A week ago I received an email rejecting my query from an agent regarding "Sleeper's Run." I know what you're thinking, "Agent? But you ARE a self-published author!" Well, you're probably not thinking that, but anyway. This message was a reply to an email I'd sent fourteen months ago. That's right, it took these people a year and two months (short by one day) to send me one of those impersonal emails rejecting my manuscript. I can't get over the fact that I'm still receiving these messages. It has become a laughable event in my house. "Honey, guess what?" followed by "No way! Really? That's funny!" This sort of thing always reminds me of the blatant disparity regarding standards between hopeful author and established agent.
One can make the case that like any other job, the person seeking employment has to prove to their potential bosses his or her worth. It's a classic wants vs. needs paradigm: you want to job and they don't really need you. That may be true to a certain extent, but the fact is an agent works for you, not the other way around. To keep using the allegory above, it would be like employees interviewing different bosses seeking the most suitable one. Put in this way it's bizarre to say the least, yet nobody questions it because it is the status quo. Those of you who have dealt with the tiresome and sometimes asinine process of querying agents know what I'm talking about. Every agency wants a well-researched, personalized, grammar and typo-free, correctly addressed and impeccably presented professional letter. Then they will make you jump through all kinds of hoops; ie. they strongly advise you to mention any published work, but they won't consider self-published ones. It's a great catch 22 for beginner authors. Of course, they will advise you to "get published anywhere, articles, small publications, anthologies, etc." That is just a nice way of saying go bother someone else, since all of those examples to get experience are also highly competitive. Many of them won't accept email queries. In this day and age? Talk about a waste of time, money and paper. Two of my favorites are: "We only accept writers recommended to us by our current clients," which is nothing but good, old nepotism; and "We don't accept multiple queries." Meaning, you can only apply to them and them only at a given time. So forget contacting ten potential agents that month. No, you have to just query them, but here's the kicker, most of the agencies I saw with this policy will answer in about three months and only if interested. There are a few problems with that proviso: 1) they may take longer than three months to answer (see the beginning of this post). 2) You have no idea of knowing if they are late in answering or not, because they don't reply to those authors they reject. 3) You may query other agents at your own risk, hoping you have been rejected instead of them being late.
I don't know about you, but I find the concept of wasting all that time waiting for a reply from one agent that has a high probability of being a NO, a bit unfair and flat-out ridiculous. Getting an agent is a game of chance, the more you approach, the greater your opportunities to find one. Then there's the reply itself.
I got emails from agents with grammatical mistakes, typos, misspellings and even one addressed to another person. 99% of them were impersonal, one was even a photocopy--signature and all--of a stenciled letter, you know the ones that start with "Dear author" and refer to your book solely as "your work." I accept that as a hopeful author I have everything to prove and hence I have the short end of the stick. But there's something to be said about an industry that warns people about attention to detail, personalization and professionalism, but only applies these rules to those seeking representation. I know agents will say in reply that they get thousands of queries a day and how extremely busy they are. Well, that's their job, isn't it? There are things I don't like about my day job either, yet I still have to deal with it. These people seem to forget that authors have lives, families and jobs too, and on top of that, they managed to find the time to write a book and to jump over some agent's hurdles seeking representation. And may god forbid they mess up when doing so.
I don't know if it's always going to be like this. To me, it just shows a bloated, one-sided system designed to keep people away instead of encouraging new talent. I was just talking to a former editor in a publishing house the other day. This person left the industry because of the practices she witnessed. The last straw came the day a marvelously written work was rejected because it was too "literary." So much for the stewards of quality writing and the champions of creativity. Apparently, the only paper that matters is not the one between your cover, but the one inside your wallet.
Keep on running!