other agents talking about the query process

My friend Lucienne Diver has a post about Query Do’s and Dont’s. I’ve read through it and I don’t think I have a difference of opinion with any of her bullet points. And double-please-yes for including page numbers on requested manuscripts — the lack of them has been happening a lot more often lately and I dont know why.

And Nephele Tempest (also of the Knight Agency) discusses reasons to actually follow submission guidelines (the horror!).

Regretfully, most writers reading any of the agent blogs are unlikely to make the mistakes that seem to make the query process harder on the agent-side of things. It’s mostly preaching to the choir. It does rather drive me bonkers, though, that one puts submission guidelines out there on the website (which is so very easy to google up unless your google-fu is absurdly bad) and the percentage of people who apparently can’t be bothered is so ridiculously high. Though I must admit that the queries that come in that mention the guidelines and then proceed to state they will flout them are even more amazing to me.

Of course, the problem, as I see it, is that agents (or their assistants) still have to spend time on these — it just slows the whole thing down and it’s the other reason besides volume that response times are as high as they are. I’d guess probably about 1/3 of the queries I receive are completely inappropriate and wouldn’t have been sent to me by someone who had actually done the research. And I don’t understand after they take months, or perhaps even years, to write the book, why they will not make the commitment to giving it the best shot it should have in such a very competitive business….

30 responses to “other agents talking about the query process

  1. …the percentage of people who apparently can’t be bothered is so ridiculously high. .
    Which strikes me as bizarre…

  2. I think that many authors see the query process as a numbers game. They assume that the more agents they query, the better their chances of finding an agent for the material. So, you get caught up as one of the null number agents, queried for the sake of percentages, despite the fact that you’ve stated no interest in the genre.

    • Right — so the more quarters you put in the slot machine, the more money you bring home…. No, wait….
      I think this attitude may actually be the part that dismays me on the reader level (not just as an agent) because it says to me that the author doesn’t have enough faith in their work and would rather gamble.
      Plus, it wastes the time of those authors who are not playing it as a game, which one could consider disrespectful of them.

      • other agents talking about the query process
        Arcaedia, you wrote:
        “…it says to me that the author doesn’t have enough faith in their work and would rather gamble.”
        The query process itself, especially for first-time novelists, is fraught with insecurities. Submission rules and requirements can vary widely from agent to agent. Then, once we send something out, the next rule is that we can’t ask any questions. No phone calls. No emails. No contact whatsoever. And if an agent graces us with a form letter rejection such as “not right for me” or “doesn’t fit our list” it tells us nothing.
        No other industry goes to such lengths to deny information to those trying to provide a product.
        No wonder we gamble.

        • Re: other agents talking about the query process
          The dating process if full of insecurities too… But do you ask out every guy or girl you meet?
          As for the “no contact rule” — I think it can be taken to extremes. I do occasionally get followups when they are warranted and those aren’t an issue for me. It’s when people email you the very next day (really has happened), and from that sort of thing, I think this semi-policy developed. If an agent is averaging, say, 100-150 queries a week and they get even 50 followup calls/emails, how much more time would queries and submissions take to process? And they need to spend time on their current clients, too. It’s just a matter of expediency. Unfortunately.
          Also, did every job you applied for you give you a reason why you didn’t get an interview? Just curious, because that wasn’t my experience.
          Finally, imo, a form letter does tell you something. It tells you the agent doesn’t want to pursue the book. Sometimes it really is just “not my cuppa.” It’d be nice if you always could get more, but again there’s that pesky expediency issue of getting a response to everyone in a timely fashion.

          • Re: other agents talking about the query process
            Thanks for the insight.
            Your original post and some of the replies brings up a question, though, as I research agents to query. Let’s say agent “A” has thrillers listed in her AgentQuery profile (as well as elsewhere). But when I look at the sales she’s listed, I see dating, spirituality, and two chick-lit titles. Same at the website; all the covers are romances, YA, or something else that I haven’t written. It gets confusing. Do I go with what the agent puts in her profile, or what she actually seems to be selling. If I go by the latter, it takes quite a few agents off my list, including some that seem to have a real knack for helping an author develop their carreer.
            Yikes!!

            • Re: other agents talking about the query process
              Sometimes…. agents/agencies want to go in new directions.
              Example 1: My first YA came out in 2006, at which point I had been an agent for 13 years. Now I have several series launched/launching and continue to look for more YA.
              Example 2: When I first came to work at DMLA, we had 0 romance and women’s fiction clients, but I was interested in the genre. So, I started going to romance conferences.
              I’d always go with the agent profile, particularly if it’s on their own website or another reliable source.

      • I agree completely. Our little magazine gets plenty of material that is completely inappropriate and should have never been sent to us in the first place. I’m sure it’s even worse for agents.

  3. Though I must admit that the queries that come in that mention the guidelines and then proceed to state they will flout them are even more amazing to me.
    “I know your guidelines say to do this, but I just really really really want to do this, so bear with me, OK?” I too don’t understand why writers wouldn’t want to give their work the best possible chance.

  4. And I don’t understand after they take months, or perhaps even years, to write the book, why they will not make the commitment to giving it the best shot it should have in such a very competitive business….
    Because they don’t think the rules apply to them?
    I experience the same thing–only in my role as a middle school teacher. We hand out sheets explicitly describing the formatting, the fonts, the font size, how to cite works…and it still comes back the way the kid wants to do it, not the way we want to see it. It’s not just the kids who don’t care, either–some of these kids are the ones who really do know the subject matter and do care (and fall into the Talented and Gifted ranks).
    I see enough of this sort of behavior as a teacher to suspect that those who aren’t following the rules have a strong belief that their Own Speshul Talent outweighs the need to follow the rules. At least, that’s what they do in middle school!

    • Good point. But what I wonder is where is this coming from? I was a student who took a lot of advanced level courses and I don’t remember that being all that common in my classes. And it wasn’t an issue of self-confidence either. It’s something else.
      I love that test that people do where the instructions at the top are to write your name and then hand the test in, and so many people skip the instructions and then fail the test even though they answer the questions.

      • Is there a generational trend perhaps?
        Gen-X queries tend to be ___, x% of them follow the guidelines vice Baby Boomer Gen queries which tend to be ____, x% follow the guidelines.
        Millinnials however…
        Of course, not having that provided age demographic required on queries it would be hard to tell. I’ll make a wager though…

  5. “And double-please-yes for including page numbers on requested manuscripts — the lack of them has been happening a lot more often lately and I dont know why.”
    My guess would be that Microsoft Word’s doing it. I can’t count the number of times I’ve printed out a manuscript only to discover halfway through that the headers have mysteriously disappeared. Now I make it a point to always make sure the headers are there and that I’ve pulled out all the extras (comments, bookmarks, footnotes, graphics, etc.).

    • Also, since so many agents are using e-reading devices, they don’t want headers or page # because it doesn’t read right

  6. . . . Of course, the problem, as I see it, is that agents (or their assistants) still have to spend time on these . . .
    But do you? How much of your requests for mss and partials come from queries where the submission guidelines are mis-handled? Few enough that you could be comfortable putting in place a policy that there will be no response for queries that do not comply with the guidelines? Of course, I suppose there is still time spent in ascertaining whether a query is a mess or not.
    Oh well, never mind.

  7. Dear Agent Manners,
    I’ve been running into a certain situation a lot lately, where I don’t know how to both obey the guidelines and send the submission.
    There are a few agents who take graphic novel submissions, but they also only accept digital submissions, and reasonably enough they want to see sample pages… but they don’t want attachments in the e-mail, and I’ve been told it is bad manners to direct agents to an external website in a query. Unfortunately, many e-mail programs read pasted graphics as attachments, or refuse to show them when you put in a URL, and instead treat that URL as a link. In either case, I’d be effectively disobeying the guidelines by providing the sample pages, either as attachments or external links, but if I leave them out I’m pretty sure that’s worse.
    Given that there are so few agents who outright say they take graphic novel submissions, I’d like to give the work the best chance I can by querying appropriate agents for it, and I don’t want to come off as some jerk who thinks the rules don’t apply for my case. What do you recommend?
    Thank you,
    Graphically Confused

  8. CSI: Submission
    I gave this one to the guys in the lab:

    …And double-please-yes for including page numbers on requested manuscripts — the lack of them has been happening a lot more often lately and I dont know why.

    They tell me the page numbers come from the document’s header. The author, in their enthusiasm, will copy the requested number of pages and paste into a new document to print out for you… but the paste won’t include the header (where the page numbers live).
    Maybe it’s a future bullet point?

    • Re: CSI: Submission
      Hmm… I just tried this and my headers did copy across to the new document.

      • Re: CSI: Submission
        Well, this is exactly what happened to me in MS Word–on a partial request submission to your agency just today, in fact! I sent the first fifty after copying them from the full manuscript but realized only afterwards that the page numbers were missing. I then sent a new file to the requesting assistant w/the page numbers in–sloppy, unprofessional, yes, but this was my first week of querying, so I erred on the side of caution, I suppose…

  9. I understand in a way; people tend to assume they know all about the publishing industry, the movie industry, etc. I haven’t just been scoping agent blogs, but author blogs, and I’ve seen something consistently over and over: authors worked years on their book and just tried to send it off at once, assuming that the publishing industry “worked that way.” Have my book, thank me for it, let’s all make money, wham bam thank you ma’am.
    Of course, all those authors learned the hard way that it isn’t so. But for this reason, I’m very grateful that ‘s post is up, among others; the web is a HUGE place. It’s impossible to assume that just because there’s one very good do/don’t list out there, everyone is going to encounter it. The more people post things like this, the better. In the end, I think it’ll save agents’ time and a lot of trouble.

  10. Writers should do their research before submitting anything. People don’t buy cars, houses, etc. without putting in some research and time. And I would think they’d do the same research with something they hold precious and dear to them. JMO.
    ~Tyhitia
    http://obfuscationofreality.blogspot.com/

    • People don’t buy cars, houses, etc. without putting in some research and time.
      Unfortunately, I have known people who do exactly that.

  11. I think it’s a combination of things. Some people are arrogant. Some are just ignorant. They have assumptions about the publishing industry and just don’t know any better. When I tell people I’ve written a book, it’s amazing how many people say “Maybe you’ll be the next JK Rowling!” It’s not fun to explain to people why that’s not gonna happen, and to try to explain how you can be successful without anywhere near that level of fame. And even that more “realistic” level of success is hard to achieve. People just don’t understand the realities of publishing, many new writers included. Honestly, I don’t fault them for it. They’ll figure it out soon enough.
    As for the arrogant ones, well that’s a whole different story!

  12. “And double-please-yes for including page numbers on requested manuscripts — the lack of them has been happening a lot more often lately and I dont know why.”
    I suspect it is email submissions that cause the difficulty with that. I am an ardent follower of submission rules, but when the pages are to be pasted into the body of an email, the most amazingly screwy things happen with formatting. A submission can go with page numbers, headers and the like…but arrive without any of it.
    Julianna

    • Not necessarily applicable in my case since I don’t typically request full manuscripts (which is what I said this in reference to above) via email unless there are extenuating circumstances. I don’t expect page numbers in the query with five pages (it’s only 5 — that one I can figure out). But I did once drop a hardcopy of a full (years ago). That was unfortunate.

  13. But Jen,
    Didn’t you know we’re supposed to be so overcome with joy that they (like countless others) sent us their manuscript we aren’t supposed to notice?

  14. Blame Miss Snark
    She’s the one who told everyone to “query widely.”
    I think that’s bad advice that only encourages mass mailing to any and every agent – the volume system.

    • Re: Blame Miss Snark
      I remember that. But I still think there’s a difference between “query widely” and “query indiscriminately.” Even she didn’t really advocate the latter. Frex, she didn’t want to receive queries for genres she didn’t rep (e.g. SFF as I recall).

      • Re: Blame Miss Snark
        Miss Snark, of all people, should have known that desperate writers would misinterpret her advice and query every agent on the planet. I’ve seen that advice posted on a lot of writer blogs, and they seem to take the advice literally – too literally.
        Miss Snark should have said query every reputable agent with an expressed interest in that specific genre/type of book, JMO.

  15. You know, I’m with you on this Jennifer. I almost want to say these writer’s who spend so much time on a book yet do hardly any R&D on query letter writing, are maybe just too excited, thrilled, or what-have-you that they’re work is complete. And now they just want to get it out there and have it represented.
    I can ALMOST understand that. But, I agree in the thinking that if you have worked SO hard and SO long on something, why not put forth just as much effort in the query? Maybe these writers who make these mistakes don’t realize the importance? Maybe they’re just not in the right circle of other writers? I know that without my online writer’s forum, I’d be hopeless and lost coming into the Book world. In fact, I may just as well have ended up like these writer’s you speak of! *cringe*

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