Some literary agents “close” submissions periodically. That is, they announce that they won’t accept or respond to “over-the-transom” queries or proposals for a set period (usually a month or two, sometimes a quarter). For you young whippersnappers who don’t know what “over-the-transom” (or “whippersnapper”) means, it’s a throwback to the days before air conditioning, when offices were vented and lit by a window over the door; a ”transom” is the crosspiece separating the door from that window, through which aspiring writers sometimes slipped their proposals or manuscripts when the office was closed. The phrase “over-the-transom” has continued to be used by old-timers like me to refer generally to unsolicited submissions. Honestly, I’m not the only one. At least, I hope not. That would be depressing.
So, back to my point. I’m pretty sure I had one. Oh yeah, I was talking about literary agents who occasionally “close” the door (or transom, if you prefer) on submissions. I don’t do that.
Why, you might ask.
I can think of ten reasons:
- Since a shockingly low percentage of writers who submit to me have read this agency’s submissions guidelines (let alone follow the free advice on this blog), announcing that I have “closed” submissions for a while would surely have minimal effect.
- Similarly, considering the shockingly low percentage of submitting writers who have read this agency’s submissions guidelines or the free advice on this blog, announcing that I have “closed” submissions for a period would be followed only by those who do pay attention, which doesn’t seem fair.
- Though I decline 95% or more of email submissions I receive, hope springs eternal that lightning may strike. Not to mention other tried-and-true cliches.
- “Over the transom” submissions regularly produce smiles and laughter (some of which the writer even intended).
- My assistant needs the work.
- I try to respond to submissions fairly expeditiously, but a delay of a month or two in my response time (without “closing” submissions) won’t expose me to industry insiders’ ridicule.
- An announcement that “I’ll be closing submissions for the rest of 2022” might light a fire under some writers, but it could also spur some to a hurried product that doesn’t put their best foot forward. And each of us has only one chance to make a good first impression, so I urge careful and thorough completion of a proposal, rather than a hurried attempt to get it in before the window closes, so to speak.
- If I closed submissions, I may miss out on a particularly timely (or specifically-what-I’ve-been-looking-for) submission.
- While the best way to introduce yourself to me is to meet me at one of the six or so writers conferences I attend each year, email submissions accommodate writers who can’t do that—or can’t do that this year, say.
- The biggest book contract (monetarily) I’ve so far negotiated for a client came “over the transom.”
That’s why. Aren’t you glad you asked? I hope so. But even if the above is more (or different) information than you needed, I hope it sheds some light on an agent’s life and processes. At least for those of us who are old enough to know what a transom (or “whippersnapper”) is.