Ah, to be querying! It sounds so cool. so erudite. But if you’ve done it, you know it is also completely nerve wracking. Every notification brings a pin prick of disappointment. Your logical brain knows it is impossible that an agent would respond so quickly. But the 13-year-old in your head is so hopeful and full of rainbows that you think it is absolutely within the realm of possibility that someone read your query, your stilted synopsis of doom, and those opening pages or chapters and thought, “I must have this now!!”Because that naïve teenage you is correct actually. That happens. But it almost never happens within a few days or weeks of submission.
I once attend a panel of agents and someone asked about how many queries they get a day. The three agents giggled nervously. At first I wasn’t sure why. Would it be a popularity contest? Then I realized that the truth was they didn’t want to make the hopeful authors in the room cry. One agent said, “It varies. Some days just a handful, but some days I get over a hundred.” Now I’m not good at math, but those of us in the room who took a moment to think about that statement logically all blanched. Let’s say I’m an early bird, I make my submission of the third day of the month, maybe I’ll be their fiftieth or two hundredth sub of the month.
Truthfully, there is an ongoing deluge of query letters and submissions to virtually every agent at the well known agencies. A smaller agency, surely must get less. Maybe that’s really the way to go for those of us striving to be debut authors. We can always change later? (people do, even the British) So I asked an indie agent. The answer was only slightly lower.
If the idea of those odds puts you off – sorry, but you’re unlikely to ever be published. Becoming a published author is not magic. JK did not stumble upon her deal. Sometimes an author gets an agent off a competition entry, which honestly sounds like the way forward because at least there’s a long list and a short list you might make, but there’s no guarantee that agent will be a good fit or will be able to sell your book. I know two very good writers with agents who’ve gotten nowhere with their novels.
It’s a long, long road. And you have to keep going. You have to be willing to keep throwing your best shit at the wall until it sticks somewhere with someone. Submit and do it again. Get on some lists with a well crafted short story and keep going because then you have to write another one so you can get on some more lists. Submit your novel to as many competitions as you can afford. Keep swimming. Keep writing. Keep submitting. Your feet and your fingers will get bloody. Because that’s what it takes for most people. Go look around your local bookshop (ignore the celeb books) and see each one anew. Each of those books was a battle to get up on that shelf. A slog. It was boring as hell quite often. It takes the time it takes and it will almost always be far, far longer than you’d like.
I’m not trying to be a downer! The glorious upside is you’re not alone. You are not alone in the hard, slow march. Once you find an agent, you’re even less alone. Then an editor and therein, hopefully, a co-conspirator. Company galore. Chin up. Eyes forward. Let’s go!