The other day Shannon Hale (who I adore and who is one of the most giving authors I know) wrote up a post called I Am Not Accessible about how she just doesn’t have time to respond to emails from readers.
There are so so so many things I would like to do that I simply cannot, and answering your email is one of those. You are not the only one writing to me. I either have to answer everyone or no one. If answering the emails and editing the stories and responding personally to the questions of every one of my readers is the price of having readers then I give up. I can’t do it. I can only do two things. I choose: 1. be a mom/wife, and 2. write books.
After reading some of the less-than-kind comments she received on Facebook, I started writing a response, but then it ended up being novel-length, so I decided to post it here instead. But first, go read the full post before you continue.
The thing that most people are missing when it comes to authors being unable to respond to fan mail is the SHEER NUMBER of messages they receive on a daily basis. An author like Shannon isn’t just getting an email or two a week; it’s undoubtedly a lot more than that, and when you combine it with every other demand on her time, it’s a low priority. To respond to a heartfelt message with more than a “thank you” can take a good half hour. Times that by 100 and you’ve already used up your entire work week without getting to any of the actual work.
As an agent, I can’t afford to help every writer who asks me for personal advice or feedback, no matter how much I’d like to. I read 100+ queries plus sample pages a week (which is really not that many, considering some agents get 1,000+ every week) and then send either a request or form reject. Then, I have to read the manuscripts that come in, which takes several hours for each one. In all but a select few cases, I end up passing on a manuscript, but I usually only do so after thinking about it for a good while.
Sometimes the answer is easy and I know right off the bat that I’m not connecting with a character or story, even if it is well written and interesting. In those cases, there really isn’t a reason to offer the writer other than, “It’s just not for me.” But when there’s a clear reason why it didn’t work for me or if there’s some feedback I can offer, I will. For manuscripts that I really liked but still need work, I’ll send detailed notes with suggestions for improvement, which can take several hours. I love digging through the slush as there’s always the potential to find something amazing, but I can’t let it be the main focus of my work, which means I generally end up reading submissions and responding to queries at night and on the weekends.
I’m very much an editorial agent and do full edits on all of my clients’ manuscripts before they go out on submission, so I tend to be super selective about the writers I take on. Editing generally involves several rounds of back-and-forth revisions. Add to that the time spent writing the pitch and then contacting the editors I hand-pick to send a manuscript . . . it all adds up quickly. I make it a point to not sign a writer if I’m so busy with the work I already have that I will end up neglecting them. It’s not fair to them or to the amazing writers I currently represent.
It’s about prioritizing, and the writers I rep will always come first. I simply don’t have time to write a personal response to every request for help or feedback I receive. It’s the same reason why I don’t participate in or judge contests. I once counted the time it once took to read and respond to all the entries in a writing contest: 20+ hours. And that was one of the less time-consuming ones.
Don’t get me wrong. I love talking to writers and offering advice, but I set aside time to do so at conferences. It’s one of my favorite things, actually, and anyone who’s met me at a conference knows that I will talk your ear off about books and writing if given the chance. Even then, I’m just one agent in a sea of 500 or so writers eager for a piece of my time. After some 3-day conferences, I’ve nearly lost my voice, and it can take 2–3 days to recover from the sheer exhaustion.
I’m not complaining at all, because I love it, but if I spent that much time helping writers I don’t rep on a regular basis, there wouldn’t be any left to do the actual work of agenting. I don’t think my writers would appreciate that, nor should they. Would you want an agent who spends all her time finding clients but not doing any actual work once she signs them? Of course not, but it’s hard to see that when you’re eager to learn and succeed at a business that is rife with failure and trying at the best of times.
I hadn’t intended this to be a long response, but I apparently had a lot to say on the subject. Please note: This isn’t an attempt to justify my non-responsiveness, because I don’t need to justify or excuse how I prioritize my work. I simply hope it helps writers understand why agents (and popular authors) aren’t able to take time for everyone who emails or writes.