creative writing

Why Don’t Agents Respond to a Querying Author?

After critique groups and a professional editor, I finished editing my young adult, science fiction novel and decided to query agents before I attempted self-publishing.

Of the eighty agents I queried so far, forty percent did not respond. (Twelve percent of the rejections did not come from the agent, which is a topic for another blog post.)

I have trouble understanding why agents do not respond to a writer’s query. Yes, some agents get a lot of queries and may not have the staff to help them sort through the submissions. Yet, there are software programs that make it easy to at least email a simple, prepared rejection form.

This leads me to assume (maybe wrongly) that the lack of a response from agents is either laziness or a lack of respect (i.e. snobbery) toward writers.

When I read agents’ comments, they give the appearance of liking authors. They also encourage and advertise writers to submit a query. Then, why does an agent not send a response when rejecting a submission?

Maybe agents do not like sending rejections. But getting nothing is worse than getting a rejection. A nonresponse is a rejection with added rejection thrown in. It sends a message that not only is the submission not wanted, the writer should not have sent it.

I can go on with assumptions and guesses. In the end, I remain puzzled as to why agents would show disrespect to writers by not responding to their query. I could call some of the agents and ask them why, but they say not to call them.

I’m not letting it bother me. After eighty queries, I’m more worried about this self-publishing world I’m headed into.

Make Time to Edit

I am currently editing my young adult, science fiction novel and found that editing takes a lot longer than writing that first draft. Of course, I knew that. I didn’t realize how much longer.

Writing the first draft is not editing. While both involve creativity, the first draft has empty pages to work from. Nothing into something. Editing is changing that something into a less confusing something. A different way to think, I think.

New writing has flaws and drifts in thought. Editing eliminates the dead ends, makes grammar make sense, and forgives an absent trail of logic. If a writer is working on a schedule to finish a piece of work, they need to budget the bulk of their time to editing what they wrote (this goes for grant writers, too). From start to publication, editing will take the most time to complete of any project. Or, should.

So many writers spend as little time as possible during editing.

It goes back to editing being a different way of thought. Some writers are good at creating something new, some good at making that creativity better, and others can do both. A writer should decide what they are best at and ask for help with the other.

As I continue to edit my novel, I have changed my way of thinking about what I wrote. I am being more careful with the editing. The first draft was fun and fast. Editing is slow and business-like. It took some time to adjust my way of thinking and I hope I am there now.

This means spending a lot of time to make sure my novel sings the way I want my novel to sing. No flat notes allowed!

Yes, there are stories to tell

Recently, I heard another author claiming there are no more the stories to be told. All the stories that could be told have been written. All that’s left are changes to the characters and the scenery. Authors who make this claim support their argument by listing a few basic plots all stories use.

Many stories have the same basic plots because they follow standard templates such as the hero’s journey or “save the cat” with its planned story beats. Yes, following templates like these will result in all the stories being told.

If a writer wants to write a different story, they need to be creative and ignore templates. This comes with risk as readers may reject something different from the template driven stories they are used to reading. But, I think this is a small risk.

I’m always asking readers what they are reading. While some read the same authors (who use the same templates), the majority enjoy finding something different. When they do, they stay with that author. I think the best way for an author to stand out and be successful is to write something that is not like everyone else’s story.

I’ve blogged about this topic before. But, I’m writing about it again to encourage writers to reject the well worn path of standard templates. Stop writing the story that everyone has already told. Like Robert Frost wrote:

I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Writing by Templates

Here are two ways to write a story:

  1. The writer creates characters, action, and an environment based on how they think the story should unfold.
  2. The writer follows a template, created by someone else, that dictates who the characters are, when action takes place, and most times what the ending will be. Examples of templates are Save the Cat and The Hero’s Journey.

In June 2019, I read a blog by Janice Hardy titled The Lure of the Writing Template: Why Filling in the Blanks Doesn’t Work.” Janice was a guest blogger on Anne R. Allen’s blogsite.

Janice wrote, “When templates are used for developing stories or to help keep writers focused, they’re useful. But when they dictate how writers should write their books and tell their stories—especially if they give false hope as to the marketability of those stories—they lead writers down a dangerous path.”

I agree with Janice. Yes, it is easy to follow a template, like following a paint-by-numbers kit. However, the writer must “. . . hit specific turning points at specific times, even if they don’t fit . . .” as the template demands. By avoiding a template, a writer can tell the story as they think it should be written.

Writing is a creative process and I think using a template diminishes the creativity. However, a writer can write and sell more books by following a template. It is faster and readers recognize the formalistic style. Therein lies the decision.

To write for quality or quantity. If a writer’s primary income comes from novels, many feel they must write for quantity and follow a template. This is not necessarily true.

There are many successful writers who do not follow a template. They write a story they feel is their story and not someone else’s. Whichever way a writer chooses, it should be their story and not someone else’s.