In my agency hunt yesterday, I came across a set of submission guidelines that asked new writers for two pieces at a time instead of one. Of course, this is children’s literature, not the next blockbuster trilogy, but author wet dreams notwithstanding, an open invitation for multiple work samples is still a rare request. In this maddening technological age, I can send a new story halfway around the world in a matter of minutes, yet writers are still somehow expected to wait as long as six months to be rejected so they can start the whole hellish process all over again with new material. We’re not even supposed to mention all our other works in progress, the literary etiquette gods have decreed, unless one of the gods first smiles upon us and bothers to ask.
Having been a frazzled news editor in a past life, regularly beset by pesky denizens who never read past the jump and could not write their way out of a square room with one door in it, I remain firmly convinced of the value that gatekeeping roles bring to any publication. My sympathies lie with the literary agents and editors who must routinely contend with general douchebaggery and entitlement disguised as “artistic personalities.” Yet for the thousands, if not millions, of writers aiming to publish, and publish professionally, the textbook industry wait times are nothing short of demoralizing. Nobody normal can afford to spend half a year getting ignored or rejected by agencies, more months getting turned down by publishers after an agent has finally come on board, and up to several years in revisions, preproduction, and marketing before something hits the shelves. For all the publishers busily saying they want diverse books and new voices, there seems to me to be a relative lack of acknowledgement that being able to support one’s writing habit while the cogs continue to grind so painstakingly slowly is often a rather privileged position.
Sending out more than one project to the same literary agency at the same time, or at least not having to wait for a response to the last query before sending out a new one, sounds pretty darned good. In theory, it allows for better rounded and more accurate evaluations of new authors’ writing abilities. If they’re going to reject our work anyway, they might as well be thoroughly devastating about it, right?
In practice, though, that would probably make for a gigantic slush pile. How many of us have zombie manuscripts hidden away that we might drag out for just such an opportunity? And how much longer would it then take for one starving agent (let’s call her Greta) to get around to reading our own works of sheer brilliance?
I guess I’ll recommend keeping the communal slush pile at its current size, instead of campaigning for the construction of Word Vomit Mountain.
But Greta, could you get a move on, please? We’re kinda going broke over here.
*This article was originally published in April 2017.*