In a recent blog entry, Jessica Faust of BookEnds describes the steps to obtaining an agent as she breaks down the responses an author might get from their queries. It's an evolutionary process, starting with the bad news and developing into the good. She left out one step, however, and it's a relatively new way station on the road to publishing.
Send out queries and get form rejections, that's the start of the process. That's how it used to be, at any rate, and how it was when I first stumbled into the querying process about four years ago. For all the query letters I mailed in the first couple of years, only five were never answered. Considering how many letters were posted, that's a fairly insignificant number.
Where do things stand today, on the rejection front? BookEnds never responded to a query mailed last August, which contained a SASE for the rejection letter to be stuffed into. Lost in the mail, possibly? Michele Beno of Curtis Brown, Tara Mark of RLR, Melanie Jackson, and Melissa Chinchillo of Fletcher & Parry never responded at all. The SASE was there, following proper agent approaching protocol, but the 'no response is a no' appears to have evolved into a suitable reply to snail mail queries.
Who else doesn't respond to snail mail queries? Alex Glass at Trident Media, Kelly Harms at Jane Rotrosen, Elizabeth Winick at McIntosh & Otis, and Anna Ghosh at Scovil Chichak Galen have added the 'ignore' step to the query process. It worked so well with the e-mail queries, got the authors trained, and now they can kiss their SASEs good-bye. There was a time when snail mail practically guaranteed some sort of response, so that the author at least knew that the letter arrived, but the times they are a-changin'.
With the introduction of the Forever Stamp, those pre-paid envelopes will be perfect for mailing correspondence to an agent's signed authors, and come Christmas time, the photo greeting card will fit perfectly in those #10 envelopes. In a way, anyone approaching an agent with their snail mail query will be paying for the agent's time to open the letter, glance at the first sentence of the query, and then ignore the whole thing. One hundred queries a week? That's enough stamped envelopes to buy bagels and coffee for the week.
Sure there's a black market in New York City, with literary agents selling SASEs at a discount to businesses in need of stamped envelopes. There's a new industry that's sprung up, making the rounds of the agencies and paying 85% of the face value. The agent, of course, keeps the other 15%.