Ways to Be Seen in a Crowd Part I

By: Jeff Herman

Established literary agencies, including yours truly’s, are inundated with unsolicited query letters (both hard-copy and digital), proposals, pieces of manuscripts, and entire manuscripts. This stream of relentless intake easily runs from 50 to 150 uninvited submissions per week, depending on how visible the agency in question is to the world of writers at large. These numbers do not account for the many works that the agency has requested or were expecting from existing clients. Frankly, many successful agents are simply not hungry for more than what they already have, and make efforts to be as invisible and unavailable as possible.

The above scenario only tells of the agencies. It’s likely that the publishers, both big and small, are receiving the same in even greater volumes, which is of dubious value since many publishers will simply not consider anything that is unsolicited or unrepresented, period.

How can your work go from being an unseen face in the crowd to a jack-in-the-box whose presence cannot be denied? Here are some suggested steps.

1. Don’t merely do what everyone else is already doing. That doesn’t mean that you should entirely refrain from doing what’s conventional or recommended. After all, the beaten track is beaten for a reason: It has worked before and it will work again. But be open to the possibility of pursuing specific detours along the way. Look upon these excursions as a form of calculated wildcatting. If nothing happens, or if you end up puncturing the equivalent of someone’s septic tank, then just take it as a lesson learned.

2. Make yourself be seen. A pile of No. 10 envelopes is simply that, and none of the component envelopes that form the pile are seen. Someone once sent me a letter shaped like a circle. It could not be grouped with that day’s quota of query letters; it demanded to be seen and touched and dealt with, immediately. Another time I received a box designed as a treasure chest, which contained an unsolicited proposal. I did not appreciate receiving a bag of white powder with a certain proposal. The powder was flushed down the toilet and the manuscript returned without being read.

3. Be generous. Most submissions are actually a demand for time, attention and energy. During a long day in the middle of a stressful week in the throes of a month in hell, none of those submissions will be seen as good faith opportunities from honorable people. To the contrary, they will feel like innumerable nuisances springing forth from the armpits of manic brain-eating zombies, with drool and odor. I can recall opening a package to find a handwritten card from a stranger telling me how much he appreciated my wonderful contributions to the business and how much I have helped him and others, etc., etc. I always remember those kinds of things; wouldn’t you?

To be continued......

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