Monday, 17 May 2010

A Thing About Agents

Over the last few years of submitting my work to agents, I've made it my business to learn as much as I can about how they work. I read agents' blogs, listen carefully when I meet them at courses or events, and question other authors about their experiences with agents. Among other things, I know that not all agents will read unsolicited submissions; those that do will always give priority to their existing clients; and even when your work shows promise, if they don't want to take it on - whatever the reason - you are most likely to get a standard rejection letter. I also know that different agents have different submission requirements and that it's best to comply with whatever they ask for, even if you think your work would be better presented in a different way.

I'm fine with all of that. Agents are businesspeople and have every right to run their businesses in the way that works best for them. But there's one agent who has a policy that rankles. This agent accepts email submissions (hurrah) but states that if you haven't had a reply within eight weeks, you can take that as a rejection.

The more I think about this, the more it seems both lazy and discourteous. I regularly have to send out email rejections in the course of my own business. The wording is something like 'Thank you for the opportunity to tender for this interesting piece of work. Unfortunately we don't have the necessary capacity to undertake the project, but please do think of us again in the future. We wish you the very best of luck in finding a researcher to meet your needs.' It takes less than 10 seconds to copy, paste, and send.

I know that people who ask me to tender for work have often invested a lot of time and energy in finding the funds and preparing the brief. OK, sometimes the email is more of a lie than a truth, and if I was being honest, I'd say something like 'There is no way I'm tendering for your rat's nest of a project. The brief looks as if it was the result of an argument, you clearly have no idea what you actually want a researcher to do, it will end up being a nightmare project with tentacles that will take over my life, and what's more your budget is woefully small, so please go away.' Similarly I'm sure if agents were always honest, some of their rejections would say something like 'For goodness' sake stop writing immediately because you have no hope of ever getting published, and if you won't take my advice, at least stop sending submissions to this agency.' Others might be more positive. In fact, I know they are, because I've had kindly personalised responses from agents, both on this book and on previous ones.

But no response at all? Why? Surely even writers whose submissions are utterly dreadful deserve a few seconds of someone's time to send them two lines of acknowledgement of their effort, their hopes, their dreams.

9 comments:

SueG said...

Hear! Hear! I'm so glad you said this out loud. I totally agree. It takes no time at all and is the respectful thing to do. I'm sure all agents have secretaries, even part-time ones, who could do this job weekly in no time at all. We're all busy, you know....

HelenMHunt said...

Yes, it's definitely that black hole feeling that's the worst isn't it?

KarenG said...

Agents now seem to have replaced editors as the people one most wants to attract in publishing. Being put on this pedestal gives them (or anyone) an exaggerated sense of their own importance. So this kind of arrogance doesn't surprise me.

JJ Beattie said...

Yes, I've never understood this either. Hearing nothing is so much worse than hearing a no thanks.

Debs said...

I agree with you. We're all busy people and it doesn't hurt, or indeed take more than mere seconds to send a quick reply.

Lane said...

I so agree. 'Busy' just doesn't cut it. No business should ignore a potential customer, however woeful that customer may be. It's just plain rude.

Captain Black said...

If this agent were to engage you as an author, would you feel comfortable with it, given this gist of their business practise? Personally, I wouldn't touch them with a pointy stick.

This sort of thing, sadly, seems to be the norm, if reading other people's blogs is anything to go by. It seemed like shockingly unprofessional conduct at first but these days I'm just disappointed that many writers continue to take it up the tailpipe, so to speak.

Pat said...

People now seem to speak freely on the net of how they were treated and some websites have records of rate of response or not so I assumed that now everyone was behaving correctly. That has been my experience so far apart from one chap who was moving offices.
I do wonder what happens to one's MS if in the end nothing transpires between agent and client?

Carol said...

I agree with everyone else!! I think it's shocking that they dont get back to you...as you said, how difficult is it to send an e-mail saying thanks but not right for us!!

C x