There is no question for this post - I'm writing it because I want to whinge. For there are many days when I just want to never, ever, ever look at fiction submissions again. And it's not because I don't find clients that way - I do - but it's because so much of my time is wasted doing it that I find it hard to justify reading the subs. And why is my time wasted? Because 99% of fiction submissions aren't ready to be seen. (That percentage is an approximation, and possibly influenced by my snarky mood.)
So let's play a game. Let's say I grant every submission 100 points to start with. I'm going to list some common things I see in submissions. Certain things will take off points; certain things will add. If the submission still ends up with around 100 points, then I'll ask for a full manuscript. (In reality it's not that scientific, but maybe I'll change my ways.)
1. Sending in your first draft. LOSE 50 POINTS
1. (a) It's your first novel. LOSE ANOTHER 25 POINTS
2. Asking your best friend or mother to read your novel and then believing what they say and THEN telling me that I should read your novel because your mother loved it. LOSE 20 POINTS
3. Putting your novel away for a while - weeks, if not months - and then revisiting it and doing some more work. ADD 20 POINTS
4. Telling me that if I don't take you on I'll be missing out on the greatest novelist who ever lived. LOSE 10 POINTS
5. Taking the time to understand that to write a novel is to tell a story and that means you can't write 50 000 words of beautiful prose with no plot and no character development. ADD 20 POINTS
6. Being completely unrealistic about your abilities as a writer - everyone may have a novel in them but that doesn't mean everyone should write that novel. If you failed to read any novels in high school, there's a good chance you're not cut out to be a novelist. LOSE 20 POINTS
7. Reading lots of novels, particularly in your genre. ADD 15 POINTS
7. (a) Comparing yourself to those novelists when you submit your manuscript. LOSE 10 POINTS
8. Sending in a half-baked submission 'so you can give me some advice on where my writing should go from here'. LOSE 40 POINTS
And, at the suggestion of one of my authors (some of them know I write this blog - well, only the handsome ones):
9. Mentioning it's a literary novel. LOSE 15 POINTS (he suggested 1000 and used swear words - I'm not going to be that forceful - and please bear in mind that he actually writes literary fiction)
9. (a) Mentioning it's a literary novel set in Melbourne, and you're from Melbourne, and all the characters are from Melbourne too. LOSE ANOTHER 15 POINTS (and before you take umbrage, remember that my name is Agent SYDNEY - that gives me licence for a little fun, non?)
I've just run out of ideas, but there's every chance I'll add to this list in future. And you can probably tell there are more 'lose' than 'add' items. Believe me, I WANT to love every submission I read. I want there to be so many brilliant novels of all stripes out there that Australians only ever want to read Australian novels and forget about overseas authors. But the bitter truth is that I despair. I read the submissions and I see novelists who could turn out to be great but who will get rejected by me - and probably everyone else - because they were impatient. I read other submissions that are truly awful. I read a lot that are just tepid. All of this wastes my time, and when my time is wasted I grow cranky and I'm more and more tempted to never read fiction submissions again.
The biggest problem is that novels are submitted well before they're ready. If this blog achieves nothing else than to make novelists think hard before they submit to anyone, I'll be happy. Because while people like me spend too much time reading submissions that will never get published, we are not spending time on developing and supporting Australian talent.
In the past I have received several emails whinging - yes, whinging, how dare you! - about agents closing submissions and asking why. Well, now you know. We're not a public service - we run businesses. We can't work for nothing. So if we detect that something is wasting our time - and our money-making capabilities - we'll stop doing it. The one thing writers can do to ensure that doesn't happen is to make sure their submissions are up to scratch. Agents do not exist to give you advice unless you're a client. We are looking for writers we can get published. If you can free us up by not sending us your undercooked novel, we'll be more able to look at it when it IS cooked.
Having now expunged myself of bad feeling, I'm feeling charitable. Miss Snark used to run the occasional query-thing - writers would send in query letters and she'd flagellate them (or not) on the blog. I'm considering doing the same thing. If you think this is a good idea, please send an email to call [dot] sydney [at] gmail [dot] com. Please don't send query letters yet - just drop me a line to tell me whether you'd be interested.