As you know, I’m querying literary agents to represent my novel To Leave a Memory. This has become a lengthy and arduous process, unlike the genteel and efficient procedures of yesteryear. In the “good old days,” you sent off for a pamphlet published by the Society for Authors’ Representatives (SAR), and inside were about 75 names. You sent each agent a letter with a sample chapter. These agents wrote you back. I received many rejections, but eventually I landed an agent with the effete Sterling Lord Literary Agency, now called Sterling Lord Literistic. Trouble is, that agent has left the building, and the remaining agents are already booked.
Computers are supposed to help, not muck things up
Today’s querying process is an overwhelming grind for both writers and agents, thanks to the advent of computers and the Internet. There are well over 750 literary agents listed on QueryTracker that represent my genre of women’s / literary fiction. And there are tens of thousands of wanna-be writers like myself who contact these agents by e-mail. I’m told by literary agents at conferences that about 95% of the queries they receive do not have any merit at all. In sort, 95% of those querying are rank amateurs who may not have written a thing but think they have an idea for a novel. As a result, literary agents receive 250 to 500 queries per week. Most agents do not even reply because they are so busy working with and marketing established clients’ work in a shrinking print market, where online sales predominate.
Many agents do not accept queries and only take clients via referrals from established authors, or via interviews at writers conferences. Many of my local writer pals have given up on this process and published online via Amazon and BN.com. I congratulate them on their independence and diligence, but for my first published work, I would love to have an established publisher. This makes sense from a marketing perspective. Because I am definitely not famous and still considered a debut author, self-publishing my family drama To Leave a Memory would be like sending a Tweet with no hash tags. My novel would disappear into the cosmos.
The Writers Conference
Two years ago, I signed up for two writers’ conferences in different cities in the hopes of either impressing agents or meeting an established writer who could refer me. This is no inexpensive thing. I worry about writers who cannot afford the $500-or-so required to attend a local conference where they can “buy” an interview with an agent or editor; or the $1,500 required to travel to another city. If one is without means, how can a debut author make these essential contacts? The literary world might be missing out on the next Salinger who simply doesn’t have any bucks or is such a recluse s/he would never attend a writers conference.
One conference featured a bevy of young literary agents, none of whom wanted to rep my novel. They liked the story idea and praised me on my presentation, but my novel did not fit into their preferred genres. I knew that going in, but I thought I’d give it a shot because the conference was in my hometown. One male agent was so impressed by my presentation, he volunteered to circulate my first 100 pages to an agency that later “boomed” me after deciding the work was not their cup of tea, either. That took six months.
The second conference focused on writers and writing, not agents. At that conference, I met a pivotal individual who has been a wonderful contact and great boon to my efforts. This contact was encouraging enough to suggest several literary agents, as well as an established author who might be willing to refer me to an agent. Aha! I thought the latter idea was a grand scheme and sent sample pages as requested. My contact forwarded these to the author.
This was back in October, and it is now late-January. Worried by the lack of response, I sent the author an e-mail directly to follow up, mentioning our mutual contact. I did not want to pester my contact for a third time on this issue. But evidently, I committed a publishing-world faux pas I have yet to understand. Turns out my e-mail beeped on the author’s computer or smart phone in the form of what the author perceived as an instant message at 11 p.m. This upset the author, although I had merely sent an e-mail. But I was told that I should have communicated only through channels, not directly, and this author was now a lost contact.
Although my e-mail congratulated the author and expressed how I looked forward to reading the author’s new work as soon as I could, my message turned into a Catch-22 and now I am never to contact this author or mention the author’s name in any query, and I should be totally chagrined for having done this terrible deed.
Clearly, I feel misunderstood. But I’ll push on and wait, wait, wait. Or, self-publish online and disappear into position 3,456,789 on Amazon.