Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Writers vs. Agents: Weighing In

There has been a lot of talk lately about how agents are killing the publishing industry. The point being, that they reject us before even taking the time to read our work, therefore, keeping some great literature off the book shelves.

This is true, no doubt about it. But, there are two sides to this coin that need to be addressed. Ours, the writer's, certainly, but we need to take a step back and take a look at what these literary agents go through also.

My job as a writer:

1. Write the best book possible, than edit said book until it's the best I think it can be.
2. Write a query letter that will wow agents.
3. Write a synopsis for those agents that require them (personally my least favorite part of the process)
4. Tirelessly research agents to find the ones that will be interested in your novel. Luckily there are websites out there like agentquery.com to help with such tasks.
5. Begin sending out queries. And when we do this, we have to change our beautiful query letter a bit every time to personalize it for whichever agent you are querying. Where they can send us form rejections, we cannot send form queries. Bad form.
6. Track queries sent with excel, or another great source, querytracker.com (thanks Ian for that)
7. Wait
8. Wait
9. Wait

Okay, those last three may be an exaggeration, in some cases. Many of those agents that take e-mail queries will get back to you within a couple of days. Some of course do not. Frankly, I don't know why every agent hasn't moved into the technology age. It's much quicker (maybe this is the problem) and it is better for the environment. I always begin with e-mail queries, and if those don't pan out, move on to those agents that still only take snail mail.

Okay, now that we've sent our queries, we start receiving rejections or requests. If you receive requests, you now have to customize your ms for each agent, as some want ten pages, some fifty pages, some three chapters.

If you are only receiving rejections, it's time to go back and revise your query letter to make it stand out from the crowd.

All the while we are doing the querying, most of us are either still editing the ms in question, or have begun a new project. So there you have it, the life of a writer. Forgive me if I've forgotten anything.

Okay, this is my take on the agent's job:

1. Receive query letter
2. Send rejection

That's it. Okay I'm just kidding.

1. Receive queries, which I'm sure they receive thousands a week or at least a month. I don't know for sure, someone can chime in here and tell me.
2. Read through queries and seperate the good from the bad. When I say good from bad, I'm saying, those that aren't well written, or those that don't peak their interest, or those whose subject matter, genre, etc, don't interest them.
3. Send rejections to those you don't want. At this point, form rejection is fine, you probably haven't even looked at the work, which is sad, because someone may have a brilliant novel, but be crap when it comes to writing a query. I also understand that because they receive so many, they don't have time to look at every single ms they get queries on.
4. Go through queries again and filter out more.
5. Send more rejections
6. Request partials or fulls on those that peak your interest.
7. Put those requested in a slush pile, get to them while you can because you are still looking through queries, attending conferences, reading your current clients new work, contacting publishers trying to get current clients a book deal, and reading through contracts of said deals.
8. Read through slush pile that never ends.
9. Find ones you like
10. Request edits
11. Sign to contract
12. Get to work on getting your new client published, all while still doing all of the above.

Okay, I'm sure that's generalized, but I can see where agents are busy, and can't read every piece of literature that every writer wants to send them. Plus, not every writer that sends queries are good writers, even though they think they are (I'm really hoping I'm not one of them).

What bothers me is the ones that do not respond at all. I know they are busy, but you have an assistant or intern that more than likely can send out rejections, don't you? Or, and even though I hate these, have time to press a button to send out a form rejection.

Also, if you request a partial or a full and end up rejecting it, this is where I think you could give a little more thought to your rejection. I don't mind hearing you didn't like the voice, or weren't drawn in, though I would like a little more insight as to where I went wrong. But please, at least, include my name and the name of my novel in the rejection. At least then I know you took the time to insert a little personalization into it.

Personally, I think agents are needed, especially if you want to be published by one of the big houses. Without them, your work will never cross the desks of Scholastic, Harper Collins, Randoms House, Penguin, etc.

Even many small presses require work to be agented.

So, can we really cast blame to the agents, when the publishers won't even look at your work without one? Can we blame them because they have to be selective in what they choose to represent? No. I don't think we can. Of course this means that some really great literature won't get published. This much is true.

I do think we should be able to expect a little more understanding and respect for the work we've done to query them. I think we deserve at least the 3x5 card saying, "sorry for the impersonal nature of this note but..." I mean, when they query a publisher for a client, I'm sure they at least get a nice letter saying, "sorry, but..." Shouldn't we be able to expect that much in turn?
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