Those Poor, Poor Literary Agents! (From the OTHER SIDE of the Mailbox)
Posted Sep 21 2010 2:48pm
Sep 21, 2010
I’ve been following a thread on Twitter written by literary agents, complaining about the naughty, bad writers who bother them with their improper query . I understand completely. And I empathize. I imagine having to sort through poorly-written letters sent by people who think they can write (but can’t) is a frustrating way to waste your intern’s time.
But let’s examine the question from the other side of the mailbox.
You’re a writer of fiction. You’ve written, rewritten, rewritten, redrafted, thrown away, dug out of the trash, rewritten again, had people you respect read your manuscript, adopted their advice when you agreed with them, ignored them as idiots when you disagreed, and you now have a beautifully typed, perfectly spaced, properly formatted professional manuscript.
No one will ever see it!
You do an online search of literary agents and you see most of them prefer either an online query letter, or because they are personally keeping the in business a snail-mailed query letter which they promise to answer within six months.
However, they say they will not consider queries that are being considered at other agencies. So, you check the agency’s list of agents and find the PERFECT agent to represent your work. A lot of these agencies are quite specific about how they like their query letters, and many times you find what THEY want in a query letter runs against everything you’ve been taught about HOW to write a query letter in that writing course you took, but hey! It’s their agency.
So, you write your query letter. You keep it not-too-short to be skimpy on details, but not-so-long that it contains unnecessary words. You are selling the sizzle here, not the steak. You want the agent to see you can write. But you don’t want to write too much because then the agent might think you’re overly verbose. You make the agent want to try a bite of the steak. That’s the name of the game here, to get the agent to request… A SAMPLE CHAPTER!
You send your letter. You mark the date on your calendar. Weeks go by. Months. Not a word. While you were waiting, you’ve rewritten your manuscript three or four times. These are not just fictional characters to you at this point. These are real people. Your children. Your BABIES! Why won’t they look at your BABIES??
So, you find another agency that deals with the kind of writing you’ve written. Their query guidelines seem a little less strict. They’ll take an e-mail query. So, you determine which agent should get the query and you write. You WRITE! You want this person to be interested enough to at least want to look at a PICTURE of your baby, your beloved child! You hit the “send” button, and get an automated response telling you that your work isn’t quite what they’re looking for at this time but not to be discouraged because many writers face many rejections before they find the agent that is right for them and if you will just keep looking you will be sure to find one and they made this determination in the span of time it takes a series of electrons to leap from your computer to their computer back to your computer.
Even better, they want you to SEND THE PAGES BY E-MAIL!!! A Word attachment will be fine.
So, you create a mini-file of your first 10 pages and you send it right back to the agent who requested it. And he/she LIKES it! He/she sees REAL POTENTIAL here! He/she thinks the work needs just a BIT of polish, and he/she suggests an editing company that will GLADY turn your work into a MASTERPIECE at the low, low charge of $20 a page. Oh, and they’re an affiliate of the agency.
You talk yourself down from the ledge, or untie the noose from your neck, crack your knuckles and resolve to try again.
You’ve been through this before. You’ve had to change the name of the President four times in one of your novels. You’re used to waiting. You’ve gone through all your manuscripts and have taken out references to phone booths and have incorporated cell phones. Your characters use a LAPTOP now. Maybe even an iPAD! Not a Word Processor! And CERTAINLY not a typewriter (unless it’s a character quirk, charming in its way). Your characters have gone from using Live Journal to to to Twitter, and now you’re considering taking them back to Facebook. They don’t “change the channel” on their TV’s any more. They don’t WATCH TV. They watch ON DEMAND MOVIES on HDTV! They have NETFLIX! And they don’t buy or rent DVDs any more they use BluRay! And where one of your characters never went anywhere without his cassette Walkman, he has since graduated to a CD walkman, to an MP3 player, to an , to an , before switching to Blackberry for business reasons. The Catholic priest in one of your books has gone from , through John Pauls I and II, and now we’re up to Benedict whatever…
Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.
And then there are the agents who say nothing on their websites about reading fees until they respond to you and tell you how much they charge to read your manuscript.
But that’s OK. You died six weeks ago. Your estate manager discovers your box of unpublished manuscripts, sells the movie rights to a Hollywood production company and retires to Hawaii. So EVERYONE is happy!
(OK, I didn’t die. Yet. But I’m not as robust as I used to be. I’m not getting any younger, I’m on the downhill slope with my Parkinson’s disease, and I don’t HAVE unlimited time to sit and wait and hope you want to see a flippin’ sample 10 pages only to have you try to sell me on an editing service or ignore me completely. I might not sell many copies taking the self-publishing route, but MY BOOKS EXIST! And that’s the important thing to me and to anyone who really considers him or herself a writer. THE BOOK EXISTS!!!)
Now, if YOU are a legitimate literary agent, feel free to check my list of books. The “My Books” link at the top of the page will take you to a list of titles. Each title is a link to a page that describes the book. See anything you like? I own all the rights, except for “…by the people…”. We can talk. If not? Well…