On (mostly) closing my slush pile

I owe you all several blog posts. Things have been pretty busy around here lately.

I completed my summer experiment in changing the way I receive submissions, and overall I was very pleased with the results. Here are some of the things I learned:

  • As a relatively new agent at a smallish agency, it’s terrifying to make reaching out to authors your primary way of getting new clients. I reached out to people who already had representation but weren’t public about it, people who weren’t interested in getting an agent, people who were interested in getting an agent but would prefer it not to be me, and people who didn’t respond to my email at all. As an agent you get used to rejection from editors, but offering your heart on a plate to a brilliant author whose work you love feels like a very different thing. I’ve always had great admiration for authors putting themselves through the querying process, but now I have some insight into what it actually takes, their bravery really takes my breath away.
  • It’s also a matter of timing. Unless it’s somebody I’ve gotten to know personally and already have the beginnings of a long-term relationship with, I prefer to see a full-length MS from an author before signing them. So of course I found myself reaching out to authors who had a finished MS but had just signed with an agent a few months or weeks ago, and to authors who were still working on their novel but promised to put me at the top of their submission list when they had it ready. It’ll still be a good few months before I find out whether this summer’s work has actually resulted in any clients.
  • I did still get some queries via the normal method – I specified that authors from marginalised groups should feel free to query me and mention my blog post in their query. Unsurprisingly, the standard of queries was incredibly high – almost all of them were from people who had taken the time to get to know the way the industry works, to actually read the blog post, to find out some things about me and send me material they thought might actually be a good fit. I happened not to find a client through my new, smaller slush pile this summer, but that’s a reflection on personal taste and how few clients I sign in a year, not a reflection on the quality of the queries.
  • I did, as predicted, get a whole bunch of queries from authors belonging to dominant social groups writing about marginalised characters. I am sorry, guys, but that wasn’t what I was looking for.
  • I really need to do this for longer and see what happens.

It was a difficult summer in many ways. It made my job more stressful and it made me feel less comfortable and less complacent. But it also felt like absolutely the right thing to do. I was able to correspond with authors I’m really excited about, I got to read their work, I might end up signing one or two of them but even if I don’t, at least I know them now and I get to watch where they go next. Most importantly, I was able to offer support to the voices we need to see in publishing. If my reaching out inspired anybody to believe a little bit harder in themselves and their work, it was worth doing – even if they then choose to query a bunch of other agents and not me.

It’s been two months now since I re-opened my slush pile and started taking queries the normal way again, and I find that I really miss the way things were this summer. And there have been some events in publishing that have made me sad and convinced me that I have to try harder to raise up marginalised voices in this industry. I’ll be closing my slush pile again soon, this time for a longer period. I haven’t set a date for closure yet, but when I do I’ll post it here.

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