I’ve had two literary agents in my career.
The first was straight up flim-flam. He was looking for a quick sale and when it didn’t happen dumped me quicker than a guy tearing open a box of Trojans for whoever he was going to screw next.
The second was just a few years ago. Though his heart was in the right place, he didn’t have the right contacts to get my writing where it needed to be.
So to find a new one, I went back to basics and worked the shoe leather, metaphorically speaking. Queries, queries, and still more effing queries. Focused queries to agents who rep writers I love, agents who repped odd books that echoed what I do, agents who rep friends of mine, agents who’ve contacted me based on friends of mine being their clients, who I’ve had drinks with and been on panels with, etc., etc., etc.
Sixty-two percent of those agents said, “Fuck off.”
Wait, that’s not right. Because to tell me something, you have to respond.
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, sixty-two percent of the agents I’ve contacted haven’t bothered to respond.
They’re busy, don’cha know. Too busy, in fact, to even post on their website they’re too busy.
Some, to their slight credit, tell writers up front they’re too busy to respond and I’m not talking about them. They explain their rules and a writer either abides or hits the pavement.
Hmmmm…can we all spell a-r-r-o-g-a-n-t sons-of-bi….
See, to get to a traditional publisher, a writer must have an agent. Most traditional publishers don’t even bother with books that have no agent. Thus the agents become the gatekeepers of almost everything literary.
Now, I understand that all decent agents are swamped with submissions. Everyone with a computer knows they are the next Hemingway or Updike or (God, how many times have I heard this) the next Stephen King.
After having taught writing for years, I’ll wager that less than one in a thousand ‘writers’ has spent a second learning how to write. They don’t bother honing their ‘craft’ to anything other than a dull nub. Then they take that dull nub, write a novel, and send it every agent in the world. So I understand that most agents are drowning in submissions.
So what? You wanted to be an agent. Fucking deal with it or get another job.
I wanted to be a cop to investigate murder and cold cases and kidnappings and help people seriously in need. My reality? Unlocking vehicles for idiots and handling calls from Mama who says her 14-year old daughter is disrespecting her.
If I don’t like it, I can work somewhere else.
They get thousands of submissions, that’s their world. Deal with it or get another damned job.
Instead, they ignore the writers, in essence saying: My time is incredibly valuable so you need to jump through my myriad submission hoops. OTOH, your time is worth dick so I don’t care how much time you spend jumping those hoops, I’m going to pretend you don’t exist.
Look, most agents accept, and many require, email submissions. So how do you tell someone you can’t respond when you’re reading their submission from their email?
Seriously…how long does it take to hit ‘reply,’ type “Thanks, but not quite for me,” and hit ‘send?’
Instead, what many agents post on their websites is that if the writer hasn’t heard from them in three weeks or six weeks or whatever, the writer can assume the agent has passed on the project.
What the fuck is that?
What they’re saying, again, is that their time is incredibly valuable and the writer’s time is crap. They don’t care if you have to troll your database, checking what date you sent them the query, then comparing that to the calendar to see if it’s still under consideration or they’ve passed.
That’s easier for them that taking a full five seconds to reply and tell you they’ve passed.
Don’t believe this kind of bullshit happens? Here’s one I got a few weeks ago:
Thank you for your submission, which we look forward to reading. Please note that, due to the extremely high number of queries which we receive, we will only respond if we are interested.”
Seems to me that if you’ve been swamped with that many submissions, maybe you should stop taking submissions for a little while. Magazines close to submissions all the time, or have limited submission windows, and everyone is cool with it.
So why not agents?
Come on, they stay open to submissions, even if they don’t actually have time for them, in case that one in a million book comes along that makes them bazillions of dollars. In other words, we’re so busy that we can’t answer any writers, but not so busy that we can’t look at just one more book…it might be the big one!
This is my current fav:
“Thank you for your submission to [agency].
Due to the volume of submissions we receive, we may not be able to respond to every query.
We will contact you directly if we are interested in talking further about your work. We kindly request that you do not call to follow up on your submission. Please understand that this only takes away from our ability to review your queries in a timely manner.”
No ‘Dear Author’ or ‘Thank you,’ which is just rude and pissy (especially in an automated response that’s already written). They tell me they’re too busy for me, then demand – though it’s couched in ‘kindly request’ – that I do nothing to check the status of my project. Then they explain to me, as one explains something to a third grader, why checking in is a bad thing.
Understand this: my rant has nothing to do with being passed over by agents. It happens. Fine. Sometimes a writer is up, sometimes a writer is down. It’s not about not getting picked for the team, it’s about trying out for the team and never hearing back from the coach. If you want to pass me over, fine, just let me know.
It’s about the rudeness and arrogance and self-involvement of expecting someone to bow to your every demand, and refusing to acknowledge that they even bowed. It is a truly shitty way of doing business.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I understand this is how business is now done. There ain’t thing one I can do about it except bitch and rant and stop submitting.
Or I can get to writing the next novel. ‘Cause I found this agent and I’ll bet you a million-dollar contract she loves it. Her website says she doesn’t respond unless she’s interested, but I know she’ll love this. I’ll be waiting for my email to chime and say, “Incoming Message”….