I love getting post. I love getting signed contracts, proof copies, invitations to parties… and I love receiving unsolicited submissions, because there is always the possibility that one of them is going to change the course of my career (and the author’s, obviously!)
I don’t think I’m alone amongst Literary Agents when I say that the working day starts the moment I wake up and check my phone for overnight emails from abroad, or early risers, or night owls – and there are always several. I’m certainly not alone when I say that the working day ends when I turn off my bedside light.
If you follow this blog, you’ll know that I absolutely love my job, but there is never enough time. I would love to be able to hold down a full time job, and read four or more novels a night, but sadly that is not possible. I have a house, a husband, teenagers, a dog, parents, friends, siblings, sibs-in-law, nieces, nephews, a garden, laundry… and there is very, very rarely time to read during office hours.
We have to give priority to the authors we already represent, because they pay our wages, so sadly the unsolicited submissions gets smooshed into a very short reading window – almost always in my case an hour or two over the weekend.
Now you know what it’s like when you go into a bookshop: you have a fairly good idea of the shelves where you are likely to find something right for you. You can flick through a book and pretty quickly get a sense of whether you’re interested or not. Like it or not, that is often how I prioritise my own reading. Something will grab me, quickly get under my skin, excite me. Something else… just won’t. I’ll read a few pages, and if the book isn’t getting to me, then I recognise that I’m not going to be the best person to champion it through the publishing process. So it goes on my ‘no’ pile.
And then, because of the aforementioned teenagers, great-uncles, dog and laundry (just checking how closely you’re reading this – he’s ninety-nine) I send a fairly standard ‘rejection’ letter. I try to be very clear that what doesn’t grab me may well thrill someone else: there are hundreds of books in my own house that I’d never dream of reading, my sons and husband just don’t share my taste. But there simply isn’t time to write and tell you why it’s not for me.
Now I know – honestly I do – what courage it takes to send your work off to agents at all, and I can well imagine how disappointing it must be to get a response that hasn’t been personalised to you. The good news is that if you are looking for feedback, there are other places to try. Try critical but supportive friends, consultancies, freelance editors, writing workshops, writing groups… anyone who reads A LOT and will be honest (so not your mum, or someone who owes you money)
This isn’t an apology but I do wish I could give every unpublished author who approached me some personal feedback. It feels discourteous not to do so. But it’s just not possible. There are pants to wash. And I STILL haven’t read Wolf Hall.