It’s true. No one is ever too old to learn. Since I’ve begun my search for an agent to represent my memoir, I’ve discovered few of them are interested in writers until they’ve made their mark in the profession. In fact, the field is so competitive, that agents rarely send out rejection letters anymore. Most of their submission pages come with this caveat: “If you don’t hear from us within two months, submit elsewhere.”
Talk about impersonal, cold, and harsh treatment! But there it is. In a busy world, such behavior passes as “doing business.” From the writer’s perspective, the indifference is a slap in the face. After struggling to complete a book, the effort should be worth a canned rejection letter, at least. After all, artists are the plankton of the industry. Without us, there would be no publishers, no publicists, and no agents. Those who feed upon our dreams shouldn’t require us to stare at our calendars and wonder—marking off the days like a bride who is unaware her fiancé has run off to Cairo with an Egyptian belly dancer.
Currently, I am working through the list of agents my editor provided. They are top rung professionals who specialize in memoirs. You won’t find many of them living in the wilds of Idaho. They cluster on the east or west coast, mainly. I sent out a query letter to one of the biggest agencies the other day with little expectation of a nibble. In fact, hitting the send button on my query felt as futile as tossing a note in a bottle into the wide, wide sea. Imagine my surprise several days later when I received a reply.
“You failed to follow the instructions for submitting a query. Please do so at once.”
That response, bristling with disapproval, sent me back in my memory to a day in the second grade when my teacher noted I’d arrived at school without a freshly laundered handkerchief pinned to my dress. More important, I had no clue about what I’d omitted in my email to the agent. Dare I request further information?
Casting the idea aside as a fool’s errand, I returned to the submission page. At the bottom, a line appeared that I’d overlooked as it seemed little more than a footnote: “Include 5 to 10 pages of the manuscript.”
Naturally, I felt embarrassed. I presumed to write a book but had failed to follow a simple instruction. What must these people think of me?
Following hard upon the first question came a second. Why hadn’t they deleted my query and carried on with business as usual? They must get hundreds of failed submissions each year. A couple of months of silence and I’d be bound to figure out I’d landed in the trash bin.
But they didn’t delete me. They’d given me a second chance. My query seemed to have elicited some interest. My next worry was about those 5-10 pages. Would they live up to a stranger’s expectation?
I didn’t know, of course. So, I sent off the pages as requested. Now, like the jilted bride left with her wedding cake, for the next two months, I’ll feast upon hope.