Whenever I compose an email to an editor I think about every word I type and how it will be perceived. For example, when following up on a submission, I never want to say I'm "just" getting in touch because it sounds like what I'm getting in touch about isn't that important. While certainly overthinking things can be dangerous and I don't want authors spending weeks laboring over each and every word, how we say things and the words we use are important. We already know that because as authors, you already spend weeks crafting the perfect paragraph or sentence in your manuscript, and the professional correspondence about that manuscript shouldn't be any different.
What inspired this post is that lately I've been noticing a real lack of confidence in emails to agents, or at least what I'm chalking up to lack of confidence. Authors aren't using the best word choices when querying, following up on queries, or getting in touch to tell of an offer. The words used are often coming across as either too weak or too strong, almost combative.
Certainly, we all read with our own issues. In other words, how I read something might not be read by someone else the same way, but I think when proofing and revising our letters we can often tell, pretty quickly, when a better word choice is needed. After all, it's our job as writers to understand and look for how what we're writing might be perceived. It's how we check to make sure our characters come across as likable, for example.
As an example, I've had a few authors check on submissions lately (and I'm not that far behind) by saying something along the lines of, "I'm checking on the status of my manuscript. If you are no longer interested please let me know." Why would you assume I'm no longer interested? Should I not be interested? Is this a challenge? Are you angry that it's taken me so long when in fact it hasn't?
The truth is this makes me not want to read more. If you don't think I should be interested, or are going to present yourself in this sort of angry and combative way in our first correspondence, how are you going to operate months down the line when we're working together? If you've done any research at all on me you know I reply to everything, and most definitely requested material, so this sort of tone seems especially unwarranted (especially if I know that I'm still well within my submission response time frame).
In another example, I've always encouraged authors to use an offer of representation to their advantage. Use it to make sure you can find the best agent for you and your work. That being said, when I'm contacted by an author I want to know that I'm actually requesting and reading the work because I'm one of the agents they are interested in hearing from, and not that they are simply contacting everyone because they were told they should.
There have been times when an author gets an offer of representation about the same time I've requested more material, but instead of saying something like, "I am attaching the material you requested. I have just received an offer so am asking to hear from all interested agents by Friday," the author says to me, "I just received an offer of representation and am waiting to hear back from agents who already have the material. Are you still interested?" I don't know. Should I be? It feels like you don't care whether I'm interested or not, like you've already made your decision, which, frankly, is fine. I'd rather that I'm only in the running if I'm really in the running. If you don't care to entertain an offer from me, let me know, if not out of respect for me and my time, then out of respect to your fellow writers, all of those waiting for me to read their material.
Think of it this way. How would you feel if you contacted an agent to tell her of an offer of representation and her response is something along the lines of, "Okay, I suppose you can send it to me." Why bother? Do you really want to send it after that?
What if an agent requested material off a query with something like, "This seems okay. If you think I'm the right agent, send it."
Remember, you have a product agents want. They are looking for new and talented authors, so present yourself that way.