Literary tales

Sat down with a bunch of writers last night and it all boiled down into the classic whine — even for those who already have agents — of just how goddamned difficult the industry is. My fiction may both suck and blow at the same time, but I've almost never sat down and really devoted significant time to sending out queries or sample chapters or what have you. Why? Because it's the antithesis of writing, it's soul-destroying, it's psychically wearing, and — well, the publishing industry, with some exceptions, sucks and blows at the same time.

I put this to you. You have the genius behind The Rejecter, a blog I just started reading, who posted:

Stop calling us.

We do not want your phone calls. We do not want the phone calls where
you call to "confirm the address of the agency" (as if it's written
WRONG somewhere) and then begin to pitch your book while we're on the
line. We're on to you. We know your tricks. The phone line is for
business purposes. It's gotten to the point where many agents don't
pick up their phones, including my boss, unless they recognize the
name/number – which is bad, because my boss doesn't have caller ID and
can never remember my number, so I can't even call in sick because she
won't pick up the phone. I have to email her.

are established ways to reach us: by post or occasionally by email.
Please use those methods. I think I speak for almost every agent when I
say this.

The good thing is that apparently The Rejecter does not speak for almost every agent, because over at Dystel and Goderich Literary Management they noted (in part):

Not too long ago
we received a rather hostile e-mail from someone who said he’d been
waiting two years for a response to his query and was appalled that he
hadn’t heard from us. Well, I’d be pissed off too if I’d waited two
years for a letter or call that never came, but the funny thing is
that, in all that time, while stewing about our lack of response and
thinking evil thoughts about the publishing industry in general and
DGLM in particular, it never occurred to this author to get in touch
with us to find out whether we had even received his query in the first

one side of the communication chasm are the authors who either feel
that their agents/editors/p.r. people should be mind-readers and are
dumbfounded and aggrieved when they realize that the power of
brainwaves alone isn’t enough to get their needs and desires across, or
those people who subscribe to the “squeaky wheel” approach and who
think that the only way to be taken care of is to browbeat, nag, and
generally make nuisances of themselves because they don’t trust that
the professionals they deal with are, well, professional. On the other
side are the agents and publishers who seem to be allergic to authors
even though they are the heart and soul of the book biz. The stories
abound of authors whose agents refuse to take their calls, don’t
provide information about where their projects have been and generally
act martyred on those rare occasions when they have to speak to the
very people who enable them to send their kids to expensive school and
take exotic vacations.

Schitzoid behavior anyone? Now, imagine having to show your pride and joy, your baby, to these people — and understand why it's often best to remain under wraps. Well, easiest. And yes, I know you need to divorce yourself from the pride, the joy, the everything before trying to sell, but it is not so easily done.

I realize there are a lot of idiots out there, writers and editors and agents and publishers. But to make blanket Rejecter type statements, and act aggrieved as though every single writer is wasting their valuable time, helps no one. When I have put myself through the agenting process, I've done this:

Researched names to see who would be most appropriate for the story.
Called the company to confirm name, address, the right contact name and spelling and gender.
Quite often, I've either gently prodded — or been asked directly — to explain a little about the story. Then, they say what they want me to send. (Information found elsewhere can easily be out of date, so this has been helpful.)
I thank them for their time, and I make a note of what to send. I then send.
And I wait.
And after a reasonable period of time — approximately a month or so — I call back to make sure that the posting was received. That is all.
And then I wait some more.
And have been, until now, rejected.

But I don't have the sense that I overtly ever pissed anyone off to the degree that The Rejecter seems to feel. This is (mostly) the same approach I've used when securing freelancing work from magazines (only there I follow up ad infinitum — until an assignment comes through or they tell me to go away), and in that arena it works. It is polite, it is business-like, and it is the least a company should be willing to do. If there are repetitive elements they don't want to have to say over and over again, then that's what interns are for. Or voice mail guidelines.


  1. R.G. Ryan on 10/25/06 at 5:32 pm

    My friend, you have encapusalated within the framework of your post the thing that makes us weep and the thing that makes us get out of bed, like I am doing right now, and go in search of kindred spirits who seek what you seek; struggle against your struggles; cry for the things over which you cry, and, yes…passionately pursue that from which they cannot turn aside.

    It’s a question of soul, passion, calling. I told myself long ago that I would do this for the rest of my days even if I receive no public recognition, for to not do it would be to surrender a God-breathed spark of life and energy.

    I’m going to add you to my neighborhood if for no other reason than perhaps I can be an encouraging voice. I’ve done four novels now and and most of the way throug a fifth along with a half dozen screenplays.I feel your frustration, for it is as yet very close to the bone with me.

    Be well.