20 January 2010

Query: Likes me, likes me not...

Like me, like me not, likes me, likes me not...

Ever play that game while pulling petals off of a flower? Sometimes that is what if feels like when sending query letters to literary agents. We have to keep up hope with every sent query. Yet, we know all of them are going to be ignored or returned with a "likes me not" note. There is no roller-coaster to equal the up and down emotional ride we subject ourselves too. Yet, we know that we have to continue sending, sending, and sending, because somewhere there is an agent who will read it and exclaim, "likes me!"

The literary agents we seek have requirements we must meet or they won't bother with our submission. So we struggle to meet them, one by one, group by group. As a writer we should be spending our time writing a new story or polishing our words to make the book better. Instead we are seeking representation and seeking, seeking, seeking.

I do not exoricate all agents. Oh no, not at all. For there are great agents in the folds. There are bad agents mixed in, and there are a lot of average agents. The same holds true for all social strata, all professions, all people. We desperately want to slalom our way, carving into the path of the best agent for our book. Still, although we jump the yawning gaps, hurl through hoops, and hone our words, there are inevitable road blocks we can not help but to slam against.

Let me tell you about one blocking wall I ran into today. I was given the name and email address of a potential literary agent dealing exclusively in the genre I write. I could not find an address nor a webpage so I emailed a note asking permission to send a query. As I only had the email address I wanted to find out where to send a query letter.

Ms. Agent responded with a short email that said I could send my query to her at this email address. She requested I put "Query" into the subject line. She also indicated that a webpage was being constructed.

Perfect! I had permission to send a query. And, so I did. Before clicking on the send button I reread my effort. I reread the submittal again. I reread both the query letter and the submittal text again, and again. Then I reread it one more time.

Perfect! It seemed to be perfect. It just had to be perfect. So with the click of a mouse I was again soaring skyward with projected hopes of an agent awaiting my query. With anticipation I had become so used to I tossed and turned with fractured dreams during the night. When morning came I had finally calmed down knowing that I would probably be waiting for weeks and weeks. Knowing that in those weeks and weeks I could expect another rejection or no answer at all. 

Expectations quelled, I powered up the laptop and steeled myself to confront the day's agenda. BLINK! blink, blink, blink. The email notifier was blinking at me. I looked and there in the special folder was a response from Ms. Agent. 

Ever have an instant adrenaline surge? Excitement crash over you? Ever feel propelled by a success you had schooled yourself to never hope for? There it was. Blood pressure soared, muscles quivered, fingers itched to type and tears glistened. Such a fast reply could only mean one thing...

NOT! It didn't mean anything good at all. Instead it was an email from Ms. Agent that said, "Thank you for this opportunity.  Unfortunately, I am presently swamped with submissions and can't offer to read even one more.  I am sorry and wish you success in finding an agent with more time to devote to your interests."

Wow... ever have an instant adrenaline surge? Waves of anger swirling over you? Ever feel denied after doing all the right steps? Ever want to curse and swear...?

I did, did, and did. Tell me please, what was the purpose of asking permission to send a query. Right! To make sure I was jumping in the correct hoop. What was the meaning of the response telling me I could send the query to that email address? Correct! To let me know that I could send a query to that email address.

Then why would a return to the actual submittal be a simple "I'm to busy to read your query?" What was the purpose of saying the query could be sent? Why not respond the first time with, "I'm sorry I am to busy to accept new queries at this time?" Or, as is more prevalent these days... why bother to respond at all?

Some literary agents do use autoresponders for queries. It lets the submitting author know the email did arrive and was not lost in spam. Most times those responses inform the author of the expected delay the agent has on being able to read the query. Some even give further directions. Most no longer bother to send a rejection notice although it should be easy enough to drag the query to a folder and have an assistant later send a canned rejection. In fact, they could use an autoresponder on the query address that lets the author know email arrived. It could state, "If I find I/agency is not the match for your work I will send a blank reply to your email so you can continue to direct your efforts appropriately." If you haven't received a reply within 4-6 weeks please feel free to contact ...." Nice, eh? Let us know you got our work, let us know you aren't going to represent it, and keep the ball rolling. 

This is all understandable due to the tremendous amount of queries they receive. But, if you are too swamped to read a query why bother telling the submitter to send it in the first place. I consider such a breech of etiquette. It is with some dismay that I realize that I am not in a position to do something about it. 

To the back burner it goes. It will not be deleted but will sit there and simmer. Perhaps...perhaps it will goad me on to make better query letters to submit to other agents. Perhaps it really was a canned response that Ms. Agent uses instead of a rejection of the material. I'd expect more truth in a rejection but some people can't handle expressing the truth. Perhaps it was an automatic responder Ms. Agent uses to allow herself time to actually peruse the text later and then when finding one she likes she comes back and says it was a mistaken auto response. Again, an unfair process.

For this author it is just one more stone wall thrown up to prevent success. Stone walls can be climbed. Stone walls can be gone around. Stone walls can be gone under. And a stone wall built on a weak foundation can be toppled. 

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