single one of us needs to remember. Thanks for the reminder.

  10. Aww, Jenn hon, that’s not a rant. I’m convinced you’re too kind-hearted to do an actual rant.

  11. I didn’t realize that agents were appreciative of responses to rejections (the ones that say “thank you, etc.) I never wanted to clog the agent’s inbox with more things to read!

    • I didn’t realize that either. I would have assumed it to be a slight imposition, based on the volume of mail agents have to deal with already.

      • I knew editors who took the time to give personal notes liked to get those little “Thank you” notes after rejections, if they were short and sweet (I’ve actually gotten one return thank you from my thank you!). So I sort of assumed a one liner of appreciation towards an agent for taking the time to consider was not out of line. I am glad to hear this is the case, just seemed rude not to- but I didn’t consider the email volume issue mentioned.

        • The only time I ever thanked an editor for a very nice rejection she seemed really embarrassed and apologized for rejecting me. (I really was only trying to say thank you!) Maybe in-person thanks are a bad idea.
          I’ve been a little hesitant to do that again, but I am trying to relearn. Not that I, um, submit anything anymore. Maybe someday.
          Coincidentally, the embarrassed (former) editor I thanked is now one of Ms. Jackson’s clients. 🙂

  12. I’m abjectly sorry that someone who aspires to be a novelist hasn’t done a sufficient character study of agents to realize that (a) you’re people with feelings; (b) you’re busy people; (c) you’re not out to break us down; (d) you respond well to politeness.
    Really, you shouldn’t have to put up with that.

  13. This reminds me of a website I ran across a while ago where an aspiring writer posted, verbatim, every rejection that he’d received along with “witty” comments detailing why that agent and/or editor was going to be very, very sorry that they had passed on this project. The whole thing was so incredibly unprofessional and just plain rude that I. . .well, bookmarked it and read the whole thing. It never even occurred to me that someone would actually send such comments to an agent. I pity any agent who attempts to form a working relationship with the writer you described–I can’t imagine the scene once said writer’s work was in the submission phase.

  14. I’m an aspiring novelist who just started the query process with my second completed manuscript. (I sent the first 10 places or so before concluding it wasn’t ready for prime time and stashing it in a box under the bed.) In the interest of full disclosure I should probably say that barring any error on the part of USPS, there’s a snail mail query from me somewhere in the stack on your desk, but that has nothing to do with the content of my post. I have two questions about form rejections:
    1. So far I’ve gotten one personalized rejection on a partial and two form ones on query letters. I sent a thank-you for the former but not for the latter. My reasoning was that the agent who read my partial will almost certainly remember who I am–we met at a conference, and her letter made it obvious she’d given my work close, careful consideration–so of course I want to show her every possible professional courtesy, but that there was no point sending thank-yous for the form letters because they’d probably already forgotten who I was. Am I wrong? Should I be sending them every time I get a response?
    2. Do you (or agents in general) use different form letters under different circumstances, or should I not even bother trying to analyze them? For example, would you send a different letter for something that was strongly written but targeted to a tough market than for something that was trendy but poorly written?

  15. Alternately, You Could Write This…
    Dear Polite and Respectful Author:
    Thank you for suggesting a new way for me to do my job. After a decade, it’s nice to have someone come along with a new, fresh, untrained perspective and turn everything around. I’ve turned over a new leaf. From now on, I will ask for a manuscript from every would-be writer. Please, by all means, send me your brilliant piece of… work.
    Unfortunately, I won’t be able to read it. You see, since I will now be recieving upwards of 100 manuscripts a week, I will have to decide each of them based on their first word. If the first word is good, I’ve got a new client. If it’s not, I bring out Mr. Shredder. Oh, how I love Mr. Shredder. The exception to this new rule, this new way of life which you have wisely led me to, is you. Because I don’t represent whiny little babies.
    So, have some warm milk and a nice life, ya hoser.
    The World’s Best Agent
    (What? Canadian slang is never amiss, right? Also, I like other peoples’ rants, as my journal, like my life, has been much less ranty, lately.)

  16. hope this person feels better for having vented their spleen in my general direction.
    (any word about moving the DMLA offices to Honolulu yet? ;))

  17. Oh man, I’m sorry to hear that someone was so rude to you. It doesn’t take much to be kind, and it takes only a little more to look at your journal and see how much you actually care about your clients and the people who query you–and how you are polite (every time I’ve seen you post 😉 even when there are Mean People emailing you!
    (And I didn’t think your post was actually that ranty. It seems like a thing writers ought to consider. Agents are people too!)

  18. Y’know, after I heard Jim’s story of how he went to the con where he met his prior agent and you as well, any effort that falls short of what he did there just doesn’t sound adequate to me these days.

  19. I find your blog very interesting, and it’s helpful as well.
    One thing you said prompted me to ask a question. You mentioned that a couple of the people who received responses to queries sent you thank you notes, and you seemed pleased by that. In the past, I’ve hesitated to send thank you notes to agents or editors who rejected queries or proposals, just because it might seem pushy, and I don’t want to take up more of their time. Is it acceptable to send a short note (not, obviously, a long ranty one)?

  20. Hope I don’t come off sounding like an idjit but — I thought you didn’t do e-queries?
    Or are these people who sent in paper queries, and who you have proceeded to talking to via email?
    Sorry if this has been addressed elsewhere. I’m easily confused and distracted today.
    We get toasty letters from our customers from time to time. Our customer service department saves up the best of the best and reads them at our annual convention (with the guilty party’s name omitted, of course).

  21. I was going to ask what people had to lose by re-querying either a different agent at the same agency or an agent who had moved to a new company
    Maybe my post was one of those that caught your attention, because I’d just sent a snail-mail query to Ms. Vater. You’re right; there’s nothing wrong with re-querying her at a different agency (when I figure out where she goes,) or querying someone else at DMLA, but I do have a couple reasons. One is that I got to meet Ms. Vater when she was out here in San Diego last January for a writer’s conference, and they always say it helps to query someone you met (and who asked for your work.) And the other is, I know you’re an obvious option for a query, but from reading your blog and what you’re looking for, what I write doesn’t seem to fit in with what you’re looking for, though I know there’s always a chance that if you love it, you’d go for it regardless.
    I also seem to remember (I could be wrong) that Ms. Vater said that you guys had meetings every week to discuss projects, and that potentially a good query that doesn’t work for one of you might get passed on to another agent there. Is there any truth to that?
    At any rate, I figure I queried her early enough for her to reply before she leaves, and even if she says no, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for something more than just a form letter with something I can use to improve on for my next query. (And I suppose I will have to track her down, to send a thank-you note, regardless.)

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