Giving #LiteraryAgents a Bad Rap

agent

Several times on these pages I’ve said bad things about agents. And then, a few days ago, I was told something that explained a lot. As a result, I take it all back. I’m genuinely sorry, agents.

The thing that bugged me was that every rejection I’ve ever had was a form rejection with no hints as to why the query was rejected; not even just a couple of words to say that the writing stinks, or the synopsis stinks, or anything else. Nothing that could be used as guidance for creating a better query, or a better story, or better characters. I guess I assumed that agents had even just half a minute to write a few words.

Bad assumption.

At the very last meeting of the summer writing workshop that I’ve mentioned here a few times, the guest speaker talked about publishing and agents. And she mentioned something that I guess should have been obvious.

There was a time when sending a query meant typing out the query on actual paper, and copying (or photocopying) the requested number of pages from the typescript, and maybe writing out a synopsis; and then putting all that together and sticking it in a big envelope and taking it to the post office and mailing it. In other words, it took some actual effort, and you had to be pretty serious about doing it.

No more. These days you can slap together all that material on a laptop with a bit of copy’n’paste, and attach the first ten or twenty pages to an email and click Send, all in the time it takes to make a cup of tea.

It’s almost too easy. And as a result, agents get a huge number of queries. Huge. Like, thousands every week. I knew that the Internet would automatically make that kind of email traffic inevitable, but I didn’t realise just how much traffic we’re talking about here. And I can imagine that the majority of those queries are so completely awful that they go straight in the trash. Agents have to deal with those as well as doing the whole agent thang—representing their existing authors, hawking their books to publishers, and everything else they have to do.

So it’s no wonder that when it comes to dealing with a never-ending flood of queries—hundreds of them every single day—agents really don’t have the time to write out individual responses to every one. Hence, form rejections and nothing more.

So, agents, I understand now. And I’m sorry I said all those bad things about you. I won’t say them again, honest.

There is one thing, though: our guest speaker mentioned agents that don’t even bother with the form rejections and in fact don’t bother to respond at all. She thought that was unjustified and unprofessional. I agree. When I look on QueryTracker and see agents with response rates in the four- or five-percent range and lower, that bugs me. In general I don’t bother sending queries to those agents at all (I made one exception in the case of Smoke & Mirrors, but I probably won’t do that again). But if you’re one of those agents, maybe you have a perfectly good reason for not responding; if so, I for one would like to hear it, and if it makes sense I’ll have your back on that, too.

Back to story building on that SF series I’m working. Until next time…

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