Ever since I’ve been an agent, I’ve listened to writers complain about the unpleasant aspects of the publishing industry. Part of my job is helping authors navigate these difficult waters. I try to talk my clients through the hard parts of publishing; and on this blog, I do the same for many writers who aren’t my clients. Believe me, I know there are frustrations, and I know people need a chance to rant now and then. I do it occasionally myself, obviously.
But there’s one particular rant I seem to hear more than any other, and I’m weary of it. It’s the one where writers complain about the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad agents who take forever to respond on a full or partial manuscript, or worse, have the nerve to not respond to every query.
Listen: Whine about the system if you want. Lament the difficult economy that is forcing agents to work harder and faster than ever before. Gripe about the publishing industry in which it’s getting more difficult to sell a book. Bellyache that there are far more writers querying than ever before, yet agents still have the same amount of time in a day and it’s quickly becoming darn near impossible to keep up with it and still sustain a business.
Vent about your frustrations, but please, please, please: Refrain from making every complaint a criticism of agents.
→ I’ve read on the Internet that we agents were never taught manners by our mothers and don’t have enough sense to simply respond to an email. (I’m thinking mama wouldn’t have known what to do with 100+ letters a day.)
→ I’ve read that we’re high and mighty power-mongers who care nothing for the poor writers querying us, and that we laugh behind their backs.
→ I’ve read that we apparently think we’re above meeting deadlines and behaving professionally.
→ I’ve seen it implied that agents (a) must be irresponsible and disorganized; (b) don’t care; (c) are malicious toward writers; or (d) all of the above.
It’s ridiculous. We agents are working within the same imperfect system you are. We’re all dealing with frustrations. But the difficulties of getting yourself heard in this business can’t be laid at the feet of agents.
You simply have no idea how fast we are running all the time. You know your query isn’t the only one in the inbox, yet you don’t understand the reality of exactly how many we’re dealing with on a daily basis, plus the fact that everything we do besides reading and responding to queries is actually a full time job. Most of us read queries and manuscripts at night and on weekends.
Some people seem to think it’s easy reading and responding to queries. It might be – if we weren’t truly looking for great books, and all we had to do was quickly go through and send a form rejection to everyone. But since our livelihood depends on finding good writers, we have to carefully consider queries. It takes a lot more time than you might expect. And when we request partials or fulls, considering those takes even more time. Yes, we fall behind. As a matter of fact, it’s the most frustrating part of this job. We all feel like we’re going crazy half the time because we are never caught up – there is always someone out there wanting something from us.
We’re not bad people, we’re not all terrible at running our businesses as people are always implying. We’re not contemptuous or dismissive of writers. Most agents I know are doing the best we can with the limited hours and resources we have.
Some agents respond to all or most queries, some don’t. That’s their prerogative. Our official policy is (1) All queries receive an auto-response so the sender knows we received it; and (2) We try to respond within 30 days, but if we don’t, it’s considered a “no.”
As I’ve said before, if you’re an unagented author, you should be glad agents prioritize their clients over the thousands of non-clients who contact us each year. One of these days when you have an agent, you’ll want your agent paying more attention to you than to all those others who are clamoring for attention.
If you’re dealing with the frustration of sending off queries and never hearing back, or worse, never hearing back on requested partials, please just consider it a sign that your work hasn’t found the right person to champion it, and that you need to keep working, keep searching. Consider it a fact of life in publishing. Lament the query system. Grumble that email makes it too easy for people to query. Criticize our culture that makes everyone think they’re the next American Idol or Stephen King. But please stop wasting valuable time and energy lambasting agents. We are not the bad guys. We’re the ones who are on your side.
We work with writers and for writers. We’re looking for good authors with saleable projects. If you’ve got one, and it comes across our desks, trust me, we’re going to notice. If what you’ve written grabs our attention and gets us excited, we’ll be in touch.
And that’s my rant for a Monday. What do you think? Is there something I’m just not getting about what it’s like to be a writer? Does this sound like a bunch of excuses? Does it sound like I’m complaining about my job? (I’m not. I love my job.) Are you as weary of this as I am?