Here’s an unfortunate chain of events.
Publishers no longer have the money to pay some poor soul to wade through all the manuscripts we wanna-be authors send—otherwise known as the slush pile. Some of those tomes are, well, drivel you wouldn’t want to wallpaper your doghouse with, let alone read. So publishers have simply quit taking unsolicited manuscripts. They accept submissions only from agents.
This means they’ve effectively dumped said slush pile—which I’m pretty sure is one of Dante’s seven levels of hell—onto agents.
Agents don’t want to spend every waking moment drowning in Dante’s nightmare, so they’ve banned unsolicited manuscripts too. Instead, they request query letters—short little pleas that basically say, “Here’s my great idea wouldn’t you like to see it?” The query pile is more tolerable to agents, as it is only a nasty side room of hell, rather than a full-fledged level.
Now we writers have to sell our epic genius in two hundred words or less. Preferably much less. Aim for a rap lyric.
As client rosters fill, an agent’s time for reading queries shrivels into nothingness, yet they’re expected to read through the pile anyway. Is it any wonder they resort to reading queries on their phones in twenty second chunks of time?
The end result for writers? Our dream agent is at the grocery store with a cart full of frozen food (she doesn’t have time to cook). There’s twenty people ahead of her in line, one register open, and she has to pick up her kids from school in ten minutes. Then toddler triplets directly behind her launch a screeching wingding of a tantrum that just might split her head in two. I have to hand it to her for keeping her sanity.
Ms. Agent, a multi-tasking whiz by necessity, whips out her phone to catch up on queries. Do I really want to be the first one up?
And people ask me why it’s so hard to get published.