Thursday, January 14, 2010

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

When you get a full manuscript request via email, I'm supposed to treat it like I were sending it snail mail and include a title page with all my information on the first page of my manuscript, correct? What if I got so overwhelmed with my excitement I forgot to do so? My gut says to send another email, admit to my fault/unprofessionalism and give an apology. Though, a small part of me is worried that because I didn't give the information, my manuscript - upon opening- was immediately placed in the electronic trash. I did, however, give all of my information in the email that my manuscript was attached to. I'll be honest, I'm kicking my own butt for this.

First of all, congratulations! A full request is incredibly exciting and obviously anxiety-inducing. My one bit of advice is relax, look at the bigger picture, and don’t worry about the little things. In fact, it’s my advice to all of you submitting, querying, and generally working toward publication. Relax. As far as I’m concerned you’ve done everything right, you just made a mistake. Not a big deal, we all make mistakes. The agent has your email, she has your contact information and she has the most important thing, the most updated, revised and best copy of your manuscript. Your manuscript is what the agent will focus on. It’s all she’ll focus on. No agent is going to request a full manuscript and then reject it because you forgot a cover letter. She might reject it if you’ve written the entire thing in 9-point script font, but that’s another story, and potential eye-surgery.

You asked if you should contact the agent and apologize for not including the cover letter. No. Simply let it go.

Those of you who regularly read this blog and read other agent blogs know what you need to do, and I would guess most of you are doing the right things. Your struggle toward publication at this point is not about the lack of a cover letter or an email address, your struggle is creating a compelling query, writing the perfect, marketable, saleable manuscript, and finding that right person at that right time. Those are the hard things, the rest is the stuff that simply adds shine. So worry about the hard things, because certainly that’s enough to keep you up at night; let the little things go. Mistakes happen. No big deal.



Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for posting this, Jessica, and thanks to the person who asked. The exact same thing happened to me last month. I included all my info in the email. I even pasted the original query and info at the bottom of the email for the agent's convenience. Then after I attached (per instr.) the manuscript, I realized that, although my name and title were in the header, I forgot to include a title page with all my info. I even fretted about how I named the document and figured I'd just made life harder for her and she'd hate me or take longer to read the submission. I do feel better after reading your post. I hope all agents are as understanding as you are!


Kate Douglas said...

One thing you can do to avoid this problem is to ALWAYS have a header on your manuscripts-in-progress. Include your name, the title and the page number across the top. It doesn't show while you're working on it (at least in Word) and that way you've always got it identified. Also, if you fill out the properties on your ms. when you first open the file, the information is embedded in the work.

Donna Lea Simpson said...

It's so easy to sweat the small stuff, though! Maybe that's because so many blogs, agent and editor, comment unfavorably on stuff like that, and we, as writers, tend to obsess anyway!

I'd feel exactly the same as the questioner, but it's good to get some solid advice, to let it go!

Alli Sinclair said...

Oh, yes, the small stuff... It can drive a writer crazy. Thank you to the person who asked this question and thanks Jessica for posting this and replying. I think the problem here is people who read writer/agent/editor blogs do so because we want to learn, because we want to get it right (the first time) and having all this knowledge can sometimes lead us to unecessary anxiety.
If it makes you feel any better, question asker, a multi-pubbed friend of mine (very successful YA author) spelt the name of her book wrong on her query letter (she was unpublished at the time) - and still got an A-list agent! You'll be fine, and good luck!

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

I'm with Kate. I have all my info in the header. It's funny, with all the full requests I had before I found my agent, I never once included a cover letter with the manuscript via email. I only did it when I sent one via snail mail. In the case of the email requests (which was the vast majority), I simply wrote a nice email cover letter including my original query and response from the agent in the body of the email and attached the manuscript starting on Page One.

I agree - the best advice for people out there is to be professional and RELAX!!!

Bee Magic Chronicles for Kids said...

I wish I had your problem. A full MS request!

To add a header or footer in MS Word, select View... Header & Footer from the menu. It will show on every page but will be in a discreet gray colour.

Anonymous said...

I guess the reason I worried about not having a title page (in addition to the header and email cover), was that I read that many agents download your manus. onto their kindle and, in that process, it can get separated from your email info leaving the agent with only the info incl. in the manusc. document itself. Even with the header, I read that it then takes them longer to go through their records to match up your book with the correct email so that they can get your contact information.

Again, one of those times where advice on blogs can go beyond helping and drown you in paranoia.

Anon 8:34

Mira said...

Thanks for this post, Jessica, and helping people put things in perspective. :)

It's such a terrifying thought that you could put all that work into writing a book, get a request for a full, and then have something tiny derail the whole thing - I completely sympathize with the writer of this letter.

But honestly, I imagine most agents understand how excited an author might be to get a full request - and that's the time the author might forget little things. We're all human.

To the writer - good luck with your book, and the submission process!

Lisa Desrochers said...

I'm in the same boat as all of you that never once included a title page with a full submission. It didn't stop the offers from coming. I read LOTS of agent blogs, and no one specifically asks for one (that I know of). The most important thing, aside from the mss itself, is that the agent can reach you if they need to. If your contact info is included in your cover letter, there shouldn't be a problem.

My mss didn't have a title page until my agent wrote one before sending it on submission.

Robena Grant said...

I'm also guilty of sending a ms. without the cover page that I would normally send if it went snail mail. Haven't heard back yet. Uh, oh. : )
I did include personal information in my email then attached the full manuscript. I did include a header with title, last name and page number on the ms. Sigh. Okay, so here's the question why would we forget that? My guess is we're assuming the email is the cover letter.
Thanks so much for this reminder, and I'll now include it in my header as a back up.

The Swivet said...

I usually ask the writer to cut and past their entire query into the beginning of any manuscript I request so that I always have all their information in one place, just in case.

Michael Bracken said...

There seems to be a disconnect between the original question and the response.

The quesion concerns sending a manuscript without a cover PAGE that contains the author's complete contact information and the response addresses the lack of a cover LETTER.

For that reason, I'll suggest that an author never, ever submit a manuscript to anyone without complete contact information ON THE MANUSCRIPT.

While Jessica may have a well-organized office where every ms. is tracked and properly accounted for, not everyone works in that kind of an environment.

I work in magazine publishing and several times each year we discard submissions that we might have published because the author's contact information isn't on the manuscript. It was on the envelope, which has been separated from the ms. and thrown away, or in one of several hundred e-mails that we really don't want to search through.

So, put your contact information on your manuscript. Every time.

Anonymous said...

"...I read that many agents download your manus. onto their kindle..."

You can download Word docs files (and .docx) onto a Kindle and read them?!

Anonymous said...

from Wikipedia:

Amazon will also convert HTML pages and Microsoft Word (DOC) documents through the same email-based mechanism, which will send a Kindle-formatted file to the device directly for $0.15 per MB or to a personal e-mail account for free.

Anonymous said...


What you say is true and I'm sure everyone agrees that the info needs to be on the manuscript, but I believe the question at hand is 'what if' a mistake is made and it's forgotten. What then? How should the situation be handled...because it's not a perfect world and we all experience worst case scenarios at one point or another. said...

your struggle is creating a compelling query, writing the perfect, marketable, saleable manuscript, and finding that right person at that right time.

Oh, I find this short list so fascinating. Because I think this is the exact order in which these three things should be done. :-)

jmartinlibrary said...

Thanks for being a real human. It really is true that we get awestruck, thunderstruck, and paralyzed by anxiety when it comes to dealing with this stuff. It's nice to know there's room do-overs for the tiny things.

Now, if I could just figure out the big things like ACTUAL writing! Argh.

Meghan Ward said...

This is great advice, and I'm finding, too, that no matter how perfect your spelling and punctuation are, or how wonderful your query is, if the book isn't ready, or isn't right for a particular agent, she's going to pass. I think more emphasis should be on writing a great book and less on writing the perfect query letter.