I’ve said this before, and I’ll continue to hammer the point home in future blog posts. Query widely, promiscuously, and without looking back. The main reason is that the sluggish pace of the industry demands it—you’ll die of old age if you submit to one agent at a time and wait for a response before moving on—but also because you have no way of knowing what is happening with an agent at any given time.
The truth is, you’re not always getting the same level of attention from your readers. Maybe you’ve got the perfect novel for an agent, or so you think. You read on her blog that she’s looking for something fun and silly like a zombie love story set on the Titanic, and it so happens that you’re just getting ready to submit exactly that manuscript. Yay!
Two weeks later, a form rejection. What the hell? Didn’t that merit at least a kind word or two?
Except you don’t know that the agent was super backed up with queries, brought on a new intern, and told her to go through as many queries as fast as he can. The intern never even read the blog post, and barely skimmed your opening paragraph, desperate to get the query pile down to double digits.
Or maybe another, better zombie love story came in two days earlier that happened to be set on the Lusitania (close enough!), and the agent read your query on her first full day after finally quitting smoking. Or one of a million things.
Here’s a more personal example. Last fall, I sold a debut novel, which is the most fun thing that happens at my job. It wasn’t a huge sum of money, and wasn’t going to change my bottom line by all that much (although I have a lot of faith that this particular writer is going to break out in the long run), but there’s something wonderful about making that life-changing call, helping someone who has worked so hard, struggling with hopes and fears, to realize her dreams.
It energized me, and looking at my work schedule, I realized that I had some bandwidth for another new client, should one come along. At nearly that same moment, a promising manuscript came across my desk. The writing was really good, the author hardworking and pleasant to work with, and while I had some concerns about the marketability of this specific manuscript, I thought that even if I didn’t sell it, this is an author with a strong future.
I taught at the James River Writer’s Conference the next month, and for the first time ever, discovered not one, but two great manuscripts at a conference. I signed both writers. Another author I’d been working with for a while came through with a fantasy novel, and I agreed to work with him in January. Two of these three projects aren’t even on submission yet.
In addition, one of my existing writers, who’d been quietly plugging away on his book, turned in his manuscript a few days ago. It’s a bit different from what he did last, so I have to figure out if it’s appropriate for his current publisher, or if I need to move in a different direction, not to mention all the work to get it ready to go out.
It’s safe to say I’m not looking so hard for new projects at the moment. In fact, when I come across something good, I feel a little twinge of guilt that I might be rejecting something promising simply because I have not time.
So what if that first author had submitted the very same book that I decided to take a chance on last fall. Most likely, I would have written with some positive comments and asked to see the next book, but not offered representation. (Author of mine, if you’re reading this, I’m not sorry I signed you!)
In other words, you don’t know. You never can know. Even if you read a blog post like this one, saying the agent is super busy, you need to take a chance.