When weeks had gone by without his getting a response from an agent, a client of mine got on a plane from Hong Kong and turned up at the door. ‘I just want to know if you’ve looked at my manuscript. I’ve come six thousand miles to find out.’ One large foot in the door.
He didn’t really get an answer but he did get a cup of tea for his trouble; and although the agent was out he was licked enthusiastically by an adorable labrador.
Why is it that publishers and agents are familiar with every word in the dictionary except the two that mean most to new authors: Customer Service? When I talk to agent friends there is always a long sigh: ‘I knooow…’ And with that sigh, the Chicken Little crushed look: a help-me-please-my-manuscript-pile-is-about-to-topple-and-crush-me’.
There are two sides to this argument: the author’s – ‘It’s people like me who keep these guys in business and its their business to look at my bloody book!’; and the agent’s/publisher’s – ‘We haven’t got time, on top of our daily business demands, to spend hours assessing new authors’ work. Don’t they realise it takes 8 hours to read a manuscript? Can they really expect to get a critique for nothing?’
And there it is: the answer. Ask authors to pay for the service. Bingo. I imagine that there might be a quiver of disquiet in the more traditional establishments if the idea of charging authors is raised. Mentioning money is a little bit grubby, after all.
But why, for Pete’s sake? I know many new authors who would shell out a king’s ransom rather than have to sit biting their nails for six months. A short critique, costing £75, would work a treat. I know, I do ‘em.