letters from query wars

# of queries read this week: 189
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 1
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: fantasy

Dear Authors:

I write you from these trenches where the sound of cannon-fire has grown remarkably repetitive. I feel as if these letters must also begin to sound far too similar after a while. I have a fear in all this. That the repetition and frequency will cause so much haze that those gems in the rough waiting to catch my attention — or any other agent’s — will be harder to spot. That might just be a flaw of the system, though. I struggle to come up with new things to say. Am I the only one who feels that way? Things like:

* Don’t send attachments. (I don’t care what format they are or if you scanned them for a virus first. I will not be risking this hard drive. It’s where I keep my (virtual) stuff.)

* Do proofread. Be sure that your mail merge hasn’t decided that I work for a different agency (which you are, no doubt, also querying). Be sure that if you are using the same letter for snailmail and email queries that you don’t mention an SASE in the latter. (I don’t count it against you but I won’t promise that my colleagues have the same opinion. Plus, even I have to admit it feels sloppy.)

* Don’t use some unfortunate circumstance of your life (or in your immediate family) to try and garner sympathy and get your book read. Those letters make me feel sad, for certain. But I’m still only going to ask for books that I am intrigued to read and think have a possibility of selling. Besides, this makes me feel like you are using your defenseless family member for leverage. (And, don’t you know, these kinds of things don’t work on heartless gate-keepers because agents have to give up all these sappy feelings when we first sign up for the job?)

* Don’t write back and argue with me about the rejection. (It is what it is and that’s all it is.)

* Don’t immediately re-query after a rejection. In most cases, don’t re-query at all unless you are absolutely sure that your revised query and revised manuscript have a 150% better chance than the previous time. (And, if I happen to turn down your book 3 times in 3 months, maybe that is some kind of hint or something.)

* If you are a debut author (and not a celebrity or someone with a platform), please finish the book before you start sending out queries. (This is for fiction; non-fiction is a whole different ball game.)

* Don’t CC a bunch of agents.

* Don’t use fonts of unusual size (I don’t believe they exist). Don’t send things in colored print or on colored paper. Please avoid gimmicks altogether.

* Please get my name right. (I mean, I understand why people get stumped by Agent Nathan’s. After all, Brandford Brenford Bransford is such a challenge to spell correctly. However, I think I’ve had more first names this week than my parents probably originally had on their list when they were first picking it out.)

All the examples above happened at least once this week. I will not be surprised if they happen again in the approximately 200 more queries (currently) left in the queue…. But I wish they wouldn’t. Over and out.

17 responses to “letters from query wars

  1. Someone called him Bathan in a comment. He responded to them, but it wasn’t what they had hoped for.

  2. Thank you for the FOUS. 🙂

  3. I wonder if some issues (and name issue) could be solved with a scripted submissions page (via the Maass Agency website) with a drop-down menu with the Agents’ names. You could include ticky boxes with questions like: Is this a resubmission? []yes []no
    Is this your first novel? y/n, Is it complete? y/n [autorespond w/ Form-R thanking for submission but ‘we only take queries for completed manuscripts.’] Is this the neutronjockey? y/n [collect IP address, inform FBI… O.o ]
    etc…etc…
    No attachment feature. Just the ability to cut ‘n paste.

  4. Don’t use fonts of unusual size (I don’t believe they exist).
    Thank you for the chuckle. After fileting and frying 15 lbs of chicken cutlets, and baking a cake all in the span of 1 1/2 hours, I needed it. Desperately.

  5. Ohhhhhh
    The hours I have spent patiently spelling “Bransford.”
    My mom’s version: B-R-A-N, S as in “Sam,” F as in “Frank,” O-R-D. BransFORD.
    My version: B-R-A-N (pause) S-F (pause) O-R-D. BransFORD
    Have a great weekend!
    Nathan

  6. Princess Bride allusion! Hooray!

  7. I should have included some of those in my latest post.
    >.<

  8. It sounds like laziness to me!
    Not taking the time to make a query great is an absolute folly. I believe it’s laziness on behalf of most of those would be Authors, or perhaps they are just in too much of a hurry to sent their four thousand queries out to the other four thousand Agents.
    I mean, why create something that’s second rate and have it rejected before, an agent decides to really examine it. Sounds like they don’t really want to get published to me!
    d.f. valentine. oops, sorry, I meant C.J.Ballantyne.

  9. I wonder how many employers receive resumes that are of the quality of most query letters. I get the sense that people put much more effort into writing a cover letter than a query, and that’s odd to me. They’re essentially the same thing, and should be written with the same degree of professionalism.

    • Having done “slushpile reader” on resumes at a few previous jobs, I would guess that the quality is about the same, possibly lower! (You have to get job queries out the door fast, you see, whereas there is no time limit on most manuscript submissions.)
      The head of HR usually asked me to weed out all the ones which were lacking a cover letter, utterly unqualified for the advertised position, or were hopelessly ungrammatical or misspelled (we had to add “hopelessly” sometimes because too many of the engineering positions needed to hire rather illiterate-in-English engineers, but as long as they were fluent in UNIX it might be okay. Those positions just had to look like they’d at least tried to run spellcheck).
      My hit rate was at or below the 1 in 200 rate our host has been hovering around, easily. And this included resumes sent from recruiters and from people applying for writing positions! (The HR boss had also promised me that any tech writers who could not get their documents past my red pen would not be hired, even though I was technically just an administrative assistant and PowerPoint jockey.)
      It’s hideous out there, it really is. But at least one hopes that quality can shine through.

  10. Sounds like a rough week! Maybe a set of comics to cheer you up? This is for a site called xkcd. It is a popular web comic. The first one relates to writing the second to using internet maps and the third to being very bad with names. Hopefully you will get a laugh from them and feel a little bit better. 🙂
    http://xkcd.com/483/
    http://xkcd.com/461/
    http://xkcd.com/302/

  11. You are not asking too much at all, although I am beginning to suspect that a good agent may need a slushpile reader to weed out those queries which do not manage to pass these very basic tests. (What you go through sounds an awful lot like magazine slushpile work.) None of these rules are outlandish, and most of them jibe with the sorts of things one sees in 1970s versions of Writer’s Market, so they can’t be a surprise.
    My only quibble might be with the “finish the book” rule.
    There are still a few places in the world which accept first-three-chapters submissions (either publishers from unagented writers, or agents). I may have the book completed to third draft, but only the first half is absolutely fourth-draft-submission-polished, and wonder if I could submit it now, since it used to take three months for some places to respond, and the fourth draft revise will be done long before I would get any reply. Since you respond faster than that, I would not do so in your case, but would that be acceptable anywhere else, do you think? (Fourth draft edit, in my little world, means copyedits and a few minor errors or the sort one sees sometimes in ARCs.)
    Thank you for continuing the battle! Even if you never find one of mine in the trenches, I’m glad to know high standards still apply, and that you’re finding gems for us to read.

  12. I know this is going to sound wholly nieve of me but…
    “Don’t use some unfortunate circumstance of your life (or in your immediate family) to try and garner sympathy and get your book read.”…
    ummmm wow. o_O That’s scary.
    And FOUS’s….Hahaha. Love Princess Bride.

  13. Thanks, Junnifor.
    Just kidding 🙂 People are forever putting an ‘h’ in my name (not the ‘Gibbs’ part, obviously). It’s an understandable mistake, but you’d be surprised how often it happens, even with people who know me well.

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