A couple of years ago, when I was finishing Catskinner’s Book, I made an effort to find an agent.  The results were rather underwhelming, out of 20-something query letters I sent out I didn’t receive a single response.

I got, as I recall, four or five automated responses saying that a particular agent no longer worked at a particular agency. Those were just mail-systems that just bounced back everything sent to them.

The rest of the letters that I sent got no response at all.  No rejection, no acknowledgement that an e-mail had been received, nothing.  Despite the fact that I only sent letters to agents who specifically said that they were actively seeking new clients, none of them could find the time to send out a reply.  I have no idea if any of the e-mails were ever read, or if the agents simply deleted them unopened.

The lack of response from agents wasn’t the only reason that I decided to self-publish, but it was a big part of it.  I know that some people will say that twenty query letters weren’t enough, that I should have sent out two hundred or two thousand.

Maybe that’s true, but I screened the agents I queried pretty thoroughly.   I only sent e-mails to those who were willing to accept science fiction and fantasy and horror, since my book crosses genre lines.  I only contacted agents who specifically said that they were seeking new clients.  I made sure that all of the agents I contact had recent on-line activity, a blog or a twitter feed or some indication that they were still in business.

I spent a good month putting together the list of agents that I did contact.  I collected names from a number of different websites that had agent lists.  I started with a couple of hundred contacts and narrowed them down to the ones that I thought were the most likely to consider my work.

Nothing.  Not one reply. 

Now I am getting ready to do it again.  I know more than I did back then, about the publishing business in general and about my own niche in particular.  For one thing, this time I am not only querying agents, I will also be contacting publishers directly.  There are a number who will accept submissions from unagented authors, and many of those also say that they are specifically seeking unusual and genre-breaking works.

Still, I am preparing myself for a lack of response.  I’m rather expecting it, actually.  It’s frustrating, though, knowing that the overwhelming majority of the time and energy that I will spend in trying to find a publisher is going to be wasted.

But then, that’s been my experience with marketing on my own.   The actual writing is the easy part.  Still, I do have two novels finished and a third that is 3/4 done, and I have a number of very positive reviews, and a fairly active on-line presence. I’m in a better position to interest either an agent or a publisher than I was two years ago.

It is discouraging, though, to realize that getting someone to say “no” to my face would be a major accomplishment at this point in my career.


About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008MPNBNS
This entry was posted in On Promotion, On Publishing, On Writing, Who I am, Worms Of Heaven and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Mirror/Prism/Lens

  1. That was something that frustrated me too. I used to get cookie cutter responses or a few personal ones years and years ago. Then it seemed they simply stopped responding. Maybe there was a change in the overall system or something or nobody hires secretaries to do the standard rejections any more.

  2. elainecanham says:

    I got my first agent through a mutual friend, and then got my second agent when my first agent decided to be a writer instead, and made sure her stable all went to good homes. Now I need an agent again, and again will be looking to find one through personal contacts (some pretty tenuous). I’ve heard so many horror stories like yours, I just won’t send mail on spec. You’re a published author – don’t you have contacts you can use?

    • MishaBurnett says:

      No, I’m not a “published author”, I am a “self-published author”, which I am finding is a serious liability as far as networking with traditionally published authors.

  3. With traditional publishing I think that there was way too power in too few hands. This is especially true in Canada. I’ve heard of works languishing in a slush pile for years before a publisher even gets around to looking at a work. And so often, the work that is published is really, really, bad. And I wonder how many good works are not put out because another four hundred page tome about nothing has been published. I am hopeful though because of the experiences of writers like Hugh Howey and D.J. Molles. And to have to send out 2000 letter just to get a response. Oh my goodness.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I am finding that being self-published is a serious liability when contacting agents and publishers. Most say that they won’t consider any work that has been self-published at all. The ones that will consider a previously self-published work usually state that the book has to have been pulled from publication for at least thirty days before they will even read a query on it.

      • Wow. Really? The consideration should be if they can make money from the work. They are a business after all. I think that traditional publishers must hate places like Amazon because distribution is no longer a factor and that was one of the reasons traditional publishers could take such a large portion of revenue. This is all very informative.

  4. kingmidget says:

    There are reasons why self-publishing has become as big as it is. You cite one of the biggest ones. The absolute lack of professionalism and courtesy from agents and publishers. I don’t care how many thousands of inquiries they get. Every one should have a response. Even if it is a simple “No thanks.” That all of those agents couldn’t even bother with that kind of common courtesy says something about them and their industry.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      It depends–does the agent consider a writer a potential customer, or a potential vendor?

      In my business experience, you should always reply to communication from potential customers–even if it is a request for a quote on a job that you don’t do. You never know when a customer will have a need for a service that you can supply, and people tend to remember a prompt and polite reply.

      On the other hand, I don’t feel any obligation to respond to vendors asking for my business. Unless an unsolicited product and price sheet happens to hit my desk at the very moment when I am unsatisfied with my current vendor, I pitch it.

      So, it seems to me as if agents view authors as vendors, which would seem to me to indicate that the publishers are considered to be the customers. Unless my query letter happens to hit an agents desk at a time when she or he knows that a particular publisher is looking for the kind of product I happen to be pitching, I’m going to assume that it’s going into the trash.

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