Chapters And Changes

Fri, Apr 27 2018 10:06am IST 1
Penworthy
Penworthy
36 Posts

Lately, I've been thinking of how things have changed on the submissions front since I first started writing seriously. I think Stonehenge had just been built.

I began in the time of typewriters and there was no way of giving an accurate word count unless you were prepared to count every one. You had to estimate, with the use of a few pages. You then sent the whole book and most publishers and agents accepted submissions.

Generally, individual companies would specify that you would have to include the cost of return postage and, although you rather resented the assumption that they seemed to be making, you did this for fear of having your work rejected automatically if you didn't. Most organisations did use what you enclosed but, occasionally, you would receive no reply but they kept the postage.

Now that e-mail is a popular form of submission they don't make that specification but there are other offences that are committed by some agents. There was the one who, for example, sent a rejection to me after six weeks and didn't even bother to use the current date on her letter. It was the date she had received my typescript. It was obvious from this that she had made an immediate decision but had held on to the submission to give a false impression. I'd submitted exclusively, because I believed that was the way you did things. What a waste of time! I've never done that since.

Perhaps a minor offence is that they never sign their letters, even though the usual space for it is there. No doubt they don't want you to pin them down but this is discourteous.

A few years ago, one agent returned my submission without putting it back into the folder that she sent back with it, leaving the pages vulnerable to a postal buffeting – but that was nothing compared with the fact that there was NO LETTER OR SLIP. I was to draw my own conclusion. I e-mailed the agency to ask; don't writers even deserve a pre-printed letter any more? Someone just couldn't be bothered. Agents expect high standards of the writer but don't always practice what they preach.

I now find it useful to keep what I call a bargepole list – a note of the agents or publishers who don't do the right thing, so that I won't find myself using them again. I'd recommend other writers to do the same, if they don't already.

You can take the rejections, as long as you're dealt with considerately. If you can't, you shouldn't be submitting for publication. I did once have a rejection letter from Robert Hale, who had requested the whole book, and their letter said, amongst other things, that my book had "no commercial future". It was a big disappointment but I wasn't devastated and I couldn't help feeling a sense of irony when they ceased trading in 2015.

You do learn from it all. For instance, as someone suggested on Wordcloud not long ago, agents will respond quickly if you've caught their eye. I know this because, on the occasions I've received a personalised reply, albeit a brief one, it has come in the next ten days or so. I now allow twelve days, before assuming I've been unsuccessful and I don't chase any more. There's no point. It's better just to plough onward. It does seem to confirm the importance of a good query letter and synopsis, though.

I could paper the walls with my rejections but I carry on because writing won't leave me alone. I know I'm not the only one.

Fri, Apr 27 2018 03:22pm IST 2
BellaM
BellaM
2533 Posts
I like the idea of your bargepole list. What I'd actually like is for someone to set up a bargepole website to which we could all contribute. I know there are websites where one can find details of charlatans, which is of course useful, but doesn't highlight those who are simply rude.
Sat, Apr 28 2018 08:43am IST 3
TheWeyMan
TheWeyMan
72 Posts
I'm not ready to submit yet - but if you could upload your bargepole list, I'm sure that it would save a lot of people a lot of trouble. No one wants to be represented by the rude!
I've never had a rejection letter - I shall look forward to the onslaught when I am ready to submit :)
Sun, Apr 29 2018 09:09am IST 4
Penworthy
Penworthy
36 Posts
The following are on my bargepole list for various reasons (they were all accepting submissions at the time I sent mine): Bloomsbury Publishing Felicity Bryan Associates Jonathan Clowes Ltd Caroline Davidson Literary Agency The Standen Literary Agency Shirley Stewart Literary Agency Good luck when you launch forth, Weyman.
Mon, Apr 30 2018 11:30am IST 5
Penworthy
Penworthy
36 Posts
Apologies for the lack of spacing in the above. That wasn't the way I did it on my phone.
Fri, May 4 2018 09:55am IST 6
Philippa
Philippa
1663 Posts
FWIW, I think it's important to remember just how busy and inundated most agents are. They typically receive hundreds of submissions per week, they read these in their free time (when not dealing with their actual clients) and they receive no pay for this work. If not signing the reply slip allows them to get through their subs pile more quickly and therefore reply to more authors, isn't that a reasonable trade off?
Also, I don't think agents have the time to play games or give "false impressions". If an agent wrote a reply and it didn't get sent until six weeks later, it's probably because she couldn't get around to posting till then, or she handed it to an assistant who had to get through other replies first.
I agree, there are some poor practices but I think it's easy to see deliberate slights when an agent is simpy doing their best under a deluge of subs.
Fri, May 4 2018 10:25am IST 7
EmmaD
EmmaD
3422 Posts
Assuming an agent is open to submissions, they owe an usolicited sub two things: a yes/no answer, and if it was a paper sub and you included a full-sized SAE, the return of the manuscript.

Some of them, I agree, could try harder to actually give that yes/no - I do think the "If you haven't heard in ten weeks, it's a rejection" isn't good enough - and I've said so to a few agents in my time. But everything else they give you is a bonus.

I know I've posted it before, but as a bit of Friday lunchbreak treat, this is a very excellent and very funny piece on the gap between the reality of the slush-wrangling agent and editor's life, and the extraordinary way that some writers parse those realities:

Fri, May 4 2018 02:04pm IST 8
BellaM
BellaM
2533 Posts
I agree, Philippa, but I think it is important to remember the other side of that coin, too. Which is that without authors, agents would have no pay.
Fri, May 4 2018 02:54pm IST 9
L.
L.
235 Posts
I agree with Philippa too. Having worked for a few years in the past in a high-volume recruitment industry, I know how it is to deal every day with more applications than you can respond to. I can understand as well how not signing a letter can save time especially as they would have to do that a hundred times a week, or not putting a compliment slip can save hundreds of pounds on a yearly stationary budget. Plus if the website clearly mentions that if you don't hear within a certain timeframe consider yourself unsuccessful, yes it's not great but they had the courtesy of mentioning it beforehand.

That is not to say that there are no bad practice around, they exist in every industry, but I think the majority is down to lack of resources and the unmanageable amount of subs they receive.
Fri, May 4 2018 03:39pm IST 10
RichardB
RichardB
1177 Posts
Out of five subs I've made so far for my WIP, I've had three no replies. Only one of those no replies said on the website 'If you don't hear in so many weeks, it's a rejection'; the other two have just left me dangling. I'm not impressed.

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