letters from the query wars

# of queries read this week: 221
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 1
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: YA fantasy

this week’s query wars casualty: the author that sent the query that said: “In lieu of a sample chapter, I’ve included this DVD…”

Dear Authors:

It’s not hard to find someone on a blog somewhere saying that agents are rude because they don’t even bother to reply to queries. And in some cases, such a reputation might be well-deserved. But I caution against tarring all agents with the same brush, any more than authors would like to be all viewed through the lens of that handful of people who each week are (for whatever reason) obnoxious in their queries.

Make an assumption about this and it could be the wrong one….

Case in point: this week I got an email from an author who was simply asking for me to confirm that I had received their query in early November. Because I had not yet purged my outbox I was able to search for a reply, and discovered I had not once, but three times on three separate days, attempted to send a reply to the author in question and each time I’d gotten a bounce. So, today I tried to re-send the response that I sent them in mid-November, and I guess I’m not surprised that I got the same bounce with “permanent fatal errors”. Besides hoping they don’t jump to an erroneous conclusion and tell everyone on querytracker.net, what’s a person to do about these things?

25 responses to “letters from the query wars

  1. As an author who has received a rejection from you, I have to say that your reply was very professional, and not at all rude. It also came within a reasonable time, which I very much appreciated. (I think the waiting can be the hardest part.)
    Our projects aren’t going to be for everyone, and a rejection isn’t personal. I definitely think agents should be treated with the same respect they give authors–careful consideration. That means taking the time to research to whom we send our queries and how they want them sent.
    It takes all of five minutes to scout on AgentQuery for an agent’s website. And it’s worth it to make sure your project is similar to the others on their list, and to check their submission guidelines. In my experience, it’s all laid out very clearly.
    It’s rough to put your art out there, but I’m kind of getting tired of reading whining from authors who want to blame agents for how the system works. Rejection is part of the business. If an author doesn’t believe in their work enough to weather the storm, they’re probably not suited for publishing as a career.
    (Excuse me if that comes off as harsh. It’s been a long day.)

  2. 1. I couldn’t do your job, I don’t have the patience, and this is a perfect example of why.
    2. I will query via email, if that’s what is expected, but this is yet another reason I totally appreciate agents who require regular mail queries. It costs the author more money, but it’s tidier, and probably separates the writers from the pretenders more effectively. You may have other reasons why you prefer email, I would be interested to hear it.

  3. I want to know what’s on the DVD, lol. I would also like to know reasons why you’d prefer email to regular mail. I’d imagine it would be because it’s easier to hit reply and type a letter than having to type it, print it, and then lick an envelope.

    • Actually, if you read (far) back in the archives, you’ll see that I once had a preference for snailmail instead of email. But I came to realize that both methods had their respective upsides and downsides, and decided I would just leave it up to the author which one they preferred to use. So, we have instructions for both on our submission guidelines.
      Maybe I’ll put together a post of the pro’s and con’s of each for next week but, of course, I’d also like to hear why authors might prefer one over the other.

      • I am awful at getting to the post office to get stamps. And the wait! Aie! I prefer to be shot down more quickly…
        Basically, email removes procrastination-favoring hurdles.
        Which some queries should not have had removed, of course.

      • Right now I prefer e-mail because I can’t drive after dark and don’t get out much in the winter. E-mail is also faster, less expensive, and doesn’t take up physical storage space. (I save all replies in hopes of learning something.)

      • I’m currently living in the UK, planning to start the query process to (American) agencies later this year. Have been thinking about this quite a lot, so here are my current (also jetlagged and codeine cough syrup-fueled) thoughts:
        – Faster than the overseas mail services. (Though on occasion I get birthday cards mailed from rural California three days previously.) However, although a few agents have reputations for being able to turn a query around in seven minutes, most will take a few weeks or more to read and respond. It’s therefore dubious to say that faster is better, because that swiftness is probably more useful to the writer’s psychological state (‘OMG I actually did it!!!1!’) than to expediting the query to any significant degree.
        – Can screw up your formatting something awful. I’d need to spend quite a lot of time e-mailing back and forth between three different accounts, all using different systems, to be sure that my line lengths weren’t jumping around like crazy things.
        – Yeah, it could get lost, but most e-mail doesn’t.
        – I’d be using A4 paper in an 8 1/2 x 11 world. It’s always mildly awkward when I’m trying to file things with different paper sizes, although perhaps in an agency with 384734327647 sheets of paper no one will actually notice or care. 🙂
        – I’d know for certain that everything was formatted exactly as I meant it to be.
        – Signatures are still pretty cool. I like my signature. The agent doesn’t need to know that I reprinted the cover letter four times because I needed to get the signature perfect.
        – Yeah, it could get lost, but most mail doesn’t.
        – The real biggie: if the agency has no expressed views on the matter, what do I do about a response? Try to work around the various annoyances that arranging for international responses entail, or just ask for an e-mail response?
        Right, that’s the jetlag hitting. Hope this was useful.

  4. I’ve had just as many non-replies to snail mails as I’ve had with emails, so I still prefer email queries. I don’t worry too much about the no replies, though. I’m sure a few agents are lazy/rude, but I prefer to think they’re just swamped or perhaps their reply got lost somehow. It’s just not worth getting fussed about.

  5. The poor fellow probably doesn’t even realize he’s bouncing your emails (I assume that’s what’s happening, or else he’d have sussed out the problem by now). Curse this modern technology 🙂

  6. I can think of only one thing to do when encountering such a frustrating scenario as multiple bounces when trying to reach someone . . . and that’s to indulge in a very good microbrewery beer.

  7. Good Heavens…
    What do you do? I actually asked the same thing of an agent this last week (for a query sent in August) and this got me thinking about a really dismaying technical pothole in modern communication. No fault on either side, but it does tell me that email can’t be trusted any more than snail mail. What you’re talking about is a perfect example why. Figure that the author had to have sent the email from a valid address. It got to your inbox, right?
    A little CSI Office has to be the next step.
    1.) Did they send it from a major email handler or an obscure little server? Gmail should be pretty reliable. Joe’sISP.com… not so much.
    2.) Did you hand-enter the response email after reviewing the query… or hit the reply button? Hand-entry could be problematic. Reply button… not so much.
    3.) If the first two pass muster (they sent from a major service + you hit “reply”), then the problem might be closer to home. It could be practically anything, but I might consider possible corruptions in your email client (Outlook/Entourage/Whatever). A corruption could manifest any number of ways, but one possible error is sending a reply to the wrong place. If you’ve ever looked at the routing path for email, it can sometimes bounce between some odd places.
    …Matter of fact, if you haven’t emptied your outbox since last year, lord only knows what “undocumented features” might be biting your email client.
    What could you do about it? Try composing on a different client. Webmail interface, perhaps. Anything to change the environment. Try hand-entering the address. Try sending from a different email altogether. Have a backup on Yahoo? See if it bounces from there, too. If not, then it gives you signs on narrowing where the problem might be… and it should alert you that if you’ve got one problem you know about, there might be dozens you don’t (like responses from editors…).
    Just some thoughts.
    ~E. Day

  8. People Will Catch On
    Though the title of the comment says that people will learn, do not take that to mean that this particular writer will. He is apparently suffering from some technical difficulty which is stopping him from actually receiving email, though without the actual email error, I can’t get any more specific than that.
    The title of this comment applies to people in a much more general sense, in a societal sense. That is, people will slowly learn that what is said online carries not the general lack of ramifications as an utterance in a crowded bar, but rather that of a published work. The permanence of online writings means that eventually, the writing will get back to whomever it was said about.
    Of course, it’s a hard lesson to learn. I committed a faux paus on the HarperStudio blog the other day when I referred to the subject of their blog post in a what could be taken as a clipped tone, only to have her reply with a great deal of courtesy.
    Due diligence is perhaps the best course of action. You’ve attempted to respond not once but four times now, a sign that you’ve gone above and beyond what a normal person would deem an appropriate level of effort. That is, unless you’re actually requesting a partial or a manuscript. In that instance, I’d recommend Googling the potential client and seeing if you can’t meet them on their turf.
    Perhaps such a measure would be good form regardless. Explain the situation, be polite, but be stern. In this new age of transparency, sometimes it’s the most transparent that stand out.

  9. You make a good point about assumptions. I don’t understand why authors would blast agents for any reason, much less when they don’t know all the details (like the example you gave in your post). I’ve always been the type to give people the benefit of the doubt, since every so often I need it myself.
    I’d love to see a list of the pro’s vs. con’s of email and snailmail if you have time to put it together. I’ve seen so much debate on the issue, and I think it could be very useful for writers to know the advantages and disadvantages of each.

  10. I just have it in my mind that snail mail is more professional. I know it will be slow to get where it’s going, but when the time comes I would personally rather take the time to present the query on a nice quality paper than on an email.

    • Exactly.
      And, there is an effort made that involves one getting off of one’s ass and actually mailing something. When I first began seeking publishing, I sort of cursed it, but now I respect it and understand it. And the SASE sort of prompts the agent or the pub editor into returning an answer.
      It’s a civilized and professional relationship. I like it.

      • And the SASE sort of prompts the agent or the pub editor into returning an answer.
        Not necessarily. Many of my SASEs never made it home. Not even counting the agents who must be using SASEs as wallpaper (no doubt cackling as they glue), sometimes others will email to request or decline.
        I prefer email, not only because it doesn’t waste paper/ink/postage, but it seems less tragic if the agent decides not to respond. 🙂

  11. Dear Miss Jackson,
    Did you get it?
    How ’bout now?
    …and now?
    …it’s been 5 minutes and you haven’t responded.
    What about now?
    (We don’t ever talk anymore…)

  12. In the event of a querytracker.net emergency, don’t be afraid to break the glass and alert the QT authorities — we know there are plenty of people out there with permanent fatal errors…and email address problems, too. 😉 // Other than that, I’m sometimes able to see a problem in the email address when I look closely. Or if I compare it to the email address that they (should have) included among their contact information. But that’s ridiculous, you shouldn’t have to be doing a technical intervention.

  13. But was it a good DVD? With, for instance, the final 10 episodes of battlestar galactica? 🙂

  14. I got your rejection, quick and courteous, so you won’t hear me say anything like that. And if you send an acceptance you can be as rude about it as you like.
    The only thing I might hope for is some clue as to what turned you off. I don’t believe that there’s only one best way to describe a book, and I may have several available to me that you might prefer.

  15. I fill orders for a ecommerce website, and sometimes the order confirmations and/or shipping confirmations bounce. The other day I had one where both bounced, and then I put the address manually into Outlook thinking maybe that would help, but that e-mail bounced, too. I thought, “Oh well, I guess they’ll figure out that their order went through when they get the box.” Of course, that doesn’t work for you, but my point is that certainly almost everyone has had issues with e-mail being lost in cyberspace, and hopefully I will remember that if I ever get around to querying.

  16. I’ve also had a couple like that in the past two weeks. With one, I was able to Google the author and find an alternate contact, but the other has bounced back three times and I didn’t find her online, either.
    Do you also get the automatic replies that ask you to confirm who you are before they will accept an email? Those are frustrating as they take so much extra time. I would hope that if you were querying widely, you would think to put the agent’s email address into your list of approved senders. I got six of those last month.

  17. One would think said author would go through their email and clean it out especially if they are looking for a response from an agent. But that’s just my humble opinion 🙂

  18. this week’s query wars casualty: the author that sent the query that said: “In lieu of a sample chapter, I’ve included this DVD…”
    Was the letter, by chance, IN ALL CAPS and asking if you’re a real agent? *cough*

  19. Quick question… I was wondering whether it is adventageous or not to mention age when querying agents. I am 21 and so I am wondering if that would work for or against me should I mention it. Advice?

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