Literary Agents Closed to Queries: Is the Sky Falling?
Who knew? I’ve just learned I led the literary agent crowd when I closed my doors to new queries several year ago (for me it was to find time to develop software and hang with my family). But now I hear that’s the norm–yet another mega-contraction in the world of possibilities for the unpublished writer. (If I listen closely, I can hear the
grinding of the gears as the enormous iron-bound castle gate rises slowly, slowly up. Hoards of once-hopeful writers surround the entrance: silent, staring, aghast, tears falling, manuscripts clutched…never to be read?)
Is that a side door I see? Over there? With a lovely princess beckoning you inside?
Because nothing has really changed.
Established agencies rejected 99% of the unsolicited queries they saw anyway. Agents can only take on so many clients. The bigger and more successful the agency, the easier it is to find new clients. Successful writers often count other successful writers as their friends, and recommend them. Not because they’re snobs, but because as in any profession–if you hang around and work hard you’ll meet and befriend other folks who share your interests and passions–and whose careers progress just like yours. (To paraphrase Harry Potter teaching spells in the Room of Requirement, “All those mega wizards had to start somewhere, didn’t they?”)
Publishers also recommend reliable agents to their unagented writers.
Thus it is, and thus it has ever been. Except now, I hear, more agencies are realizing it doesn’t help anyone–authors or agents–to encourage thousands of submissions when the agency is booked.
When there’s room on the roster, the doors open. Younger agents have more room, and say so on their websites.
I don’t see this as harsh, I see it as honest and time-saving on both sides.
But that’s also because I encourage you to view your queries as agents do: your query letters are job postings. Help-wanted ads. There’s little sense inviting someone who is happy with their current job to quit and apply for yours. Of course it happens–people are wooed away from top positions to other top positions (and closed agencies take on new bestselling authors from time to time.)
The norm, though, and the best use of your time, is to find an agent–seek the employee–who is thrilled to get the work, and who actively needs you.
Go in the side door to the castle–there was always a moat behind the front door anyway.