There are a few of those questions from last week’s Q&A that I didn’t have time to get to. I’m still going to try, though with WFC on the horizon, it may take me a bit. facelesswords asked: What are your thoughts on e-queries? I find that agents are really split right down the middle on this issue. Some agents have the “you won’t hear from me unless I’m interested” thing going with e-queries. What is that all about?
What do I think about email queries? Personally, I wouldn’t mind them if they weren’t so prone to casual mistakes or unprofessional behavior (see list below). Far more prevalent than with the snailmail approach, perhaps because email is often used in a chatty fashion. Also, I get a lot of them. If we assume, 50 or so a week (which is a rough estimate — I haven’t actually counted), that’s over 2500 a year. Think about that for a moment.
We do have that proviso that is asked about above — our official website says: due to the volume of e-mails that we get, we will respond only if we are interested in reading more of your material or if we want to discuss representation. It can take a lengthy amount of time to reply to them all – even if we go the route of cutting and pasting. Which, again, wouldn’t be so disenchanting if they were better aimed, more accurate, etc. The guidelines on my personal site (which is badly in need of updating) still has the previous version of our submission instructions, which stated that we don’t accept them at all. Problem was, people just sent them anyway. Our guidelines actually get ignored all the time, which always leaves me a bit puzzled since they’re sitting right out there on the web and a search for the word “Maass” in Google yields a hit to our official site on the first page of links. Of course you also have to remember it has two a’s and two s’s, which a lot of people don’t seem to figure out.
Problems with e-queries:
*The automatic spray-gun approach — Sometimes it is quite clear that the author has sent this email to every agent they could find the contact information for, and there are sites all over the internet that list agent’s emails, with or without permission (and unfortunately, often without any email masking). It’s not that it’s entirely inappropriate material (though it so often is). It’s the cc field. Oh, that makes me feel so special. To see that I am one of over a hundred choices. And to see that some of them are agents that I have no common interests with, which shows this person did minimal homework at best. This lowers the query to the level of spam. Just last night I wondered aloud to a friend…. How would the writers feel if they got a reply saying that I didn’t want to read their work, and it was cc:ed to fifty other people?
*The casual approach — It may be a flaw of communicating by email, but people are less careful and make more mistakes. And then there’s the bit where the author, who has never met me, uses my first name only in opening the letter. In days of yore, being invited to use someone’s Christian name was a sign of familiarity. It is still frowned upon in business circles. The query is an invitation to begin an interview process and should be treated as such. My favorite lately is someone who is simply addressing repeated emails: “Dear J.” — my assumption is that, though they have my email address and therefore the route to the agency website, they haven’t chosen to go so far as to find out anything about me. Not even my gender.
*Assumption of invitation — Even better than the items in the paragraph above are the replies. If I reply and indicate no interest in your material, it is not an invitation to open up a correspondence. We are not going to become literary penpals. I’m sorry if that seems rude. I have – literally – over a hundred writers to respond to a week. And they are not people I work for as yet. They are potential employers. My current clients deserve my time and attention, and are paying for it. I have given you the courtesy of a reply. Please be polite enough to take me at my word. I’m simply not interested. And neither am I going to expand upon my lack of interest. Or argue about my reason. For you, or the other hundred who queried. I would love to. And I could tell you exactly why your work isn’t for me. Besides the fact that you probably wouldn’t like my reason, it would change nothing. (p.s. Rejectomancy is a flawed art at best.)
*Response times — Our website says that we respond to queries within two to three weeks. Therefore, if you have sent an e-query, and we do not choose to respond within 24 hours (despite our guidelines saying that we will respond only if interested), this does not mean the query should be sent again on a daily basis until a response is garnered. Neither does it mean one should send emails asking whether the previous email was received.
*Bad layout — Your HTML tried to eat my monitor. Why, oh why, did you choose to change the text color to orange? And besides that the font you’re using is painful. Or, no paragraph breaks. And have you never heard of a spellchecker? It is simply amazing that people do not take the time to proofread their queries, whether electronic or otherwise. Grammatical errors in your request to submit written materials are not reassuring in any way.
*Attachments and other dangers — By now people should know better. We are constantly advised to not open attachments from people we don’t know. Chances are that if you are querying me, we’ve never even met. Therefore, I don’t know you. I have no idea if you are careful with your computer and are virus-free. I’m not going to risk it. I will also not click on embedded links — I can’t see where they go. Our guidelines advise putting the first five pages of your manuscript in the text of your message. This does *not* mean your entire manuscript. Do not assume that I am on high-speed internet that very moment. I might be in a hotel or elsewhere that does not provide it.
I may not have covered all the errors, but these are many of the most common. And perhaps it will give a glimpse into the big picture of this volume of submissions and their formats and the care, or lack thereof, taken with them. Individually — email queries aren’t a problem. And if it comes from someone who treats it as a professional communication — or, in other words, exactly as I expect them to treat a snailmail query, there is every likelihood they will be responded to in a similar fashion. I have an agent-friend who accepts *only* email queries. She swears by them and says it makes her life much simpler. And she replies to them all; more power to her. I don’t want to be rude. I just find it can be a bit overwhelming. And maybe the errors I’ve mentioned above seem like obvious mistakes that a serious writer would not make. The truth is that those writers are few and far between. I wish it were otherwise, though it would never be possible to represent them all in that case either. There are not enough hours in the day. The truth is, regardless of whether the query comes by email or snailmail, I’m going to choose the projects that especially appeal to me, and those that seem the most likely to sell. That’s what I do.