I am quite nervous about this post. I apologise in advance if everything you’re about to read is so lampshaded and contradicted that it makes no sense. But…
I don’t think the level of respect submitting authors are expected to show agents is reflected or balanced in the way agents can treat submitting authors. And I think that is unfair.
Now unless your response to that was ‘well, duh’ (which is entirely reasonable), bear with me. I noticed right at the beginning of this process that there was a particular ‘tone’ to the submissions information on most agency websites. Most of the instructions given are extremely specific – save your document with the name in this template, include all of these things within one attachment only, give us all of this information in the top line of your email. The implication – if not outright stated – is that if you don’t abide by these exact rules then your submission will receive a one-way ticket to the recycling, without passing Go.
And I think that’s fair enough. I get it, agents are very busy people; they don’t have time to fanny on with formatting and digging for relevant information when they only have ten minutes today to dig into the slush pile anyway. Quite apart from which, the agent is in the position of power here; as a potential author you are asking them for their highly prized, hard-won and much-coveted help. They won’t get paid unless you do a good job – it’s entirely fair for them to be extremely particular about how you approach them.
So far, so reasonable.
On top of this, agents expect prospective authors to treat them with an individuality, and a personal touch. Whilst most agencies understand and expect you as an author to be making multiple submissions at once (in the interest of not withering into old age by the time you reach the promised land of Publishedom), they also expect you to have approached their agency for a reason, and for your approach to be personalised and well-researched for their particular agency.
This too, seems legit.
So you follow all the rules, you read the bio for every single author on their client list, you rewrite your cover letter to include everything you’ve researched, reformat your opening chapters to fit their specifications, write a new synopsis of the length they requested, save it all in a document precisely labelled ‘dd.mm.yyy_Name_Book Title_ohpleaseohplease_I’ll send you cake’, and email it to them with a metaphorical packaging of all your hopes and dreams since you were twelve.
At which point, you wait twelve weeks and eventually realise they’re never going to respond.
Now here’s where I’m like:
I think it’s really important in this age of Twitter and YouTube to always try and speak to people via typing the same way you would talk to them if they were sat in front of you. I get that this is not how the rest of the internet operates, and most people who are arsewipes online will be arsewipes in real life, but I still think it’s an idealistically decent attitude to live by.
So imagine this IRL. Our budding young author has followed the agency’s instructions to the letter and lovingly packaged their submission to meet all requirements. S/he holds it in her/his sweaty hand and waits in a queue of other dream-fuelled masochists for literal weeks. Eventually s/he reaches the agent, who at least in my head sits bathed in a bright glowing light á la Obi Wan Kenobi at the end of Return of the Jedi. S/he places the submission on the table between them, and waits with baited breath as the agent flicks casually through the pages. Minutes pass. Then, all at once, the agent swipes the submission sideways into an overflowing bin, stands up and walks off without a single word.
In the words of that really scary dude from Firefly, does that seem right to you?
Now don’t get me wrong, I know that agents have other peoples’ hopes and dreams up the wazoo, and they literally can’t take the time to send a gentle, supportive reply to each and every one. But if all it took was a blanket bcc at the end of the day to every author whose submission they had decided not to take further – even just addressed to ‘Author’ – I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a reply.
It must be a very strange thing, to have to squash a stranger’s hope with every submission that doesn’t interest you – and I don’t envy agents that. Every rejection I’ve ever received has included a line wishing me ‘the best of luck with another agent’. Generic or not, I still think this is a very kind sentiment. But I imagine it also helps agents cope with the way they have to treat others’ aspirations as part of their job.
I imagine that, because I like to think that agents are aware of how important every submission is to its writer. As a writer myself, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect reams of feedback, or breathless encouragement, or even a vaguely personalised rejection letter from an agent. But I do think that whoever you are, if you’re dealing with something that is – in all likelihood – indescribably important to anyone, anywhere, and you’re aware of that…
The decent thing to do is to treat it, and them, with respect.
(Though if an agent is reading this then I don’t mean a word of it I’m sorry please excuse my principles I’ll get rid of them sorry sorry please don’t hate me.)
Next Post: The yin to my Good News post‘s yang, I’m afraid. On picking yourself up when you find you’ve been given a good solid kick back to square one. (I swear every other post will not always be about reactions to the many and varied forms of rejection…)
Submissions Last Week
Just three this week, having resumed our regular programming. One I had to preface with a phone call, which I’m gonna say was one of the Top Five Most Nerve-Wracking Moments Of My Life.
Current Rejection Tally: 5