Queries and Responses, #grr #arrgghh

In the old days–maybe 10, 15 years ago–when you queried an agent, one had to send a letter, sample, and SASE (self addressed stamped envelope, for the uninitiated) and wait a month or two or five for a response. Now, in the “future,” most of this is done via email in the digital realm.

Then, I rarely didn’t receive a reply. It might take a while, and the reply was nearly always a form rejection, but it was a reply. Now, it is common for agents not to respond at all, even though the mediums for queries and responses have vastly simplified the process. Many state on their websites that “no response means not interested.” At the same time, they say they can’t tell you how long a no response will take. How long should I wait before deciding that you’ve ignored my email long enough for me to consider myself rejected? This is, to put it mildly, maddening and thoroughly unprofessional (imagine if I took this approach at my job–sure, you can hand in your essay, but I can’t tell you when I’ll read it and if I don’t respond to it, that means it’s a failing grade…good luck!).

With that bit of background, I’d like to thank the astute and efficient readers of the Lippincott Massie McQuilkin Agency. Today, I queried one of their agents about my Apocalypse Nation manuscript. The time stamp on my email was Thu, Aug 8, 2013 at 1:11 PM. I expected the normal delay in response–a week, a month, a year–before realizing that they weren’t, in fact, going to respond at all. So imagine my surprise when I received a reply in a very short span of time (time stamp August 8, 2013 2:48:35 PM)–just a little over an hour and a half. Of course it was a rejection–that in itself isn’t surprising–but it was speed at which their dedicated readers and decision makers decided to look at my letter and decide against it that truly impressed me. Their form email informed me that they were thankful that I considered their agency, but after “careful consideration” they decided that my work wasn’t a fit for their team.

It’s the “careful consideration” that really earns my praise. I imagine a roomful of interns fighting over the incoming submissions, valiantly attempting to make their mark in the literary world, “carefully considering” the merits of each piece before copy/pasting a form letter and sending it back to the author. Some agencies wouldn’t even send that letter. Some agencies would have just ignored it. Deleted it. Pretended like it never happened, like some author whose been paying his dues for a long time hadn’t carefully considered their agency and studied their website and agent profiles seeking a good fit. But the Lippincott Massie McQuilkin Agency isn’t that kind of agency. They care. They consider your work carefully, for at least an hour. Maybe over lunch. Maybe while running on a treadmill at the gym. They work for you, even though you aren’t a part of their team, yet. Their consideration is all that really matters.

What really happened: Someone got my email query in a stack of other email queries, glanced at it for less than ten, fifteen seconds, and hit the automatic rejection reply email button. Seriously, dudes. If you’re going to send something back to me in the amount of time it takes for me to read a short story, you should take out the “carefully considered” line. It cheapens you.

That’s it! I quit! (#AWP13)

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I quit writing at least once a week.

Last week, I went to the humongoloid AWP writer’s conference in Boston. I pretty much go every year. I never know what I’m going for. I always come back ready to write, feeling good about writing, charged up.

The good feeling about writing last four days this year. Today, I sent a query letter to an agent who represents some zombie book authors. I have a zombie book to sell. In about an hour, she wrote back saying “it wasn’t her sort of book.” Right. I must have been confused when I saw that she agented several zombie/supernatural type authors. My bad. The blind search for agents is awful and deadening. I quit. Again.

Tomorrow, I’ll quit all over again. And probably the day after that, too.

Rejection

So many rejections. Lord. They wear on a writer. They come in droves, in dribbles, in waves, washing over me. It’s not my kind of story. It’s a tough market. You have lovely language, but no plot. I’m taking on very little literary fiction now. It’s too ambitious. It’s not ambitious enough. I can’t “identify” with any of the characters. There’s too much story. Too many characters. Not enough story. Not enough character.

And worse than the rejection are the agents who never, ever, ever respond to email queries, even when they say they are accepting just such things. We only respond the queries we are interested in, they write. That’s so much crap. How much time does it take to shoot off a quick rejection form email? Seconds? I’m sorry, but I don’t believe that agents are so swamped that they can’t reject people instead of just leaving things hanging in the air. It is, to me, the epitome of unprofessionalism. So, I teach writing. What if I decided to only respond the essays that I was interested in and I never ever told the other students anything concerning their grades? Isn’t it the same thing? Less than a decade ago, if you enclosed a SASE with your query letter, they’d at least send it back with a rejection slip. No mess, no fuss, simple, clear cut. A little cold, usually, because it was a form letter, but way better than not responding at all. Now, since paper copies are becoming less common, suddenly the ability to take that time has vanished? Pffffttttt.

Of course, rejection itself is nothing new. All writers face it. All writers deal with it differently. I don’t take it personally, but after a while, it just flattens the desire to write.

It seems as if my third novel manuscript, The Improbable Colony, is destined to be yet another “practice” novel for me. I just can’t find the right person to represent it and I’m tired of looking. I’m sort of tired of thinking about writing, actually, but I’ve felt that way before and it will most likely pass. I’ve written three novels and two collections of short stories since I was thirty, and most of those manuscripts will remain hidden away. So much time at the keyboard.

What am I doing?

A special thanks to the agent Sally Wofford-Girand, who although she didn’t click with my manuscript, at least wrote back to me in person and actually seemed to have read the book and put some effort into her response. I find that sort of attention to be rare in the industry. She seems like a stand up person.

I told myself that if I couldn’t sell Improbable Colony, I’d give up writing novels and just write some short stories. I may rescind that vow. Or not. I wish I was better at writing plots.