Really interesting article from writer Catherine Nichols:
“On a dim Saturday morning, I copy-pasted my cover letter and the opening pages of my novel from my regular e-mail into George’s account. I put in the address of one of the agents I’d intended to query under my own name. I didn’t expect to hear back for a few weeks, if at all. It would only be a few queries and then I’d close out my experiment. I began preparing another query, checking the submission requirements on the agency web site. When I clicked back, there was already a new message, the first one in the empty inbox. Mr. Leyer. Delighted. Excited. Please send the manuscript.
Almost all publishers only accept submissions through agents, so they are essential gatekeepers for anyone trying to sell a book in the traditional market rather than self-publishing. There are various ways of attracting an agent’s attention, but sending query letters is the most accessible. The letter describes the novel, the author, and usually includes the first pages of the manuscript itself—the equivalent of what a reader might see picking up a book in a store. Agents can let silence speak for itself, write back with a rejection, or ask to see the novel.
I sent the six queries I had planned to send that day. Within 24 hours George had five responses—three manuscript requests and two warm rejections praising his exciting project. For contrast, under my own name, the same letter and pages sent 50 times had netted me a total of two manuscript requests. The responses gave me a little frisson of delight at being called “Mr.” and then I got mad. Three manuscript requests on a Saturday, not even during business hours! The judgments about my work that had seemed as solid as the walls of my house had turned out to be meaningless. My novel wasn’t the problem, it was me—Catherine.”