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!)