100 queries in the inbox later….

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.

54 responses to “100 queries in the inbox later….

  1. You’ll be pleased to know I resisted the urge to write a badly-spelled query and post it here. 😉

    • Color me disappointed. Heh. I bet that would be marvelously entertaining. If your will power falters, please base it on one of your role-playing games. I get a number that seem as if they are clearly novelizations of long campaigns, and guessing the system/setting can liven things up.

      • I couldn’t tell if it would have annoyed you or not, so I erred on the side of not being a prat.
        But…hmm. Watch this space. 😉

      • Dear Jen,
        In a time when mankind has forgotten what made them great, one woman who is a refugee from the past must change the course of a galactic empire or risk destruction for all. It is the year 5000, and the light of the greastest society in human history is fading, to be replaced by a Dark Age of religion. Tied together by the fragile hyperspace routes between stars, humanity cowers in fear of the dark, looking to the newly corwned Emperer Julius to save them form the horrors that lurk in the blackness between the stars. Julius is beset on all sides, by hostile aliens and even his own race. Little does he know that his salvation has been drifting through deep space for 3 millenia. A sleeper vessel, launched before the discovery of hyperspace, has been found and abord it are long forgotten colonists, frozen children of a more hopeful time. Caroline, an engineer and eternal optimist, awakes in the hospital to find to her horror that humanity has turned it’s back on progress. Through a lucky coincidence, she is related to the nobility of a minor house–will she, with her loyal priest companion Martin, be able to play that slight advantage into a winning hand and bring light back to the galaxy?
        Hearkining back to the great science fiction tapestry of Dune, A Candle in the Dark is a story of the triumph of the human siprit, set against a backdrop of starships and feudalism. I have plans for a continuing series of at least 4 novels following the exploits of Caroline and her party as she learns about the new world she finds herself in-providing a modern perspective on a strange society and allowing the reader to triumph as Caroline does.
        I would like to submit this manuscript for your consideration. I have also sent submissions to other agents if thats ok.
        Sincerley,
        Carolyn
        [I hope you’re amused. Writing this caused me physical pain.]

        • Re: Dear Jen,
          My deep and most profound apologies for urging you to endeavor to create this. I hope you recover soon.
          My favorite was the it’s/its — that shows up so often.
          Hmmm… guess the RPG (if there, indeed, is one behind this)… is much more widely-read in that arena…
          (BTW, this was far better than many of the queries I saw this week. For instance, you actually told me what your story was about. Characters, setting, conflict, theme – it’s all right there, even if it is badly spelled.)

          • Re: Dear Jen,
            Curses! My mistake was googling for how to write a query letter. I will never be disgrace to the art of letters! *cries*
            (Yes, it’s based on an RPG campaign. A rather obscure setting, though.)

          • Re: Dear Jen,
            :::sniff:::
            So you’re saying my time would be better spent masturbating?
            :::walks off to find ky jelly:::
            By 2078, corporate greed and a series of ecological disasters have made large portions of the earth uninhabitable by ordinary means. Those humans surviving drought, famine and so-called superstorms cling to the coastline and high altitudes. Having helped fashion the ecological disasters, corporations go to work rebuilding the earth’s environment—-for profit and greater control.
            Using genetic engineering to ensure survival of the human race, four elemental master castes with three astrocastes each are created.
            Fuegans — mine the deserts for resources
            Terrans — occupy the tillable regions
            Nereids — keep the oceanic cities afloat and work at hydro dam facilities
            Aeolians — live in the highest mountain regions, building cities and ozone stabilizers that stretch into the sky
            All are united in the cult-like worship of a corporate-spawned deity—Robert Masok, the geneticist responsible for their very existence.
            But nature has its own agenda. The psi abilities the scientists have spent decades refining resulted in a class of astrocasters capable of controlling the element of their master caste. Aeolians can purify the air or turn it to a gas more deadly than sarin. Terrans can return the desert to a lush paradise of green or cause devastating landslides and earthquakes. Fuegans can start or stop fire at will and call up magma from the earth’s depths. And Nereid water witches can do more than control water, they can change its very atomic structure into something else.
            Scientific anomalies or fearsome sorcerers, the astrocasters are powerful pawns in the war that is breaking out between the corporations seeking to keep the population enslaved and revolutionary factions fighting to free the astrocastes.

        • Re: Dear Jen,
          Wow. That’s impressive.
          Please don’t use your powers for evil.

  2. Ironically enough, you asked “And have you hever heard of a spellchecker?”
    A good but sobering post.

    • Oh, that is too funny. And I did proofread as it happens. But I missed one. Must need more caffeine. People don’t usually just make a single mistake in their one-page queries. The level is generally quite astonishing.

    • That wasn’t a bug, that’s a feature.
      The ‘h’ was inserted purposefully to portray the speaker’s cut-glass accent.
      Works in the UK…

  3. If I reply and indicate no interest in your material, it is not an invitation to open up a correspondence.
    This reminds me of something I’ve wondered about for a while. In a couple places it’s recommended that you send a note to any editor who rejects you, saying, “Thank you for considering my work.” I’ve seen authors and editors recommend this, as well, though I can’t think of any names off the top of my head. I’ve always been a little wary of the idea, as I assume the average editor/agent has plenty of correspondence to go through already.
    It’s not exactly opening up a correspondence, but what do you think?

    • Maybe I should have thought of those. But the truth is that one gets thank-you notes fairly rarely. I would say possibly 1 out of every 500 queries. Sometimes more often for requested submissions, but even then just a small percentage. I like thank-you notes. I keep them in a file and on days when I’m feeling overwhelmed and perhaps somewhat like a target, they remind me that there are people out there who actually appreciate other people.

    • I’m still very new to the query letter game, but I try to end mine with “thank you for your time and attention”. It seems like the least I can do. 🙂
      I think that if you actually get back a personal reply from an editor or agent, that is definitely worthy of a thank-you note, too.

  4. I hope that you don’t mind that I’ve “friended” you here. Even if we don’t end up working together, reading over this blog and the ones you’ve done on Romancing the Blog is teaching me a lot about what mistakes /not/ to make, so I’d like to “stay on”, if you don’t mind?

  5. Lovely post! Thank you.
    Equeries sound terrifying. I prefer sending snail mail queries since agents are more likely to respond. The no-response-if-we-don’t-want-you thing makes me insane with wondering if my equery ever arrived, or if the agent in question was having a bad day and just deleted a bunch of equeries so she didn’t have to deal with them… Which, I suspect most people wouldn’t actually do, but I’m a crazy writer with too much time to imagine what might be going on. *grin*
    Hearing about some of the things people do in their queries (snail and e) makes me wonder if they skipped the common sense line.
    On mass rejections (like mass queries): wow, yeah. I can totally see how that would upset you. A mass rejection would totally make me cry. *grin* Yesterday I recieved a rejection for a query I hadn’t even sent out yet. It was going in the mail yesterday afternoon, so imagine my surprise to find the rejection–and my SASE–already in the mailbox. That nearly did me in, but there was another letter in the box too, that made my rejection-life. 😉

    • I am so curious — how did you get a rejection for a query that hadn’t gone out yet?
      I’ve occasionally had queries show up where they were mis-addressed to another agent and I’ve figured it was just a bad mail merge accident.
      I’m glad to hear you got another letter that has proved more helpful. My best advice is to just keep at it. Whether with your current book or the next. From what I’ve heard real writers don’t stop writing just because of a few bumps in the road. Publication is only part of the journey.

      • I’d addressed it to another agent, but the two in question work next-door to each other, from what I understand, and are close friends. My theory is one promised to buy the other a beer after work if he finished her queries for her. The other popular ideas are that either it was placed in the wrong mailbox, or she passed it on to him when she didn’t want it. Either way, I would have expected the letter to be from the agent I’d sent the query to.
        But I saved a stamp this way. *grin* *polishes bright side with shirt sleeve*
        And thank you! 🙂 I don’t plan on stopping because of the bumps. There’s *got* to be an agent who loves my stories as much as I do! 😀

      • I know you’re probably too busy to think about further columns – but where, would you say, are the pitfalls further along the way? What should one expect realistically, what targets should a writer set themselves?

    • I’d love it if everyone switched to email queries, to be honest. I’m on the other side of the pond–and statistics makes it obvious my query is usually opened only to slap a Dear Author rejection into my SASE.
      Yet each time, I wait for at least 3 weeks for it to cross the ocean back and forth. I’m aging… way too fast 🙂

  6. I like the mental image of replying to the full list of contacts of the hopeful writer saying ‘I have no desire to read this.’ <EG>
    As for the casual address – that’s one of the issues that sends me wibbling. Reading a blog is a bit like listening to the radio, I suppose -I feel I know you well enough to use your first name, but of course you don’t know me from Adam – or from Eve, as it happens. The net is encouraging a very casual and very egalitarian approach – no one knows whether you’re (fat/old/ugly/a dog), so people get taken at face value, and addressing everybody you come into closer contact with by first name is part of that.

    • MUST… NOT… TYPE…. too late
      To: arcaedia
      From: QtFaEgUrLgunnabeabestsellar4sure@aol.com
      CC: Every Agent Ever
      Subject: RE: PLZ READ FUTRE BEST SELLAR!!1
      Attachment: mynovel.exe
      In The Year 3000 sumthing Evil is happenning in the kingfdom of Blarsnethlythisset. An Evil Wizard named Valldibad the Blackest; has stolen the TRUE ROD OF POWER from the cat-fox ppl of Snyrllizzenbad. now Lllesseretyl, orpand daughter of teh moon goddess’s priestesss Fernizat must live up to her dyesteny and get it back!! BUT, shes nut alone! With Arrellyn, the handsome, freesword, and Kaat, his magical, talking, winged, cat with long cuuurly, whiskers, and Maeextral the stuck up healer, they got from the temple, they will have to journee intoo the depths of Valldebad’s dungon layer, to get back the TRUE ROD OF POWER befour, the world explodes!!! CAN THEY DO IT, THOW THEY BE JUST 4 ADVENTURIERS??!!??? READ MY BOOK (400000 words of EPIK) TO FIND OUT!
      **** i no u have a lot of ppl sendin u stuf but mine iz really teh best look at my sample***
      Blarsnethlythisset was a kindgom liek any other people shopped in teh markets for meat and dresses for ladies. Valldibad the Blackest was hat,ed for by all the ppl but he was king so they made like they like him; alright even thou they did not and he, ate all their sheep for dinner when his son would come by and every, year he took a bride from the priettyest girl in his kingdom and this year it was Lllesseretyl the orpand daughter of teh moon goddess’s priestesss Fernizat whos peoples TRUE ROD OF POWER he had stolen and was now the seet of his power.
      “But I can’t marry you!!” Lllesseretyl screamed with fecundity “I love another whoes name is Arrellyn and he will rescue me you see!!!”
      “HA HA HA,” Laughed Valldibad the Blackest lustily, “He can not save you for I have the TRUE ROD OF POWER that can, summon the will of the gods!!”
      “Then it was you!!!” Lllesseretyl snarled like a bear in heat “You were the one who stole the TRUE ROD OF POWER! from my mother Fernizat and doomed my cat fox people to an eternity of darkenss in the pits of the black abiss!!”
      “Yes!” Valldibad the Blackest laughed like a volcano “but what are you going to do about it?”
      “THIS!!” shouted Arrellyn as Kaat hissed and dug his long claws into Valldibad the Blackest’s long pointy nose.
      “OUCH!!!!!” screamed Valldibad the Blackest! “Dumb cat.”
      ****b sure 2 let me no whut u think ill e-mail u 2morrow 2 see how u liked it do u think the cover can be pink and green because thats my lucky color?! ill call u 2 ok????? THX!!***** ❤ ❤
      _________________________
      I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself. When I imagined your e-mail box, this just popped into my head. All this, and yet you don’t sell their addresses to a spam mill. You’re a better woman than I, Gunga Jen.
      I love your blog! Sorry for the intrusion!

  7. Oy. After reading this, I can see why you’re moody! I’m the assistant editor of an online review ‘zine (http://www.crescentblues.com) and it never fails to amaze and amuse me how many people who style themselves as “professional” writers aren’t.
    Excellent post, however, and I hope you don’t mind me linking to it. (And to friending you — good advice is hard to come by these days!)
    :waves:
    Teri

  8. …and next week covered topic will be: What not to post in literary agent’s and editor’s online blogs, with many examples from . 😉
    -=Jeff=-

  9. Thank you!
    Wow, I appreciate your well-thought-out and rather lengthy response to my question. I can understand where you’re coming from, and can only imagine the sloppy and inappropriate emails you must be inundated with — ugh! In the same token, I am very internet-oriented, and find that email is definitely a more convenient way to correspond — minus the stamp and the yucky envelope glue! I’ve recently received a request for a partial from an agent who accepts *only* email queries, and it’s been wonderful!
    And, of course, since the email query I sent to you a couple of weeks ago was personalized, minus a first-name salutation, carefully proofread, selectively chosen according to my genre, AND was as professional as can be, I’m sure I can expect a pleasant form rejection instead of endless silence! 😉
    Seriously, thank you for sharing your thoughts and views on this. The raging debate on this both amuses and perplexes me (have you read Miss Snark’s anti-email opinions? Eek!).

    • Re: Thank you!
      I occasionally amble over to Miss Snark’s blog, yes — I rather enjoy her perspective. *g*
      As for the email query you mention…. I’ve just gone back and looked and only see ones from this week. As far as my computer believes, I’ve answered everything older than that. You can resend if you so choose (unless you gave that other agent an exclusive, in which case wait until you have their reply to decide).

      • Re: Thank you!
        That’s very gracious — thank you! No, it’s not an exclusive.
        Methinks my original email may have been swallowed by your spam filter (for some reason, my ISP isn’t “liked” sometimes). Either that, or you deleted it in a fit of anti-email angst! *g* I may have to resort to my Yahoo account.
        So now I am left to decide whether to mark the query as “from the anonymous dufus on your blog,” or to maintain my anonymity here. Perhaps the latter is a better choice. 😉

  10. I’m glad to hear that an e-query is acceptable, if held to the same standards as postal queries. I can understand (and have seen first-hand) how the ease of email will increase the volume of bad queries and submissions, but I very much appreciate the convenience. I don’t have to have someone haul my wheelchair down the front steps for me in order to send an email, thank goodness. (My postman really resents picking up outbound mail for some reason.)
    It’s a shame they have yet to make a mail filter which will mark anything with multiple spelling and grammar errors as “either it’s spam, or you didn’t want to read it anyway”.
    For that first-five-pages included in the query: how should formatting be handled? I tend to default to plain-text rather than HTML in emails, but it’s awkward to not have the occasional bit of bold and italic.

    • I prefer plain text, myself. And honestly, doing without formatting like bold or italics isn’t really that much of an issue at the query stage, imo. Most agents will be able to tell whether they want more or not, and then one can worry about such things. Just make it readable — that’s all I ask. (And between you me and the rest of my readers… I still find I prefer the snailmail ones. They’re just simpler somehow. I just cannot keep my Luddite ways apparently.)

      • I understand – electronic text just isn’t the same. I always printed out the big stack of e-submissions so they could be properly marked up with red pen, back in my magazine days.
        And for a novel, or a relationship with an agent which I’d hope to keep, I would use paper. For short stories to magazines, however, I prefer e-mail when possible, especially if most of its readership is online.

    • You *can* employ _typography_ to highlight plain text.
      (Some people say the first is italics, the second underline, to me they’re simply different levels of emphasis.)
      You know you’ve spent too much time on the net when they creep into your handwriting…

      • Well, I believe Microsoft Word will automagically convert those into bold and underline, respectively, if you’ve really been using them too much. I think /this/ is what’s used for italics by some folks.
        And those work well enough for a word or two, but *emphasizing an entire sentence, or paragraph, seems to lose impact*. It is usable, but ugly.

        • Well, I believe Microsoft Word will automagically convert those into bold and underline, respectively,
          You can turn the auto-correct feature off fairly easily, but I think you have to turn it off in a couple places. Word is sneaky like that.
          But I agree with you. *Emphasizing an entire sentence with asterisks is ugly and not very impact-y.*

  11. Having come late to the discussion, I’ll just say I agree with most of the above.
    Shannon

  12. Completely and utterly off-topic: THANK YOU! I’m listening to “Soon Love Soon,” and enjoying it immensely.
    Also, it was a pleasure meeting you in person; getting introduced to the work of an incredibly talented musician was just an added bonus 🙂

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