To agents who say “no response means no.”
As a writer seeking representation I was socialised to believe that this was a perfectly acceptable practice. Why should I for a moment think that it was rude or dismissive? Agents: We’re super busy people, doing all the things for the clients we already have, there are conferences to attend, deals to cement, and on top of all that, don’t you want us to have a social life dear writers? Me: Of course! Whatever you think is best for you. You do you wonderful agent, do you. In the midst of the “writerly fog” a dangerous thought crept in: You’re a busy person Jackie. You have lots to do for clients daily. You have conferences to attend and business deals to make. You strive to have some semblance of a social life. Yet somehow, you make time to email people back. I realised that I was making allowances for a practice that I don’t condone, just because I wanted a shot at this or that agent. I’m not saying I expect a personal reply each time with heart-shaped emojis in the sign-off, autoresponders work just as well. At least let writers know, “Hey I read it, not for me, moving on.” Spam is more than meat, what if something great gets lost just cause you couldn’t be bothered to take a millisecond to check email or respond? Writers deserve more than that.
Why I stopped hitting send . . .To agents who got my name wrong.
My years as a journalist have made me a stickler for things like this. However, I know mistakes happen. The thing is though, one of the cardinal rules of querying agents is never, ever, even if there’s a gun pointed at your children’s heads, get their names wrong. I shudder just thinking about it. Imagine my shock when an agent spelt my name wrong. My true first name has a couple variant spellings and this agent just picked one. To make matters worse, the rest of the rejection letter left much to be desired. There are other agents at this agency and the experience left such a bad taste in my mouth, I don’t hit send to any of them, high ratings or not. Must be the Caribbean no-nonsense chick in me.
Why I stopped hitting send . . .To agents who are Grammar Nazis.
First of all, I dislike that term, but it sits best regarding agents who say grammar mistakes send them over the edge. Sure, I understand if a piece of work is completely riddled with grammar mistakes and no end in sight. If it’s one or three oversights, things writers tend to miss at times, I don’t see why it should have any bearing on a great book. Now, I haven’t been chewed out for grammar quite yet thankfully, but I’ve seen other writers talk about it and it has me at a loss. Maybe I’m just being naïve? Here’s my thing, many agents are editorial agents, meaning they will deal with mistakes either way right? Not every writer can afford a great editor before they hit send, not every writer will have a friend, or writer friend who’s as awesome at editing as an acquisitions editor is, and not every writer belongs to a kick-ass critique group. In my head here’s how it plays out: Great concept. Great voice. Social media stalking reveals writer appears stable and willing to work. Few grammar mistakes—not the reason to hit pass. I and many other writers get better with every new project, we improve, we grow, we change.
Why I stopped hitting send . . .To agents who don’t represent my categories.
I admit to jumping on the train of sending my YA (young adult) books to YA agents, and NA (new adult) and adult to those who represented the respective categories. Then it hit me, sure, someone might bite and that could lead to representation, but what happens if the agent decides they absolutely don’t want to sell NA or adult, as they’re in the YA game? Now of course this is something you can ask during “the call” but I can imagine that the excitement of landing an agent could at times leave this question bobbing in the water. I write predominantly speculative fiction, across age-categories and that’s probably not going to change. So it made sense to me to look for those agents who represent across categories first, then start trickling down to those who don’t but make client-exceptions, or have systems in place for this.
Why I stopped hitting send . . .To agents who can’t make up their minds.
I once sent requested material to which the agent replied they knew exactly why they’d requested, strong voice and concept . . . “I just don’t know what it is that’s making me pass.” Yes, I wore an S-face emoji for at least a minute. I know sometimes things are hard to put your finger on, but I expect a little more eloquence from an agent. Just saying.
Why I stopped hitting send . . .To agents who give no feedback on fulls.
This ties back into too busy for the dance party. Yes you’re busy, so are writers. I remember sitting looking at a form rejection following a full request that’d been out for two months. I looked at it, thought about my “agent Twitter stalking” that had been an explosion of pop culture and fun, things that had made me even more interested in what this agent would have to say about my work. Only to open the email which revealed—Form. Rejection. I sat at my desk, my stomach churned, and I hit send on the obvious question—why? A response never came. I don’t live the life of an agent, so for all I know they’re death threats involved. My thing is though, if you’re rejecting a full, give writers something. A simple, “I don’t think the publishing world is ready for your awesome”—you can tone it down of course—goes a long way. Don’t use the “it just leaves writers with more questions excuse” tell us that’s it, that’s all I’m giving you, and move on. We’ll deal with the rest.
Disclaimer: I do not dislike or hate literary agents, I appreciate the work they do and think that their job is one of the toughest in the publishing industry. I haven’t stopped hitting send to all agents, I just know how I want to be treated, so steer clear of behaviours that are contrary to that.