Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Just Send the Query

Periodically I get into an email exchange that takes on a life of its own. Inevitably it starts with someone asking for submission guidelines, which I happily reply to by sending them to the BookEnds Web site. Then suddenly I get a follow-up email asking for clarification that might say something along the lines of, “It says you represent romance, but does that also include fantasy with romantic elements?” To which I’ll reply, “I’d have to know more about your book.” To which I’ll get back, “It’s about a vampire who lives in space. Is that something you’d like to see a query on?”

Just send the dang query!

It makes me wonder if the problem is me or is the Web site unclear? Because what you’ve done now is annoy me enough that when the query comes I’ll probably reject it. Who has time for a client who can’t just simply send the query, because that’s really what you’re doing now in a line-by-line email exchange?

Anyway, that’s my thought for the day.

Jessica

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

I manage an e-commerce website. There's extensive pricing lists all over the place with easy, in-your-face navigation.

We even have a note on the Contact Us page that reads: If you're looking for this or that pricing, please click here.

Inevitably, we get about one email a week asking for pricing for this or that.

So, the moral of the story: whatever you post on your website, even the "Just Send the Query" note, you'll still get email from people who seem a little confused.

I call it living in the gray area of life!

Chuckle.

That's about all you can do when you get those emails.

Inez Kelley said...

While I am sure it is frustrating, It is equally distressing to be on the other end and have vague guidelines given. If you move forward with those vague guidelines, many times you get an acerbic response back. Not all agents are ALWAYS professional and forget nice. One email asking if you can actually READ will cure any writer from risking alienating that mystical creature, the agent.

That said, many authors just have to develop thicker skin and brush off those responses. It is a balancing act, juggling the desire to inquire and look stupid or don't and get rejected because of not following rules. And it takes more strength than a keystroke to wipe some agents off the potential query list of future work.

Linda Hall said...

Umm..gulp, I'm a notorious emailer. I don't think I've ever asked about what someone is and isn't looking for, but I know I've definitely asked other questions.


Well, I feel stupid now. :(

Amy Nathan said...

I think questions like that come from novices - and nervous Nellies. You're kind to answer the emails...what most people don't seem to understand is that it doesn't hurt to send the query, especially when it's in the ballpark, which this one would be.

Writers want assurances that they know they can't get. I bet if you read this person's query and rejected it, she would email you and say "But you said you represented this kind of book!"

Again, you're a "nice" agent to even care!

Gina Black said...

Sounds like someone trying to stave off a rejection. Oh, glad I didn't query since they don't represent bla-bla-bla. Or whatever.

Margot Is Your Hero said...

When I submitted to BookEnds it was very clear to me of what was covered and not covered by your agencies. Sometimes however many companies will list genres but in my experiance some say "chick lit" and I get a letter back saying "we don't take these books sorry."

But it sounds to me they wanted to make buddy buddy to try to get around the rejection.

Susan said...

I've sent some 'clarifying' e-mails as a writer.

Then this summer I had to take submissions as an anthology editor, and e-mail questions came every day, including a few serial e-mailers who just wouldn't leave me alone. All the answers were right there in the submission guidelines, the only place where that e-mail address had been posted.

Each e-mail was no big deal, but COLLECTIVELY, they were unbelievably time-consuming and frustrating.

I'll always think twice before sending e-mail now!

Geosteph said...

When I first started the query process, I spent lots of time worrying over querying, especially with an agent who was borderline with my genre. But then as I got more experience with it, rejections and requests, I have relaxed. What's the worst that could happen? I get another rejection. Also, I've realized how invaluable it is to read the archives of a particular agent's blog. You can learn a lot about how flexible they are and what they absolutely don't want. Sounds like the emailers are at the beginning of the journey and are nervous. I've had the urge to email with a question about this or that, but never have :) I just went with my gut feeling. I read a few blogs before I started querying and definitely saw that agents have a lot on their plate and don't appreciate unnecessary emails on top of it.

Mark Terry said...

As shocking as it sounds, the way agents respond to these things can be annoying to writers, too. Go figure.

Kimber An said...

Ooh, please understand it's not you or the website. It's the treatment aspiring authors get everywhere else. Those who try to play by the rules are sometimes overwhelmed with advice, much of it conflicting. You might try rewriting your Submission Guidelines to make it clear what you absolutely do NOT want and then add something like 'any flavor of the following is worth sending an eQuery to us about.'

JES said...

Nice post and a nice practice for your agency to follow.

The whole "do represent my genre?" thing would be easier for authors to figure out if they stop thinking in terms of individual pigeonholes and start thinking in terms of sets, subsets, and supersets -- or maybe more easily, simple outlines. So, like:

I. Fiction
... A. Romance
...... 1. S/F romance
...... 2. Western romance
... B. Western
...... 1. Western with S/F elements
...... 2. Western romance

This way, if an agent says they represent romance, by checking off the "S/F romance" box the author's story is automatically included in the superset category, too -- and hence there's no need to ask for clarification.

OTOH, if the agent claims to represent S/F westerns specifically, and the author's book has no western elements, it really doesn't make sense even to wonder. The specificity of the subset automatically excludes other subsets which might share SOME characteristics but not all.

Still, as anonymous @8:16 says, you're going to get questions regardless of what makes sense. :)

Anonymous said...

So, there are certain things writers must just "suck up" and now it appears that there are certain things agents must just "suck up" too.

And the world turns.

Elaine said...

At the risk of sabotaging myself - I must confess that I too was slightly confused by the website. I sent my submission as attachments - then thought - maybe I should'nt have sent attachments - but the site didn't actually say no attachments. And I haven't heard back from you - which makes me wonder if you open attachments - lol - so, I understand the fear of not sending the right thing - but unlike this author I just threw the dice.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm being overly harsh here, but my thought is that a writer that clueless isn't worth dealing with. Too tentative, too namby-pamby. Writing isn't for the timid or the weak of heart and mind. If they can't figure out guidelines, their writing likely isn't going to cut it, either. As a friend used to say: 'Didn't take her on to raise.'

Anonymous said...

I kind of took it as someone trying to artificially build a relationship or grow a rapport so the agent's interest is piqued. Probably didn't realize that they're being annoying instead. ;)

H. L. Dyer said...

Asking before sending a query is a little like hoping to wish for a book deal or trying to be an aspiring author. :)

Anonymous said...

Truthfully, I can't believe you took the time to respond at all.

BUT, you have to know that sometimes it's not that the writer is clueless it's that they are slammed with so much conflicting info that it turns ordinarily clear-thinking people into absolute messes.

Also, I think this is directly related to a previous post -- which I think was titled Just Say Yes (?) the theme of which was to take a chance and "just say yes" to sending a query that might not be something the agent represents, and how agents also, Just Say Yes to things outside the box they represent and everything can be all rosy.

This emailer sounds very new to the process, and as time goes on -- by lack of response at all from other agencies -- he/she will learn to send rather than question. Most agencies don't even respond with an email for a reject now -- it's no response means "no." So you were nice to respond at all.

superwench83 said...

I agree with those who say it's probably a beginner's mistake. Because sending a string of emails like this strikes me as an unprofessional thing to do--an understandable thing to do, but something that marks the person as a beginner. I did it once or twice when I was first getting serious about writing. I'd be willing to bet that in a few years, some of these people will look back on those emails, smack themselves in the head, and say, "What was I thinking?!" That's what I did, anyway.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I can see the author trying to extend a courtesy to you -- "I don't want to waste your time if this isn't what you rep" -- and it just is not being received in that light. Simple misunderstanding of intent, and nothing more.

Ulysses said...

From what I've read here and other agent blogs, it seems that the worst consequence of sending a query is that I'll get rejected.

No black-listing, no contract assassins, no horrible public embarrassment, not even a scathing "for the good of the species, please never write again."

There is some comfort in that.

On the other hand, I can see personal e-mail contact with a handful of recursive questions may draw just enough irritation to cause one of the above responses.

As for the, "I don't want to waste your time," belief: I think answering e-mails like the ones mentioned would waste time. Reading a query, however, is part of the job (although an unpaid part).

The Rejection Queen said...

I don't even bother sending a query if it's done by email only.

Juliana said...

Rejection Queen, why wouldn't you query an agency that only takes email subs? Just curious....

Aimless Writer said...

I think we've all had moments of this kind of frustation in our lives.
Hang in there!
I think sometimes its that little bit of fear we have of agents and our desire to please. I think that Nathan guy has something like "When in doubt-query me." on his website. But I'm sure he still gets the email round robin too.

Elissa M said...

Writers, especially those new to submitting, are terrified of rejection. That's my take on all the hand wringing about queries. It's especially bad when the writer is submitting their first novel ever and thinks of it as sending their child into the world.

Send the query. Write another book. Stop obsessing.

Jennifer McKenzie said...

This is another place where other authors, crit groups, writer's forums and agency blogs can be imperative.
Frankly, I panic at the "Send me a partial stage". I read the guidelines and start reading between the lines and question EVERYTHING.
Thank God for Romance Divas and other authors who have been through the submission process. They have time to walk me through it.
It's so easy to get confused when nerves work on me. For me, it's so helpful to have others who have been there done that.
It also saved you some annoying emails. LOL.

Geosteph said...

Rejection queen: I'm curious too about why you don't like the ones who just take email. I much prefer email for communicating. For me personally, I've put off the ones who only take snail mail because it takes longer and I have to go to the post office. I have a 3 year old at home so no spare time. And it also costs more. It's just interesting the differences in what people prefer.

Jennifer: I freak out at the partial stage too! I obsess over every detail, the cover page, my reply, etc. Finally I say to myself, just send the dang thing.

Julie Weathers said...

So, there are certain things writers must just "suck up" and now it appears that there are certain things agents must just "suck up" too.

And the world turns.

Just curious as to why you hang around these agent blogs when you have such an obvious hatred.

Jo said...

I know exactly where those questions come from. Mixed signals from agents. I don't remember which agent's blog it was, but I saw one where the agent insisted that a query meant letter, synopsis, and 3-4 pages of the manuscript. And insisted repeatedly. Even in the face of comments about agents specifying "query letter."

In the face of that, yes, I have to say most web sites are far too vague. If you know what you want, give specific instructions. Idiot proof it. Coz we're trying to read your minds and we're really bad at it.

Muse said...

In my opinion, your guidelines are an easily understood print publication. Most people do not read websites; they scan them. You should check with your colleagues first. If you are all receiving multiple inquiries on the guidelines, you may have a problem. If you've done this and believe there is a problem, the simplest solution is to print your Guidelines as a pdf and replace the old page with that document. This encourages people to print out the page and actually (gasp!) read it in its entirety. Long term, you should rewrite the guidelines for the web. For further information on how most people actually read web pages (hint: they don't), see this article by Jakob Nielsen.

sylvia said...

I'll often ask a single question but only if it categorically is not answered on the website. Recently I was invited to submit simply on the basis of having asked an intelligent question - that was interesting!

But, I did exactly what you described when I first submitted a short story. The magazine in question had a totally clear set of submission guidelines. I was so excited to have direct contact with the editor, I think I couldn't stand for it to end. Also, the story really wasn't a good match. I think I knew that and wanted permission to submit it anyway (it's so awesome that...)

In the end, he told me to just submit. I did and he rejected the story within 24 hours. :)

I think he did me a big favour by making it clear that I needed to just submit or go away.