I speak, of course, of the venerated literary agent. I’ve been sending out dozens of equeries lately, with maybe a 10% response rate. With a direct mail piece, this would be phenomenal. With a well-written, professional query, it’s abysmal. But not unexpected. That’s the norm these days–agents are flooded with equeries (and snail mail ones as well) to the point where they only respond if they’re interested. But I wonder how much more productive we’d all be if they could take the ten seconds or so to paste in one of three responses and actually…respond:
1. While your writing is strong, this particular project doesn’t appeal to me. However, feel free to submit to me in the future. (keeps the good writers going–maintains a connection that might pay off for the agent one day)
2. Based on the way this query is written, I don’t have sufficient confidence I could sell your work. (tells the writer the query is crap and to not waste other agents’ time with it–a public service to agents everywhere!)
3. Based on the story you’re proposing, I don’t have sufficient confidence I could sell your work. (tells the writer the story itself is crap and stop querying it outright–a service to agents everywhere and the deluded writer)
I could handle one of these. They’re all form replies, they’re all professional and polite, but at least it would give us clueless writers some semblance of direction. It would let us know if it’s the story or the query itself that has problems. It would let us know whether or not to ever pursue that agent again. It would let us know if we should just hang it up altogether, if one is tempted to read between the lines.
It reminds me of a client I once had. I read him a few scripts for radio commercials and he roundly condemned them all. When I asked for a little direction, so I could improve them and bring them around to his liking, he said, “I don’t need to give a speech about why I don’t like ’em. I just don’t!”
“Not for me–thanks!”
Now, I ask you, what am I supposed to do with that?