Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Question From A Writer

I appreciated the prompt and polite rejections. I do wonder if there is an alternative to the present query system. After 18 months I gave up and self-published. I remember reading [insert agent's name here] observation that she received 10,000 queries in one year (I believe it was 2010 or 2011) and didn't take on one of them. That was discouraging I would think to many who read it.

Maybe this is more of a comment than a question but, what this writer is discussing here is truly what every writer is facing and the number of writers in this situation is only increasing but I did feel that there were several things that we can respond to and potentially turn a perceived discouraging idea into something a bit more positive. Let me take several of these comments and expand on each as if it was in independent question.

the prompt and polite rejections. There are several things here in these 5 little words. First, and this is me preaching a bit here, I am personally someone who has always felt the argument some editors and agents have that a "no response means a rejection." Living in an age of technology and digital messaging, there is simply too high of a chance that a project simply gets lost or misfiled. I know for myself that I have gone through emails a bit too fast and something that should have been read ended up being deleted. I also know that I have read a project, logged it into my data base and then either A) I just never wrote a response; or B) the message was sent and ended up in the writer's SPAM folder. In other words, things happen. Therefore, I will continue to preach that we need to get back to the professional response to the writer saying either thumbs up or thumbs down. Sure, we might hate the form letter but it is at least a recognition that something made it.

On a second level though, if a writer is receiving rejections, this does not entirely mean the system is working against you. One of the factors might also be the writing itself. If you are fortunate to receive rejections with comments, start looking for those patterns. A whole stack saying the agent/editor didn't connect with the writing might mean you are targeting the wrong people. In other words, your voice doesn't match their style. If, on the other hand, you have a stack of comments about the writing itself, then it is time to go back to revisions or work on those issues for later projects.

The simple point here is that your manuscript has to be considered part of the equation.
an alternative to the present query system. I honestly believe this is the best that we have right now. I know a lot of writers are defining agents as "gate keepers" implying with a negative connotation that we are keeping out those that don't fit the traditional model of book, but I think this is a bit off the path. With that said, the query system is indeed a form of gate keeping. I like to think of it though, more as a hiring process. Publishing is just another form of job/employment opportunity. When we want to work for a particular business, we apply for the job and it has to go through human resources first and then to a hiring committee. The same goes for submitting a story.

I know that I have tried to simplify things a bit more for authors here at Greyhaus. For those people who truly detest writing a formal business letter query, authors can simply use a fill-in-the-blank form. Granted, it still requires writing a heck of a blurb about your book and I still look at it like a query letter, but it is something a bit more stream-lined.

After 18 months I gave up and self-published. This one has four parts to it so let me look at each potential angle. Let's start with the easiest.

If an agent has a turn around time for a response that is clearly posted on their FAQ page, then as a writer, you should check back in with the agent and see if it is still in the works. Sometimes things get lost, sometimes the agent (or editor) got swamped with other projects. Check in. Don't just wait for a response, especially for 18 months.

Now, if the author had tried with one book for 18 months and received rejections, then I would now have to say that maybe it is simply that project that isn't working. Not every writer is going to have a hit with that first book. Again, I remind you of Steve Berry who had 13 before one sold. In other words, it might simply be a matter of timing, or the actual writing. This business, regardless of the publishing model you take, is not an overnight success thing!

On the third level, this is where the "self-publishing" thing comes into play. We have read a lot lately about the "predatory" self-publishing companies. This situation is exactly what they are looking for. They want authors that lack the patience and are willing to jump at anything. Please not that there is nothing wrong with self-publishing, but giving up and diving into it because the response wasn't there that you wanted might not be the best approach. Just something to think about there.

On the last level, I would have to say that if the author waited 18 months and never heard from a particular agent, why would the author want to work there? If the agent cannot respond to an initial query, what will be the response if the author is working there? Just a thought!

she received 10,000 queries in one year...and didn't take on one of them. Again, we have several things happening here.

First, the large number of queries DOES NOT mean each was in one particular genre. These could be non-fiction, poetry, etc. The point being that the number may be a bit deceiving. I would also add that part of that huge number included authors submitting projects the agent doesn't represent. I get a ton of these even though I am pretty clear that I only look at romance and women's fiction, and I have a clear list posted of the things I don't represent.

Secondly, the large number of queries without signing someone does not mean the agent is being extra picky or is being that "negative gate-keeper." It can simply mean there was nothing that A) they liked for their client list; or B) the writing was not of the caliber they were hoping for.

I do have to say that I have seen more and more stories that were not that strong in terms of writing or premise in recent years. That number has risen each year. I do think a lot of that has to do with the rise of perceived writing possibilities for authors. In the past, many authors took the time to learn the craft of writing and really learned the business. Now, however, that education simply isn't taking place. They just sit down at a computer, write a story. Yes, this is a generalization, but it is a fact.

I know this was a bit long-winded but remember, I started this post out with the comment that what this author is facing is VERY real. I can only encourage writers to take the time and really grow as a writer. People in the world still want stories. We may eventually only read these stories digitally but they will want stories. Publishing, in some format will always be here. Just don't rush it.

1 comment:

  1. Just found this--thanks for the detailed feedback and encouragement. The writers' journey has been interesting and exciting for me but I think it has helped that I have a 'day job' as a teacher so I'm not trying to make a living from writing and I'm old enough to have enough equanimity to get over the rejection.

    But now that I have faced the frustrations, challenges and exhilarations that comprise the learning curve of self-publishing I have surprised myself by considering getting on the query-go-round again but this time coming from a different perspective. I think what I am missing is the collaboration that I hope would come from a different approach to the process. I'm running out of family members to lean on for feedback and as for marketing--I'd rather not.

    I write in different genres than what you cover so I won't approach you with any queries but I find that some of your articles, like the current one on tightening dialogue, are helpful to me.