Sunday, February 22, 2009

Will The REAL Writers Please Stand Up?

I've held my peace on this issue for quite some time now, but lately things have gotten out of hand. I'm mad enough to blow my top, and it's time you all knew why.*

Just about all my favorite literary agents have experienced a huge jump in the number of queries they've received this year over last year, and most of them (understandably) are not happy about it. Everyone from Nathan Bransford to Janet Reid to Jennifer Jackson has mentioned it at some point over the last few weeks. Many of them, like Rachelle Gardner and Colleen Lindsay, have had to change their submission guidelines just to keep up with the madness. Some, like Rachel Vater, are no longer accepting submissions at all.

And the reason the query floodgates have suddenly opened up? Most of the above agents seem to have reached the same conclusion: It's the economy, stupid. All the Joe and Jane Schmos out there who can't get jobs have mutually decided they are all qualified to become writers. Why not? They have nothing better to do. How hard could it be?

So, they park their happy behinds in front of their desktops, plunk down some 150,000-word monstrosity and email it off a month later to the first agent listed under a search for "writing agents" on Google. Grr. It's enough to make me want to pull out my hair.

It's not that I can't handle competition. Heck, I've been competitive since kindergarten, when I was the last person to finish coloring my picture because I wanted it to be the prettiest in the class. I have a true Type-A personality; I live and breathe this stuff, man. My problem is a little something we learned in elementary school--it's called following directions. It's something many of these new so-called writers aren't doing, and it's ruining things for the rest of us who actually take this thing seriously.

Look, I get that writing is a weird and mysterious thing. I also get that to people unfamiliar with the publishing industry, the querying process might as well be in another language for all the sense it makes. It can get complicated pretty fast.

But you know what? That's why we have the Internet. Five minutes is long enough to learn everything you need to know about a literary agent--any literary agent. Everything--from submission guidelines to lists of recent clients--is right there at your fingertips, waiting for you to take advantage of it. And yet, because so many writers are too ignorant, too lazy, too...I have no idea do their homework, they're making it that much harder for those of us who know what we're doing to get a fair shot.

I realize I'm probably preaching to the choir here. The people who read this blog are the ones who are not only querying agents properly, but getting requests for partials and fulls and even--dare I say it--that prized offer of representation. You're the ones doing it right, and I salute and admire you for it!

Still, if you could just pass on a message for me to the others, the impostors out there who call themselves writers... Tell them I said not to waste their time. If they can't bother to look up the name of an agent before sending a query, if they can't make the effort to find out what that agent represents, and if they can't find the time to read both inside and outside of their genre, they have no business chasing after the dream of the Great American Novel. Tell them they're better off self-publishing or not publishing at all. Leave the traditional publishing ventures to the pros--people who really do it for a living, not just folks who woke up one day and thought it might be sorta cool.

Being a writer is like most other things:
Just because everyone can do it doesn't mean everyone should.

*Thanks to Julie Butcher-Fedynich over at Fire Drill for inspiring this post with her fantastic rant yesterday!


  1. Here here! I completely agree with you. It's amazing how many people don't take the time to do their homework. And you're right - it only takes five minutes!

  2. Hey, Melissa! So glad you enjoyed the post. I just needed to let off some steam. Rachel Vater was one of my top agents to query later this year. Losing that opportunity was pretty much the final nail in the coffin. Thanks for indulging me in my rant :-)

  3. It's a little ironic that the people who think it's easy-n-quick to write a novel, sell it, and reap the fame and rewards are losing the ability to try out their little daydream theory.

    Maybe the agents will open up their mailboxes to queries from people who meet them at conferences. One can hope.

  4. Hello there, Amber! Yes, it is ironic and frustrating, but I just keep typing away at the keyboard, don't you? For us "real" writers, this is what we were born to do. Good luck, and happy writing!

  5. I'm beginning to think the conference route is going to be the only one that will work...a good face-to-face can work wonders, I'm sure.

  6. Anita,
    I agree. Face-to-face connections often provide a sizable advantage for writers, and everyone else for that matter.

    Still, I hope the query system never goes away completely. It levels the playing field in many ways, so that writers who can't afford to attend conferences have a fair shot at being published.