The sheer utter misery of approaching literary agents: the days of the rejection slip are over

When did literary agents start treating authors like shit?  I’ve spent the better part of 30 years trying to find an agent.  If I’ve failed, it’s because my work was either utter garbage or wrong for that agent.  But there seems be another reason now.

Agents have always been hopelessly inundated with manuscripts.  The slush pile is famous.  Nowadays, it’s worse.  More people on Planet Earth = more manuscripts = bigger slush pile.  Once upon a time, you sent off your three chapters, prayed hard, got a rejection slip after 6 to 12 weeks and moved on to the next agent.  Multiple admissions were frowned upon:  it was deeply impolite to send your work to more than one agent at a time.

Until recently, I thought this was still true.  I believed that you really shouldn’t send your manuscript to more than one agent at a time and that you should just wait until you got your rejection slip before moving on.  I thought I was taken a huge risk by sending my manuscript off to two at once – but then, I told myself, the one was the most popular literary agent in the world and highly unlikely to even notice I was alive.  It’s like stepping on an ant on the sidewalk – do you even know you’re doing it?  After four months, I hadn’t heard from either agent and took what I thought was another great risk – I approached agent number 3.

And then I read ON AN AGENT’S WEBSITE that if if they weren’t interested in the manuscript and didn’t want to read beyond your crappy first three chapters, THEY WOULDN’T LET YOU KNOW.  They wouldn’t even bother to send you a rejection slip (even an electronic one.)  So how the fuck are you supposed to know if they’re ever going to reply?  The maximum number of agents you can send your work to in a year is 4, given the three month wait.  FOUR.  And if none answer you EVER, then it’s, well, 1.  If agents don’t send rejection slips anymore, is it any wonder that authors now, in desperation, have resorted to multiple submissions?  In another blog, I read that many authors are doing this now.  It’s still a frowned-upon practice but agents are “resigned” to the fact that authors do it anyway;  if one agent does accept you, the polite practice now is to let the others know so that they don’t have to bother reading your stuff.

One could say that with multiple admissions, authors are treating agents poorly.  But how are agents treating authors if they couldn’t even be bothered to send a fuck-off email.  At this point, I should go off in a huff and say, well, bugger all that, I’m going to self-publish.  Except I tried that and it didn’t work.

So I am going to try the multiple submissions method.  Because, God knows, I am so far down in the black pit of despair when it comes to my non-career that I’ve got nothing left to lose.


About susannahjbell

I am a writer of science fiction and other strange and surreal works. I mostly write novels and the occasional novelette. My published works include A Doorway into Ultra, the Fleet Quintet and the Exodus Sequence. I live in London in an attic flat but really want to live in a tree. I wanted to be an astrophysicist but would settle for an alien abduction. I write because I don’t know what to read.
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