Thursday, June 07, 2007

Business Correspondence

More often than not it seems I get emails like this:

I have a manuscript that i hope can make an interesting novel. It has got elements of religious fiction though tight packed with a lot of true mysteries. It might as well be sensational.

Most individuals who reviewed it for me think it is quite publishable. Can you please allow me to drop in some chapters for your evaluation?

Choose your decision.

I’m not sure what you want. Is this a query? because if it is there just isn’t a lot of information. Do you want me to give you permission to send chapters? because as per our submission guidelines you don’t need permission.

A little advice to everyone. Any time you are sending business correspondence to anyone—an agent, an editor, your boss, a perspective client, anyone: Make it professional.



Anonymous said...

I certainly empathize with this querier. A few years ago -- before the BookEnds blog, before Miss Snark, before the Internet in its present form -- I submitted my first novel

I did my due diligence. I did my research -- subscription to Writers Digest, trips to the library to take copious notes about agents and publishers. I understood the query process. I thought. But I didn't have hundreds of samples available to me. The books I read told me to tell a little about my book in the letter and that the letter was a business letter. My first queries may have had a sentence or two more about the manuscript, but they looked much like this.

When you say "professional correspondence" to me, I would NEVER think the hook in the query falls into that category. I'm horrified even today that people seem to think it does. To me, that's a sales letter. Direct mail sales type of writing, at that. So I can see how the querier would sincerely think this email is the right approach.

Plus, the BookEnds guidelines say you accept brief queries by email to see if you're interested. I can see how the querier can think they are following the guidelines by sending this. Yes, they are asking to see if you're even interested in receiving something along the lines of religious fiction before investing their time and money in sending chapters, and your time in reading them. The "choose your decision" isn't the wording of choice a the end, but the intent is appropriate: close strong and ask for what you want.

No disrespect, Jessica, but perhaps you're getting a bit jaded. When a writer's new to this, trying to navigate unfamilar waters, they don't know what they don't know. I think this querier made every effort to follow the rules as s/he knows them. They're at the beginning of the learning curve. And they were as professional as they knew how to be.

jodi said...

I respectfully beg to disagree. I don't care how old you are. Anyone old enough to submit is old enough to learn proper english and how to format a letter of some sort. Coose your cecision. OMFG, I visit so many websites where it sounds like some guy from a foreign country who has a high school ESL course is trying to write a website in english but can't find the correct way to say things. There is a better way to say sign off or log off sucessful than deembarktion complete. AND then, it turns out they're based in the US. What's up with that?

Informal email between friends and chat and text are not the correct way to approach a potential business client. I hate "i" with a passion. Use an "I" or unless you're my kid, I'll delete.

Yes, it's a vent. But *grrr*. The learning tools are out there. I think people need to use them.

elysabeth said...

I have to agree with Jodi. When I started reading the posted "letter" from Jessica, I was thinking - holy cow - what an idiot - the grammar is terrible. Even I know that sending a brief email query needs to look and sound better than this and I've never submitted a query. The thing is, anonymous, even if this is a new writer, just learning, with all the available information on the Internet nowadays and all the information on how to write query letters and emails and how to get an agent or a publisher, this person should have done some more research and at least had the basics down. It doesn't take much to Google any topic or any other search engine that one uses. All you need is a keyword and you can pull up thousands of websites that can lead you in the right direction.

I'm surprised Jessica even read past the first line. We all have manuscripts and when querying an agent, we should at least know that by mixing the terms is a no-no - manuscript, novel, fiction -

I don't think this person is serious, sounds like a spammer to me. (I was turned off by the second sentence beginning - It has got - if one were to say that out loud you'd hear how terrible that sounds; I don't even think the backwoods folks of the south say "it has got" - give me a break -.

I think Jessica is correct in saying to be professional because you are selling yourself and first impressions are what you are going for. With the Internet, one has to work harder to sell himself and the only way to do that is by being professional and courteous.

Sorry - for the long post -

stepping down off her soapbox now - E :)

Writers' Support and Inspiration said...

I queried the agency recently and did not send chapters; it was my understanding that your submission guidelines require just a query letter. ("Like most agencies, BookEnds now only accepts queries or e-queries.")

If this is intended to allow us to send chapters as well, it didn't come across that way to me.

Not going to defend the letter as posted, because how could I?


Anonymous said...

Sorry. My intent wasn't to comment on the grammar but on the format and content of this letter. I believe that was where Jessica was going with this. Otherwise, she could have posted just about any properly formatted query from her slush and asked, "What's up with this? Doesn't anyone know how to use a comma or spell anymore?" Or given the same old advice to "Leave out what others think of your work" since this type of thing still shows up in an inordinate number of properly formatted queries.

I never intended to say this letter deserved anything more than a standard rejection. Just trying to say that the querier might have thought they were ticking all the boxes appropriately, especially if they are not Internet savvy.

Interestingly, many of the query letters agents and editors tout on their sites as examples of good queries are riddled with grammatical errors.

BookEnds, LLC said...

Let me clarify something quickly. Our submission guidelines just recently changed. We now only accept queries. However, at the time I received this letter we were accepting unsolicited chapter proposals.


Diana Peterfreund said...

When I decided to become a writer, one of the first things i did was go to the library and look up books on how people became writers. There's a book out there called The Writer's Market. It had sample queries right inside, as well as a huge number of agency and publisher listings. It's the first thing a librarian will point you to when you walk in the door and say you want to be a writer. It's the biggest book on the shelf in the publishing section of barnes and Noble. It's the first listing that pops up when you type "publishers" into Amazon. The sample queries were pretty obvious about form:

Dear [Name],

[some format of] I've written a BLANK-word novel of BLANK-genre called BLANK.


The complete manuscript is available at your convenience.




With slight variations for style.

This is one of the first things I learned. Way before I got the hang of writing an actual book, I knew how to write a query for one.

When people write queries like the one Jessica linked to in her post, it's likely because they are trying to be purposefully vague in an attempt to subvert the "evil" agents who are out to "steal ideas," which is a "rampant abuse" that they've been warned about.

I disagree with anonymous in the first comment. When someone asks you what a movie you saw was about, do you say "it was interesting and possibly sensational religious fiction?" Or do you give them a quick rundown of the characters and main plot set up?

Tell them what the book is ABOUT.

JDuncan said...

Is religious fiction even a category? Trying to hit all the right bits for a query aside, this smacks of someone in need of Snark's retired clue gun. I know that agents will often step around a few grammar errors, typos, or what have you if there is a really strong/unique hook going on. Many times, folks who can write good stories can't write a query to save their life. This doesn't even bring up anything of interest though. What's the story about? Who are the characters? It lacks even the basics. I like to give folks the benefit of the doubt on things, but this leaves me scratching my head as to where this person got their info on querying an agent or if they even looked.

Anonymous said...

Yes, religious fiction is a category. Not sure if it's one this agency represents...

Anonymous said...

AND then, it turns out they're based in the US. What's up with that?

Uh...English as a second language? Ever heard of this phenomenon?

jodi said...

yes, I have heard of english as a second language, but sadly, ESL people tend to have better spelling, construction and grammar than people who grew up thinking chat and text are the proper way to communicate. In the same way that most americans couldn't pass the citizenship test.

I do feel that language evolves, but until it morphs business english into something you can do on a cell phone in two seconds, it's not yet reached the category of "business correspondence".

...the thing about homegrown websites is that lots of people who aren't comfortable with "school"-style english CAN and DO html code.

Anonymous said...

Here you guys are -- so serious. Here I am -- laughing all day long about. "It might as well be sensational." C'mon, that's FUNNY, isn't it?