As a grizzled veteran of querying, with 504 rejections, and about to return to the fray in an activity that feels like throwing paper aeroplanes out of a window in a storm, I think I've heard it all when it comes to agents' advice. (This is not something I ever wanted to happen!
Over the last few weeks, I've been researching agents I last queried two years ago, updating information. Some have moved agencies, a couple have died, some have closed down, but 99% of their sites and submission guidelines are exactly the same. This, in itself, is a clue as to how static their websites are. If you want the latest on what an agent is searching for, become an online stalker...trace their social media posts, their tweets, Instagram account and any recent interviews they've given, including on YouTube.
Some agents say that they'll pass a query over to a colleague if they think it fits them better, but that's affected by office politics as much as working practice. As I've grumbled about before on the Colony, don't fool yourself into thinking that your immaculate submission will be perused by a discerning literary agent, for it'll more likely have passed through underlings' grubby mitts first...such as a work experience intern, an editorial assistant or a freelance reader who's working on a piece rate basis. Off-putting statistics abound with queries, but a common one is that one-tenth of 1% of submissions make it as far as a group discussion by the editorial team.
Think of the odds against you—but, don't be deterred—keep firing them off and you'll hit someone eventually. What's annoying about querying, is that the quality of your story takes a back-seat, for they're assessing the quality of your query—the synopsis, how you sell yourself in the accompanying letter, what is the elevator pitch of your story?
editorial assistants are looking for reasons to reject you, not to accept you.
Last night, I found one literary agent who advised a genteel approach to querying, sending off 4-5 submissions at a time spaced weeks apart. She admonished against a "carpet bombing campaign."
I looked at how long she took to respond when I last queried her in November 2016...she took six months to send a form letter of rejection! Literary agents live in a rarefied atmosphere far removed from the efforts of working writers seeking acknowledgement.
Querying at Christmas adds delay. I wouldn't send off any submissions for two weeks either side of the festivities. I have queried several American agencies, but only those who specialise in my writing genre of Crime and who have British authors as clients. It's been my experience, that American agencies are swifter and more courteous in their replies.
I'm not completely against agents (all hail @AgentPete
!) as I had an all-too-human demonstration of their humanity on New Year's Eve 2016. I live alone, and as I sat here trying not to feel maudlin, contemplating my literary efforts that year, a rejection email plopped into my Inbox...sent by an agent who was working as one year ended and another began.