As you may well know, we’re changing our submission guidelines here at Nancy Coffey Lit starting November 1, 2010. For those of you who haven’t heard yet, please read the post on it here.
We invited readers to respond/pose questions at this time so we could better understand what about the new guidelines works for querying writers, and what doesn’t.
This was one of the comments made:
For a mutually dependent relationship (the agent needs her author's ms to sell, the author needs the agent to sell her ms), the power structure between a querying author and an agent is completely one-sided. The author pursues the relationship with the agent. I do not find it unreasonable for the agent to in kind show professional courtesy and say that the query was not only received but reviewed and rejected (automated response or not, there's nothing else that can confirm for an author that the query wasn't lost after the fact--which does happen).
There is free software on the internet that allows a user to enhance her copying and pasting abilities. You can write a standard rejection letter (or multiple variations to cover the most frequent responses you may encounter [this isn't right for me, keep trying, look at our submission guidelines, etc]). CTL+ALT+# and you've pasted and sent your form rejection in a matter of seconds.
Even if our work is not to your liking, we are worth a couple of seconds.
Anonymous brings up some good points that I’d like to address.
I think where the confusion lies is in the very beginning of Anonymous’ comment. What he/she says is absolutely correct. An author-agent relationship is mutually beneficial and dependent. And yes, the power structure between a querying author and an agent is one-sided. But these are two different things. The first line refers to clients, and the second refers to querying writers.
I can completely see how from a writer's perspective, queries are the most important part of an agent's job. And because there are so many blogs about queries, and posts about queries, and websites devoted solely to crafting a query, it may seem like agents spend most of their day looking at and evaluating queries.
But that’s not what agents do.
An agent’s job is not to read queries or submissions. An agent’s job is not to attend conferences, or judge contests, or do interviews, or offer critiques for auction. In fact, an agent has very, very little time to spare to do any of those things at all. 98% of an agent’s time is spent on his/her clients: submitting, negotiating contracts, reading, writing up editorial notes, advising, acting as liaison, brainstorming, meeting with editors, planning with publicists, etc. And in truth, if we (at NCLMR) wanted to close to queries completely, we could and it wouldn’t affect our job at all (which is why so many agents have employed this guideline).
But that’s not what we want.
We love to find new talent. We love to discover a treasure among the pile, a writer who has all of the right tools and just needs a little help to finish creating. I know that is one of my most favorite things to do when I read my queries late into the night (because I often don’t have time while in the office). I love, love, love when a new voice has me captivated.
But this doesn’t mean that every query/submission in between isn’t worth anything.
It’s actually not a question of worth at all--as in, this writer/query is not worth a couple seconds of our time. The issue is not copy-pasting a form rejection. It's that sending any kind of response to a query can, and does, lead to a snowball effect. A form rejection, I'd say at least a third of the time, leads to a follow-up email from the writer in question. Either thanking us for taking the time to look at the query (which is well-meaning, but does take time to read), or asking for help revising the query, or asking for a more detailed explanation about why the query was rejected, or asking us to refer them elsewhere, etc. It occasionally leads to follow-up phone calls. Any response to these responses always--always--generates further communication. And the writer can say, at any point, "Aren't I worth the two seconds it takes to reject? The two minutes it takes to tell me why? The four minutes it takes to talk to me on the phone?" And it is never about worth. It's, do we have the time to talk to each of the hundreds of writers that we have to reject every week to explain why we can't take them on as a client?
The answer to that is No. We simply don’t have the time to do all of that and do our jobs. And just to clarify, our job is to represent our clients.
But I can say for us at NCLMR, whenever we DO have free time, we devote a fair amount of it to unagented writers whether it be critiquing, attending conferences, participating in contests, or even writing for this blog. And I’ve personally been on the querying end of this business before…I would have much rather the chance to win a critique then try to decipher what a form rejection means.