query letter services

Okay, I just got yet another one of these generic email queries. I’m joining the ranks of my compadres like Kristin Nelson, Dan Lazar, and Miss Snark and registering as officially against them. Kristin passed on an email from Dan the other day on her blog about these. Today, Miss Snark posted yet another comment (this isn’t the first time she’s mentioned it), and she included a generic outline for queries that is far better than what I am seeing in my inbox. (Note here that I have stated before that I prefer to receive queries by snailmail — call me old-fashioned — but some people just send you things anyway. I also prefer not to receive unsolicited full manuscripts, but occasionally someone will send me one regardless. For the record, I don’t read them because I think such behavior is highly impolite, both to me and to all the other writers sending in their queries and waiting patiently for materials to be requested.)

I find the casual opening of these emails (as if the query writer and I are old friends) wearying. To some extent, a query represents a written version of the cold-call. I have this product — are you interested in taking a look? The service writing these letters is not known to me. I’m not friends with anyone who works there. They haven’t bought me a drink (gin for Miss Snark; single malt for me). We haven’t chatted about what kinds of books I’m reading. In fact, they are in the exact same position as a writer from East Americana City, Your State, sending me their own query. Among other things, I think this means these letters should be written in a professional fashion. If one hasn’t been invited to treat me as a casual aquaintance, one shouldn’t take it upon themselves to employ said liberties. Of course, I’ve been saying all along that one of the reasons I find e-queries less appealing is that by and large they are sloppier and the email culture encourages people to act familiarly when they haven’t any foundation on which to base such a relationship. My favorite part of these letters is always the ending when they ask about whether they should send it e-copy or hardcopy, and often include an address that they anticipate sending it to. In our case, they keep using the office’s old snailmail address — we moved last October.

Which brings me to another point — these people aren’t doing the writers any favors. They are obviously not doing their research or acquainted with our agency (or they would have used the correct address at the very least). They aren’t even reading our guidelines or they’d know that we don’t take submissions by email. Blanket submissions only show a lack of attention to detail and severe laziness concerning the approach to the business. These are not qualities one wants in a client (just in case you weren’t sure). More to the point — what good does a generic query letter do anyone? Oh yeah, I know that editors and agents have been heard to say that they all start to seem very much the same after you read the first hundred or so of the year, but it’s not really true. It’s just that one begins to notice that some stand out more than others.

The query letter is the writer’s introduction to the editor or agent. It’s their first impression. And in some cases it might be their only shot to snag the interest of their target. So, why leave that up to someone else? Particularly after you’ve spent who-knows-how-long writing the magnus opum in the first place. I want to hear from the author. Not from their wife (and, yes, I’ve gotten queries written by the spouse on behalf of the writer — what, you could write an entire book, but not a one-page letter?). Nor their secretary (yeah, that happened too – from a lawyer’s office, if I recall correctly). And most definitely not from a third-party whom they’ve hired to write the letters. The author’s thoughts, the author’s enthusiasm, and the author’s quality of writing (yes, you can too tell such things from a query) are important in determining whether that story will be the one you ask for out of the hundred or more queries you read that week. The odds are long. The road is hard. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot right from the start.

24 responses to “query letter services

  1. Nadia Cornier also posted about this on Thursday: http://agentobscura.livejournal.com/50917.html

  2. I’m memorying this. Thank you for writing things like this which make it very clear. Not that I have a novel to query about, but it works for other submissions too.
    I just think it’s common sense. Give the agent/editor/contest what they want. Follow the rules of formatting. Don’t get fancy. Don’t let someone else write your query or cover letters.
    Thank you!

    • You’re very welcome.
      It really seems like it should be so straightforward, doesn’t it? And, yet, every week there are more examples. Someone somewhere pointed out that this might make the standout queries that much more standout. Well, I suppose, but it’s very hard on the brain to read hundreds of letters. I can only get through so many in a row before taking a break, and keeping the frustration aspect of it to a minimum surely puts one in a better mood for assessing the story rather than just being relieved that the person can write a halfway appropriate letter.

  3. I think you’re missing the point — the authors may want their books picked up, but the service couldn’t care less, and is not in the least incented to write good query letters. In fact, if they actually did write good query letters, and one of their clients was picked up, they’d lose the repeat business of mass-soliciting for the client’s next project!
    Anyone who is so desperate to get published that they use one of these services without thoroughly checking them out will probably interpret a generic polite “no thank you” letter as indicating they’re on the cusp of publications. (“It said ‘your project does not meet our needs’. That means I’ve got a chance with HORRIBLE BOOK #2, which is just what they need, I’m sure!”)
    The service I got an email solicitation from had a clever way of trolling for clients — they described their service, mentioned that they were so selective that they only took on 100 projects per week, so if you didn’t act quickly, you wouldn’t be able to get promoted this week, and then offered a list of what editors were buying (lifted directly from PW), implying if one didn’t know better that these sales occurred as a result of their query service.

    • Ah…. but I haven’t been replying to these. They’re getting nothing from me. Our agency website already says that we only respond to e-queries if interested. And, really, why should I take the time when I have so many more queries that were sent to me specifically as an individual agent. They have a much likelier chance of actually pitching material that I will want to read.
      I don’t think I’m missing the point. I’m sure there are writers using these services who are doing so because no one’s told them the downside. It’s not that we (speaking collectively for agent-kind) expect these services to be any good. It’s that we want the writers not to use them. Maybe we’ll get lucky and some of them will read these blogs. That would be the point.

      • Sorry. I should’ve quoted the bit I was replying to. Because you’re right — it makes no sense otherwise.
        You’d said: Blanket submissions only show a lack of attention to detail and severe laziness concerning the approach to the business. These are not qualities one wants in a client (just in case you weren’t sure). More to the point — what good does a generic query letter do anyone?
        And I was responding that from the query letter service’s point of view, a bad query letter quickly turned out is better for them than a good one that requires crafting.
        I totally agree it’s a bad idea from both the authors’ and query-recipients’ points of view.

        • That helps and I get your point. It doesn’t matter to me, though, who is doing the blanket query approach. If the service does it, and the author has hired them to do that, it’s still accomplishing the same thing and sending the same message as if the author did it themselves. I think whether the query letter writing service cares or not is rather irrelevant.

  4. This type of service has been around for a couple years in the screenwriting world. Pay a couple bucks to ScriptPimp (not a made-up name) and they send a form email to hundreds of agents and production companies.
    I know someone who got reads from using that kind of service, too, but it was always from very tiny production companies.
    I guess it was a matter of time before it spread to the book world.

    • I’ve actually been getting third-party letters for a few years. These are just the latest batch. And they’re so much worse that what I’ve seen before. I think that’s why it’s generating this much attention. That, and the sheer numbers. I’ve gotten at least a hundred or so in the last several weeks. Makes it that much more obvious.

  5. Is it just that there’s suddenly an upswing in the number of these emails that agents are getting, or is this a concerted effort to get people to stop signing up for the services? I agree, it seems like a bad idea (and then some) to use them, but it’s odd that you’re all mentioning getting these at the same time.

  6. I’ve been getting those, too. And they have these very misleading subjects like “that Baker project,” as if it’s something the author and I have previously discussed. Instant delete!

    • The one I got that set off this rant was titled “send it over?” I almost deleted it as spam without even realizing it was one of these generated queries.

      • I think that’s the biggest danger of email queries, at least from my pov. That any email with an odd, stilted title, sent by a stranger, is going to be forwarded to Junk.

      • My other half, a programmer, looked over my shoulder at the product site Miss Snark linked to (to see what was causing me to make so much pained noise), and immediately wondered if he should offer his contract services to agencies. He used to specialize in email management and spam-fighting.
        What’s sad is that the smaller agencies will be hit worst by this (and any spam, really); the big houses can afford to be using mail filtering programs which will “learn” patterns like those this software’s emails contain, and learn to block them. If these e-queries are going to a Hotmail address, for instance, Hotmail’s spam program will be eating them alive around letter number twelve – from anyone, not just from one user.

  7. It seems to me, as an expert in the field of nosing in on things with which I have no experience, that this idea may be worth consideration:
    Part 1) If you don’t already have one, get a double-secret e-mail address known only to existing clients. This will help prevent confidential correspondence from your clients from being potentially compromised by:
    Part 2) You new intern, who will screen your publicly-available e-mails, thus saving you the frustration of dealing with all the unwelcome junk.
    As a bonus, you would then have an credible additional layer of insulation from hypothetical claims that you had diverted some mental giant’s unsolicited “brilliant idea” to one of your favored clients.
    Okay…I think I’m fightfully clever. Now to sit back and wait for the users-of-reality-to-poke-large-holes-in-brilliantly-imagined-plans crowd to set me straight.

    • Error #1: “…your publicly-available e-mails…” should read “…e-mails sent to your publicly-available address…”

    • Why find office space for an intern when software can do some of the same job?
      Also, the burden of solving these sorts of problems should never be on the innocent recipient of the junk mail, junk faxes, unsolicited phone calls, and so on. Making it harder to send spam in the first place works best.
      (Used to fight spam for a living, so I’m overly familiar with this problem.)

      • Conceptually, I completely agree. I have advocated for having spammers (and telemarketers) shot, but admittedly that was in my more annoyed moments.
        From a practical point of view, I haven’t yet seen a spam blocker that is accurate enough for my taste. Being a veteran, perhap you know of something?
        And who needs office space for an intern? They can sit on the slush pile when they aren’t fetching your coffee. 😉

        • The more accurate ones generally require that you control your own mail server, which many smaller consumers don’t; or require a higher level of tech expertise than many end-users should have to fuss with; or are large and expensive solutions designed for very large mailers.
          Generally, some approach combining various spam-stopping methods will work, but even these require constant tweaks and updates. It’s like virus fighting; a constant race.
          I’m fortunate enough to live with a professional, so my mail server is right out in the living room, and the admin gets his mail there too, so he keeps the spam-fighting pretty well up to date.
          The big email providers’ spam blocking does a halfway decent job when it’s used correctly; unfortunately, many users aren’t very smart about using them, or about simple precautions like not clicking on spam links.
          I prefer advocating having spammers sued into oblivion; that hits them where it hurts. (And seeing a spammer shrivel under the combined legal teams of AOL, Yahoo, and Microsoft is always fun.)

  8. Ya know… even in possession of stuff that needs a market, I wouldn’t consider generic mail of any sort. Didn’t work job hunting and doesn’t work doing sales, I can’t imagine it works anywhere else either.
    But I probably wouldn’t have thought about it if you hadn’t mentioned it. Good stuff.

  9. Thank you, another helpful post!

  10. I’m all for having silly people weed themselves out of the slushpile and thus out of my way, but I wish they wouldn’t annoy the agents so much in the process.

  11. I’ve blogged about these submissions on a couple of occasions. We’ve pretty much instituted a policy of automatic deletion across the board. The queries in third person especially annoy me: “an available manuscript by an author…” Well of course it’s by an author! These things don’t write themselves. And it’s pretty pointless to pitch something that’s unavailable, isn’t it? Whatever service this is certainly has very little idea of how to approach an agent, which makes me wonder what they say to entice authors to use them in the first place.

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