Why querying is like dating

I think most people who query get pretty tired of getting impersonal rejection letters and would love a little feedback as to what their manuscript lacks. I had a comment on one of these posts from someone completely frustrated at the lack of input. I can totally empathize.

I wish I’d kept all of my rejections so that I could wallpaper my study with them someday. I think they’d form a pattern. Those who sent a rejection email or letter (many don’t) usually wrote something like this:

 “Thank you for your recent query. I regret to say that I don’t feel that I’m the most appropriate agent for your work. However, opinions vary considerably in this business, and I wish you the best of luck in your search for representation. Best wishes, Agent X.”

It’s an attempt to let people down gently, but generically. Not much to hang your hat on. But in most cases, that’s all you get.

The reason an agent can’t take the time to do an analysis of any given submission and give precise feedback to you is sheer volume. Good agents get inundated with queries. Nathan Bransford, for example, ran a post last year with a poll asking how many people who followed his blog were in the process of writing novels and in what genre. He had 2,400 responses within 12 hours. That’s one agent. One blog. One poll.

Most of the agents I met through the querying process get thousands of queries a year. Some get as many as 200 queries a week. The ‘slush pile’ — that big heap of unsolicited manuscripts/queries that takes over a literary agent’s offices and gigabytes — must start looking like Mount Kilamanjaro at a certain point in time. And of those thousands of unsolicited manuscripts,  they might end up representing two, maybe three, would-be authors.

All the good agents have existing clients, books to sell, revisions to suggest, publishers to contact, deadlines to meet. I honestly don’t know how they have the time to read all the queries they get, much less respond to them. Even sending a ‘no thanks’ letter or email is time that takes them away from the gold mining they have to do: going through all those queries, looking for the one that sparkles, that isn’t ‘fools’ gold. The one that might be ‘the one.’

I learned to accept that there is absolutely nothing personal about form letters and therefore, no reason to let them frustrate you. It’s like that book, He’s just not into you. An agent who hasn’t responded to your query within a few days or weeks simply isn’t interested, the same as a guy who doesn’t call you the day after your first date has already started looking for someone else. When weeks passed after a query or a partial without a response, I didn’t need a rejection letter. I already knew the answer and the reason: the agent just wasn’t that into my writing.

Just like dating, I want an agent who can’t wait to get hold of me, who wants to talk to me on the phone about the book and how to improve it, who sees ‘agenting’  as a give and take.  I think (fingers crossed) that this time I’ve found him.

My advice if you want feedback? Contact a local book club. Offer to make them photocopies of your manuscript, for free. Tell them you’d love it if they’d discuss your book at one of their meetings and give you lots of honest feedback as to how to you could make it better. Let them be the ‘trusted girlfriend’ who tells you which dress makes you look great, and which shoes to wear with that outfit, before you walk out the metaphorical door on your first date.

That’s what I did with the Ottawa Gay Book Club and their comments (some of which were highly critical) were terrific. Just what I needed. They helped me make the changes I needed, and as I’ve said in an earlier post, without that, I doubt I would have made the Debut Dagger shortlist.

But just like real life, don’t expect your blind date to tell you later why he wasn’t interested. Be grateful — very grateful — if an agent does give you feedback. But it’s not really their job. That’s the role of the person who does decide to represent you, not the one who passed on the second date.

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One Response to Why querying is like dating

  1. Brian says:

    Peg – youre a machine…
    One of my challenges in working on mine was that my job basically involved writing. And every word I wrote for work was one less word I had energy to write in fiction.
    And now, re-writing in third person – and finding bad writing – is depressing…
    Your experiences are really valuable and appreciated.
    Best of luck with your agent – I’m sure that if he likes it now, he’ll like it more when commission cheques arrive.

    Like

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