On Sunday night I had a discussion with my better half about how many submissions I should be sending out at a time.
“I’ve read in my books on writing,” I pointed at the bookcase, hoping it would lend weight to my argument, “that I should send out three or four at a time and see what they say .”
“I’d send out loads. To everyone.”
“You can’t do that. It’s just not done.”
“It’s just not.”
“Well. What would happen if two agents I’d approached got talking to each other at one of their many gala dinners or money counting parties and they found out that I’d submitted to both of them?”
There was a slight pause. I think it was to let the sheer idiocy of the question sink in. “That’d be brilliant!”
“Two different agents talking about your book at a party. Surely that’s exactly what you’d want.”
It was exactly what I wanted. “Ah, but what if one of the agents that I don’t want to be represented by offers me representation before one of the ones I do want to be represented by?”
“Firstly,” she said, “if you’re going to be a writer you need to make your writing clearer. Secondly, don’t approach any agencies who you don’t want to work with.”
“I’ll send more out.” I said.
So, this week I’ve sent more out. Loads more. But I have always made sure that each agency is willing to accept unsolicited manuscripts and I’ve followed their submission guidelines to the letter.
And my reward?
At quarter past one this afternoon I received the first rejection. This was from The Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency although I commend them on their speedy response, I curse them for their lack of speedy acceptance. Even though I didn’t, I thought I had a connection with Penny Holroyde because she’d rejected “Entering The Weave” eight years ago.
The email I got was just a standard reply. Which is FINE. Honestly.
No, really. It is fine. I understand that there is no point in spending any more time than is absolutely necessary on work that is not going to be accepted. But, although it was entirely standard, they still said that they “enjoyed reading my material”. This is politely encouraging and suitably vague which means that it can be used for almost any reply. That doesn’t help me, and, in the long term, I don’t think it actually helps the agencies, either. I’m sure many aspiring writers will hang onto the fact that this agent “enjoyed reading” their work, and hold it up as testament to their own skill, therefore prolonging the hope/agony when ruthless honesty would have been kinder and more helpful.
I think they should be more structured. I propose that the next agents’ banquet they all get together and adopt a formal method of response which should include a rating out of 10 for how much they liked it or how close to accepting it they were. It wouldn’t take long to add that. And even if they really liked it and gave 10/10 they wouldn’t need to actually take it on. I understand how very few writers get to be represented. But a simple scoring system like this would be useful to everyone. If a writer was getting consistent 9s and 10s, then she’d know she was close; whereas if all the agents returned 1s and 2s he’d know there was something seriously wrong with what he was submitting, and he would know that the next thing he wrote would have to be different.
It would also help the agents in the long term. Even the most stubborn writer would learn to target his audience and begin to submit to agents who were giving him higher marks, rather than submitting across the board.