it’s a bouncing baby what?

Another note on e-queries…. I have discovered something that I wish to call rubber-queries. In the past, we have occasionally referred to some revised manuscripts as being made of such material. Though some people may be very quick revisers (I have a couple on my list in point of fact), when one suggests an area that could use more attention and potentially improve the manuscript, and subsequently gets the submission back within just a few days, it suggests that perhaps only a surface attempt has been made. Perhaps it’s cynical to think so… In any case, I digress. A rubber e-query consists of an exchange where one is queried by the author, declines their material, and receives another query nearly immediately. Today’s came before I’d finished replying to the other e-queries on today’s docket. (Just as a side point of interest — I spent 40 minutes queueing these replies.)

So, here’s my quandary. I fear an exponential growth of e-queries. Today’s e-query bouncer was clearly not writing material remotely appropriate for me, or the agency for which I work. The second query confirmed this. I believe they were employing that scattershot approach in which they simply garner every agent email from the internet they can find. They were at least clever enough not to put me in a cc field with 100 others. But it was also clear they had not taken the time to review our submission guidelines or anything on our website. I find this approach problematic. I fear they will simply continue to send me e-queries until I crack. Especially since they mentioned having completed over a dozen manuscripts in their first query. It won’t work. Hard sells actually tend to make me dig my heels in and resist being persuaded (you should see me go car shopping – it’s a truly frightening experience…. for the car salesperson). To put it baldly and, indeed, rather bluntly — at what point do they segue into becoming a spammer rather than a business correspondent? Some people have made it clear that our agency position on e-queries is unfair and disrespectful. But is there a line in there somewhere where I can call a halt? I’m afraid this is not an isolated case, therefore my concern about this issue of potentially needing to draw boundaries in order to conduct business in a reasonable and efficient manner.

I don’t believe that being approached again by an author is unreasonable. In fact, a couple of my current clients initially had rejections or requests for revisions before we made the relationship official. However, I would like to encourage people to do it with due consideration. I want to idealistically believe that each and every writer has the potential to be publishable. I’m ready to give them the benefit of the doubt. But I’m not interested in being unfairly taken advantage of, or in squandering resources. As much as I am into this agenting gig to help authors, it is my bread and butter. It’s what keeps me warm at night. Literally. The reader in me… the lover of story… she would love to help every writer. It’s simply just not possible to do that on an individual level in every case. More’s the pity.

45 responses to “it’s a bouncing baby what?

  1. One possibility: A boilerplate message along the lines of “You have queried twice within a short time about unsuitable material. You have been killfiled for six months. I suggest you use that time to learn how to find out what material is suitable for a particular agency.”

    • Thanks for offering some feedback on this… To be honest, I’m having trouble coming up with a response that makes me feel both comfortably professional and also puts forth the concept that the behavior mentioned above is likely inappropriate. Everything I’ve attempted so far comes across as rude to my mind. It took me ages to come up with my current form rejection which so many report as being one of the nicest ever. I need a secondary response of the same quality it seems.

      • You could always set up a default form letter for repeat offenders. Something short and sweet that says “Your writing style is not a good fit for this agency.”
        Or after they send you two, you could always do the “Our client lists are currently full” response?
        I get (too much) email via my dayjob, and there’s no polite way to do a brushoff other than to make it extremely generic.

        • I tried something along those lines. My first response was longer but I sent a much shorter one for the second “bouncy” query. Guess I’ll see whether I get yet another.
          In case anyone is interested or cares to comment I said: “Thanks for your continued interest in the Donald Maass Literary Agency. However, I’m afraid your work isn’t a good match for us. Best of luck in your search for representation.”

          • That sounds appropriate and professional to me.
            Here’s another thought: E-forms are absolutely super for queries. (Check out Emily Sylvan Kim’s site for a good example of what I mean). People who want to query you must fill out the e-form exactly to your specifications. No email queries need be accepted — only the online form.
            Sound good?

            • I did one of those. I dunno. It seemed very…detatched to me, and I can’t say I’m really a fan. I mean, I hate writing queries *period* (they hate me too :D), but I really, really didn’t like the form fill-in-the-blank thing.
              At least when I send an email to an agent I have a feeling it’s going in an inbox and will quite possibly be read. The form thing, not so much. It could have filters set up so certain keywords don’t make it past and the form never sees the agent, or it could just be ignored.
              Overthinking and paranoid? Me? Probably. πŸ˜‰
              Still, it felt weird. *shivers*

              • LOL No, not overthinking and paranoid; perhaps a wee bit misinformed, though. Let me set your mind at ease by telling you that it is FAR MORE LIKELY for an email to go astray than for a web site to not receive a form. The forms are not “filtered” the way emails are; it’s a different kind of program. It’s actually a much safer bet that your form will be read than your email! So despite its “detached” feeling, it’s a much better way of getting in touch with an agent via the Internet. Most of all, you know that the agent has specifically set it up to receive queries (and nothing but queries!).

          • I think it needs no further translation – short, sweet and to the point.

  2. On the subject of quick responses – I am currently worrying about erring the other way.
    The agent suggested making changes and – when I explained I was revising – said he wanted it in as near perfect shape as I could make it. So, slowly and patiently, I’ve been working to revise the whole novel. There’ve been some major tweaks, and lots of minor ones. And it takes time (especially when you have a full-time job too).
    Soooo … is there a point, do you think, where an agent will simply lose patience and feel revsions are taking too long? Or is this a piece of string question?

    • There are a lot of variables involved in your question… Is this a spec revision? Or has the agent already agreed to represent the material? Believe me, that represents a level of commitment. With any good agent, once made, I think they’ll make every thoughtful consideration possible. If, on the other hand, the agent has not yet made the match, it’s possible their circumstances may change during the course of your revisions. This may not be an issue of their degree of interest – in my experience, once that has been expressed, they won’t change their mind on that front. There may simply be other developments that come into play. Of course, your mileage from agent to agent will vary. My instinct is to say that if it ultimately results in the agent being unable to further pursue the project, your work will likely still have benefitted from their advice and you have every hope of successfully finding representation or publication through other future avenues.

  3. While this writer/spammer may someday write something worthwhile (though I doubt it), they’re unlikely to ever develop manners good enough to be tolerable.
    If they can’t follow directions, I say add ’em to the spam filter and forget about it.

  4. I agree with the person who said it’s unlikely this person will understand why his or her behavior is unacceptable, so it might be better to ignore them for the sake of your own sanity. (Of course, it’s possible that the person is operating through ignorance.)
    Having as I do a difficulty with direct confrontations, here’s my suggestion: Make a new folder in your email program, for inappropriate or rubber queries. Anything that’s veering into spam territory, stick in there and don’t worry about until you’ve cleared everything else out and are really bored. The long wait may discourage some people; in the meantime, those with relevant queries are getting responses more quickly. This most likely won’t discourage new inappropriate queries, but it’ll reduce the amount of time you have to spend on them.

    • Thanks for your insight on this. Is it just me, or has email communication actually made things more complicated rather than less? It seems to have blurred lines that were previously established and created uncertainties.

      • Digital communication has held such a great potential to reduce time and increase effectiveness. Unfortunately what it has also done is allowed people who normally wouldn’t have a direct access line, just that. Instead of seeing an increase in our own productivity what we end up seeing is any moron with a phone line and an ISP can insult us by wasting our time. IMO wasting another person’s time is truely the highest insult available…and I work for essentially salary. That five minutes spent reviewing his/her email could have been spent eSlushing through the rest, or making a phone call or a follow-up for an existing client.
        I’m sorry, but between this and one of your recent comments about receiving on average only 1 in 500 ‘thank-you’ cards; I’m upset. Despite the occaisional act of impropriety here in LJ-land, truth be told I’m hypersensitive about etiquette and formality when conducting business. I think it sucks, just plain sucks that others are seemingly inclined to waste another’s time because they’re too lazy or ignorant to do their homework or just can’t take a blatant hint (hmm blatant.hint.).
        I’d go to your amazon or b&n associates account and send them a link or banner for Business Etiquette for Dummies, this way if they’re at least smart enough to purchase the book, you get a return on the sale and modicrum of your (time equals) money back.
        -=Angry in Hawaii=-

        • Your outrage on my behalf is…. touching. Thank you. I don’t think this sort of thing is peculiar to me, or even singular to my industry. I agree with you that people should be more aware of such things. I’m sure everyone would be happier all around.

      • As someone whose former day job was dealing with e-mail “abuse” at a Very Large Email Provider, and someone who just happily read half of yet another Miss Manners novel, I think you’re right.
        For one thing, we lack sufficient rules of etiquette for e-mail use. It’s all very well to say that email is very much like a letter, but it’s far cheaper and faster for most people to send an e-mail.
        Another problem is that email can be so much faster to receive. People who accept a waiting time of several weeks for a postal response of any kind can become livid with anger when they don’t receive an e-mail response in 48 hours. While people seem reasonably accepting of receptionists, automatic phone trees, and my answering machine, I’ve had acquaintances recently throw temper tantrums if social emails weren’t answered within a day. (And some of my correspondents worry about me if I’m more than a few days late in sending mail or at least journaling, but I think it’s out of concern for my health; they can’t be that desperate for my content.)
        Despite it resembling a paper letter, many workplaces treat email like a telephone; respond within 72 hours at least (with a form letter, if it’s to a customer) or forever hold your peace. If I didn’t respond to an email from my boss within the hour, I’d be in trouble, not least for making her walk down the hall to pound on my door. While it’s unreasonable to expect the same of someone’s personal correspondence, or that of a small business like yours (at least compared to the megacorp whose email abuse I handled), people seem to have nothing better to do than wait for an e-mail.
        So it is tricky. There’s a reason most agencies and publishers don’t want authors to call them with queries or ask if their mss. have arrived, been read, accepted and published yet. It’s too easy for would-be authors to nag, and too hard for the agency to get any work done.
        For this reason – getting your work done, and tending to your proper clients and more polite submissions – a polite form letter, along the lines of a polite answering machine message, is entirely appropriate here. You may have several to copy and paste; a “very nice, but here, have some helpful suggestions on how to submit a manuscript”; two for “does not suit us”, one a bit more politely worded than the other, and a final “Due to the volume of e-queries received, we cannot continue to answer all such queries. We apologize for the inconvenience and invite you to send your ms. to us via post, and here are some helpful guidelines on how to do that.” Then filter that address to a special folder which you can read on days when you really haven’t anything else to do.
        In e-mail customer service, we could only try so many times to help someone who refused to follow the instructions we sent them on how to fix the problem. If someone refuses your helpful advice given the first few times, they’re not going to listen to it the fifth time around, either. Concentrate your efforts on those who respond to your efforts, to those who say “thank you”, and those who can be bothered to look up what agency you work at and what genres you deal in. (If I work at an email provider, there is nothing I can do to help the crank who keeps writing to me demanding that “we” fix his floppy drive.)
        And if I find anything more specific in my two newest Miss Manners works, I’ll let you know. Nothing makes me feel better than knowing Miss Manners is on my side in something.

      • It certainly has created some new problems. I think it’s funny that I’m actually a more reliable correspondant by regular mail — because enough time passes between sending one letter and getting the response that you’ve built up a store of things to talk about, I suspect. With email it seems to peter out much more quickly.

  5. I’m trying to look at this both from the point of view of the overwhelmed (and frustrated) agent, and from the clueless (but hopefully not hopeless) writer. What would both reduce the number of incoming offending emails, or at least reduce the guilt-level of deleting the ones that can’t be diverted or slowed down.
    The problem, as I see it (in my terribly inexperienced and narrow view of the world), with boiler plate “Bug off” letters or just ignoring them is that it not only doesn’t have the potential for teaching the erring supplicant anything about the publishing world (and the right way to do things), but both also have the potential for reflecting poorly (albiet inaccurately) on the agent/editor. Not, mind you, to anyone who has possession of the proverbial clue-by-four about the industry, but to the vast majority of writers these email-barraging shotgun submitters come into contact with, and unfortunately many of them may possess more potential than experience with the industry themselves.
    ***** ***** *****
    Clueless Querier (to everyone he ever meets): “That darned agent never even bothered to reply to my 57 queries last month, you shouldn’t bother submitting to her.”
    Potential Bestseller Who Doesn’t Know Better: “Oh, gosh, I don’t want to get ignored, maybe I’d better try submitting my nice, well-edited, paper copy query letter elsewhere…”
    Frustrated Agent: “Why do I get 57 email cruddy queries and nothing decent by mail?”
    ***** ***** *****
    Perhaps the number might be reduced (or at least the guilt at deleting the offending queries unread) by including a statement which places a concrete limit on the frequency of submissions by email. Something along the lines of:
    “Unsolicited E-mail submissions are strongly discouraged. Because of the large number we receive despite this statement, we have been forced to require a six month waiting period between electronic queries. We will not consider more than one unsolicited query submission via email from any individual. If you have submitted a query letter to us via email and not recieved a firm offer of representation, please wait a minimum of six months from the date of your last submission before submitting again to us electronically. More frequent electronic submissions will, regrettably, be deleted unread. Hard copy queries, as always, are our prefered medium and will be given top priority for consideration.”
    I don’t know, just trying to think about what would be a sure “Don’t do this, and if you think I don’t mean you, I do.” message. πŸ™‚

    • I think that has a great idea here!
      Imposing a rule like this gives you permission to delete AND the peace of mind of not having to bother with this person for at least half a year. πŸ˜‰

    • The time limit thing sounds reasonable on the surface. The thing is that I don’t want to limit my options either. I really *am* on the lookout for new clients and new material. I suppose I could also create exceptions to the rule by inviting new submissions if what I read was promising but not quite there. I have a client now where that was the case. I sent the first book back but asked what else they had and now we are working pretty darn well together.
      See… I’m not against being queried again. I’m just against what seems to be clearly a spamalicious attempt. It doesn’t strike me as useful or efficient for either party.

      • Oh, that totally makes sense, and those who you /invite/ to make a second query sooner than 6 months from their first… well, that’s the equivalent of inviting someone to your office for a meeting versus having someone drop by during office hours. They’re no longer really “unsolicited”, they’re the exception (but the dorks who don’t bother to read simple instructions or think they don’t apply to them, they don’t so much need to know those exceptions exist).
        But I get where you’re coming from. You don’t want to chase folks with potential off, but if you leave the door open, the flies come in. πŸ™‚

        • You don’t want to chase folks with potential off, but if you leave the door open, the flies come in.
          *laugh* Exactly. That is such a concise way to sum that up.

      • Having a nice, polite letter saying that this particular item wasn’t right for us, but we hope to see more of your work in future, is a very good idea. (If you really hate the form letter idea, consider a mostly-form letter wherein you personalize the middle or last paragraph with more details about the submission.) Including some links to sites with good advice on how they can improve their chances would be very helpful even to the spam-querier. (Especially if you can find a nicely authoritative page on Why Spam-Queries Are Bad.)
        I got something of the former from a Large Publisher, and felt darn near encouraged by it (after some swearing). While I loathe querying a publisher for guidelines and receiving information which solely consists of “this is what manuscript format is” rather than telling me what sort of story they prefer in this format, I don’t mind getting some of the former in with a bit of the latter. I’ve read enough slushpile to know that formatting is desperately important and all too often overlooked.

  6. I agree it’s terribly inappropriate behavior. Is there any possibility of a quick email back saying something along the lines of what you just said here? Or, even just a helpful note you can send to people like him/her, since it’s bound to happen again. Not necessarily anything snarky (or you can write one and just never send it if it would make you feel better ;), just something about, “Sorry, you’ve queried for genres this agency does not represent. Be sure to carefully read all submission guidelines of agents you choose to query.” And you can add little bits at the end, like, “Dude! Lay off with the queries! I’m drowning here!” (But maybe not exactly that? *grin*)
    Like someone else mentioned, this person doesn’t seem to respect your guidelines, or agents’ guidelines in general, and is probably not someone who’d want to play nicely with you, anyway.

    • Be sure to carefully read all submission guidelines of agents you choose to query.
      I really like this one and could couple it with a link to our own submission guidelines as suggested. I’m sure someone will inevitably ask where the guidelines of other agents are to be obtained. Is there a website anywhere that consolidates those or has links to a lot of them?

        Unfortunately, this is also a very dangerous website because it lists the emails of most agents listed. This might have unfortunate results.

        • You are totally reading my mind! Or sharing a brain with me. Hey, what happens in chapter twenty? πŸ˜‰

        • I just went and checked out my own entry (which I wasn’t aware that I had). The phone numbers are wrong. But it does list that queries should be sent to our general e-mail address as well. And it has a fair number of my recent sales listed. Not bad.

        • I’ve used this site to help me consolidate my list of potential agents to query. Not all agents are listed with full details, and I would hope they’re amenable to taking off info you don’t want public – or _too_ public – but to me it has been a great help; and my personal impression was that unlike another listing I’ve blanked on (which seemed to encourage boorish behaviour) the people behind it were professional and conscientious.

      • Oh, there are a bunch, but I think the best one I’ve seen is where you can put in your genre and get a list. Most entries link to the agents’ websites and put whatever they know about them. There are various other lists, but this one looks like the most complete to me.

  7. I completely understand your frustration. If anything, this situation is annoying because there are those of us who DO approach e-querying professionally and appropriately, and it’s these e-query dweebs who are clogging the toilet and muddying the water for the rest of us.
    And, of course, the agent with the over-stuffed inbox suffers the most.
    You might consider putting VERY CLEAR instructions on your web site, such as, perhaps:
    E-queries must be sent in the following format OR THEY WILL BE IMMEDIATELY DELETED.
    Then proceed to describe your format.
    Something like that.
    Then you can hit “delete” when you need to, and give the legitimate queries a professional “no thanks” or a request.
    Both partials that I’ve currently got “out” were a result of e-queries. Obviously I’m a fan of e-queries. πŸ˜‰

    • On another note….
      I’m going to go out on a limb and ask you a question.
      Several months ago, I sent a (snail mail) query to Mr. Maass. I received a rejection letter in the mail — but it was a wonderful thing, because it was a personal letter in which Mr. Maass stated that he liked my premise and that I wrote “smoothly;” he then went on to say that my first few pages were “pure set-up,” and that he was passing on the project “with frustration.”
      Unbeknownst to him, his words had a profound effect on my manuscript and on my writing in general. I did some serious re-writing and re-queried Mr. Maass (again, via snail mail). This time, it seems I didn’t get past whatever the “first barrier” is at your agency; the rejection letter sounded more like a mail merge. I’m not sure whether Mr. Maass actually saw it the second time.
      So my question is — was the original letter with the specific comments truly meant for me (personally)? What did I do wrong that I didn’t get “through to Mr. Maass” on the second pass? Was I stupid to think that Mr. Maass was actually disappointed that he couldn’t take on my project, as his first letter seemed to imply?
      At any rate, I’ve moved on, AND I am deeply grateful for the effect his words have had on my writing. I’m just wondering what actually went on.
      I am impressed with Mr. Maass’ integrity and passion, and can only assume that you and the other agents in his “fold” are of equal calibre.

      • Re: On another note….
        I didn’t ask him… but based on my experience working with him and what it would mean if I did the same sort of thing… he isn’t going to write anything he didn’t mean. And any comments he offered on the first pass would be meant to apply to your project. Trust me – most agents don’t have the time to offer gratuitous responses. My guess would be that he gave it a second look and decided it still wasn’t right for him, and ergo you got some variation of the “full list” or “not right for us at this time” type of letter. They’re unfortunate — I know we like to give helpful replies when we can — but the volume of what we receive means we sometimes have to streamline the process.

        • Re: On another note….
          Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this — I was hesitant to ask! I can only hope for the opportunity to meet Mr. Maass one day and thank him for the profound effect he has had on my writing (and, ultimately, my career). Little did he know what a huge thing he was doing by expressing those few, pointed thoughts about my manuscript!
          The difference between Rejection 1 and Rejection 2 was rather stark — even down to the salutation. Rejection 1 addressed the letter to me by my first name, while Rejection 2 called me “Ms. *last name*.” (Not that I’m a detail person or anything…)

  8. I read these comments with a great deal of interest. When I get something back I make it a point to try to get something out as soon as possible. Sometimes I’ve been a little too quick on the draw, but other times I get points for perseverance. It is one of the judgement call moments, and I’ve erred on both sides of the line, too fast and wa-ay too slow.
    Like a lot of things in life I reckon it’s hard to make a diehard blue steel everlasting rule on such a matter.
    If you don’t like this answer, wait two minutes, I’ll send you another.

  9. Here’s another related question — I was contacted by an agent who was very excited about my book but wanted me to tighten up/add action to the first 150 pages of the manuscript or she couldn’t offer me representation. Since then, I’ve gutted the first half of my manuscript. I’ve cut 50 pages of unneeded fluff (as well as a subplot or two), added more action, and have worked on this thing ceaselessly since our conversation.
    Of course, our conversation was exactly a week and a half ago. I wanted to get this back to her as soon as possible so it was still fresh on her mind, but now I’m worried that she won’t think that I’m taking her seriously.
    At which point is a good timeline to turn something around? What do you consider ‘too fast’?

    • You know… I’m going to have to fall back on your mileage will vary as an answer again. I think it’s very easy to tell when someone has taken the time and paid attention to the feedback they’ve received. You need to do the best job that you can with that and not let anxiety drive you. Then there are people who clearly have made a handful of superficial edits overnight and mailed the submission back to you next day. Chances are they didn’t really take the time to absorb what you were trying to tell them.
      I know that’s not much help as an answer but just ask yourself if you firmly believe you are taking things seriously, or if you think you are rushing because you don’t want to miss this chance.

      • That’s a perfectly fine answer. πŸ™‚ I wasn’t expecting a finite date (7 days to the letter!) but I also don’t want her to roll her eyes when she gets my submission. πŸ™‚
        I feel the changes are pretty sweeping, and I’m happy with them, so I hope she will be too.

  10. Sounds like those kinds of queries need a e-form answer. Basically directing the author to your website where your submission guidelines are published.
    Don’t respond personally until the author has actually gone to look at your guidelines and has re-submitted in a more personal manner according to your guidelines.

    • I do have a link to the general website in my sig. file — but perhaps a specific direction to the submission guidelines would be good for future reference. I’ll have to see how to work that in. Of course, by the time you send them that response, you might as well include whether you’re interested in what they’re pitching as well.

  11. *ahem*

  12. I think, sadly, if they can respond that quickly, then they are already spammers.
    On an up note, what a fine outlook you have. Seriously, it takes a great deal to work you way through something as difficult as e-queries, knowing you’ll have yet another pile to plow through the next day–and then, on top of that, admit you would be willing to read a query from someone resubmitting material.
    It is a pity for us we can’t clone you, separate out the reader who would love to help the writer, and figure out a way to make that bread and butter but…we’ll take what we can get, since it is given so generously.

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