One week, six days, 22 hours and 32 minutes ago, I sent an email query to a publisher. A “query” is an unsolicited submission of a written work with the hope of future publication. It comes from the Latin meaning “shameless begging.” It’s rarely successful; you’re better off submitting your query through an agent, some people say, mostly agents.
An unsolicited query is sometimes referred to as “over the transom,” a transom being one of those windows you used to be able to open above an office door. You don’t see transoms too often anymore, but “over the transom” continues to exist in publishing and in the electronic age has come to mean “destined for self-publication.”
But here’s the thing about my over-the-transom query. While the publisher’s website stated that they welcomed submissions, it went on to say that they regret they can only respond to submissions that are of interest.
This is a cruel, cruel policy.
More helpful would be: “We regret that we cannot accept semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novels,” because that would cull a good third of the submissions right there. If they could say, “We regret that we can only accept fiction about sexy presidential candidates who are also wizards or wizards-slash-vampires,” that would at least give you an idea where you stand. If they said, “We regret submitting to other people’s wishes out of respect or courtesy all these years, for that has made all the deference,” you would know that this is the type of publisher you should avoid at all costs.
But this “you’ll hear from us only if we like you” nonsense is torture.
I’ve noticed this line in employment ads as well: “We regret that only shortlisted candidates will be contacted.” But they never say when that will be. We’ll contact you in a day or two, a couple of weeks, a month maybe. Just sit tight and try not to fret about your worth as a human being. Have a nice day!
The way the rationalist brain works with this “don’t call us, we might call you” policy is to always hold out faint hope. Just because it’s been one week, six days, 22 hours and 34 minutes since I submitted my query, that doesn’t mean I won’t hear.
Maybe the publisher has been really, really busy. You know how it goes; you start out your morning reading a story outline about a dysfunctional backwoods Canadian family of stone polishers – title: “Buffing it in the Bush” — and next thing you know you’re looking at your shirt and realizing you’re at the Button Tipping Point. You know the Button Tipping Point – when you can no longer ignore all the missing buttons on your pants and shirts and so you finally get out the needle and thread to embark on a sewing marathon? No? Not much of a procrastinator, are you? That’s why you’ll never make it as a writer!
Or could it be that blissful ignorance has replaced the traditional rejection letter? Blissful for the rejecter, that is. You used to be able to count on a simple “no thanks” or “this is good, but not for us” or “you stink worse than Micky Rourke after a 5K run.” Now, except through anonymous online attacks, we live in an everyone-gets-a-trophy age where we want to avoid hurt feelings at all cost, not because we’re sensitive but because we don’t want to get sued. Next thing, publishers and employers will be blocking emails so we can’t write back demanding to know “Why don’t you love me!” It’ll be just like my high school years all over again.
But I would far rather be told by a publisher that they’re not in the market for writers who make stale Mickey Rourke jokes than be left wondering indefinitely whether my emailed query might have ended up in the publisher’s spam folder and she simply hasn’t discovered my submission entitled “Girlie Be Passion Pills All-Night Love Long!!!”
Because, if I did hear back from the publisher that my submission left her wanting only to go home and hold her children close for a while, I would send my query elsewhere. Which I really should do anyway. But soon. After all, it’s only been one week, six days, 22 hours and 35 and a half minutes.