I just realized my last-straw-moment of submitting to agents. And since it's 3am, I thought it might be a humorous time to write about it. You'll see why.
Literary agents have, for some time, seen themselves as Gatekeepers to Publication. In most cases, they still do. For years, I had nothing against this idea, as daunting as it was to be a writer who wanted nothing more than to be an author (if a writer is someone who writes and an author is someone who gets paid to write). If that was how the game was played, I was determined to play by the rules. I would study agent bios and currently-seeking lists. I would send queries and attend writers' conferences.
My last writers' conference was this past February. At these types of gatherings are several hundred writers at various stages in their careers, from total newbie writer to multi-published author, and a handful of agents ranging in experience from total newbie to decades of author representation.
Assume there are 10-12 agents and 300 or so writers-who-want-to-be-authors at a conference. The main attraction at any conference for an unagented writer is the 10 minute appointment to "pitch" to one of these agents, during which the would-be author discusses his/her manuscript with the agent in hopes he or she might request a partial or a (gasp!) full manuscript.
There are also sessions presided over by all sorts of publication people/experts: agents, editors, e-pub specialists, marketing and publicity gurus, successful authors, etc. As you might imagine, the agent sessions are packed.
The conference I attended in February featured a YA Agent Panel session - three agents (agenting experience ranging a few months to six years) sat behind a table facing a room full of hopeful writers. There was a lot of information given; I even wrote some of it down. But somewhere during this talk, something was said by one of the agents that I couldn't quite get past.
They gave us their lists of "pet peeves when dealing with writers," much of which was condescending ("Don't address the email to someone else… Don't write us back a week after you query, furious because we haven't responded yet and demanding to know what we thought of your brilliant idea…" etc). I watched other writers scribbling down every word they were saying, ah la Moses while the Burning Bush handed out Commandments, and that bothered me a bit.
But here's the one that got me: "Don't send us an email at 3am, because that's just a weird time for anyone to be emailing, and it makes us wonder about you."
Okay, wait. We're not talking about calling someone at 3am... we're talking about email. The glory of email has always been that you can send it whenever... and your recipient can reply to it whenever. For those of us who hate talking on the phone, email was like a gift from heaven.
Furthermore, they were speaking to unagented, unpublished, unpaid writers with living expenses and bills and jobs outside of working on our manuscripts. Not long ago, I had a job at a radiology call center. My hours were 6pm-2am. I was always a little wired when I got off, especially if it had been a particularly traumatic or stressful night. A 3am email from me wouldn't be nuts.
Jobs can happen any time. Free time to write and email can happen at any time. Unless, apparently, you're emailing an agent in NYC who has a vast year of agenting experience.
We were not only told not to send emails at 3am... we were told to send them "between 10am and 3pm, Tuesday through Thursday." I kept waiting for one of them to say, "J/K! Gotcha!" or something, but no. The other two nodded as if those parameters - for email - made perfect sense.
When I pitched Between the Lines, it was to one of those panelists. She seemed interested and asked me to send a partial (at conferences, you're much more likely to be asked to send pages than you are when querying agents, btw). After sending, I waited six weeks or so and then followed up with a polite, non-furious email (within her above time/day parameters) to see if she'd had a chance to read over the pages I'd sent. She sent a very nice "this project is not for me" rejection within two days.
Here's something I think she would be shocked to know: I was relieved when I got her answer. Against all common sense, by that point, I wanted her to say no.
That night, I told my husband, "Okay baby, let's do this thing," returning the words he'd given me earlier in the day, when I'd received the rejection. He began programming BTL that weekend.
(In case you're curious, I send emails and write posts and update my Facebook and work on my book whenever the hell I want to. Yes. Even at 3am, if I am so inclined.)