"If you give them an inch, they'll take a mile."
My acquisitions editor friend told me this. And although she was referring to a relationship gone bad, where her partner was clingy, I discovered early on into my agenting career that people treat agents and publishers like celebrities—in all the bad ways.
(Trust me, they don't PAY us like celebrities. I can't tell you the number of times, when someone asks me a massive publishing favor, I want to ask them if they've even bought one of my books. The answer is probably a no.)
I'm reminded of a F.R.I.E.N.D.S. episode where Chandler's former classmate, who built a successful film career for herself, comes into town. Chandler's friend Joey, an actor, begs him to get him an audition with her.
When Chandler sits down for a meal with her, she laments how every classmate has tried to finagle something out of her.
They simply wanted to use her.
Welcome to the life of an agent or publisher in publishing.
So if you've ever wondered why agents and publishers hide their emails, make people use Submittable forms, and seldom give responses, I'll explain to you why below, from firsthand experience as an agent and acquisitions editor.
Reason One: Everyone Wants a Piece of Them
What do family members, ex-boyfriends, childhood friends, former teachers, former bosses, and former employees all have in common? They all tried to get me to publish their book.
It started with, what they thought, was an innocent DM asking to grab coffee to catch up.
Then, at a Panera or local coffee shop, they started pitching me their book.
First, if you've think you've pulled a sneaky on a publishing professional by entering the back way, think again. Literally everyone tries this. And it annoys the crap out of us.
Second, this causes a lot of trust issues. I've had to direct people to the submissions page on the Publisher's website more times than I can count when they tried to take a short cut (short cuts never work, by the way. If anything, it'll get you blacklisted).
I've literally had someone tell me, a former employee, "I will hound you until you take on my manuscript." Hello, harassment?
Publishers feel used, and no one likes to feel used. And that's why they're closed off to people.
Reason Two: People Are Downright Mean and Demanding
Enter a scenario with me.
Picture that you've had a job interview with a prospective employer. During the interview (or perhaps in an email after), they tell you, "I don't think you're the best fit for this, but I love XYZ about you. I'm betting another employer would really value this quality in you. I wish you all the best!"
Do you respond:
A) "How dare you reject me! I am an asset to your company. You wouldn't know a good employee if they hit you square between the nose."
B) "Okay, so since you rejected me and all, I'm gonna need you to refer me to a competing employer who is hiring. Make sure to put in a really good word for me."
C) "Are you sure? Let me do another interview. You probably aren't thinking straight because the interview wasn't long enough. Pleeeeeease?"
D) Literally none of the above, because that would be extremely unprofessional.
If you've answered anything but D, welcome to my inbox. People will beg, plead, threaten, harass, and do anything they can to get a book contract. Publishers do not owe contracts to anyone who submits to them. It's a several-thousand dollar investment per author. You can't demand that out of anyone.
Reason Three: People Horrendously Invade Privacy
Before Facebook and phones, people sent letters to publishers. They waited by the mailbox to hear yes or no. And that was that. Even if you could call a publisher's office, they had strict office hours.
Now, people try to bypass the long submissions route by getting quick answers from publishers. Here are some of the ways I have personally experienced, or seen other experience, a massive invasion of privacy.
1) People having manuscripts slipped underneath bathroom stalls to them.
2) People sliding into every DM possible on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. to get quick updates on manuscripts. They will send messages constantly until they get a response.
3) People going to a publisher's other job office building (everyone works two jobs in this industry) or their hometown to pitch them their book.
The list seriously goes on. People get bombarded at church, coffee shops, etc. As soon as a person hears the words publisher or agent, their eyes go wide, and they immediately spew out, "Well, let me tell you about my book."
Publishers and agents are people. And they'd like to feel safe in public. So they tend to be more secretive
Reason Four: They've Been Burned
Every agent and publisher enters the world of publishing bright-eyed (well, most do).
That shuts down in about a month. Why? Because someone harassed them. Someone insulted them. Someone threatened them. Friends and acquaintances try to buddy up for some good ol' nepotism.
The list goes on.
Know that agents and publishers are tired, and are tired of being used.
So How Do I Get Their Attention?
Easy, you don't take shortcuts, and you respect their privacy.
I know this is the "long way" around. That you have to wait 6-8 weeks to MAYBE hear back. But I can guarantee this method won't automatically blacklist you. And if you're kind to agents and publishers, they will remember you.