back in the query mines

So, this morning I got an e-query (well, okay there was far more than one). Yes, I still prefer the snailmail ones but that’s no nevermind apparently. I keep having an urge to sit down and write out the pros and cons and see whether I’m simply clinging to something because it’s more comfortable, but then I see other opinions about them and I’m not so sure. Read Jenny Rappaport’s post on query response time, in which, among other things, she mentions how much easier it is for e-queries to be out of sight and out of mind as opposed to those that are taking up extra room on the desk. On the other hand, there are those who swear by e-queries (not that I’m saying any names that start with N and end with -elson *g*). To some extent, I suspect it’s all personal preference in the end and what is a more comfortable way for a person to work. And, after all, when you’re reading 100+ per week that can become an issue after a while.

But the e-query this morning that got me back to thinking about this has a couple of problems. First it was a forward of one that I had gotten before. They did wait a reasonable amount of time. But there’s no introductory sort of sentence (e.g. I sent you a query before and was concerned perhaps it got caught by a spam filter so I’m resending) which somehow leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Additionally, our official website says we only answer e-queries if we’re interested in pursuing the material. But, still, given the unreliability of the internet, an email going astray is possible. I’ll let that issue pass. Besides, they’ve been known to do that when sent by post as well. Witness that urban legend of the postal employee who dies and they discover bags and bags of mail in his/her house. Or the fact that people apparently are still sending them to the address we moved from a year ago (it was in fact a year this week I believe) and any minute now the NY system will stop forwarding things. But that’s not even the most serious problem with the one I got this morning. The problem is I can’t reply. And I mean can’t. Because of where my computer sits in the world and which ISP I’m using and the fact that comcast.net feels that due to these factors, I’m a high spam risk. Therefore they have blocked any attempt I make entirely. Even through web-browser access. It’s my outgoing tag that’s the problem apparently and there’s nothing I can do about it. Of course, the final problem with it is that it’s an area I don’t personally handle so it would be a no anyway. Given that factor, spending time and/or money finding another way to get a response to this person isn’t efficient when I could be spending it instead reading other queries or, perhaps, writing this blog entry. Or, ya know, doing work my clients expect me to be doing.

In any case, since I’m opening up this can of worms, I’m open to hearing arguments, persuasions, etc. Both for and against. Snailmail vs. email, that is. Is the difference between sending the query by email vs. by snailmail really such a wide chasm that it should be a determining factor? And if someone inevitably turns that question back at me I’d suggest that most people aren’t querying 100+ agents per week nor do they, I suspect, respond to 100+ unsolicited emails per week which it seems to me is what agents are being expected to do (in other words, the issue to me isn’t why authors think it’s a benefit for them). It’s become such an odd hot-button topic. It just seems peculiar that it is one.

And the song currently playing has such an appropriate opening line for right now….

I learn many things the hard way
I learn many things the easy way

52 responses to “back in the query mines

  1. Boy am I glad I decided to query you by snailmail. I took that route because while I’m broke, I just don’t trust email for that kind of business. I had no idea it was such a problem for you to reply to equeries, so in future, I’ll keep that in mind.

  2. (O)ur official website says we only answer e-queries if we’re interested in pursuing the material.
    The above policy is the only reason why I hate e-queries.
    If I send you a snail-query, you will send me something back. If I send you an e-query, I’m launching it into a black hole. I can’t tell the difference between a rejection and a lost email from my end.
    Frankly, I consider it unprofessional for an agency to not send a response to my business letter, even if that business letter was sent via email. I want the courtesy of at least a rejection letter.
    If an agency has a policy of responding to all queries, including e-queries, then I’m quite happy to submit via email. It’s cheaper for me. I’m also not bothered by the idea of my e-query being “out of sight, out of mind”, because querying is never a fast process.
    I’m quite resigned to the idea that I may have to wait weeks. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Frankly, I consider it unprofessional for an agency to not send a response to my business letter, even if that business letter was sent via email. I want the courtesy of at least a rejection letter.
      Okay. I’m not trying to be difficult or antagonistic. I truly want to understand. It seems like I’ve seen this opinion several places. I want to state that up front, because, that said, I’m not sure I understand this point of view entirely. I state that I prefer snailmail and the author sends email anyway (is this courteous?). Our viewpoint is right out there on our website, so it’s not as if it’s a secret. And it was a compromise position. At the time, we didn’t want to do email queries at all because they were, to our minds anyway, more work. I even once timed myself on replying to the same number of equeries and snailmail queries and the former takes longer. Plus there are the issues of bounced emails, people who have whitelists and so forth. Additionally, the percentage of people who send inappropriate material is far higher on the email front – as you say it’s cheaper for them. So, we offered this compromise – email queries that we only respond as per our level of interest. It affords the author the option but also gives us one. How is that unprofessional when they could simply choose to send a query by snailmail and thus avoid the whole issue if they feel it presents a problem? Plus, in the case above, this person would still not get an answer because I’m blocked from offering it regardless.
      If I send you a snail-query, you will send me something back.
      As an aside, this is only true if one includes an SASE. That has been our policy for many, many years.

      • I state that I prefer snailmail and the author sends email anyway (is this courteous?).
        No; it definitely isn’t.
        Our viewpoint is right out there on our website, so it’s not as if it’s a secret.
        And I applaud you being so forthright with authors about what to expect. It’s the policy I don’t agree with, not the way you present it.
        How is that unprofessional when they could simply choose to send a query by snailmail and thus avoid the whole issue if they feel it presents a problem?
        Which is exactly what I do. ๐Ÿ™‚
        You asked for arguments regarding email vrs. snail mail, and that’s all I’m presenting. I don’t like e-queries because (in many cases) I’m not guaranteed a reply, and I really want one, even if it’s a rejection.
        “If I send you a snail-query, you will send me something back.”
        (T)his is only true if one includes an SASE. That has been our policy for many, many years.

        And I would always send you an SASE! ๐Ÿ˜€
        I guess the issue here is, you’ve tailored your guidelines to deal as fairly as possible with all the nincompoops who are rude, naive, unprofessional, demanding, etc. I recognise that you have to do that, given the volume of people you interact with.
        But as someone who tries very hard to not be a nincompoop, I still feel that when I send a business letter to someone, it’s unprofessional for them to ignore it. In my mind, the fact of me having sent the letter by email doesn’t mitigate that.
        You’ve given a long and excellent list of reasons why the agency doesn’t like e-queries; my take on the matter would be that you should simply refuse to accept e-queries.
        And yes, there are writers who reeeeeally want you to accept e-queries. They even have good reasons. I appreciate that your agency was willing to make a compromise, but I’m just not a fan of the compromise. I tend to think that if you’re going to do something, do it whole-heartedly and do it right. To me, that means dealing with e-queries exactly as courteously as you deal with snail-queries.
        I truly want to understand.
        And I hope I’ve helped. I am also not trying to be difficult or antagonistic. ๐Ÿ™‚

        • Thanks for such a well-reasoned response. It’s food for thought. Like I said in another comment if there were certain things I could mandate (like people not using funky fonts or really teensy ones, or sending gigantic attachments) about e-queries, perhaps I’d feel less hassled on this count. The policy itself isn’t one I actually got to make. It’s a company one. Personally, I think I might prefer if it were one way or the other myself. Even then, though,I might still be tempted to say I’d only answer the ones that follow guidelines or something. In any case, as you are taking the other option open to you to address the issue, that solves that part of the problem. There do seem to be those out there who complain that one shouldn’t have the right to refuse to take e-queries. I wonder if there are issues with people who refuse to take snail-queries. I was just today speaking with someone who, due to physical and medical issues, can’t sit at the computer long enough to use email.
          Perhaps I could simply agree to answer e-queries for people who aren’t nincompoops. Heh.

          • would this help?
            Hi. I was just visiting Lowenstein-Yost’s site and if you want to e-query them, there is a web-form to fill out, rather than sending an email. Your webmaster could probably whip one up in no time and it might save you lots of hassles, plus it kills the spam problem. It could probably even send an automatic reply that says, “Your e-query has been received. We respond only to queries we want to hear more about…blah blah blah”.
            Check it out here (this one takes you to Zoe Fishman because I had to choose an agent in order to get the form to come up). http://www.lowensteinyost.com/agent_zoe.html
            cheers,
            Joelle

            • Re: would this help?
              It’s a nice idea. In the case of it being my website, though, I am the webmaster and I don’t know how to do that nor do I have the time to figure it out. I’ve been planning on refurbishing that site all year and haven’t gotten very far. Plus this doesn’t address all the people who manage to send us queries without ever visiting our site (or at least I’m being kind and assuming that’s the reason they’ve deviated so far from anything remotely approaching guidelines or appropriate material).

              • Re: would this help?
                Dang! I thought I was a genius who had solved all your problems. ๐Ÿ™‚ I was pretty sure you were going to send me an email that said, “Even though I don’t rep your genre, I MUST rep someone who is so smart. Snail mail me a full.” Hehe!
                Serioulsy, the auto response part would be useful for all agents though. I did send an e-query to someone recently, and it was even because another agent at her house recommended to me that I should, but I have no idea if she really got it…Sigh…I’ll wait a while and the follow up…
                cheers,
                Joelle

        • I still feel that when I send a business letter to someone, it’s unprofessional for them to ignore it. In my mind, the fact of me having sent the letter by email doesn’t mitigate that.
          I have another question for you, if you don’t mind. This is again predicated on people following instructions on the webpage, which not everyone does. But if the e-query gets sent to the email specified, there is, I believe, an auto-response confirming receipt and reiterating our policy. What do you think about that?
          I just thought of this because the sentence about the fact one was just ignoring the e-query was nagging at me. I think they all still get read. Just not individually replied to. So, is that the same thing? Particularly when the sender can have foreknowledge that this will be the case?

          • The important thing is to know that the email reached you, so I’d agree with this policy. But if you’re going to do the auto-response, put in your instructions a reasonable time for the sender to anticipate before assuming that he/she is rejected. A week is good enough, IMO, but that’s something you set for yourself.

          • I think the auto-response itself is an awesome idea. I never send postcards such as mentions below, but an auto-response is essentially that. It would definitely relieve the tension of not knowing whether my query arrived.
            But… I find that I still want that rejection letter.
            Having thought about it, however, I realise that my reasons aren’t as rational as I thought. There is an element of wibbly-author hysteria at work, even if I do justify it with the idea of professional courtesy.
            I want the response so that I’m not endlessly hoping for an acceptance letter. If I know that the agent will contact me one way or the other, then I can put the matter out of my mind. If rejection is conveyed by silence, which is indistinguishable from the silence I get when I’m waiting for the agent to get around to reading my query, then it’s much tougher on my nerves.
            I just thought of this because the sentence about the fact one was just ignoring the e-query was nagging at me. I think they all still get read. Just not individually replied to. So, is that the same thing? Particularly when the sender can have foreknowledge that this will be the case?
            I guess my take on this would be that a form rejection letter isn’t exactly an individual reply either, but I still want to get it. I’d be perfectly happy with an agent responding to my e-query with, “Thank you; no” or some other emailed version of a form rejection. It still gives me closure on the matter.
            As an aside, I was thinking earlier than when someone sends you an e-query that you can’t reply to (because of a whitelist, or an incorrect address), that’s equivalent to them not sending you an SASE, and you’re not obligated to reply. Of course, if the problem isn’t the sender’s fault, then I guess the analogy would be that your dog ate their envelopes, and you’d have to respond as appropriate to a situation like that.

            • email addresses
              I just read a helpful tip on Miss Snark the other day. Two email addresses. I have added one to my header. Now it says email:xxx@xxx.com and alternate email:XXX@XYZ.com
              cheers,
              Joelle

            • Erm; one more point (I really should be concentrating more on work today).
              An auto-reply acknowledges receipt of the query letter. A rejection acknowledges the content of that query letter.
              In terms of business etiquette, I think it’s proper to acknowledge the content of the letter. Acknowledging the letter’s arrival is a nice gesture, but unnecessary.

              • In terms of business etiquette, I think it’s proper to acknowledge the content of the letter.
                If the letter itself was in any way solicited, I think this is true. However, I would not want to be considered unprofessional for not writing a thank-you postcard for every unsolicited catalog or professional offer I receive. I think a query is much closer to a “Won’t you subscribe to my wonderful magazine” mailer than to regular business mail.

                • That’s a very good point, although I tend to think of a query as, “I have a business proposal that I would like you, a business-woman, to consider in your professional capacity.”
                  Although catalogues and query letters are both unsolicited, I do see a distinction between them. When someone sends you a catalogue, they want you to buy something. An agent isn’t buying anything, and what the querier is suggesting would (ideally) be of mutual financial benefit.

                  • When companies send me catalogs, they’re generally suggesting that I spend someone else’s money for our mutual benefit. Their offers are business proposals they want me to consider in my professional capacity. (I certainly don’t buy scientific equipment out of my personal funds, I can tell you that…)
                    When they send ‘professional offers’ (usually for insurance or magazine subscriptions), they’re generally suggesting that we’ll both go plus financially (in the long run).
                    I still don’t send them rejection postcards.:-)

                  • An agent isn’t buying anything, and what the querier is suggesting would (ideally) be of mutual financial benefit.
                    Well, sort of. An agent isn’t buying anything in terms of sending you a check in exchange for the manuscript. But they’re investing time and money in pursuit of that potentially mutual benefit. Hopefully their opinion of the work and their faith in the writer will bear fruit, but it is speculative. Therefore, it’s natural to want to maximize finding the projects I want to invest in vs. those I don’t.

  3. Faster means of communication results in more stress. I used to practice law, and if a client had your email address or cellphone number, he or she expected you to be available at all hours, and to respond within minutes to their questions. In the days when snail mail was the only means of written communication, clients expected you to respond within a week. Going from a week to a minute is a big leap.
    I like being able to send e-queries, but I have no problem with snail mail queries either. Yes, it takes more effort on my part, but I suspect I put more care into snail mail queries than I do into e-queries.

    • For me, the cost of sending a smailmail enquiry across the pond becomes a significant issue, and also imposes problems.
      When I query a British agent, I enclose a stamped addressed envelope so they can return the materail – unlesss they’ve specifically said I’m waving goodbye to it. But British agents tend to return if you supply the means.
      I also generally enclose a postcard – usually a postcard of an Oxford gargoyle looking worried – with a note on the back just saying –
      “We have received your manuscript.
      You can expect to hear from us in about __ weeks.”
      I figure it’s very little hassle for them to scrawl a figure on the back, and pop it in their Out Tray. And it gives me the peace of mind of knowing it’s made it through (and also, usually, a date when I can expect a reply). Sometimes the postcard comes back sans information, but that’s ok. More often, a few words and a signature are added, which is very kind.
      So … I feel that’s a positive way to start a dialogue.
      But if I’m sending across the pond, I can’t do that – unless I work out a way of involving a third person who’ll receive the parcel, add American postage to the SAE and postcard and then send it on.
      Of course, I could just send it, and then cross my fingers that I’ll hear back. And that the parcel will make it through. But somehow (oh help, now this is going to sound very English), I feel it more polite to be as helpful as possible to someone you are essentially imposing on in the first instance.
      So I tend to think in terms of snail mail for the UK, and email for the US. Not that I’ve actually started US enquiries yet, but that was the way my thoughts were going …

      • The foreign country issue is a bit of a glitch, I agree. And to be honest, we really didn’t see a lot of queries coming from outside North America until just a few years ago. The issues as I see them are:
        (1) Cost – mailing things overseas is more expensive (don’t I know it from sending sample copies of books to my foreign reps!). I do get a fair number of foreign queries now and I can see from the stamps they cost perhaps double to send a letter plus five pages. Food for thought when making a large number of submissions, I suppose. But perhaps not entirely prohibitive. It becomes a much greater issue when one moves past the query stage, I can see.
        (2) The difficulty of getting stamps – Again, I know how troublesome this might be. My post office has the worst time with IRCs, though, too. Plus, just yesterday I read a query from Japan and they had return postage in U.S. stamps on their SASE. They’re also not the most exotic locale to have managed it, so I know it’s possible.
        (3) Speed – This is such an oft-mentioned difficulty with the whole process. The problem is that it doesn’t matter where the author lives, really. A person simply needs time to process the queries, whether domestic or foreign or snail or electronic. I actually think I have a slower read and respond time on electronic submissions, believe it or not.
        As an aside (I have more than one today apparently), the postcard confirmation in a query has the following complication – I don’t tend to see it until I open the envelope, which is when I’m sitting down to read and respond to them so it doesn’t accomplish much, imo. But in a requested package that may take more time, that’s a different sort of thing.

        • I take your point about the postcard – but I think envelopes must get ripped open faster this side of the pond; the postcard returns within the week, even if the response takes twelve weeks (which isn’t a problem). Perhaps it’s a British thing to open an envelope eagerly and then set the contents aside for later perusal. I know I do that.
          Just as a hypothetical, once you have expressed an interest in response to a query, do you then prefer the next stage to be sent snailmail too, or does that really not matter?

        • This is my issue, as well. As an American living in the UK, the process of querying US agents is immeasurably simpler and more convenient when I can equery.
          Most email programs have an autoreply option built in. All you have to do is go into Options and you usually see it listed there. Just compose a quick, “Your email has been received, give us six weeks, we only reply if interested blah blah blah” and you’re done. Ellora’s Cave does this with their Submissions email, and it does put a lot of author’s minds at ease and saves time for everyone if the query actually wasn’t received either–it can be resent right away.
          Ultimately, if you prefer snail mail, you should get snail mail. But it does make things a bit more difficult for those of us who aren’t on the continent (although that’s our problem.)

          • Well, we do have an autoreply set up on our general email address (the one listed on our webpage for querying) as I mentioned in some other comment on this entry. However, a number of people have managed to find the professional account assigned to me within the company. I can’t set up the autoreply on that one — it’s the same one my clients and all the editors use. I don’t want them to get “I got your email and I’ll only reply if interested” when they are asking me about their print run, or sending me a link to a review or something.

            • Well, we do have an autoreply set up on our general email address (the one listed on our webpage for querying) as I mentioned in some other comment on this entry.
              Well, I am terrifically embarrassed to have missed that. You did mention it. Doh.

            • Warning: overly geeky stuff ahead.
              {geek}Depending on your email program and how well you know it, there is a way of setting up rules that will autoreply to certain emails and not others. But then that would depend on people sending you email that fits the criteria you’ve set. (Curse that human factor!){/geek}
              But yeah, I second on that prohibitive cost of sending stuff overseas. From Australia, a simple query is about $2 (not including the cost of an SASE), a partial about $7, and a full can run around $25, more if sent via airmail.
              If I was in the US, I wouldn’t have any qualms about sending stuff snail mail, but from Australia, it’s a bit painful.
              Email is a boon to those of us who may not have a few extra hundred lying around for postage.
              When it comes to replies, my mss are always recyclable, because it’s cheaper to print out a new ms than it is to get the old one back.

        • I suspect that your Japanese correspondent had bought the US stamps in the USA, or perhaps had a friend do it on their behalf.
          As an Australian, when I get this monstrosity delightful book finished, I’ll be giving first preference to people I can deal with electronically. Partly because of the convenience issues, and also because I have a background in IT, and am irrationally reassured by people that have IT skills.
          But given the whole business with IRCs, there’s an amount of frustration on my part with knowing that I’m going to be putting someone through hassles at the post office. I’d be quite willing to send paper out and get electrons back rather than wasting time and money at both ends (as I see it). How would you feel about being asked to reply by email to a paper query?

      • But if I’m sending across the pond, I can’t do that – unless I work out a way of involving a third person who’ll receive the parcel, add American postage to the SAE and postcard and then send it on.
        You do have quite a few friends on this side of the pond, y’know.
        Just sayin’. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • US postage
        Have you tried the US postal services website? Maybe you can buy postage online. I get all mine that way, but I don’t know if they’ll ship to you overseas. http://www.usps.com

  4. I’m always at my computer, so for me, if I was an agent, it would be easiest to respond fairly quickly every day. But if I was out and about, it would be easier to have paper queries to carry around and read when I had a moment here or there. And I’d never print them (because that’s a hassle)…so I think you’re right: it completely depends on your own working style. I love e-mail queries because they’re so easy from my end…but I snailed you, because you can’t respond to comcast. I got the address from your website, so hopefully it was correct (in the same building as another agency).

    • For the record the address is:
      Donald Maass Literary Agency
      Suite 801
      121 West 27th Street
      New York, NY 10001
      (and that’s on both my website and DMLA’s)
      Conversely, sometimes the issue is – “I’m always at the computer” so when I read I want to get away from it. Heh. I think if I could mandate certain things about email queries perhaps they’d be easier to manage, but so far I haven’t figured out a way to do it.

  5. I love e-mail for submitting stories to magazines and anthologies. Only this week I submitted one story and got a reply that afternoon. Living up in Canada, and depending on a very saggy postal system, this instant gratification is a wonderful thing.
    Still, submitting a novel or seeking an agent’s representation is a little trickier a procedure than a simple story submission. It’s a good question, and I sure wish I had a good answer for you.

  6. Just weighing in…
    …just about everything I’ve had published has been via e-mail solicitation because it was easier for the people to accept the product that way.
    On the other hand, I personally do not do any real business via e-mail. Not with my banks, not with my employer, not even with my family. I don’t think it’s trustworthy. If I was sending something as _personally_ significant as a manuscript, and I had not been told to do otherwise, I would send it via snailmail.

  7. Snail mail vs e-query (by Marie)
    I admit, from the writer’s point of view, it is much easier to submit via email. Querying by snail mail takes more preparation – printing, going to the post office, in my case, indeed worrying about the SASE because I’m outside the US (though I do have US stamps– I picked some up on my last trip to the US– I also had to remember the SASE would be mailed inside the US to outside the US and that costs more than a regular letter mailed US to US).
    I’m finding that most agencies who accept e-queries simply want a query letter and no sample pages while those who want snail mail, you can include sample pages (varied amounts depending on the site). They also often want a synopsis, so it takes more preparation to send out a query hence more time. By having a sample of my manuscript, if my query letter is bad, I might still get a request for a partial (Miss Snark talks about this).
    What I did for my first round was to note my top 5-8 agent picks, I sent first to the ones that accepted e-queries and I’m leaving the others that take more time to prepare for after (snail mail queries). The only advantage from my point of view is the speed with which initial contact is made with the agent. After that, it only depends if the query is liked by more than one agent.
    Now, from the agent point of view, indeed I can see it depends on each agent’s working style. The agent-you-didn’t-mention-in-your-post only accepts a one page query with no sample pages so she may be reading less per query than another agent would be. I’m sure many hate reading from a computer screen and would have to print the query, added cost of operation if they get many. And I can see that snail mail queries can easily be grabbed on the way out the office and read on the bus/train when there may be no time to print queries before leaving. Snail mail queries may get read faster.
    Savings to the writer when e-querying – stamp, paper, preparation, time.
    Cost to writer when e-querying – agent response time may be higher if e-queries get a backseat to snail mail ones so time saved initially may be negated by this. It may also be more difficult to “know” if a query was read or not although I don’t think my email provider is a problem with this.
    Savings and cost to agent… I’ll leave the agents to answer. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Snailmail and e-mail both have ways of going wrong. e-mail vanishes into nowhere; but letter-dumping postmen exist, and mail gets bagged in plastic bags which are often collected in crates and left outside in the rain. I’ve worked in several jobs where you’d get a joblot of mailbags, and sticking to the inside are other people’s letters. And in one case, a ยฃ1000 check. Ooops.
    I think the automated response is a good thing – you know the e-mail has been received, in which case no answer equals ‘not right for us.’
    But, really, setting up a template and mailing out form rejections isn’t a terribly time-consuming task.
    If you absolutely do not want e-queries – like Miss Snark – then that’s fine. If you do take them and say ‘I prefer not to’ I will weigh the difficulties for you and me and decide what to do.
    I’m on the side of the pond with six agents specialising in SF/Fantasy. Large numbers of British writers achieve US publication first – the market is much larger – and querying US agents is a natural thing to do. I rely on helpful friends to send me US stamps for my SAEs, and the time delay is considerable. E-mail on the other hand is superior. Given the location problem, I wouldn’t expect ‘the call’ from an agent, either; but rather ‘the e-mail.’
    And as a writer find it slightly strange that you think of queries as ‘unsolicited mail.’ You’re in the business of finding good manuscript and negotiating contracts from publishers of which you take your (well-earned) percentage. Unless you close your door to anything other than referrals, that means you _are_ soliciting writers to contact you. Self-judgement being what it is, some writers (80%? 95%?) will misjudge whether their writing is a) suitable for publication and b) suitable for your agency – but yes, unfortunately, wading through the slushpile is part of your job.
    Personally (I don’t get that many business e-mails, but I’m active in online communities, and I can easily get a hundred list e-mails in a day; often may times that, on top of the personal and business stuff I’m expected to answer) I find it relatively easy to deal even with large numbers of e-mails. The only difference between ‘discussions that I’m not interested in following’ and ‘queries I don’t want to see any more of’ is that I don’t need to answer; but the opening, scanning, hitting the spacebar until Eudora jumps to the next e-mail in line process is exactly the same. (Eudora lets you assign labels to e-mails; I find it a great help in sorting.)
    Everybody’s work practices differ, but I don’t think the preference is an inherent function of the media concerned. *I’d* rather send out 95 identical ‘no thank you’ e-mails out per day than stuffing 95 envelopes with a ‘no thank you’ letter, but that’s me. Your mileage, as they say, may differ.

    • And as a writer find it slightly strange that you think of queries as ‘unsolicited mail.’ You’re in the business of finding good manuscript and negotiating contracts from publishers of which you take your (well-earned) percentage.
      This is a good point too. I am always looking for new material. I keep saying that everywhere. And it isn’t that I think of queries as unsolicited but equeries specifically, since, in the past, I’ve made my preference plain. It’s less the fact that they are queries than the issue of being able to choose my own parameters when seeking material. I’m reconsidering. There are certainly factors. Hence, the thinking out loud herein.
      But, really, setting up a template and mailing out form rejections isn’t a terribly time-consuming task.
      Not terribly, I’d agree. But still I find it takes more time than the other route for me. This may be partially because I still find reading on screen is more difficult. The number of people who send HTML emails is a little stunning. And snail mail seems much more readable. If I could over-ride their configurations and impose my own, maybe that would help too.
      As for all the other email beyond e-queries, there’s the ones from my clients that I should currently be answering and all the list mail that I’m currently filtering into folders and not having time to read. The latter, as you say, is easier to manage because my participation is not necessarily anticipated nor required. And those on the lists will be unlikely to challenge my decision not to get around to reading their email promptly. Filtering is easy. Assessing is a whole different issue, I think.

  9. snail all the way
    Snail all the way.
    From the writer’s perspective:
    I feel more sure it will arrive.
    It’s got a physical presence.
    I like printing, signing and addressing letters – it makes me feel productive.
    And really? How many am I going to do in a week? One, two? Five?
    If I were an agent:
    My poor little eyes could not deal with queries on the computer. No way, no how.
    This conversation actually came up on Miss Snark today when someone lambasted her for not being “up to date” or whatever. Like someone commented over there, if the writer’s got to make the effort and he/she’s too lazy then Miss Snark’s weeding out people she doesn’t want right off the bat anyway.
    cheers,
    Joelle

  10. The business etiquette of email
    Before I quite practicing law last year to work on my novel (my husband gave me exactly a year to finish and my deadline is coming up fast!) my company had alot of issues with regards to email use in a business environment. As convenient as email is, it is not reliable,it is impersonal, and is more likely to get lost in the internet abyss than regular mail. On a regular work day, I would get anywhere from 100 to 200 or more emails a day. Half of them irrelevant emails that people hit reply all instead of reply just to sender on or company announcements like someone left their lights on in the parking lot, etc. Going through my email would take me an hour to two hours a day and that didn’t always include responding to them. Emails became hit or miss. You might get an immediate response if I happened to read it and I wasn’t too busy or you might never get a response (sometimes I’d think, I’ll respond later and then get so busy I’d forget), or it might be weeks later after IT nagged me to clean out my inbox that I see it and then respond. Sometimes there would be so many emails, I’d miss reading some just because of the sheer volume.
    I’ve been yelled at by other department heads that wanted to know why I didn’t respond to their emails right away. My response would always be, if it was that important you should have called me or walked over to my office to discuss it. When you work on a project by project basis, you seek out emails pertaining to the projects that need your attention first. All else is pushed off til later. If someone in my company had a new project or issue that needed my help, then they needed to call me first and or provide me with paperwork. Just emailing me was a no-no. That was the lazy way and I was too busy to pander to someone’s laziness. People forget that if they need help, then it is their responsibility to get that help, not my responsibility to chase you down and give you my help. I think this applies to agenting the exact same way. People who do not follow agency guidelines and send query letters in whatever works for them are either not being careful and diligent in the first place or are being selfish and lazy. Either way, if I were an agent, this would be a factor in screening them as potential clients. Yes I can hear someone saying that’s too harsh, people make mistakes. Well, it’s the difference between a minor mistake and a big one. A typo is forgivable, not following rules are not.
    Having been on the receiving end of mass emails, when I’m ready to send out my manuscript, the only acceptable manner for me will be via certified, registered or fed ex mail carriers. That way I know my letter has been received. Now I love email and I use it for correspondence all the time. But I’m more careful of the important stuff. Perhaps in the future, this will all change and paper will truly become obsolete (at least in business hopefully never in publishing), but until the day email becomes much more reliable, I’ll stick to the US post office.
    Ello

  11. I love email correspondance, and do all my buisness over the internet (or the phone). It’s cheap, fast, and easy. However…I’m not an agent. When I was querying, I followed the instructions each agent provided. That’s justvhow it works. I targeted agents accepting equeries first. Yet the one that snagged my agent’s attention was one of only three snail-mail queries I sent. So I’m really glad I sent that one. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Here is one of the great ironies that makes up what I like to call “me” — I prefer email correspondence for the day to day random questions the clients send my way too. It means I don’t have to spend all day on the phone. Go figure.

  12. Snail vs. Email
    I prefer to query agents by snail mail. I don’t trust the formatting of my query across various systems, and I find it harder to proofread my e-mails. With a snail query, I print out the letter and review it later, with a fresh eye. It also gives me the freedom to stick a few pages of my writing in the envelope–with no “attachment” issues.
    However, if I ever needed to query anyone overseas, E-mail would be more convenient than going through the hassle of buying foreign postage for a sase.
    Despite my preferences, I’m flexible. I adhere to the agent’s stated preference. Kristin gets an email, Jennifer a letter.

  13. I plan to send all my queries by postal service, not email.
    Why? I cannot imagine operating any kind of business, in which my livelihood depends on reliably available and functional email service, without having private, dedicated servers. It’s dismaying that so many people don’t get this, but my view is a minority one.
    I know way too much about how unreliable email service can be, even when it’s operated by experts who know what does and doesn’t help cut back on spam while not dropping legitimate messages. If most literary agents accepting email queries are buying their email service from outfits like Comcast, who often seem to try deliberately to make email service less reliable for their customers than for spammers, instead of treating it like the business critical service it is, then I’m going to be extra careful with agents who claim they prefer email to postal. At the very least, I’ll be probing their Internet presence to see how technically capable their operators are, and if I don’t see evidence of dedicated private servers for email and web, then I’ll look elsewhere first.
    I’m tempted to just put them at the bottom of the order of preference on general principle. If they really do have the experience in the industry, then they’ve either already learned about email unreliability, or their submission guidelines clearly say to send all queries by postal service.

  14. Hi! Well, I’ve been reading your blog lately, but haven’t posted any comments yet (at least, not that I remember). And since I have an opinion on this, and since you asked what it was, I thought I’d chime in! I see both sides of this. I’m the kind of person who likes to have a piece of paper in my hands, something I can hold onto, so if I were an agent, I might like snail mail… but on the other hand, I’m also the kind of person who loses things really, really easily, so snail mail might not be a good idea after all. With an e-query, I could have the best of both worlds: I can print the query out, and if I lost it, I could always make another copy.
    As an author, it really doesn’t matter to me whether I need to send snail mail or e-queries. I won’t be ready to query until January or February, but when that time comes, I’ll send my letters however the agents prefer it. Like you said, you guys receive 100 or more queries a week, and I want to make things as easy as possible–partially for selfish reasons, but also because I try to be nice! It’s just as easy for me to send a letter via email as it is to type my letter into Word and print it out. Well, a little less easy, but come on, it takes less than a minute to stuff it in an envelope and slap a stamp on the thing. I think snail mail queries look more professional, but if the agent says he/she prefers e-queries, then it won’t look professional to send any other way, now will it? ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. I love email, but not for queries.
    1. It’s more fun to do queries via normal mail. (Yeah, I’m sick.)
    2. For your sake. Email and the internet have a wonderful way of turning otherwise lovely people into asses. I can’t say for certain why. And I know I’ve been guilty of it once or twice myself. (Ok, three times but that’s all I’m giving up.) I love email but it can be painfully informal to some folks.

  16. The value of email
    Great question, and one this new writer loves to see addressed.
    In the few months I’ve been shopping, I’ve tended away from email. Given the volume of real and electronic mail you as a gatekeeper deal with, I don’t want to compete with viagra ads for your attention.
    I realize my chances are only marginally better on your “real” mail stack, but I guess I feel like it shows more effort on my behalf.
    I’m also opposed to “shot-gunning”–querying everybody and her dog. Shot-gunning just doesn’t seem like a smart business approach, and email makes it all too easy to do.
    Of course, I’ve sold exactly zero novels to this point, so that approach may be dumb as hell. ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. My two cents: Most writers are so anxious to get published that snail-mail just will not do. This is a Mc D’s society where letter writing is too slow and lines for anything are just annoying. E-mails make more sense, you don’t waste a tree, it doesn’t cost a struggling artist a stamp, and the turn-around is quick (to say the least) also it’s far easier to just hit the delete button for a form rejection!
    Nicole

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