Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Advice to unpublished writers: Learn how to wait

From the blog of literary agent Nathan Bransford:

1) I've been receiving way more queries than usual.

2) The quality of these queries, on average, is WAY below normal.

Obviously there have been some pleasant exceptions and, if you read this or other agent blogs, even if I passed on your project the overwhelming odds (because you're awesome and doing your research) are that yours was one of the good ones. But on average, these queries I've been receiving lately are way way way worse than normal, like a train wreck on top of a volcanic explosion of cow dung (yay similes!)

What's going on out there?

I'll venture a guess.

If I were an editor or a literary agent and if I generously began dispensing free writing advice via a blog and if the people who discovered that blog liked it and told their friends, I believe I would expect to start getting a lot more queries than usual. And I would assume that many, many of those queries would not be carefully executed, but would come from clueless individuals who got excited and fired off pages and pages of garbage after asking themselves, "Why not? What have I got to lose?"

The internet has been a boon to writers. These days, if a wannabe writer can't afford to buy an armload of books on writing and can't attend writers' workshops, she can find all kinds of free advice--much of it very good--right here on the internet.

That's a wonderful thing--for the writers. Unfortunatley, this easy access to information means that nice, helpful professionals like Nathan Bransford are setting themselves up to be ambushed by writers with far more enthusiasm than talent and common sense. He seems to realize that, but who can blame him for grumbling a little:

...e-queries, because of their relative ease of use, have an unfortunate tendency to inspire some people to spend less time perfecting their query, somehow leads them to think it's a good idea to blast the entire industry with one e-mail, and/or prompts them to write a five hundred page query letter (I guess because they don't have to pay for the paper).

He continues:

...I'm getting exhausted spending the first several hours of my day wading through a morass of bad query letters. I'm still going to adhere to my policy of responding to everyone who queries me, but anyone who complains about agents not responding to queries should really spend several hours reading through 100+ queries every Monday morning.

I would advise unpublished writers to do their homework and polish their queries before approaching Mr. Bransford and his colleagues, but unfortunately, the people who most need to hear that advice are the people least likely to accept it. So to you smart cookies who have done your homework: be patient. If it takes a few months for an agent or editor to respond to your short, well-written query letter, bear in mind that before they get to yours, they must wade through hundreds or even thousands of long, badly-written ones.

Just keep writing and keep submitting. There's no way to hurry up the responses from editors and agents, so the best use of your time while waiting is to improve your writing skills and get more projects ready for submission.

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