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.