Last Friday, I ran across this story on Galleycat and I was really amazed and troubled by it. I sincerely hope this is an isolated, freak incident, but it made me think about our process and how it is perceived by the authors who approach us.
We agents work very hard to encourage new writers and to help them find a home. Often our business depends on unsolicited queries (I know mine does). Finding something wonderful in the “slush” pile gives everyone a sense of real satisfaction and during the last twenty-five years I have had my share of new clients come from there.
This, though, is not the norm. Even though we pride ourselves in reviewing everything that is sent to us, we pass on most unsolicited queries . In fact, we would be helping nobody by signing an author who isn’t ready and submitting his or her work only to be turned down by publishers. More than anything else, the author would suffer – his or her ego would be hurt by the mass rejection and he or she would have to wait a good long time before submitting again to the same editors who had just turned down the material.
When we do turn a writer down, whether they are solicited or unsolicited, we try to do so thoughtfully. There is absolutely no point in being rude or discouraging. That said, with the volume of queries we receive, there’s no avoiding the dreaded form rejection letter. We know authors hate these and we’re not thrilled to use them, but we simply don’t have the manpower to write individual notes to everyone.
So my message to authors who are just starting is to have your material be as ready as possible before you query agents and if you get turned down, think about why, continue to work on your project and try again when it is in a more polished place.
Persistence is one of the things I live by; giving up is simply unacceptable. But so is lashing out against people who work hard and are genuinely trying to help.