About two years ago, I started trying to get an agent. Today I am officially putting an end to that search. Because I found an agent!?! Nope. Because writing and submitting short stories for the past year has taught me a lot about respecting myself as a writer.
The agenting world has this common standard: “no reply means no.” In a way, I understand. Not only do agents get a ton of queries, but sending a rejection often results in hate mail from bitter writers. Who wants to risk that?
After a year of a 25% response rate (we’re not even talking requests for materials here, just a simple yes or no) I thought, “Hey, this is normal. It’s how the industry works. No big deal.” And to be clear, it is normal. It happens to every writer I know. We send out writing to agents, wait 3-4 months, then close out our query, wondering if it was even read or not.
I don’t know a single writer who doesn’t feel frustrated by this standard at least some of the time.
And you know something? It is a big deal.
The Joy of Short Stories
A year ago I started seriously pursuing publication in literary magazines and anthologies. I have a respectable acceptance rate of about 6%. Not bad for my first year, and I hope it goes up. But you know what is even cooler? My response rate is 99.5%. I’ve had a total of two publications not respond to my submission.
Keep in mind, many of the editors for these publications are volunteers or low-paid. Many editors are swamped with hundreds of submissions every month. Many editors also (unfortunately) get hate mail when they send out rejections. (Seriously, writers, can you just stop sending hate mail?)
A lot of the responses are form rejections. I don’t mind. Sometimes the publications have short submission periods so they can keep up with submissions. I don’t mind.
Getting a response makes me feel valued as a writer. It makes me feel like this whole publication thing is something between humans. That it is still a form of communication.
Am I Bitter?
No. I’m not bitter. I am absolutely positive that most agents out there are hardworking, good people who are just swamped and following the “industry standard.” I get that.
I also know this will seem like bitterness. Honestly, if I had gotten an agent before now, I would have been thrilled. And I’d probably be one of the writers saying that this is just how things work and there’s no real problem with it.
But there is a problem. I cannot support an industry that dehumanizes the people who are creating the product they sell.
If anything, I feel grateful right now. Grateful to all of the amazing editors in the shorts industry who reminded me that at the end of the day, I am a person and I want PEOPLE reading my stories more than I want fame or money. I want to be treated as a person and given the basic dignity of recognition.
By no longer searching for an agent, I am giving up many opportunities. Most bigger publishers do not accept unagented submissions. Those who do, often don’t place as much weight when considering unagented submissions. This means that the biggest publishers are now out of reach for me.
It doesn’t mean I am stopping my journey to publication, though.
At the moment I am revising my manuscript a final time to send out to a few publishers who accept unagented submissions. At the same time, I am looking into the benefits and risks of self-publishing.
While I am regrouping, I will continue to write short stories and poetry and submit them to magazines. Hopefully, I will gain some trusting readers who will buy my books when they come out, no matter who publishes them.