Thursday, June 08, 2006

Question of the Month, Part 2

What are your pet peeves?

We're very fortunate to be very busy agents. And as agents, one of the reasons we're so busy is that we read thousands of queries looking for a great book we think we can sell. I read e-mail queries, snail-mail letters, snail-mail proposals, and full manuscripts. I read as much as I need to in order to make a decision on whether or not a query sounds right for our agency and our considerable editorial contacts.

Occasionally I come across a terrific, well-written e-mail query (see below for our commentary on terrific, well-written queries). My heart does a little happy dance and I immediately request a full or partial to investigate the matter further. Shortly thereafter (a few days, a week later . . .), I sit down with a big pile of mail, with 50–100 packages and letters, and start to go through my submissions. And here's where my pet peeve comes in . . . I open a package containing 50 or so pages of a novel and a Post-It that says: "Here's the material you requested. —Ms. X."

Between the time you (Ms. X) originally e-mailed me your query and the delivery of your submission, I have most likely received upwards of another 100 submissions and another 100 e-mail queries. Now I'm a pretty smart person, but I am not blessed with a photographic memory. To be honest, I'm not blessed with much of a memory at all. So I have no idea what your (Ms. X's) query is about, why my heart did a happy little dance, or, in fact (this really does cross my mind), if you're not even perhaps trying to get one over on me (knowing as you do that I have a somewhat impaired memory).

When I open a submission and have no idea what the submission is about, whom it is from or why I might have requested it, I feel impatient and frustrated. Reading time for new queries is hard to come by. Our daily professional life is filled with phone calls, reviewing and editing our clients' new books and proposals, negotiating and reviewing contracts, keeping up with periodicals, current events, meeting with editors, clients, and potential clients, keeping track of editor movement within the industry, handling client careers and client emergencies, subrights and subagents, selling movie rights, foreign rights, audio, etc., writing revision letters, rejection letters, acceptance letters, looking for new high trends, new enterprises, licensing deals, etc. Finding the time to sit down with new proposals usually means taking work home for nighttime or weekend reading. So when I grab for something to take home to read I want to know what I'm getting into up front. If I know instantly what your proposal is about, it has a much better chance of finding its way into my bag for the night

When you send in your requested material, please include all of the information you had in your original query. If it's easiest, please just print out the e-mail and send it along. I don't need my e-mail to you (I know what I have to say), but I do need your e-mail to me. Now we're all happy and I know who you are. And I'm not frustrated, suspicious, and slightly worried about my brain function.

It's simple, really: Every time you have any contact with an agent, be it a phone call, e-mail, letter, etc., remind the agent who you are. Include your original query or a substantial part of it, reminding us why we requested the material in the first place. If you meet me at a conference, please jog my memory in every correspondence. "I am Pat, we met at Sleuthfest, where I pitched you my cozy mystery novel about . . ." Please do not assume we will remember who you are, even if we've spoken on the phone recently. We interact with hundreds of people every week, and while we try our best to keep our brains straight, it does start to get crowded in there. Anything you can do to help us along will only work in your own best interests. And please check our submission guidelines on our Web site (Submissions) for current turnaround times. Refrain from checking up on your query after one week. We put a great deal of effort into our Web site so you have accurate information. If the turnaround time states on average of 8 weeks to hear from us, please do not check in beforehand. Ah, but that's another peeve altogether!

We are writing about our pet peeves here. And while we do have a few (who doesn't?), we're actually very optimistic, enthusiastic, and hardworking agents. . . . We love writers . . . we just love professional writers more.

What does a professional, terrific query letter look like?


1. Contact information

Phone numbers
Web site, if applicable

For example:
Jacky Sach
BookEnds LLC
136 Long Hill Road
Gillette, NJ 07933
908 362 0090

2. Addressee

Always address to a specific agent or editor. Make sure you spell names correctly!

3. Opening line.

Include the following pieces of information:
a. word count or page length
b. category
c. title

Weeding Out Murder is a 75,000-word novel, the first in a proposed series of cozy mysteries, featuring an Ann Arbor horticulturist.

4. Brief Overview of Novel/Topic

5. About the Author

6. Relevant History (omit most personal information)

Published material (usually doesn't include self-published unless high sales back it)
Conferences attended
Contest wins
Relevant professional information

7. Mention you have included an SASE.

ALWAYS include an SASE.


Check in tomorrow for Kim's pet peeve.


Anonymous said...

Oh, dear. We don't mean to annoy anyone, us newbie authors, we really don't. But some of these things we are supposed to know...sometimes we just don't know them! It is all a learning experience and every agent seems to want something different or has different thoughts on what bothers him/her.

Yours is the first (and I'm not saying I'm someone experienced in this at all) post or article that specifically stated "remember to include a rehash of your query letter in your submission."

Eek! I had no idea!!!!

Some agents say to send a letter that is no more than 250 words long. Some agents want you to send more about your background. Some agents really say nothing...they just say, "send me a partial."

We don't mean to annoy you! We hope that if we don't include a repeat of our query that you won't penalize us and think we are 'unprofessional.'

From now on, though, I will remember to include a copy of my original query. Lesson learned.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

Hi, Anonymous:
These comments are meant to be helpful and give authors an insight into our side of the business. We realize that all agents differ and it can be frustrating for authors. This is the beauty of websites: For all agents that have websites you can check their individual submisssion requirements. Most of it is common sense: In this busy world, it's very helpful to remind people who you are, where you've met, etc. I've found it helpful in most situations, work or otherwise. Thanks for your perspective!

Kate Douglas said...

LOL...I just read this post and thought, oh, sheesh...and here I just call my agent (Jessica) and say, Hi, it's Kate, and leave a convoluted message and assume I'm the only Kate she knows and the message actually makes sense. Jacky, your post is an excellent reminder that when we are lucky enough to have one of you representing us, we're not the ONLY author calling...