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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

RSVP "Regrets Only" and Agents

As the Northeast finally thaws out, the party/picnic/get-together invitations roll in. Between birthdays, graduations, holidays, and just fun by the pool, we embrace the heat and one another. Happy to emerge from hibernation. An ever-growing trend is the "Regrets Only RSVP." Like my friend's recent 40th birthday party. Almost 60 people were invited via a gorgeous invitation containing the "Regrets Only" line. As the party date approached, the hosts grew anxious. One week out, no one had regretfully RSVP'd. In making Costco and Party City runs, food orders, and deciding how big of a cake to buy, the hosts had to assume that all 60 were coming. The day before, a few people called to say they wouldn't make it. Babysitter snags or last minute illness. But the night of the party, even more didn't show up. This is a flaw with the "Regrets Only." Guests can delay or just not even show because of the lack of commitment required. With the traditional RSVP, guests call the host, commit to the date, and can offer words of encouragement or excitement: "Can't wait to get together with everyone." There is a lot less ambiguity.

So goes the query process. When I finished the manuscript for The Beauty of Grace, I poured through my agent's bible, "The 2011 Guide to Literary Agents." I highlighted. I researched. I checked websites to ensure the agents I queried represented my type of novel (women's fiction). I did my homework. Then, I worked on my query letter, which is a one-page introductory letter to an agent that briefly describes the plot of your book, introduces you and your qualifications, and provides contact information. It's the knock on the door.

Before email, authors sent Self-Addressed Stamped Envelopes (SASE) along with their query letters. Agents would read your query and if they weren't interested, would print a form rejection and stick it in the envelope. Just like the traditional RSVP, this ensured a response. Most of the time. This type of query also required more effort on the part of the author. Printing the letters individually, buying postage for both the letter and the SASE, and, in the case of some agents, incurring additional postage and copy costs if a sample was required. Commitment. There are a few agents that still use this method, but with the advent of email, many receive queries either exclusively or preferably via email. This is a positive because it allows writers to reach out to more agents. It also gives agents a bigger pool to choose from. And I won't even mention the incredible benefit to the environment!

But with this growing trend, I wish more agents would employ the traditional RSVP method. The "Regrets Only" policy in publishing is actually an "Acceptance Only" policy. Many agencies state on their websites: "If you don't hear from us, assume we've passed." As a writer pursuing a dream, wearing her heart on her proverbial sleeve, and putting her work out there for strangers to judge, this sucks. Recently, an agent simply responded to my email query with a "Not for me." Bless you, bless you, Paul Levine. Just receiving a response allowed me to cross his name off my list of pending responses.
Thank you agents for opening up the door. Thank you for helping the planet by requiring email only queries. But please don't employ a "Regrets Only" policy because it leaves us waiting, holding our breath, by the phone (aka email inbox). A "not for me" takes four seconds. Please.

Did I just shoot myself in the foot with this one?

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