So, I sent my first real query in September 2014. I say real because prior to this I had sent a couple of queries for another two manuscripts. I was not ready. Neither manuscript was ready. Those first forays into the publishing world taught me much—while highlighting the saying “trust but verify” after a dubious offer of publication, of which I still harbour shame.
I am by no means an expert, not even close, and there are a multitude of blog posts and articles out there with all kinds of suggestions. They’re great, truly. I found lots of information on things I would never have even thought of without these sources. Query Tracker is an amazing tool for the querying writer, offering all kinds of information on the listed agents. The comments section is likewise helpful, providing personal experiences and timelines.
What I did notice, however, was a sense of… contempt… towards literary agents. The term “gatekeepers” comes to mind, and I found this rather odd. Since I’d had little to do with agents, I became more panicked and anxious over my query letter. I sent it off to what I started imagining as dragons sitting behind a desk, shouting “you shall not pass” at every query.
The rejections rolled in, and of course that hurt, but I continued sending batches with a dwindling level of hope. With each rejection, I sought more information on how to perfect the query, and what to do in the meantime. This led me to start a blog—yes, the one you’re reading—and along with that, a social media platform. To date, this has not helped in the line of a writing career, but I think it is good to start early rather than late.
That said, when I signed up for twitter, I decided to only follow literary agents. This was, perhaps, the best decision I’ve ever made. The first thing following agents taught me was that they are human. More than that, they are readers. They are my people in a lot of ways. We share this huge portion of our lives—a love of stories. This was a massive light bulb moment for me. They are not dragons out to thwart my dreams, but rather lovers of good stories looking for the best ones to bring to the world.
As a reader, I could respect that.
I have indefinite gratitude that these so-called “gatekeepers” are there to ensure that I—the reader—am treated to beautiful, well-told tales. How could I—the writer—resent the rejections when I—the reader—appreciated their work? Here I reconciled my two halves. While I may not rejoice in those rejection letters, I can still respect the decision of the agent who sent it.
The second thing I discovered while following agents is that they share a wealth of knowledge via twitter. A large majority of the agents I follow, often tweet about important tips on querying and publishing. They talk about the industry and what is happening. They mention what they’re working on and the events they’re attending. There is a hashtag for #MSWL—manuscript wish list—which offers a host of information on what agents are looking for.
I’ve learnt more about the industry following agents than I ever did reading online articles. I’ve also learnt how hard agents work and the hours they spend on their job. How dedicated they are. How they support their clients and cheer them on. How they care about writers and want to help. How it affects them when they send those rejection letters.
It has been an eye-opener. So often we see only one side of a difficult situation. Of course we do. We focus on how it affects us, to the point where we become blind to the other party involved. If nothing else, the small act of following less than fifty agents on twitter has given me a glimpse into their world, and I can’t help but feel at home amongst them.