We all know how fiercely competitive the publishing world, especially the mystery field, has become. Legions of readers are trying their hand at writing to varying degrees of success. Anyone who’s tried to get a novel published also knows that talent is only one part of the equation, and a small one at that. There’s a lot of luck involved.

Someone once said “I’d rather be lucky than talented,” and I often think the same thing. But luck is harder to change than talent, so I constantly work at my craft, honing my skills and truly believe I get better at it with each book. In fact, I wonder sometimes if my first book had been as good as my most recent, would my fortunes have changed somewhere along the way?

Luck is less easy to influence. All you can do, I think, is put yourself in a position to get lucky. If half of life is just showing up, then at least half the battle of getting published is persistence, putting yourself out there frequently enough that you land on the right agent’s or editor’s desk at the exact moment that they have a need for what you’ve written, a desire to hear your story in your unique voice.

After six books in a career that has spanned 20 years so far, I’m neither rich nor famous. It’s only a matter of time, I tell myself. You’d think, however, with that many books under my belt it would be easier to land both an agent and a publishing contract. As I’ve sent my latest manuscript around, however, something odd has happened.

As you might expect from busy agents, most have responded to my query with a standard form rejection letter. A few have actually hand-scribbled a few words indicating that they actually read the query. A handful have even asked to see some sample chapters.

The big surprise, however, is that SASEs have come back to me empty. Not one, but three so far. There is no way of knowing, of course, which agents neglected to stuff the envelope with a form rejection. Have we become so busy that we can’t take time to get even a simple rejection right? Or, as it occurred to me, is this the height of rudeness? A disturbing new trend?

Optimistically, I imagine the former. We read all the time about how inundated agents are with queries and unsolicited submissions. They grumble about writers who don’t take the time to polish both query letters and manuscripts. They moan about how busy they are, and how they just don’t have time to read every submission.

If they truly are that busy, then why continue to list themselves on sites like agentquery.com? If they don’t want to read submissions, why don’t they say so on their own web sites?

I don’t like it, but I accept the fact that despite my credentials most agents I query won’t take the time to read it thoroughly. I accept that in today’s publishing environment I have a greater chance of getting struck by lightning than landing an agent. It’s become sort of like sending out direct mail; you might get about a five percent response rate if your pitch is really compelling. But sending back empty SASEs?

You tell me, folks: trend, or sign of the times?

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